An issue with leaders identified by many direct report personnel expressly related to leader dissatisfaction is leader’s inability, or unwillingness to make a decision. In the leader’s defense, this lack of action may be due to an inability to an inability to predict, or forecast outcomes. Fortunately, this is a skill, and skills can be taught and learned. Some would see this unwillingness as lacking vision.

Similarly, some leaders are seeking change are delayed by their personnel, because their personnel are unable to project possible positive outcomes due to their inability to visualize beyond the immediate.  Some might argue that this hindrance is due to personnel’s reluctance or inability to see the ‘bigger picture’ with regard to decision-making. In both instances these mindsets can be bridged using the Sudoku defense.

First it’s important to clearly establish that both the leader and their personnel have a common goal for the organization; hopefully well articulated in the mission statement. Once this common understanding has been achieved, the work of supporting and defending the goal can begin. The simple fact is the foundation of the common goal isn’t just common understanding, but rather mutual trust. Furthermore, the authenticity of both the leader, and the led, will demonstrate a unity of purpose. 

Thus; shared goals are presented, trust is established, authenticity is demonstrated, and unity of purpose is provided. After trust is achieved, common understanding will impact decisions, support, and outcomes. A simple formula is   Trust + Understanding = Success. 

There are numerous strategies for achieving trust, which can be found across the spectrum of literature, but one of the simplest tools leaders can employ to develop the skills for common understanding is Sudoku.

As noted there are various types, and degrees of difficulty for Sudoku,so for the purpose of this example the simple 9X9 numbered grid is used. 

To solve a Sudoku the individual must be able to correctly identify missing numbers based on the presence of other numbers. The numbers range from 1 – 9, without repeating. They are organized  across three dimensions; horizontal line, vertical line, and within a smaller 9X9 square. To achieve success it is important to continually look across each dimension in to find the missing number, and not repeat it.

Leaders and other personnel with limited ability visualize across the three dimensions are likened to the persons who are focused on a single task ( horizontal or vertical), and may not recognize the duplication of effort, or be able to visualize the long-range impact of short-term decisions. Another way of looking at this concept is to consider the leader who may excel at vertical understanding of organizational purpose, yet may be weak in envisioning the horizontal (long-term) implications or possibilities for growth, expansion, or development. Typically, those with the ability to consider decisions intentionally, and strategically, and actively seek information from all three dimensions have greater long-term success.

Practice the principles of Sudoku, by correctly solving Sudoku puzzles at ever-increasing levels of difficulty, and at speed, and the natural skill development for gaining a broader understanding of the organization’s operational picture will occur. Over time the practice of considering the specific, and the general, can subconsciously stimulate the thought process to attack or defend from three dimensions, instead of one.

About the author 
Dr. Eugene Matthews is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, author, and speaker on the topics of leadership and professional development.