Stop solving other people's problems

Stop solving problems…other people’s problems, that is.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve worked with several senior leaders who are trying to overcome their natural tendency to over direct their employees. They realized they were trying to “help” their direct reports by solving their problems for them. Once they realized how undermining their actions were, they started working on being better coaches, who held their managers accountable, rather than doing their jobs for them. For example, one executive was hiring his direct employee’s subordinates and confronting performance problems of employees several levels down.
Listen in:
“When I met with my direct reports, I realized that I was letting them off the hook. When they raised an issue, I was telling them what to do about it. I have a lot of experience in this industry, and I thought I was helping them by shortening their learning curve. What I have realized is that they didn’t have to think for themselves because I was doing all their thinking for them. They knew they just had to wait until I told them what to do. Now, I ask them what they think the issues are and I ask them what they want to do about it. I hold my opinion until I hear from them first. Now they own it, not me.”
Here’s another executive’s comment:
“One of my seasoned executives was planning a meeting with her team. I attended the last one, and in my opinion, she was too unstructured. We spent a whole day with off-the-cuff dialogue, which didn’t have any real outcomes. In the past, I would have been very directive and told her what her agenda should be. This time, I used questions to see what she was planning to do. I know she hadn’t thought it through, but by the time we were done, she had come up with several things that are going to make the day more effective. And I don’t think she felt overly directed. The important thing is the ideas were her’s.”
Maybe you can relate to these well-meaning executives. Schedules are packed and time is short, so often the first thing to go out the window is coaching and listening. It’s a lot easier to just tell someone how to do something. Unfortunately, that sucks all the satisfaction out of an employee’s job.
On the other hand, the executive who solves everyone’s problems feels as if he has had a satisfying day.
“I love getting into the operations and figuring out an answer to a problem. Most of my days are spent so removed from operations, I feel no sense of accomplishment. It’s just meeting after meeting.”  That’s fine in some instances but executives need to be wary of getting too deep into their employee’s domain.
Consider this manager’s situation:
My VP’s plate is so full, he is completely unavailable. He doesn’t delegate anything but menial tasks and usually at the last minute. We could help him but he can’t seem to let go. I don’t feel like I am growing and it’s very demoralizing to be underutilized. He is behind closed doors or in meetings and is constantly behind. What’s worse, he is clueless about social media and he is making decisions that are going to be a waste of money and time but he isn’t asking any of us who have expertise.”
This situation points out the other negative outcome of a meddling executive. He or she is probably too removed from the day to day work—or is technically out of date—to know what will work in the here and now.
So, if you are a recovering problem solver, take heart. You are doing what’s right for your employees and the organization…both will be stronger when you add value by coaching, not telling.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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