Whose problem is that?

Look closerSmart leaders don’t only delegate to others, they have a habit of quickly analyzing each situation as it crosses their desk.  We need to stop and ask ourselves if that is really our problem to solve.

Recently, I was coaching someone who is being groomed for a leadership position in her organization. She was telling me about this older man who keeps speaking to her about problems as though she should be fixing them. She tends to react as though it is her responsibility. She now realizes that she has to discern between what is her responsibility and when it is appropriate to delegate.

Coaching versus doing

I had an employee years ago who was always coming to me with her problems. At first, I thought it was my job to solve them. She was somewhat insecure and it made me feel good and powerful to be so helpful. This was my ego talking to me and I was sabotaging myself. I hardly had time to do my own work. Additionally, I was sabotaging her ability to grow when I owned her problems for her.

I changed the way we had our conversations. When she would approach me, I would listen carefully while taking notes. Then I would say “Well that is quite a problem you have. What are your options to solve it?” Eventually she stopped coming to me with her problems but rather to discuss possible solutions.

She was terrific at her job but I identified that she needed validation because of anxiety. Instead of owning her problems for her, it was more helpful to show her how to engage her brainstorming abilities and become more solutions focused. This is a skill we must teach people if we are to bring the best out of our valuable human assets.

She quickly became autonomous in her problem solving. Instead of these intense conversations we had started with, she would casually mention something that had come up and how she solved it. She outgrew needing me to hold her hand. She had a natural ability to problem solve and with encouragement, she soared.

Don’t let yourself be set up

The woman I was speaking to recently doesn’t seem to have the same situation. The man who is bringing problems to her is not lacking in self-confidence and does not need her validation. He seems to be challenging her by suggesting problems to her that are not hers to solve. She is reacting because she is being groomed to be his boss and is eager to do a good job. Unfortunately, this set up is common with competitive people.

Our egos, especially when we are feeling insecure in a new undertaking, can sabotage us. This can be exhausting if we are unaware that we are reacting to fear. Stepping back and taking stock of why we are reacting is a healthy first step. Then we need to implement some leadership habits.

Here are three habits we attribute to successful leaders and managers.

1. Open door policy to a select group

We know that there are only so many hours to the day. Healthy boundaries means being selective as to who we will exchange with one on one.  We need to protect our agenda and ensure there are gatekeepers who are natural obstacles.

2. Looking at the bigger picture

Although we need detail oriented people in our organizations, it’s those among us who can see the bigger picture that will drive productivity and business. By knowing your organizational chart well, it becomes easy to know on whose desk that problem should fall. Simply asking yourself “who’s problem is this?” helps you stay on track.

3. Empowering others

According to the 80/20 rule, you need to be spending 80% of your time working towards your own goals and priorities. When you are supporting others out of that remaining 20%, your job is not to solve the problem but to coach and help them find the resources to accomplish their goals.

Leadership and vision doesn’t mean that we are responsible for solving and taking action for every single thing that comes our way. Over-responsible people will eventually burn out.

If you find yourself unable to stop a pattern with a particular person I invite you to download my simple cheat sheet.

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