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Goldberg’s Rule

In Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers, Neustadt and May* tell about their encounter with Avram Goldberg, CEO of Stop and Shop in New England. He told them that his approach to problem solving is, “When a manager comes to me, I don’t ask him, ‘What’s the problem?’ I say, ‘Tell me the story.’ That way I find out what the problem really is.”

Once the story is told, it’s time for the conversation participants to use critical thinking skills:

  • Use the reporter’s checklist for inquiries: who, what, why, when, where, how, with what effect?
  • What is the story advocating and assuming?
  • What is the central concern or challenge and the corresponding opportunity?
  • What is the history of the situation? Who are the key players? How have they interacted through time?
  • What new facts, if presented, would cause you to change your assumptions, direction, or decision?

Beginning with a story and following with these clarifying questions works can develop a deeper awareness of the factors influencing the situation at hand. Collaborative conversations that look deeply at a situation allow for learning and good decision-making. And, beyond improving performance, research by Dr. Richard Boyatzis* from Case Western Reserve University demonstrates that leaders who spend time coaching and mentoring others reduce their own stress levels.

*Neustadt and May, p. 106.
*Boyatzis, R. E., Smith, M. L., Blaize, N. J. (2006). Developing Sustainable Leaders through Coaching and Compassion (pp. 8-24). Academy of Management Learning and Education.

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