The following is an excerpt from One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership (you can get your copy here). This post focuses on the importance of looking beyond the problems you face and coming up with solutions.
An authentic leader does not say what people want to hear, but instead says the things people need to hear whether they want to hear them or not. Those same leaders take actions consistent with their thoughts and beliefs. When asked to take action in conflict with their ideals they stand up against those actions or at least voice their disapproval and make others convince them it is the right path to pursue. The sum of these genuine words, actions, and beliefs over time defines a leader’s style.
Style is a construct through which a leader demonstrates their authenticity. There are many ways to convey ideas, beliefs, and values. There are just as many ways of putting ideas into action. By now you have likely found approaches for communicating and acting that are comfortable for you and other approaches that are not. Those comfortable techniques become your preferred style over time.
It is important that you know your style, can articulate it clearly, and are comfortable living it every day. To do this you must find the approaches to communicating and acting that work best for you and continue to use and hone those techniques so that you maintain your confidence in their efficacy. A virtuous circle will result. The more you use a tool, the better you get with it and the more inclined you will be to use it. Using tools that allow you to comfortably convey your values and beliefs will eventually form the basis for your natural style. That is the key to being authentic in your leadership.
My second “leadership style” maxim is “Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.” I learned this one the hard way.
As a young management consultant I was assigned to a particularly difficult project. Not only was the problem complex but some members of the client team were not willing to devote sufficient time to making the project succeed. As I walked the halls of our home office one Friday afternoon, one of our senior consulting partners stopped me and asked how things were going.
I began unloading a stream of complaints about deadlines, problem complexity, and client team member recalcitrance. The partner listened attentively and allowed me to vent for a few minutes. When I finally paused and caught my breath he asked “What’s your solution?” I stared at him blankly. I did not have one. “Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.” With that, he walked away. I was speechless.
When I discussed the interaction with my project manager, she coached me to always have a solution to the problems I bring to others, especially to senior clients or senior consulting partners. She explained I did not need to have the final answer to solve the entire problem but I did need to have at least some preliminary suggestions on what steps I thought we should take. In this case she pointed out I should have had a recommendation we sit down with senior client team and discuss the lack of commitment some of their team members were displaying.
Having the start of a solution was better than having no solution at all. She made it clear I was not expected to solve all problems on my own. I was to work with the team to solve them. The point of the whole lesson was I should try to push a problem as far along as possible on my own before bringing in the team to help. Under no circumstance was I to only bring forth a problem without dedicating any thought to creating a solution even if that solution was as simple as “we should have a meeting to start figuring this out.”
I personally learned a lot and grew a great deal from these particular interactions with the partner and my project manager. I adopted the maxim as my own and have used it with many teams over the years. I am always careful to emphasize that I want my team members to do as much thinking as they can before they come to me with a problem but they should absolutely come forward once they are stuck and cannot get any closer to a solution.
I have found that this maxim empowers my team to make decisions and it demonstrates that I trust their skill and judgment. It also prevents them from bringing forward small problems they can easily solve on their own. When I have had team members who have looked to me to solve all their problems for them, they either built their own problem solving skills in response to this maxim or they moved on to another role where they could fulfill their spoon-feeding needs. Stylistically the approach works well for me because I enjoy teaching people how to push their thinking and own the results for which they are accountable.
What has your experience been with focusing on solutions rather than problems? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
- If you’re serious about strengthening the connection between you and your team, grab yourself a copy of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. There are plenty of suggestions in there for how you can strengthen your relationship with your team members. CLICK HERE to get your copy.
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