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ATD Blog

From Problems to Possibilities via Perspective

Thursday, June 3, 2021

What is the current operational level of your team or function? How do you know? Are you focused on just solving the problems your team is dealing with, such as engagement, productivity, turnover, and reskilling? During a recent ATD Forum ConnectSpark, Clint Pulver, author of I Love It Here: How Great Leaders Create Organizations Their People Never Want To Leave, suggested it is not just the data that tells your story—it is your perception of the data. Your perception makes the difference, he asserts, and opportunities are found within the problem.

This thinking is supported by others. Steve Jobs is quoted as saying, “If you define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution.” And David Langford, an educator who incorporates quality management principles and systems thinking, combined the terms to coin the word probletunity.

Pulver researched millennials to gather data related to engagement, productivity, and turnover. He interviewed more than 10,000 employees. And the interviews were undercover. He did this after realizing through experience that there was a huge gap between what a leader might perceive and what employees expect. Based on this research from employees, his team categorized managers into four styles or types based on two leadership factors, upholding standards and expectations and making connections by demonstrating empathy. Standards and expectations are about performance. Connections and empathy are about understanding opportunities, encouraging, and advocacy.

Type of Manager
Expectations and Standards
Connection and Empathy
Disengagement: Employees only do what is needed to get by because of the disengagement of the laisse-faire manager.
BUDDY Manager
Entitlement: Employees feel cared for but sense a lack of leadership and authority from the manager.
Rebellion and pushback: Employees sense that they are only cogs in the machine.
MENTOR Manager
Respect and loyalty: Employees feel part of a successful team because the standards are high, work is excellent, and their options are requested and valued.

The research revealed the major characteristics of a mentor. They can be summarized in a paraphrased quote from Stephen R. Covey: “Great mentors can communicate someone’s potential and worth so clearly that the person begins to recognize that potential and worth in themselves.” Mentors also consistently demonstrate what Pulver calls the Five Cs of Mentorship: confidence, credibility, competence, candor, and caring.


As Pulver noted, “It is not about being the best in the world; it is about being the best for the world.” Some actions managers and leaders can take enhance their mentorship include:

  • Spark the possibilities in others. Change your perception from focusing on the problems to creating opportunities for other to recognize their potential and add on it. Help them to make their magic a reality.
  • Recognize the worth of individuals. Provide recognition in a manner that makes each individual personally happy. Do not do a one-size fits all recognition program. Think about the small things that catalyze intrinsic motivation, such as publicly recognizing their work or achievement.
  • Make the time to mentor. Create the “To-Don’t List” to make the time available. Do you have one? Most have a to-do list. To achieve desired results, it’s just as important to know what should be on your “to-don’t” list as it is to know what’s on your important to-do list each day.
  • Communicate to work together. Have status interviews. Status interviews are like the vital signs check-up and also serve as a needs assessment. It starts with recognizing the worth of the person and their contributions. The needs assessment includes these three questions: What can we do to keep you here? What is getting in the way of reaching your maximum success level? How can I help you get where you want to go?

Pulver offers a fresh take on age-old workplace challenges—focus on fixing problems like employee engagement and satisfaction levels, turnover, and productivity. From his perspective, the job of a mentor leader is to see past the problems and recognize the potential. From that viewpoint, there are many opportunities that can happen through development and working together to enable everyone to play a significant role in the success of the organization. Pulver also recently shared insights with Forum members Dana Alan Koch and Bob Gerard on their Learning Geeks podcast. In this podcast Pulver emphasized the importance of learning and development in employee retention.

People remember moments. Not days, weeks, or months, but moments. Pulver suggests that all leaders and managers be mentors who create moments that matter for individuals. You can’t help every person, but you can make a difference to some. Look for opportunities to serve as an advocate. And be a good storyteller about those moments. Uncover the stories that you are helping others create for themselves in their career journey.

What is your perspective? How are you finding opportunities within your team? Are you being a mentor creating moments that inspire others to play significant roles within the team? Are you creating learning assets to support the move to the mentor management style within your organization? Who is your mentor?

About the Author

MJ leads the ATD Forum content arena and serves as the learning subject matter expert for the ATD communities of practice. As the leader of a consortium known as a “skunk works” for connecting, collaborating, and sharing learning, she worked with members to evolve the consortium into a lab environment for advancing the learning practice within the context of work, thus evolving the Forum’s work-learn lab concept. MJ is a skilled and experienced design and performance coach for work teams, as well as a seasoned designer of work-learn experiences with a focus on strategy and program management. She previously held leadership positions at the Defense Acquisition University, including senior instructor, special assistant to the commandant, and director of professional development.

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