Why I Stopped Solving Problems for My Team

I’ve gotten some incredible leadership advice over the years.

The most recent piece of advice that had a large impact came from a gentleman by the name of Dr. Dallas Deming, who I affectionately call Dr. D.

Dr. D and his wife wrote a book called Can You Hear Me Now?. The lessons in the book really changed the way that I’ve led people in recent years, primarily around this one thought: When you can help someone self-discover their own solution to a problem, it allows them to take a huge step forward in their personal leadership journey.

Here’s the challenge though. As leaders, we actually get an adrenaline rush answering and solving other people’s problems. It’s one of the reasons that we’re really good at what we do, because we’re good at solving problems. And so when somebody brings a problem to me I get excited to solve it for them.  

I have a team of young leaders. Just the other day, one of them came to me and said “Shane, I have this challenge around this project I’m working on, and I’ve got some funding needs that we’ve got to have. I need to know, should I ask for a million dollars or should I ask for one and a half million dollars based on this project?” I found myself asking, “Well tell me a little more about the problem.” Almost instantaneously, based on years of experience, I had the answer my team member needed. I could either tell them the answer, or ask this question:

“It’s evident that you’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking about this . . . tell me what you’re thinking.”

That one question can be incredibly helpful to remind leaders to hit the pause button and allow their team to find the solution to their own problem. And when they respond, you can respond with “Tell me a little bit more,” “Why do you think that’s a good idea?” or “Why do you think that’s a bad idea?”

When you encourage your team member to engage in this type of dialogue, you’re helping them self-discover their own solution. And as a leader, I think that’s one of the best ways that we can help people develop on their own leadership journey.

Allow people the opportunity—and really the gift—of self-discovering solutions to their own problems. Ask them questions along the way to help get them there. Don’t solve their problems, help them self-discover the answer to their problem. That to me, is a huge leadership lesson.