I heard a leader make a common but damaging leadership statement recently that made me cringe. It is perhaps one of the worst leadership statements to organizational health, but I have heard it numerous times in my career.
Have you heard this one?
Don’t bring me a problem without a solution.
When the leader I heard said it he was frustrated by all the complaints he was receiving from staff about a systems issue in the organization. It was causing added work for people and not accomplishing enough value for the effort required.
Passionately, he banged on the table and said, “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution. Don’t bring me a problem without a solution. That’s my leadership philosophy. Don’t bring me a problem without a solution.“
I suppose it made him feel better to repeat it several times.
Here’s the problem with that damaging leadership statement.
Actually two problems.
- Stifles creativity of problem-solving.
No one is going to offer any input to a leader with an attitude like that. Conversation done. Complete. Over.
- Forces real problems to continue – everyone knows it but can’t mention it.
Silence is forced upon people because they aren’t given permission to bring up the problems they see.
Here’s the reality. There are people on any team who don’t have the power or authority to solve the problems they see. They only know there is a problem. And they likely know it better than anyone else because they have to live with it daily. That was the case in the illustration above.
Consider positions such as administrative assistants, for example. Or facilities personnel. In most organizations, they have usually not been empowered the authority to change the rules. (Hopefully your organization is an exception to this.) They can only live with what they have been given. But they potentially see dozens of problems with the way their work is done.
When they have the freedom to expose a problem to leadership, they can help improve efficiency, productivity and team morale. Not to mention the impact it has on organizational trust.
Instead of shutting them down with this horrible saying, empower people to solve problems. Pull together teams of peers to suggest solutions. Promote open dialogue where people feel comfortable bringing a problem forward. Make sure everyone on the team – regardless of their position – feels the freedom to share what they see and are experiencing.
That’s part of serving on a healthy team. And it will make the entire organization better.
(In fairness, if there is truly a culture of empowerment at every level within the organization – where everyone feels safe to offer suggestions for improvement – then I have far less of a problem with this statement.)