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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Great Leaders Don’t Tell You What to Do


In many cases, people become managers because they solve problems better than others.  And problems solvers can be rather proud about telling others about how to implement solutions they have discovered.  While being a problem solver may be a normal path to management, it is a trap.  For those managers who move to senior management, being the best problem solver can become
frustrating, especially if you’re the CEO.  Therefore, the greatest managers have strong leadership skills.  They are mission driven and empower their people to solve problems.   

In previous articles, I talked about the transformation that occurs for top leaders.  They transform from problem solvers to problem creators.  In other words, leadership is paid to intentionally create problems for others to solve.  For many, this is counterintuitive.  Why? In school, we are trained to think as problem solvers.  We are graded and rewarded for solving problems the teacher gives us.  That mindset stays with us.  It is the same mindset that is rewarded in the workplace.  However, that mindset can work against leaders.

The job of leadership is to invent new possibilities.  When John F. Kennedy declared the US would send a man to the moon, it was not his job to figure out how to do it.  His job was to allocate resources.  What is amazing about that initiative is there would have been no budget for it prior to him saying the US was committed to going to the moon.  He had to make up a budget.  He even created NASA to execute the mission.  Kennedy’s time was better spent building the team to fulfill the mission, instead of rolling up his sleeves and being a rocket scientist.

With that said, instead of solving problems, Kennedy created one for others to solve.  As he spent time in meetings with the leaders of NASA, Kennedy could ask questions.  I assume Kennedy didn’t tell the aeronautics engineers what they needed to do.  He would have asked what was possible and what resources they needed to make it happen. 


Too often, leaders proudly tell their people what to do –micro managers.  Over time, staff and management become yes-men.  From there, the leader becomes frustrated because his people do not think for themselves.  Because he solved most of the tough problems, they would have lost their ability to effectively handle difficult challenges.  They simply run to the leader looking for the solution.  As a result, the leader, especially the CEO, will have to fire the people around him and replace them with more experienced people.  Except, he will eventually replace those people when the company outgrows them.

Imagine, on the other hand, you have a team that comes to you and says, “we have a problem.  What should we do?”  Instead of solving it, you ask them what they would do if you were not there.  They may tell you that they would wait for you to return.  (That response could be very problematic.)  Instead of being upset, that is a coaching moment.  That is the time to use your expertise to ask the right questions instead of solve it.  Now imagine over time that same team comes to you and says, “we have a problem.  I know you will ask these questions.  I have already thought them through.  Here’s where I am.  Now I’m stuck.”   At that point, you, as the leader, may know the answer.  That is the time to ask them questions they have not asked themselves.  As that team evolves, they could easily solve problems without you.  What you may eventually hear is “we had a major problem two weeks ago.  It was partially our fault and partially the clients.  We took full responsibility and here’s how we solved it.  I just thought you should know about it.  Oh, and by the way, the client loved how we solved the problem.  They called one of their clients and sent them to us.” 

When your team makes it to that level, they are ready for new and more challenging possibility – the new problem you create.  That new problem is best if it penetrates an untapped market and drives new revenue.  Even that new possibility will come about because you, as the leader, began to ask yourself questions you’ve never asked before.  What questions are you asking?        


What do you think? I would love to hear your feedback. And I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, connect through my blog www.turnaroundip.blogspot.com.

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