If you have responsibility for a business, a company, or a team, STOP solving everything. Please stop solving everybody’s problems.
That sounds like a crazy person talking, right?
Here’s what I mean. It is likely you climbed the business ladder by solving problems. As a sole-contributor on a team, you helped make things happen. Whether it was customer service, design engineering or framing a house, you did it well. You made things happen; you solved problems.
Small transactional events or separate work moments were completed because you knew how to do that. Then one day, you got promoted.
Either your old boss left or there was an opening somewhere else in the company for a supervisor, so you got the job. Why? Because your performance was appreciated and recognized. But it was still based on solving problems.
Then, as a new manager, you realized you could solve other people’s problems. Perhaps it started within your own team, but people came to you with their problems and you “fixed” them. It came naturally. So you did it more and more.
Now you’ve gotten several more promotions and you’re still solving everyone’s problems.
It’s time to start leading and stop solving problems.
Lead People, Don’t Solve Their Problems
Still sound crazy? Let me break it down a little further.
Real leaders do many things. One big thing they do is develop their people. They help people grow. Growth can be professional, technical, or personal, but there is growth.
Solving everyone’s problems cuts short the opportunity to help people grow by learning how to solve their own problems. It’s like the old saying:
“Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
Solve someone’s problems, you helped them for a day. Teach them to solve problems and you set them up for life.
If you, as a leader, are not helping people learn to think critically or work their way through their own problems, you are just enabling a weak version of what your people could otherwise be. Please stop doing that.
It Applies to Entrepreneurs Too
Even in a smaller business, if the owner does all the problem solving, your business will stay small and stuck solving problems. But if you teach your people why and how you solve problems, you can grow your company.
I talk to too many business owners who feel stuck in the day to day. Usually, it comes down to having to make every decision and solve every problem.
On one hand, there is a period of time in the life of a new company when that situation makes sense. Yet if the business has any growth at all, the owner must give up some of that constant hands-on approach. There is a need to have others on the team capable of solving transactional problems.
Save the big picture thinking and key strategies for the owner, yes. While doing that, teach and mentor your staff to make their own decisions.
Doesn’t that take more time?
You may be saying “I don’t have time to do that sort of detailed effort. We need stuff done.” I get that. And yes, I’ll agree, certain moments in the heat of battle just have to get done.
“FIRE!” When someone in the office yells that, you have to move quickly to get out. There’s no time for teaching. Hopefully, your teaching was done during a fire drill for your building.
As the leader, you have to use problem-solving in the moment as the focus for teaching and learning during one-on-ones, or small group meetings. Don’t just do a post-mortem on a situation, but walk people through how and why you would do what you would do to solve the problem.
As you do that though, don’t just talk it down to them. Make it interactive. Tease it out of them with questions. Questions like:
What else could be a factor here?
Have you thought about anything else?
What do we know about x, y, and z?
If X happens, what will Y do?
The list is endless.
The questions are the natural way your brain thinks about solving the problem. By using questions to reframe the matter at hand, you help your people see how you process the problem. You’re modeling the problem-solving behavior so they can absorb and adapt to it.
Back to the time issue. Hiding behind time constraints is a convenient excuse for not helping your people grow. You are no different from the great leaders you may have known.
You both have 86,400 seconds in the day. It’s how that time gets used that makes the difference between good and great leaders.