Do You Problem Solve Too Much?
Do You Problem Solve Too Much?
Good leaders help team members solve their own problems with their own insight. Average leaders tend to solve their team members’ problems, thus truncating their opportunity to grow themselves. So, how do we help our team members learn to problem solve on their own? In this post I begin with a story and then suggest ways to problem solve in a balanced way.
Archimedes was a brilliant Greek scientist. He lived 250 years before Christ and is best known for inventing a method to determine an object’s volume. A goldsmith had forged a crown of gold for the Greek king, King Hiero II. The king was concerned, however, that the goldsmith has substituted the cheaper metal silver for some of the gold. He asked Archimedes to find the truth without melting the crown.
This stumped Archimedes until a flash of insight hit him. One day as he took a bath he noticed the water level rise as he stepped into the tub. Suddenly he realized that by making a few mathematical calculations he could use water volume displacement from the crown to determine if it were made of pure gold. In his excitement, so the story goes, he ran into the streets naked crying, “Eureka, Eureka!” which means in Greek, “I have found it.”
Thus, we use the word “eureka” for personal insight.
Leaders tend to be tellers.
- We cast vision by telling.
- We communicate goals and strategies by telling.
- We recruit leaders by telling.
- We manage staff by telling.
- We teach by telling.
- And we tend to solve our team’s problems by telling.
When a team member comes to us with a problem, it’s often expedient to give a quick answer if we see the solution. We tend to be more experienced so it can be easy to see the solution. But when we solve their problems too quickly, we can create other problems.
- We can inadvertently foster dependency on us to solve their problems and diminish their motivation to follow through because people are less likely to act on somebody else’s ideas.
- We can rob them from learning how to problem solve, an important leadership quality.
- We can diminish opportunities for them to experience the joy of those ‘eureka’ moments.
I believe this is the key to helping your team learn to solve their own problems: ask questions.
Jesus often asked questions when he wanted to teach important concepts. The Gospels include 135 questions Jesus asked. He asked questions to create readiness to learn and to get his listeners to think for themselves.
Consider five compelling reasons to ask your team more questions.
- Questions help your team see reality more clearly. One more well-placed question may surface an important issue about their problem they are trying to solve that they otherwise might have missed.
- They help foster innovation. Questions can spur new ideas and solutions to problems.
- They help your team self-reflect. Telling someone an answer may stifle her need to thoroughly think through the answer for herself.
- They provide perspective. A good question can open up a fresh perspective to a perplexing dilemma.
- They help your team focus on the real issue.
Asking good questions can become a potent team development tool to put into your leadership toolbox.
What questions have helped you develop your team?
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