Each and every day I work with leaders to try to help them understand that much of what they have come to accept as "best practices" or "solid beliefs" in leadership philosophy are not only untrue, but keeping them from creating far greater results in their organizations.
For example, while facilitating an assimilation session between a new leader and his team, I cringed when he started to recite the familiar, but worn-out philosophy: "Don’t bring me a problem without also coming armed with a solution!" I know his motive was to prevent employees from whining and to encourage their willingness to help fix the issues at hand – but if this is the case, wouldn’t it be more direct to tell people, "Stop whining and start helping?"
Instead of stopping the whining (which simply goes underground, adding to the drama in the workplace) this belief actually keeps many issues and risks from being identified at all. By insisting that the one who identifies an issue must be the very same person who single-handedly recommends a workable solution, leaders are asking the impossible in today’s complex and multidisciplinary team environment. In fact, this worn-out idea has stopped communication in many organizations and has led employees to believe that they can have no real impact short of inventing the total solution for any issue in their jobs.
Managers who parrot this philosophy have probably overheard it from other ineffective leaders but have never really tested or thought it through for themselves. So let’s take a look at the insanity of this belief to put it to rest once and for all.
Flaw in logic #1: Employees are smart, bright people, and they don’t even bring you the issues they are capable of solving on their own – that would be wasting management resources.
It’s true. Many of the people who are working for a leader are bright, intelligent, willing employees who do solve issues within their locus of control as they see them arise. A leader telling them not to bring an issue forward without also having a solution at hand is ludicrous. It also hurts the leaders’ credibility as one who is in touch with the current work environment. At that moment, employees are thinking, "If I could of, I would of . . . " solved the problem, that is.
Flaw in logic #2: Individuals identify issues and cross-functional teams solve problems.
Individual employees have front-row seats when it comes to issues – they experience the pain of the issue directly or view firsthand the pain of the issue for the customer. Most problems are the output of flawed processes. Problems are best solved by teams who can work cross-functionally to collect data, analyze the situation and make recommendations for change, and identify risks posed by the new processes, along with the mitigation strategies. So for those larger issues that an employee deems big enough to involve management resources (one he or she couldn’t solve on their own but instead needs a team of experts to help), hearing this platitude of "Don’t bring me an issue without a solution" breeds cynicism and sarcasm as they think, "If I could solve it single-handedly, I would and then I would go on the circuit and talk about my amazing talents and ideas rather than work here."
Flaw in logic #3: A successful organization is full of employees who practice the "Godzilla Principle" and bring issues to the attention of the greater group early and without fear of reprisal.
In every Godzilla movie, at least one brave hero comes to the leadership team early on in the movie, warning of the future when the cute, seemingly harmless little monster will grow up and destroy Tokyo or city at hand. This hero is usually is ignored and berated. Lo and behold, ignoring the risk identified early on when it would have been so easy to fix, results in having to call out the National Guard, international forces and the best heroes that only B movies can buy. So by disallowing employees to bring in issues without solutions ensures that the organization won’t know about risks to output early – when addressing them on the spot would be inexpensive and easy to fix. Instead, the issues have to grow to the size of large monsters before they can no longer be ignored and come to the attention of management after great turmoil and damage.
Flaw in logic #4: Today’s solutions will become tomorrow’s problems.
When developing solutions to our current issues, those solutions will inevitably become tomorrow’s problems, as was pointed out by Albert Einstein. This appears to be true, especially when the solutions arise from a single perspective as condoned by this worn-out leadership adage, "Don’t raise an issue without also having a solution." Using a team to develop solutions, separate from the process by which an individual raises the awareness that an issue exists, will make the solution relevant just a little longer – perhaps even a lot longer.
So, those of you aspiring to become Reality Based Leaders, go ahead and insist that your employees look greedily for improvement opportunities, that they fix the issues they readily can without causing havoc for others, that they raise their hand early while the little monster is still cute and small, and even that they always show up willing to help with developing great solutions and mitigating the risks of the average short-term fix.
But please stop damaging your own credibility by spouting the ridiculous notion that they should not ever bring forward a problem without also having a solution at hand!
Another one bites the dust . . .
And remember, you rock and Cy rocks!
Lead on my friend.