Recently, I shared with you all my journey in making a pair of handmade paddle boards for my daughter and myself, including the remarkable effect that epoxy has on what was a hole in the wooden frame. Once the epoxy was on, the hole was non-existent; the hard shell saved the day, and now, you’d never know the difference.

I’ve been thinking more about that, and yes — it got me thinking about leadership (doesn’t everything?). Epoxy is a mixture of resin and hardener — a very specific mixture. If your measurements are too far off, it won’t cure. You need precise timing, too. At the end of the time, you can feel it get really hot; that’s because it doesn’t dry; it cures. It creates a chemical reaction. That heat is what allows the epoxy to melt over the board, smooth itself out, and create this hard candy shell. Without the heat, you wouldn’t get the chemical reaction, and you wouldn’t get that final product. Even more importantly, you can’t just have the right mixture; you have to have an actual framework to pour it on, or the perfectly timed perfectly mixed solution will become a hardened slab on the floor.

Leaders who are really trying to be great leaders tend to have this bad habit in common: They want to go right to the jugular; right to the problem. They, understandably, want to solve problems as quickly and efficiently as possible, believing that’s what will build trust and effectiveness on their team. But they’re mixing up the epoxy right away, building a bunch of heat, a strong reaction, and there’s nothing to pour it on. No framework, no decking, nothing to give it dimension and shape.

Before you dive into a problem, you need the framework for the solution, even if this feels like it slows down your process. You need the context. Ask yourself, and your team: what are you trying to achieve? What are the obstacles? Acknowledge everyone’s fears, their doubts, and expectations.

We tend to think of meetings like this as places that need ground rules: “Be kind, use nice language,” etc. But that’s not the framework. That’s just the rules of engagement. I’m talking about TRUTH: acknowledging what got us to this point. Acknowledging the challenges. Agreeing on our goals.

What we’re trying to do is solve a problem. What we’re not trying to do is lay blame. The framework is all about the problem, not the people. To use another paddle board analogy (because why not?): Let’s say we’re faced with a body of water we want to cross, but can’t. So how do we want to solve this problem? What do we want as a solution? Let’s say a paddle board! That’s very different than a boat or a bridge. If you don’t have context for your problem, your team could each be building different things. Which means they’re going to become frustrated that the others can’t see or understand what it is that they want. The cables of a bridge have no role in a boat; people who want the boat think it’s idiotic. But people who want the bridge know its essential. 

Framework is essential to solve the problem.