The following is an excerpt from One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
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. That’s when he dropped the bomb.
“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 those. 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 of “Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.” 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 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.
How do you remind yourself to advance the thinking as far as you can before involving others? Share your suggestions in the comments below.
– If you’re serious about improving your innovation and idea generation skills, 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 push your own thinking. CLICK HERE to get your copy.
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