I was recently at a dinner meeting with a few people surrounding an event I was supporting, and at the table was both a young, aggressive, smart individual contributor from a large company and a 30+ year experienced general manager who knew his way around the flagpole. We got into a discussion about the young future manager’s thoughts on problem solving. Through that conversation, something became clear to me. New managers, and really managers in general, don’t know what problems they should be solving.
Every one of a manager’s direct reports has problems. The big mistake managers make is that they make all of their staff’s problems their problems. Those problems aren’t our problems. Here is what this might look like:
If you have 5 directs with 5 problems, that doesn’t mean you have 25 problems. Running a larger organization isn’t about solving more problems, it’s about solving more systemic problems. This is a similar gap from going from super-worker to supervisor. The scope and perspective should change.
There are two problems with taking the additive approach to problem accumulation. First, is that when you see your team’s problems as your problems, whether you intend to or not, you take ownership away from them. This doesn’t follow the whole respect for people thing very well. We aren’t trying to take over, but after all, it’s our problem too. These are their problems. Let them own them.
Second, if you are working on those problems, no on is working on the more systemic problems. For example, the skill of problem solving within the team might be a problem (something you don’t make better by owning their problems for them). Or perhaps alignment is an issue. Or something involving communication.
The point is that you should be aware of those problems. Deeply aware. Because within those problems is not only information about how your systems are performing, but also how your people are performing. But knowing the problems and owning them are two different things.
What action should you take? What can you learn from our team’s problems that tells us what problems we really need to solve? What do you say to a new manager about problem solving?
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