Help your team come up with solutions. Don’t simply solve their problems.

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What happens if you are a manager or leader when someone on your team comes to you seeking a solution a problem? Do you solve it or help them to come up with a solution. Consistently solving problems for members of your team does not develop their leadership skills and creates a cycle of upward delegation that makes it hard for you to be effective as a leader.

Giving someone an answer simply encourages them to come back to you for an answer the next time. It doesn’t encourage and equip them to create and own solutions to problems. Eventually, other people on your team tend to notice. Before long you are spending the bulk of your job solving problems for other people. I’ve built organizations and teams that look like that. I would be frustrated that people couldn’t get more done without me. It took me a long time to realize that I was the problem, not my team. Leaders need to lead. They also need to grow and equip other leaders around them.

Does this sound familiar?

“I’m super busy and I have too many things to get done. Jim comes to me a problem and I solve it for him. I’m too busy to coach him through the process of solving the problem so I’ll just do it. It will save time.”

Hmm. Maybe it will save a bit of time in the present. But what about next time? Yes, it’s often quicker to solve one problem now, but that isn’t a leadership style that works over time.

Here are 2 common problems that might happen if you simply give Jim the answer.

·         Jim might have had a better answer. Good leaders surround themselves with people better than themselves. Don’t you trust your team to come up with good answers that might be different than yours?

·         Jim doesn’t own the solution. If he doesn’t own it, it’s easier for him to give up on the solution. Jim will be more committed and motived to make the solution work if he feels pride of ownership and responsibility towards making it work.

Do you want an empowered team or a team of people who do what you want them to do?

When questions arise it can be helpful to respond with other questions that can be used to elicit solutions from the people around you such as "I don't know; what do you think?" or "If you were me, how would you answer that?"

Sometimes members of your team won’t have all the knowledge they need to solve a problem. That’s fine and to expected. Teach and mentor in those moments. But coach your team into coming up with solutions they own whenever possible. Avoid the problem of upward delegation.

How will you respond the next time someone says “I have a problem?”

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