As a team leader or manager, it’s tempting to try and solve everyone’s problems on your own. Every time someone from your team comes to you with a question or an issue, you may want to support and protect them by resolving everything for them. But you could be doing more damage than good by trying to be the office superhero all the time.
When being too helpful backfires
‘But hang on, why shouldn’t a leader be trying to solve everyone’s problem? Isn’t that what we’re getting paid the big bucks for?’, you may be asking.
Yes, as the leader, you ultimately take accountability for your team’s problems. But this doesn’t mean that you need to dictate every little task that your team members should be doing.
Let me explain why solving everyone’s problems on your own doesn’t necessarily make you a great leader.
Firstly, it’s a sure way to burn yourself out. When you’re trying to solve everyone’s problems for them every day, it can get exhausting. You’ll spend lots of energy and time into solving many ad-hoc problems for your team. So you won’t have much brain juice left for any creative or strategic thinking. And that isn’t doing your team any favor. Your strategy and long-term planning skills are what your team would appreciate the most.
Additionally, as you’re getting burnt out and stressed, your decision-making skills could be affected.
Psychological studies found that individuals who are under stress change how they make decisions. It turns out that people under stress tend to focus more on the positive factors than the negative factors of
their options. It’s a scary thought: leaders making important business decisions when they’re ignoring the negative risks.
So, when you’re running around like a headless chicken and trying to solve every problem, you might not be making the best decision for your team.
Another downside to problem-solving by yourself is that you’re not letting your team members grow. As Ralph Nader put it, “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”
When you’re always problem-solving for your team, this results in your team members becoming dependent on you. They’ll stop thinking for themselves or stop learning how to solve problems on their own.
One question to
rule empower them all
So what can you do to not burn yourself out, let your team grow, and become a great leader at the same time?
Let me start with a little story of how I learned this. I’ll never forget what my company’s Head of Agile taught us during our first ‘Agile’ group meeting.
She explained that when someone comes to you with a problem, our automatic response would be to try and resolve it for them. Not only are we trying to be helpful, but it makes us feel smart and powerful as well for being able to advise someone.
The drawback though is that as soon as you’ve resolved a question or a problem, you have become the owner of that problem. This means that next time a related question or problem comes up, your team will continue to expect you to have all the answers. Until the end of time.
Our wise Head of Agile advised us that a great leader knows how to deflect owning every problem and they do it with one simple question, “What do you think?”
I’ve always subconsciously known to do this in the back of my mind, but when she said it out loud, my brain had an ‘A-ha!’ moment. So simple, yet so effective.
Just asking this one question has many benefits for you and your team members. It:
●Encourages your team to professionally grow and become more autonomous
●Creates a good habit for your team members
●Shows your team that you value their input
●Shares knowledge and expertise across the team.
Encourage professional growth and autonomy
Next time a team member approaches you with a problem, see what happens when you ask them, “What do you think?”
This simple question automatically deflects the responsibility and problem-solving onto the other person. It creates a great opportunity for their professional development. You’re leading them to not only be able to identify the problem, but how to use their problem-solving skills as well.
And it doesn’t just stop there with helping them grow their problem-solving skills. Asking for your team member’s input also builds their analytical and persuasion skills.
When they have the responsibility of solving a problem, they grow their ability to analyze solutions. They learn to critically consider the pros and cons for each option. Once they’ve figured out the possible solutions, they will need to use their persuasion skills to recommend the best solution.
Essentially, you can become a great leader by asking an individual to solve their own problems and help them grow professionally. This helps them to become less dependent on you, boosts their self-confidence, and gives them the autonomy to get the work done in their own way.
Create a good habit for your team
Always asking your team for their input introduces a great habit for them at work. When you consistently respond to problems that get them thinking, they’ll learn to come to you with some solutions prepared.
Over time, they’ll tackle their problems on their own, instead of becoming dependent on other people for answers. The goal is to help your team realize that thinking for themselves should be the default behavior. And they should take this approach with any other leaders or managers that they come across for help as well.
Once your team starts coming to you with the solutions to a problem, all you need to do is help them make the right decision. You can focus on leading them towards a solution that aligns with the business or team strategy.
Show that you value your team’s input
In modern leadership,teams are now resisting dictatorship or micro-management at work. It’s much more important to establish a mutual respect and trust between you and your team. Responding to your team’s problems with “What do you think?” instantly shows that you value their input. And this will consequently feed into a more positive relationship to build that mutual respect and trust.
By asking for your team member’s input, you’re also breaking down any invisible hierarchy. You’re letting the team know that their knowledge and skills are just as valuable, if not more, than your own.
By breaking down the hierarchy, your team will feel more engaged and invested in their work from the increased responsibility.
But remember to be genuine about your interest in their input. You shouldn’t ask for their problem-solving skills just for the sake of doing it. Especially if you’ve already made up your mind on how you want them to resolve something. Your team will be able to see right through you, especially if it happens regularly, and their trust and respect for you will only get worse.
Shares knowledge and expertise across the team
The reason you ask for your team’s input is not only for their professional growth or to build a better relationship. It’s also to make the most of their knowledge and expertise. By the time a team member has approached you with a problem, it is likely that they’ll have more
knowledge around the problem than you. They might already know the problem’s history, and have started brainstorming for possible solutions. They might have already talked to some experts around the business who know a lot about this specific problem.
So, instead of pretending that you know everything, why not trust your team members to advise you on the best solution?
Expectations for leaders are always changing over time, and businesses today are shifting away from the having a leader who knows it all. Instead, they want a leader who is not afraid to hire people who are smarter than them. And a great leader will know how to optimize the skills and talent that their team offers.
How do you like to lead your team? Can you relate to any of the tips that I’ve mentioned on being a great leader? I’d love to hear your thoughts and advice – leave a comment below!