When asked what’s needed most in today’s workforce, many leaders will list a cadre of characteristics. But the one characteristic that continues to crop up is “the ability to solve problems.” So, how does that work?
Many executives aspire to have a company of people that are masters of problem-solving. These leaders salivate over the mere thought of people being able to create their own solutions in real-time. Interestingly enough, though, most employees would like to have those types of opportunities. If both sides want it, then why is problem-solving still a sought-after characteristic?
In reality, it’s still a dream because leaders aren’t holding themselves accountable for creating environments that foster a strong sense of genuine problem-solving and building team accountability. Secondary, then, is that their employees simply don’t ever grow in their ability to think strategically.
What emerges here is actually a three-fold question:
- What should leaders be doing to help their people learn to think strategically?
- What should leaders be doing to encourage their employees to solve their own problems?
- Why does any of this really matter?
I've put together a list of a few quick tips for each question to share with you.
First: What should leaders be doing to help their people learn to think strategically?
Stop setting yourself up to be the #1 problem-solver. As long you continue to solve problems for people around you, you’ll be the #1 problem-solver. People will never stop running to you. We usually solve problems because we’re busy; it just seems quicker. And many times it is quicker, for the moment anyway. But from a long-term perspective, it’s a hamster wheel and it will feast on your time and energy.
- Recognize that as a leader, it’s your job to teach people to think strategically. As with the first tip above, time can seem to be an enemy. In reality, time isn’t the enemy. It’s how we use the time we have that’s the enemy. So slow down; pause; be a leader in that you begin to teach people how to think strategically. Ask questions. Instead of routinely doling out a solution, engage in a conversation by leading with one question after another. The questions you ask depend on the situation, but here are a few to give you a jump-start:
- How do you see this?
- What do you think are two ways we could approach this? (Then, respond with a probing question: Which way do you think is best, and why? OR…if you don’t agree with the response: I think if we take your first idea and twist it just a little to do… then we might be getting closer to a solution. What do you think? Or What would it look like if we did …? What are your thoughts about that?)
- What is the key implication if this problem isn’t solved?
- If we do this, how might we convey this to the entire team?
- What might be one positive implication of doing this? What might be one negative implication? Is the negative implication something we need to think about?
- Which of our Annual Initiatives (or Quarterly Priorities) might this impact the most? Why?
- Who else might you want to consult with about this problem?
Give your people a stage. Encourage your people to lead a portion of a Weekly Staff Meeting on the challenge that needs a solution. Give them a timeframe as well as a framework for presenting the challenge. They’ll be presenting the problem, and they’ll then lead a discussion around potential solutions. This might be uncomfortable for some of your people, but it’s key to growing their ability to think strategically while also working with others. It also fosters the concept of joint problem-solving vs. silo mentality.
To read my tips for addressing the second and third questions, stay tuned for part 2 of this blog.
Want more information on Leadership and Team Accountability? Check out these additional resources:
The Power of Systems and People: Accountable Leaders and Teams
Learn more about accountable leaders and teams.
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