Ever Question The Problem?

You have had employees, or team members, bring problems to your attention. You have two real options at that moment: Take the issue on or equip the employee to become a real problem-solver using some basic techniques.

If a quarterback throws two interceptions back-to-back, who is the first person to greet him walking to the sideline? Yes, the head coach. He will ask questions in order to get to the problem and then encourage. Once the real problem is identified, he’ll then get the quarterback with the appropriate coach (line, receivers or running backs) to fix that situation.

To deal with issues, you need to ask yourself these two questions:
Am I recognizing the real problem?
Am I spending too much time on the problem?

The first thing we learn about a problem is that the real problem, most times, lies much deeper. It is much like an onion. It may take peeling layer after layer to get to the heart of an issue. The problem we generally see or are made aware of is simply a symptom of the real problem. Example- Your child comes to you with a headache and chills. When you feel their forehead, you immediately recognize a high temperature. The child came with a headache, but the real issue was an infection attacking their body. You can treat the temperature with medicine, but treating the infection requires a different approach.

When getting to the symptom, imitate the doctor. Ask questions, one deeper than the previous, to get to the root issue.

You see the employee approaching and they say, “We have a problem.” Your response should start with “Tell me what is happening.” Once you hear their response, look for that real, deeper issue. A good next question should be “And what else?” You may have to ask this a couple times to get thru the clutter of personal issues surrounding the issue. Remember, we all tend to speak to the most pressing issue, and those issues most pressing them.

A great follow-up to their answer is “So what is the real challenge for you here?” This question puts the problem to the employee and in this we find two answers:

  1. The problem’s effect on the employee
  2. Is the problem affecting anyone else or the organization?

If the problem is more centered on the employee, the most notable question is “What do you want?” If the problem is affecting others or the organization, a team meeting may be needed because of the overall impact. That is when you ask, “What do we want?”

The last question a good manager should ask, once everything appears to be on-the-table, is “So, how can I best help you?” The key here is to bring the employee into the realm of problem-solving, but showing empathy to the situation. If you do, you’ll personally spend less time on issues because you equipped an employee to be a problem-solver. There is an old adage that is helpful here. “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.”

In the end, you’ll spend less time on issues and more time on your opportunities. As an executive, business owner or manager, time management is key to keeping balance in life. Equip your team to be problem-solvers and encourage them, even if they fail.

To become a better leader, look to becoming a coach within your organization and begin to ask questions, much like a doctor. A great book to start this process is The Coaching Habit by Michael Stanier.

Mitch Smith
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