When Solving Problems Is A Bad Idea

Solving problems

Most people I work with love solving problems.  For some, this is the source of their passion.  Give them a thorny problem and they will find the answer.  The more challenging the better.  I have also noticed something else about these people.  They are incredibly busy.  That can be good or bad.

One thing is for certain, the people around them know where to take their problems.  When you have a thorny problem, take it to the problem solver.  If the problem solver is also your boss, that makes it even easier to give them your problem.  It is their job to help you after all.

The downsides of problem solving

While this may sound fine, it creates a big problem in the long run.  The problem solver is telling everyone to bring them their problems.  The problem solver will fix them.  In effect, they are training those around them to pass off their problems.  Firstly, this behavior impacts the problem solver, they become a bottleneck.  Their constant supply of problems bogs them down.  The problems don’t stop coming because they can’t say no.  This is what they do.  But, the problem solving rate slows down as they get overwhelmed and the organization slows down with them.

The second problem impacts the people around the problem solver.  They never learn how to solve their own problems.  They are robbed of an important development opportunity.  Over time, this becomes a major issue as the organization is not growing its capability.  It becomes more reliant on the expert problem solver, in effect becoming more fragile.

The solution is not so obvious

The solution may sound obvious.  Stop solving problems.  While that is true, there is more to it.  We can’t simply say no.  We need to take on a different role, that of the coach.  The coach supports them to solve their problems but they don’t take over responsibility.  That remains with the person who owns the problem and they learn how to fix it.  The coach asks questions to create insight and learning.  This is very different than taking over the problem or telling them how to solve it.

I will talk more about coaching best practice in another post.  For now, are you the sort of leader who solves everyone else’s problems?  How is that working for you?

Comments (2)

“Asks questions to create insight and learning” Great description of coaching. And of what a leader with coaching skills does. Spot on Andy!

Thanks Phillip, I appreciate your comments!

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