7 things every superlative leader understands about problem solving

Rachel was a relatively new employee at a retail outlet. She was given the requisite week’s training in the training room and sent to the sales floor. Part of her job was to restock merchandise that had been returned. She had been on the job but a few days when an item was returned that was in a damaged box. She checked inside and saw that the manual was also missing.

As she pondered what she should do, the department manager stopped by to see how she was doing. She showed him the item and asked him what to do with it.

He did not tell her.

Instead, he asked, “What would you do with it?”

She thought for a bit, remembered the store’s policy on returns and a bin she had seen at the end of an aisle. “I would tape up the box, put a clearance tag on it marking that it is missing the manual, mark down the price, and put it back in that clearance bin.”

The department manager smiled. That was precisely the correct answer

Every leader is, by nature, a problem-solver. They look at life as a series of obstacles to overcome, issues to resolve, problems to fix. Many relish being the go-to guy, the person with the answers. That will eventually come back to bite you and it reveals two things about you and your leadership style.

First it shows that you don’t understand your primary role and objective as a leader. You are not there to do everything. You are there to be sure that everything gets done. You cannot possibly do everything that has to be done to get everything done. It is not possible…nor is it necessary.

Second, it shows a lack of ability or willingness to develop others. Withholding information that will empower others often signals a need to control. No control freak can ever become a superlative leader. Effective leaders are always giving away information and skills. They intend to equip others to do their jobs, to extend our own reach, multiply our own effectiveness, and divide our own work…and they do so on every occasion.

Superlative leaders are not problem-solution inclined. They are, frankly, a bit lazy.

If you’ve been following my Twitter feed (I recommend it to every leader or manager. Twice a day I send out a leadership tip in under 140 characters. Over 11,000 of your associates have, so why not follow me now? Just click here to follow me.) In a Tweet sent out last week I said to “Spend more time working ON your business and less time working IN your business. Delegation benefits everyone.”

Superlative leaders are competent problem-solvers…and they give others the ability and authority to solve problems as well.

1. Classroom training is one half of the training process. The other half is real-life, on-the-job experience IF it is accompanied by a sharp, confident, and competent on-site mentor. I am not advocating a throw them in the deep end and hope they can swim approach to development. I am suggesting a deliberate effort to sharpen the skills of trusted associates and employees.

2. Giving others the ability and authority to solve problems demonstrates that you can delegate and that you trust them to do the right thing. The converse is also true. Refusing to do so demonstrates a lack of trust and an unwillingness to train. You will limit your reach and inhibit your effectiveness – guaranteed.

3. Measure every problem brought to you and every problem you encounter. Whom can you train, whom can you educate, and whom can you empower to solve it? Someone somewhere in the organization should fit one of those three.

4. Knives get sharper when they are sharpened. People get better at what they do by practice. Training room training is one thing. Real life is another. Show them how and let them do it. If they make the wrong decision, do not scold or condemn. Train and explain, instead.

5. Never forget your two-sided objective – solve the problem and develop effective leadership around you. Reserve your problem solving to only those items that absolutely no one else can attend to, that absolutely no one else can handle. Give everything else away.

6. Ineffective leaders neglect their job of equipping others. Thus they limit their ultimate growth as a leader and as a company or organization.

7. Finally, the most superlative leaders may not be very good at leading followers but they are fantastic at leading leaders. And that is precisely how they become superlative, effective, and legendary.

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