We Can’t Solve All The Problems

By Tracy MacDonald
Jan 2021

Problem solvers and solution finders unite!

Now, step back, take a breath, and pause. Your future self, your team and your employees will thank you later.

Being a problem solver and solution oriented person is a great quality and inherent among leaders. The challenge is that if you’re solving all the problems, then you may be on the road to burn out, depriving yourself of the time to focus on strategy and future goals, and preventing your colleagues from having the opportunity to embark on their own problem solving missions. It can be difficult to give up the problem solving behavior, but there are advantages to you as well as to your team if you do.

The reality is that leaders, by the nature of their roles, are spending more time problem solving and less time strategizing. The irony here is that these leaders likely ended up in these positions as the result of a previous successful strategy and implementation cycle. And let’s face it, solving problems feels good. It gives us a sense of accomplishment and helping others can make our jobs as leaders meaningful. But it can get tiresome and become an intensive part of the day when time for planning for the future and strategizing is needed in order to move the business forward. This is what can lead to burn out- the feeling that each day is spent reacting to the needs of others. In the longer term, there is also the possibility of work becoming meaningless if we don’t feel we are contributing in a way that makes us feel fulfilled and meets our goals, not just the needs of others.

However, one may raise the very valid point of: if my team is coming to me to ask for help, it’s my job to help. To that, we say absolutely, but helping doesn’t mean doing. And not helping doesn’t mean ignoring the request, but it does mean guiding others in a productive way. It means empowering people to take their own leap of faith and try something new, and then return to you for further guidance where needed. It means giving people the opportunity to try, succeed or fail, and learn. These learning opportunities are crucial for personal and professional growth.

In its simplest form, problem solving is a lot like ideation- there is a path to the solution which may not be straight, may require some back-tracking, could benefit from input from others, or requires a completely different perspective. In addition to the path of problem solving is also the lessons learned from success or failure of the solutions. Encouraging, allowing and supporting others to solve their own problems contributes to empowerment and self confidence among employees and ultimately the opportunity for new and future leaders to emerge. As leaders, this is our role, to cultivate the next generation of leaders so that we can also grow and explore other opportunities.

So the next time there is a challenge or an opportunity that you would normally take over and solve, try opening up the communication and giving others a chance to do what you normally would. Keep in mind deadlines, guidance, parameters and goals for solving the problems and share those with the brave colleagues who are ready for this challenge. In the end, there may be a solution you hadn’t thought of or an opportunity for collaboration that hadn’t existed before.

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