The Problem with Being a Problem Solver

HammeringClients are often surprised when I tell them, “The problem with being a good problem solver is that everything looks like a problem!”

It usually comes up when these leaders are describing how they are assisting colleagues or direct reports by fixing what they perceive needs fixing. They describe being met with resistance, defensiveness, and with non-cooperation.

The ability to judge, discern, assess and conclude are essential business skills for leaders to possess.

However, those strengths become weaknesses when leaders search for the one right way to answer a question or solve a situation.

Rather than as problems to be solved, is there another way to look at the issues and challenges you are asked to help with at work, at home, and in life?

Making A Shift

One of the best ways for a leader to move beyond “I’m right, you’re wrong” thinking is to shift from being the expert to being the curious learner. The good news is that when you resist the impulse to fix you immediately succeed in removing the other person’s fearful and reflexive defensiveness.

Wondering what that might sound like? Here are a few phrases to consider the next time you are faced with an issue or challenge begging for a solution.

  • “Hmm, isn’t that interesting!”
  • “What do you think?”
  • “What else is important to consider?”
  • “I wonder what we haven’t thought about yet…”
  • “Who else could help us address this?”
  • “What should we be sure NOT to do?”

Trying not to fix things is hard for many leaders. You may fear your value to your workplace will evaporate, especially if you have identified yourself as the problem solver. Remember, you are you—and being a problem solver is a skill, not an identity. (Also, a problem solver can sometimes carry the reputation of being a rigid know-it-all—so that skill could be more of a hindrance than you might have realized.)

Consider shifting from problem solver to talent incubator. Support your direct reports by helping them address their own workplace challenges.  Help them develop their leadership skills.  That’s a solution everyone will appreciate!

About the Author

Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D., is a Coaching Solutions Partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team. Since 2000, Blanchard’s 130 coaches have worked with over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services. And check out Coaching Tuesday every week at Blanchard LeaderChat for ideas, research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.


2 thoughts on “The Problem with Being a Problem Solver

  1. Another one to add to your bullet list is – What happens is we simply don’t fix it?

    The consequence of fixing something should be positive. Sometimes a thing just doesn’t need the effort.

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