Some employees may be great at performing routine tasks, but when an unusual problem crops up, they typically run to the boss and cry for help.
So what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that why the boss gets those big bucks?
No, the boss doesn’t get paid for solving subordinates’ problems. One of his or her top responsibilities is preparing subordinates to tackle problems themselves and then deliver the solution for final approval. If the boss isn’t doing the training, then he or she is slacking off and both the company and the employees are getting shortchanged.
Problem solving is as much a state of mind as it is an intellectual exercise—that is, problem solvers first have to want to do it. Unfortunately, except for those individuals who are self-starters, most subordinates tend to avoid taking on new responsibilities—unless their managers encourage them to; or, to put it more accurately, unless they are not dis couraged by a boss who immediately dives in whenever a problem surfaces and takes control.
The first lesson in training problem solvers is for the boss to step back, making room for subordinates to come forward. Of course, managers probably will face resistance from many subordinates—mostly foot-dragging—when they make the problem-solving assignment. So they must make it clear that they really want the staffer to stand up to the problem.
If progress lags, then—and only then—should the boss step in—but not to solve the problem. He or she could ask questions about the goal and what some possible solutions might look like. If they still seem to be stuck, the manager should get more basic by asking the employees to define the problem in their own terms. Sometimes a way to get a project on track is to recast the problem in more familiar words.
And then, when they do arrive at a solution—and they probably will—take the next step: Insist they implement it. What better motivation for solving the next problem than to see their own solutions fly successfully.
Mediocre managers don’t know how to use silence. They typically bark orders (after all, the louder you speak the more clearly you’re heard, right?) and rarely give subordinates space to speak freely.
However, seasoned managers understand the strength of silence. Some advice on its use:
It may sound obvious, but a critical time to keep still is after asking a difficult question. Too often, if the expected answer doesn’t follow immediately, an insecure manager will break the silence with more questions; this implies criticism of the person being asked and tends to put a quick lid on a thoughtful response.
When seeking answers to a complex question, try not to interrupt the speaker with more questions before he or she is finished answering the first. It breaks the train of thought and sends a message of impatience. The result: You’ll get less information and more excuses.
In a meeting where emotions run high, instead of responding immediately to a critical comment, take a long pause. It will give you the opportunity to digest what’s being said, cool off and compose a more rational response.
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