Diagnosis without Treatment

Diagnosis without Treatment

February 19, 2016

We spend a lot of time as consultants and coaches observing how things are, whether they work and what is broken. This isn’t just a consultant’s pastime, it is also a favorite past time of most human beings — not to mention,  politicians. We are all critics-at-large. In our businesses, as leaders, we do the same thing. We are forever diagnosing the problems which, were they fixed, would free business to flourish. In that capacity, we criticize, and describe the failures, challenges and gaps in performance with our subordinates, our peers, our partners, our spouses and ourselves. And the litany of analyses and gap identification colors our relationships in every interaction and transaction, communicating volumes without saying a word. But there is a problem in offering diagnoses without treatment or remedy.

To put this in perspective, imagine that instead of being a business leader you were a doctor and had a patient who had come to you after repeatedly fainting. For your patient and his family it is more than an inconvenience. The patient is afraid and incapacitated. He can’t drive or go far from home, and is worried he will hurt himself or someone else by losing consciousness unexpectedly. You might diagnose his condition, explain to him that he was having miniature strokes, or low blood pressure, or narcolepsy or something else. But that diagnosis provides almost nothing. Now, your patient has an explanation but no solution.  This may seem, on the surface, like it’s so obvious as to be rhetorical. But take a step back for a moment. We don’t live our lives as though diagnosis provides no change. In fact, quite the opposite is true.  We function — every single moment — as though our pointing to a deficiency is tantamount to mending it. We offer our opinions as though they were, in and of themselves, a solution to something. Doing  a Gap Analysis changes NOTHING. Doing a SWOT Analysis doesn’t provide a strategy.  This is a significant insight because while, superficially, we know it’s true — in reality, we live like the opposite is true.


When we offer analysis and diagnosis without treatment, we leave our organizations un-led, our teams un-directed and our coaching and consulting clients disempowered and listless.  The solution is not necessarily to hand out answers. But there has to be a bridge from problem to solution, or all that we are doing is spreading pain and belittlement. How that bridge is built can be a creative process. In your organization you may want to challenge your teams to solve the problems that both you and they see. With our consulting clients, if the client hasn’t asked for a plan to solve a problem of lost or un-created value, at the very least it’s critical to offer a methodology to recapture or create value. The discipline of always pairing a criticism with a plan, or a diagnosis with a treatment is a discipline worth embracing. And it is challenging, because where criticizing is natural and reflexive, solving problems is less so. For evidence of that, notice the internal monologue you listen to all day  — the one in your mind — likely a running color commentary on life and other peoples’ bad behavior. (I speak from extensive experience on this, by the way). How many of those problems have you (or I) solved?

Within the purview of your business, job, work or engagements you can build the muscle of taking steps to repair anything that is broken– even if simply by opening the floodgates of solutions that your employees have secretly been hoarding. They are wise. And if you mine their wisdom to fix broken systems and processes, you too will be wise.


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