Where would we be without problems?


Some might ask, what is work for if not to fix things, improve things and anticipate the problems that are just around the corner? And if working life were problem free, would we need leaders? 

Sadly, for many people, leaders are part of the problem. They add extra demands to jobs that are already challenging. They place the pressures of time and cost on people who are trying to put customers first. They initiate change, just when things are ticking over nicely. Most of all, a leader can undermine performance by not understanding the unique contribution they can make to their team’s problem-solving ability.

Whose problem is it?

Kim was part of the problem. Like many new to the role, she was struggling with becoming a leader. Having spent a decade being rewarded and promoted for her own performance, she couldn’t resist solving her team’s problems for them. This caused huge frustrations for everyone and made her feel that she was constantly on call, ready to step in and take over. Kim knew that performing well as a leader meant delivering through others. But she couldn’t work out how to make the shift in her thinking and behaviour.

Kim’s insight that she needed to rethink her approach gave her a big advantage. We started work together on the shifts in mindset that would help her step confidently and wholeheartedly into her leadership:

  • From personal to multiple impact. Kim began to see that by boosting her team members’ strengths, she would impact the business many times more than she ever could as an individual.
  • From reason to empathy. Kim knew she was good at assessing people’s strengths and weaknesses. But she was missing hidden resources, simply because she wasn’t tuning in to her team members. And she was sidestepping the emotional barriers that hinder thinking, motivation and performance. She came to realise that empathy was a powerful partner to her natural discernment.
  • From showing to serving. Kim had always been a high performer. Showing how best to do things came naturally to her. And she knew there would be times when she’d need to do this. But she was ready to step back, let her team members step up, and think about how best to serve them. 

Stepping back to let others step up

With such shifts in her thinking, Kim had every hope that she could break her individual contributor habits and practise behaviours that she’d previously resisted. She started with two powerful leadership skills:

  • Listening. Kim was convinced that listening would help her understand her people and their strengths. What astonished her was the quality of the problem solving that team members accomplished when she listened to them. Kim realised she could ignite others’ thinking, simply by giving them time and attention. 
  • Asking questions. Kim had always been quick to ask questions, usually to hold others to account against the high standards she set. Now she found herself asking different questions. Questions to understand the values and motives that kept people going. Questions to discover hidden strengths and resolve skill gaps. Questions to explore what people needed from her to fulfil their responsibilities.

Helping others solve their own problems 

By shifting her thinking, and then practising two fundamental leadership behaviours, Kim let go of her own expertise and strengthened the problem-solving capabilities of her team. She deepened her relationships with her team members and sharpened her ability to tune in to what they needed from her to give their best.

Thanks for reading!

If you’ve enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you. If you think it can help others boost their problem solving, please pass it on. If you want to help people grow through solving their own problems, come along to our two-day, interactive Inspire workshop. Connect with me on LinkedIn or simply get in touch with me. 

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

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