Don’t Tell Your Team “Stop Coming to Me With Problems”

by Zach Montroy

Stop me if you’ve heard this phrase: “Don’t come to me with problems unless you have solutions.” Whether it was your science teacher in 8th grade or your boss in your current corporate role, someone’s likely used this command in conversation with you. You may have even used it in your own teams. Though it may, at first, sound like a firm, leader-like boundary, it’s actually quite problematic.

What’s Wrong With This Picture

Leaders think this sentiment encourages employees to think critically and come up with solutions. That’s why they use it. Though the intent makes sense, the result doesn’t. Telling your team, “Don’t come to me with problems” can actually be counterproductive, shutting down the genius of discernment on your team. 

Patrick Lencioni’s Working Genius Model

What’s the genius of discernment? It comes from Patrick Lencioni’s Working Genius Model. I use it extensively in my work with leaders as we seek to create healthy, productive teams. Lencioni’s book, The Six Types of Working Genius, is a comprehensive guide to the complete theory, but today, I’ll introduce his concept and provide a better alternative to the “Don’t bring me problems” approach. 

The Working Genius model identifies six natural talents that people possess: Wonder, Invention, Discernment, Galvanizing, Enablement, and Tenacity. Discernment is one of the most undervalued and misunderstood talents, and it involves the ability to identify the root cause of problems and separate symptoms from causes.

What Happens When Your Team Doesn’t Bring Problems

Telling your team not to bring you problems doesn’t mean that problems won’t exist. Instead, problems will crop up and may be stuffed into file drawers. Though there are some problems that your team will easily solve, those that are more challenging will require your help.  

When you shut off this option, you’re inadvertently shutting down the genius of discernment on their team. Instead of encouraging critical thinking and problem-solving, you’re promoting a culture of silence and complacency. Critical thinking involves seeking help when necessary. It involves reaching out to someone who knows more to get to a solution.

Problems Don’t Go Away, They Grow In Secret

The first step in solving a problem is dragging it out in the open to be analyzed. It requires bravery in facing the root causes and potential flaws that have led to the problem. If this feels forbidden to employees who have been told not to “handle” their problems on their own, they’ll simply ignore them. Unfortunately, unresolved issues don’t magically go away…instead, they’ll fester, leading to a lack of innovation and improvement.

What’s The Alternative?

As a leader, you may have used the “Don’t bring me problems” phrase because you’re concerned that your team will place too much pressure on you to wave a magic wand over any and all issues. You want to encourage a team that innovates on their own. You’re right – the alternative shouldn’t be a “leader oracle” who constantly steps in to fix everything. This approach doesn’t work either; it leads to a lack of trust in your team’s ability to problem solve.

The answer lies in collaboration. Leaders should encourage a culture of open communication. This includes creating opportunities for employees to express their problems, share their insights and perspectives on issues, and brainstorm openly…whether or not they have a solution in mind.

Start by creating a process for problem-solving. Teach your team how to identify the root cause of issues, brainstorm potential solutions, and test and evaluate these solutions. This way, you’re encouraging critical thinking and innovation and promoting a culture of continuous improvement. Set boundaries for which steps in the process should be done before you’re involved. In this way, you’ll encourage the sense of ownership that’s required in all successful teams.

Here To Help

Leaders must always determine the right amount of support to offer their teams. It’s not an easy task. On the one hand, you risk an authoritative approach that squashes improvement. On the other hand, you’re creating an unhealthy dependence on your own wisdom. If you’re looking for additional help, I’m ready to talk. My work involves bringing my wealth of experience, education, and resources to help you determine how to build an organization that thrives.

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