Problem Solving Without Intervening

Based on a Leadership article by Dan Rockwell

Essentials of Problem Solving

Most leaders and managers have a strong desire to jump in and get involved with problem solving directly. Human nature has a part in this. It’s called “fixing things”. After all, the expectation that people have of their leadership is to fix things for them..

While most managers will focus on problem solving themselves and fix things, more enlightened managers will spend time helping and guiding their people to think through and resolve the problems they face themselves. Great managers realize that results are important but building people skills is even more important.

One example of problematic situations that new managers encounter are about relationships with colleagues or team members. Here’s what typically happens: two staff members have an argument. One of them complains to her manager that the other staff member has been unreasonable. The manager promptly calls the other staff member to discuss the issue and fix the problem. But is this the right way to approach this? No, because rather than fixing the issue, this is likely to cause resentment. A manager cannot negotiate relationships between colleagues for them. They have to manage their relationships themselves. A much more effective approach for the manager to take would be to listen to the complaint, to express confidence that the staff member has the capacity to solve this issue herself and provide some general guidelines on how best to move forward. Great managers do not just jump in and intervene.

Nine times out of ten, the staff members themselves will be feeling uncomfortable about their argument and once they know it is up to them to fix the problem, they will find the courage to talk about it and get back to normal terms.

The reality is that the stress created by problems shakes the confidence of new leaders/managers and makes them forget they have what it takes to solve the problem themselves. They start looking to authority – usually their immediate manager or a senior manager – to help. Simply providing some calm counseling and instilling confidence in them is way more important than solving problems for them. So the message is whenever you can, don’t solve people’s problems; give them confidence they can solve them.

The average manager:

  1. Thinks more about processes than people.
  2. Jumps in and fixes the problem himself/herself
  3. Lectures more than listening and guiding.

The experienced and mature manager:

  1. Lets the staff talk about problems and emphasizes their abilities.
  2. Explains why he/she believes in them.
  3. Honors their work rather than their frustrations