Bring It! March 23, 2009Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
Tags: Best Of 2009, Leadership, Management Skills, Problems
My people bring me their problems. If you are in a leadership role, I’m guessing that your people bring you their problems, too. That seems natural. After all, we got to where we are by solving problems. We should be pretty good at this by now; it’s what we get paid to do.
Or is it? While solving the problems that arrive is certainly helping our organization, it is not helping the person who brought the problem. All things considered, solving the problem is actually harming the person who has come knocking on your door.
From the employee’s perspective, pushing a problem up the ladder is the easy way out. By definition, the boss will pick the solution that suits him or her, so you can’t lose brownie points by presenting the wrong answer. It saves you a lot of time trying to figure out the right answer, which is efficient. And you might learn something when you see how the boss would solve things.
Lesser leaders love it when people bring them problems to solve. It strokes their ego to know that they are the only one who can save the day. They get to show off their knowledge and skills when they provide the answer. They get to feel like they have taught a valuable lesson to the employee.
Better leaders know better. Our job as leaders is to teach and guide our employees to find the solutions on their own. The process of considering and rejecting alternatives is crucial to mentoring people to become better at what they do. Much like giving a man a fish instead of teaching him to fish, the issue is resolved but nothing is gained.
As a leader, this is really hard to do. Our natural inclination is to solve the problem and move on. It is contrary to our nature to push the problem back to the employee and see what they might do. But this is exactly what we must do, every time this happens.
My team learned long ago that I expect them to come to me with a problem and a solution. With a proposed solution on the table, we can debate the merits, consider alternatives, and arrive at the right answer together. Hopefully, they learn something as we find that answer.
Invariably, when someone brings me a problem, my first question to them is, “What do you think we should do?” If they can’t answer, they need to go away and come back when they have a proposal to consider.
Note that this advice applies to you when you go to your boss: bring the problem and your solution. At our level, you are seeking consensus on your approach, not a quick answer to hard problems. Your boss may able to provide political advice and other intangible support; you need to bring the real answer.
Practice what your preach and apply this rule consistently. Over time, your people will become better problem-solvers without being dependent on you for all the answers. Then you will have achieved your real goal as a leader: mentoring your people to be better than you at everything they do, and then simply getting out of their way.