Not Gonna Fix It

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11 Apr Not Gonna Fix It

Most employers want workers who have the confidence to take initiative, creatively problem-solve, and exercise good judgement. Yet sometimes well-meaning bosses undermine their employees’ efforts.

For example, recently I gave some employees a task to do and sent them on their way. Not five minutes later they came back to me with a problem. I stopped what I was doing, did some investigating, and solved the problem myself. When I got back to my office I suddenly wondered, “Why did I just do that?!” These employees could’ve figured out a solution on their own, yet I stepped in to fix it. When faced with a problem, their natural instinct was to come to me. My instinct was to help. I missed the opportunity to encourage my employees to develop their own abilities to problem-solve.

Nate Regier of Next Element helped me realize that I need to stop being a Fixer. He explains it beautifully in a blog post entitled, “Why Leaders Don’t Fix and Fixers Don’t Lead.” Jumping in, like I did, creates dependent employees, instead of ones who can utilize good judgement.

When employees approach me with a problem, Regier recommends having a conversation that includes listening to their emotions, and validating whatever frustration or confusion they may be feeling. I should let them share their possible solutions, which will help me understand their thought processes. The only role I ought to play is to ensure that non-negotiables are followed, and that the solution works toward the ultimate goals of the company.

Even if I don’t step in and start fixing, another temptation I face is to tell an employee how I would go about resolving the issue. However, Regier urges us to “never give advice unless asked.” If an employee is not looking for advice, or is not open to receiving it, the advice won’t be followed anyway! Plus, giving advice furthers a dependence upon my ideas, removing the opportunity for the employee to hone his or her own judgement.

John Maxwell advocates a very practical way to step back from “fixing” mode: He doesn’t allow employees to bring a problem to him unless they already have three possible solutions! I like this idea because it gets employees thinking before they come to me. Then we can talk through their solutions and decide on the best one. Since they generated the ideas, they are more likely to work whole-heartedly on the problem’s resolution!

If I want employees who can think for themselves and come up with the best solutions, I have to allow them to think for themselves and come up with the best solutions! As I do, I place us in a win-win situation. Those employees gain experience problem-solving, and their confidence and independence grows. They hear from me, “I’m interested in your growth.” I gain trustworthy, problem-solving employees, and reclaim time and energy for those dilemmas which really are mine to solve at work!

Is it time for you to cut some apron strings at work? How refreshing it is to declare to yourself, “Not gonna fix it!” and to say to your employees, “I bet you can!”