Leaders Have Solutions

“Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions.”

Have you heard this? Have you said this?

I hear this when I’m working with mangers, especially emerging leaders, but I rarely hear it from accomplished executives. Why is that?

Because top-level leaders understand this:

If the system works the way it is supposed to, the most capable, knowledgable, and skilled leaders get promoted to higher levels. This capability, knowledge, and skill means leaders can solve problems better than those who didn’t get the promotion. Mature leaders understand that a part of leadership is exploring and leading solutions to problems. Otherwise, anyone could do it.

Less mature leaders, on the other hand, are still working to develop capability. And when they get started, I think they’re shocked by the level of complaining they hear from well-meaning direct reports. Somewhere along the way, they’ve heard the mantra, “Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions,” and they use it.

But here’s the biggest problem with that:

They’re not going to bring you many solutions.

Plus, they’ll stop bringing you problems, because it’s not allowed anymore. Now, there are problems you don’t know about. They’re small, but they’ll fester.

Something that started as something like, “We have customers who report service issues more than once before something gets done,” can become, “Our customers are leaving us because they feel like service issues are never resolved” when no one brings the problem up earlier.

What these less-mature leaders really mean is this:

“I don’t want to hear complaining; I want to have serious conversations about problem-solving.”
And THAT is great—make it safe for people to complain, but then redirect the conversation into productive conflict where lots of ideas are heard, vetted, and explored. Then, take action collectively, and use the experience to coach people on how problems get solved.

Then, you might actually develop problem solvers more effectively than if you’d just said “don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions.”

Here’s a great article I recently read on this topic, and I was thrilled to see it. I recommend taking the time to read it.

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