The other day, I was talking to someone about a management situation they were facing at work — specifically about how to help guide people to balance work and personal commitments. While it seemed like a simple question on the surface, after digging deeper, I realized that there were a number of factors and considerations with both positive and negative implications depending on how the situation played out.
This is not uncommon. One of the first things that surprised me upon becoming a manager was the level of ambiguity my job had. Previously, as an individual contributor, situations and work projects were pretty straightforward. As a manager of people, I immediately found myself in situations where the answer was not black and white. Sometimes it was a new problem to solve, other times it involved people and the application of various company policies or issues with other people. In my experience, it was easier to solve the ambiguous problems given my access to experienced people and information. The people questions were tricker. They came with requests that I did not always know the answer to, questions about balancing work and personal commitments or complaints about a work relationship that was strained. They often wanted help or support, but the right solution was not always clear. This resulted in frustration on my part, as I felt ill-equipped to handle the situation and therefore considered myself to be failing in my new management role.
Thankfully, I received excellent advice on how to handle these situations, which was to ask people to stop bringing me problems and start bringing me solutions.
The person closest to the problem often has the best insight on the solution. Why? They can visualize a better state and they are the most invested in finding the right solution. Given the opportunity, they will often rise to the challenge to think through the many considerations and consequences of a decision, and provide a well-thought-out plan and recommendation. This not only saves you time, it also teaches others how to think through the facets of a problem and to provide a logical, defensible solution. With a reasonable solution that you both agree on, you also minimize conflict and dissatisfaction caused by differing expectations. Furthermore, if someone decides to make a tough decision for themselves - for example, having a direct conversation with someone they are experiencing conflict with rather than asking their manager to have the conversation - then they are likely more content with the decision than if it is handed down to them from someone else.
There are opportunities where it is important to be more involved in a decision or a situation; if a strained work situation is escalating, for example, or if the proposed solution is not feasible. These can also become excellent coaching opportunities. Some of my best management training occurred when I talked through situations with my manager and heard their perspective, as it gave me a new way to think about things.
Once I stopped talking and started listening, asking, and trying to empower others, I found that the right answers were much clearer and that we were both were happier with the decision. It shifted my relationships from ones of “asking for permission” to ones established on trust, and the majority of the time, people respected that trust. It also prompted me to take my own advice and remember to always bring solutions, not problems to others as well.
Have you tried this approach in the past? How has it worked for you?