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Why You Should Never Tell People to “Bring Solutions”

You are doing something right if your team is coming to you with problems.

“Do not bring me problems. Bring me solutions.” I am sure you have heard this mantra at work before. In most cases, the thinking is that problems will only make the boss look bad. Well, something looks bad all right — the boss’s “do not bother me” attitude. So what do you do?

When I raised this question on LinkedIn, some people said bringing solutions alongside problems shows you are not a complainer. Others said bosses with this leadership style are not supportive. But there was one consensus — open communication is important.

I understand the value of encouraging people to think and act for themselves. I also understand that no one likes serious issues. But some challenges are too big to tackle alone. When leaders leave the team to completely fend for themselves, those challenges can turn into big problems.

Research backs this up. According to one study, the experience of working with a bad boss can be compared to post-traumatic stress disorder — worse than negative coworkers or being overworked. And with so many companies churning through employees, that is saying something.

A leader who cannot or will not help you address problems is no leader at all.

When people come to you for help, try to see it as a privilege, not a burden. At Aha!, we expect team leaders to be mentors, and it is a role people embrace enthusiastically. They take pride and satisfaction in helping each other grow.

If you are a leader in title or action, you have a responsibility to support and guide people where you can. This does not mean demanding that every problem has an immediate solution. Sure, it makes sense to expect smart people to think of various ways to solve a challenge — but demanding answers is not helpful.  

Here are four ways to help people stuck on tough challenges at work:

Make time
An open-door policy is great (even if you do not actually have a door), but be sure to have regularly scheduled 1:1 meetings as well. These provide a great opportunity for people to directly ask for assistance or bring up issues — maybe even ones they did not realize they needed help with. Talking regularly can bring emerging problems forward before they become more complicated issues.

Ask deep questions
Helping requires guidance, not dominance. So rather than diving right into thinking of a solution to the problem, start instead by directing a few questions back at them. This will give you a better understanding of the situation and might even tease out a good solution. Or the right question could make them see the issue from a new perspective and trigger an idea.

Know your teammates
Workplace relationships are incredibly important. The better you know your teammates, the easier it is to spot warning signs — changes in attitude towards a project or delays in work that might indicate that they could use some help. Since some folks think that needing assistance reflects poorly on them and may be uncomfortable asking for help, it is important to build an honest and trusting relationship.

Share problems
Set the tone by sharing your own challenges and how you approach solving issues. Maybe, for example, you used to worry about your competition and so you developed a competitive analysis report template. Or perhaps your team is distributed and so you found new ways to build a remote work culture. By sharing your approaches, you will instill a culture of transparency and give others the confidence to follow suit, helping bring issues to light before things get out of hand. A bonus benefit: Teammates will learn from each other’s experiences, so you will be preemptively thwarting problems.

I would never discourage someone from coming with a problem and suggested solution. But I definitely do not make it a prerequisite.

If the expectation is that people must wait until they think of a solution before asking for help, there is a good chance the problem will get worse in the meantime. But avoiding big problems should not be your only motivation.

So bring on those challenges. Tackle problems as a team. Help your teammates grow and look good doing it.

How do you bring “challenges” to your boss?  

Originally published on the Aha! blog

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