For decades we believed that as a leader you should always set the expectation that your team members must bring you solutions not just problems.
In May when we were with Marshall Goldsmith, he shattered this belief as he related his coaching experience with Alan Mulally. He shared how Mulally turned his leadership team from a dysfunctional group of fierce competitors to a team of collaborators that transformed the company into a lean profitable car company.
Mulally expected his team to bring forward problems, but he didn’t require a solution. He wisely recognized that the very problems someone doesn’t have a solution for are the problems that the team should be tackling together.
Here is the logic: you can’t improve performance if you’re not solving problems, and you can’t solve problems that you don’t know about. If you tell people to only bring you problems that they have a solution for, you are telling them you don’t want to know about anything that they can’t solve. Is that really the right message?
Most leaders we work with want to create a culture of continuous improvement. They are led to believe that implementing lean or some other methodology will achieve this type of culture. Methodology doesn’t solve culture challenges. Leaders who encourage their people to identify problems— period—and honor them for doing so are the ones who reap the benefit of a problem recognizing culture that enables the team to solution together.
We help leaders achieve their desired culture by understanding how their behavior encourages or discourages the very behaviors they want exemplified. Demanding a solution for every problem may not achieve the outcomes you truly want to achieve.