Teach Your People to Solve Problems

08.01.2021 |

Episode #6 of the course How to lead in tough times by Frank McKinley


Every new employee has a learning curve.

And when you introduce something new, everybody has one.

When you go to school, you may bring some knowledge into the classroom. You have to learn the rest. Knowing there would be a learning curve, one of my accounting teacher started the semester with this little speech:

“Here is your syllabus. It lists all the work you have to do. If you come to me for help, I’ll ask you if you did the work. If you say no, I won’t help you until you try. If you try and still have trouble, I’ll help you.”

What was he doing? Saving time. College students are considered adults. They are responsible for their grades, their assignments, and their attendance. Good professors will teach, but students must do the learning.


Equip Your Team

The same principle applies to leaders and teams. Show people what to do, then set them free to do it. The more power you give them, the less they’ll interrupt you.

One of the most empowering things you can teach people is how to solve problems. Have them ask and answer these four questions every time they face a challenge, an obstacle, or a setback.

What exactly is going wrong?

The better you define it, the better your solution will be. Look objectively at the situation. Always make truth the baseline for describing what’s wrong.

Recently, I helped my daughter with her math homework. To do that, I had to learn the formulas and work on the problems. To be sure we had the right answer, we used an app to check our work.

Sometimes we’d have to work on the problem several times to get the right answer. It was only when we identified exactly what we did wrong that we got the process right.

Look at the process from beginning to end. One misstep can cause more missteps later. Catch them all, and you solve your problem.

That leads to the second question…

What’s causing this problem?

Earlier, we mentioned that one or two behaviors can change a host of others. That behavior is like a boat’s rudder. It’s only one part, but it determines where you go all day long.

It’s hard to change too many things at once. The scientific method only works when you change just one. If you want to know if what you’re doing is working, test one thing at a time.

What can I do about this?

Perfectionists think there’s only one way to solve a problem.

The truth is there are countless ways. What’s important is the result you want. Is your process bringing you what you want? If not, how can you change it so it will?

Think of all the solutions you can.

Then you can move to the final question.

What will I do now?

Now it’s time to choose.

Which solution solves your problem the best? Which one gets you there the fastest? Pick one and begin.

If you find out you’re wrong, just go through this process again.


Do This Now

If you haven’t equipped your people to solve problems, do it today.

Then they won’t have to interrupt you as often. They’ll get better at their jobs. And they might suggest something that changes everything.

Just be sure you let them know that if they try this and still feel stuck, your door is open.

Next time we’ll look at how to create a culture of cooperation. Until then, lead well!


Recommended book

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek


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