If you’ve experienced this frustration, it’s important to understand that this approach can lead to more proactive, problem solving employees (if done the right way). But it can also bring undesirable side effects such as the stifling of communication and ensuring that problems don’t come to light until they’re full-blown crises.
What’s a boss to do?
There’s a difference between complaining and pointing out legitimate problems that are a barrier to organisational performance. Many managers adopt the “solutions not problems” mantra as a way of stopping workplace whiners wasting their time. In the process, they inadvertently send the message that they only want to hear about problems that their employees are able to solve. That’s a problem. Because, as a leader, you should want to hear about problems: problems that might require your help, collaboration amongst the team or even a bit of coaching to solve. All business improvement, at its essence, is about solving problems. But businesses can’t solve problems that people are too afraid to bring to anyone’s attention.
Frequently, employees don’t offer solutions because they’ve been trained not to. This is a direct result of the leader’s behaviours. By positioning himself or herself as the “go to person”, never delegating authority, controlling resources or punishing every error of judgement, many bosses actively discourage problem solving, and create the employee dependence that many claim is the bane of their existence.
A better way…
Here’s a better approach - the next time someone brings you a problem, engage the whole team in problem solving and expose the whiners that don’t want to get with the program. First, ask them what they think should be done and why. Help them identify the critical success factors that need to be considered and any potential risks that need to be mitigated.
Good leadership equips, empowers and encourages ‘problem solvers’; it doesn’t foster ‘problem presenters’ by blithely handing out solutions. If you consistently model this process and encourage your people to run with it, you’ll acknowledge the power and desirability of a team approach to problem solving and begin to diminish your role as the problem solver.