As a leader, problem-solving is integral to your job. Isn’t that exciting? All the problems get to come to you! Congratulations! You landed this position because you know how to solve problems.
However, there’s a negative aspect of this skill. If you’re solving all the problems, you’re not equipping your team to become good problem solvers. If you’re solving all their problems, then why would they need to know how to do it themselves? You’re actually creating a bigger, more pervasive problem in your business.
Training Your Team to be Problem Solvers
Slow Everything Down
Usually, when problems come to you, emotions are high. There’s an urgency and the person with the problem is caught up in the hype. They believe that this problem is critical. If you slow down, talk slower, and stay calm, you can then have the person articulate the problem more clearly without all the added emotions.
Ask, “Show me.”
Take out a piece of paper and start taking notes on what the problem is. Ask questions. Listen. Henry Bedford, my mentor and chairman of the board at Southwestern, has the magic words to any problem. He says, “Show me.” It’s amazing when people are asked to show you an example of the problem in front of them, that people think what they have is this big problem, they are actually exaggerating the extent of their problem. When asked, “Show me.” it usually all comes down to one little thing that they need help solving.
Ask, “What do you think?”
After slowing down and hearing the real problem, it’s tempting to just fix their problem right then and there. It will be your instinct to solve the problem for them, which is the worst thing you can do! Once you fully understand the extent of the problem, the best next step is to ask, “What do you think?” This is the step that most leaders skip. After asking the question, pause. If they say, “Well, this is why I came to you.” Don’t stop there and just give them the solution. Say again, “What do you think are some solutions to this problem?” They may say they don’t know. But keep silent. It may be awkward, but they will start thinking of options. You’ll see the wheels turn.
If you follow this process every time someone comes to you with a problem, then you’re equipping your team to bring you problems and a couple of their own solutions. They will stop coming to you with problems that they haven’t thought of any solutions to first. Nine out of ten times, your team already knows all the answers, but you need to condition your team to problem solve before they ever approach your desk.
That is how you create excellent problem solvers.