As a leader, resist the temptation to solve problems yourself.
It’s expected that, as a leader, people come to you with a problem they want you to help them solve. And, as leaders, solving problems is something you’re likely very good at. You might even really enjoy it. Plus, it feels good to help someone in need. In my book, Great CEOs Are Lazy, we called this player mode.
The catch is that solving the problem for someone is exactly the wrong thing to do, as it weakens the organization. Let me explain why.
Avoid Creating Lazy Thinkers
If you get into the habit of solving the problems your people bring to you, you’ll inadvertently train them to become lazy thinkers. The result is that anytime they hit a brick wall or a stopping place, they’ll seek out the path of least resistance and bring the problem straight to you. We see this as parents when our kids come to us with every issue. Over time, we try to teach our children to at least attempt to solve their problems so they can be independent adults. The same phenomenon exists in your company.
Over time, especially if you run a growth-oriented business, you’ll find more and more problems on your desk, which will suck up all your valuable time. Worse, you’ll fail to turn these problems into opportunities to build the capabilities of your team — the organizational muscle that you’ll need to scale your business moving forward. If you plan on selling and exiting the company one day, you can forget it if you are the source of all ideas and problem-solving.
That’s why you need to rethink how problems arrive on your desk.
Bringing Solutions to the Problems
As a leader, the big opportunity you have is to retrain your team regarding problems. Rather than simply bringing an intractable issue to your attention, they need also to bring at least one potential solution as well.
Even if that solution is only 80 percent as good as the one you could have arrived at, it becomes a learning opportunity for your team that only requires some minor tweaking to make good on. And better yet, you’ll develop the skills and confidence of your team to solve problems independently moving forward.
For example, in my role as CEO, I once had a VP of sales come to me with what he thought was a thorny issue involving negotiating several key contract terms with a client. He was stuck and wanted my help to solve it. But I didn’t. Instead, I told him to go home and come back to me the next day with three possible solutions.
To his credit, this VP came back the next day with three potential answers to his problem — including one that, after we discussed it, was the optimal answer. For those of you who know history, you will recognize that I stole this management technique from Henry Ford.
The beauty of this approach was that not only did this VP gain some confidence in coming up with the solution, but he could also now head off this issue if it arose again in the future — without ever having to let me know about it. He was now a stronger member of the team.
The Key to Future Scaling
So, if you want to build an organization that can truly scale in the future, you can’t make yourself into the constraint by training your people to think they need you to solve all their big problems. Instead, your goal as a leader is to train your people to develop potential solutions to their problems, which you can then use to help build their confidence and aptitudes. That’s what I call building organizational muscle.