Quit Solving Your Team’s Problems for Them

How I used 3 words to empower my team & free up my time to lead

Don’t you feel good when you solve a problem at work? Doesn’t it make you feel smart, useful, and valuable? I venture to say that many of us got to our leadership positions because we’re so good at solving problems.

But if you’re going to grow in your career and manage a highly effective team, you can’t spend your time solving all the problems. It will stop you from focusing on the strategic part of your role, and it won’t allow your employees to develop, either.

I’m Already Good at Delegating…

As leaders many of us have mastered the art of delegation when it comes to tasks and projects. But it can be much harder to delegate problem solving, especially when a direct report comes to you with a problem and specifically asks you to solve it. It is especially hard when time is precious, deadlines loom, and complications have arisen.

In those instances, it is tempting to solve the problem yourself. But guess what my advice is? Don’t do it. Do this instead…

Use These 3 Words

There are plenty of employees who feel it’s their job to raise an issue and their manager’s job to solve the problem. There are times when this is certainly the case. However, more often than not, I have found that the employee bringing the issue up knows one or more ways of resolving it, they just don’t know how to navigate taking action.

The person experiencing the issue can have a larger impact if you ask them one question BEFORE you take any other action:

What’s your recommendation?

When I started asking my direct reports to be prepared to share their recommendations when they presented issues or problems, it was a huge shift for us all.

The Payoff

The payoff for my team, our organization, our customers, and for me was tremendous. When I did ask, and then delegate appropriately, the team operated more efficiently, was more connected to each other, and trust took hold. I noticed that my team was more invested in the solution when they had a say in the approach — so not only did this method build trust and confidence, it built commitment.

Here’s what happened:

  • We became a team that was known for exceeding expectations and began being sought out by other groups across the company to consult on their business issues.
  • My career progression accelerated – the more ready my team was to take on new challenges, the more opportunity came my way, as well.

Managerial Courage

Early in my career a lot of my pride was tied to my being known for getting things done well and solving complex problems. My ego was heavily invested in this. When I realized that the team was made up of folks who felt as I did about solving problems I realized I needed to get out of the way and let them solve for themselves.

I started by trying it with a high performer on my team – and the results were awesome! I continued it with others on the team, and in a very short time, my delegation increased and my trust in them grew. This was due to the simple shift in discussing their recommendations before they were implemented.

Ask and Pause… Yes, I Said Pause

Let me be clear, it takes practice and it can be hard – hard to remember to pause, hard to sit in uncomfortable silence, hard to ask more than once for a recommendation, hard to remember to ask in high stress situations, and hard not to just take the issue over yourself.

But it can be done, and the payoffs experienced by leaders and teams make it worth persevering through the learning curve.

What to Do

In my experience, the process goes like this:

  1. Ask the question, “What’s your recommendation?”
  2. Pause
  3. Sit with the silence (if there is any… and many times there will be)
  4. Ask again and again until something is offered up — a starting point is always better than nothing
  5. Explore the recommendations and agree on next steps. Each time this happens you have an exceptional coaching opportunity to affirm their recommendation or explore information they might need to make a more viable recommendation in the future. It simply opens communication up more broadly than a one-way, I-tell-you-how-to-do-things mode.
  6. Wash, rinse, repeat. Same is true for high stress situations. These types of situations can be exceptional learning opportunities in that you control the decision – you can ask as many questions as needed and guide the employee to the best results with their involvement.

So, for all the exceptional problem solvers out there, and you know who you are, who believe that you need to solve all the problems to get the glory and the promotion: You don’t. And your team will thank you for it — after they get used to it.

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