Paul B. Thornton

Some problems stay hidden so they don’t have to be dealt with.  

Leaders face reality.

And, they help people face important problems.  

Sometimes, they do it by making the problem visible.  

Here are some examples.

The Scrap Problem

A manufacturing company was producing a high rate of scrap. The VP-manufacturing (let’s call him Greg) was having a hard time getting his direct reports to deal with the scrap problem.

So, he decided to make the problem more visible. Greg instructed the factory manager to pile up all the scrap pieces in a particular part of the factory.

He moved his conference table next to the scrap pile and started conducting his weekly staff meetings at that location. The scrap problem could no longer be avoided. It was right there for everyone to see and touch.

You can’t deny the elephant in the room when it’s sitting beside you. As you might imagine, fixing the processes that were producing scrap became a top priority.

Arguing and Fighting

One of my students, David, was concerned with the amount of time his parents spent arguing and fighting. He tried discussing it with them—no success. They denied it was as bad as their son described.   

David decided to track the number of arguments his parents were having and the total time they spent arguing each day. After one week, David created a bar chart that graphically displayed the data. The number at the top of each bar indicated the number of arguments they had that day. It ranged from 2-to-5 arguments per day.

He showed his parents the bar graph. They were shocked. The issue could no longer be minimized as “no big deal.”  

Upset Customers

The employees didn’t believe their customers were unhappy with some of the company’s products and services. Their attitude was “everything is fine.” One of the senior leaders instructed a staff member to videotape a dozen or so customers giving a harsh critique on one of the company’s products or the bad service they had received.

The videotapes were presented at a company meeting for all employees to see. Everything wasn’t fine and now employees couldn’t deny that fact.   

Making Problems Visible

What problem in your world need to be made visible?

What approach can you use to make the problem visible?

After a problem is made visible the first impulse of people is start blaming others. That’s not productive. Blame and criticism don’t solve problems.

Leaders need outlaw the blame game and focus everyone’s attention on solving the problem. Assign the right people or solicit volunteers to investigate the problem and make recommendations.   


Making a problem visible forces people to admit there is a problem. The best leaders find creative way to make hidden problems visible for all to see.   


Paul B. Thornton is an author, speaker, and adjunct professor at Springfield College. Three of his core beliefs and practices are add-value, continuous improvement, and simplify the complex. His two most recent books are Precise Leaders Get Results and Leadership-Finding Your Sweet Spot (Authors Place Press). He has produced 28 short YouTube videos on various leadership topics including managing stress. He can be contacted at [email protected].