How do you deal with the employee who always brings you problems?

As a leader, much of our time can be taken up by members of the team who encounter a problem and come to us to fix it for them. They don’t find a way around the issue themselves, and they rely on us to solve their problems.

This can be empowering and boost our own ego; because we’re the one that gets to solve the problem. We are an expert. However, as you step further up the leadership ladder, it can become a frustration or even a hindrance because your time is taken up with other people’s problems and you’re not able to focus on your own projects and goals.

Many leaders I encounter say things like,

“I want people to bring me solutions, not problems”.

That’s great. But the leader who always solves problems for everyone else conditions their team not to come up with solutions. Even if we tell them we want them to bring solutions. Control freak leaders are the same because their team are too scared to implement their own solutions for fear of criticism or correction. It’s just easier to let the boss solve it and stay safe.

Sound familiar?

The proviso is here that the person who’s working with you, understands their job, understands their role, and also understands how you might react, so if they’re a brand new member of staff, they might require a little bit more support, this is designed to be a solution for somebody who is already settled into their role and understands what it is they’re meant to do — they’re just not doing it.

So what if the person who works for you doesn’t have a solution? Well, here’s three ways that might be useful for you. We use the acronym “CRM” — which isn’t customer relationship management but has a relationship with your team member at its heart

C — Coaching Method

The first idea is to take a coaching approach, and this is probably my favourite. So when they come to you with a problem instead of giving them the answer, say something like,

“That’s a great question, and I think you already know the answer. Let me ask you some questions to unpack the thinking you’ve already done on this and let’s see if we can get there together”.

Now, this approach has a couple of advantages. The first is that you’re not belittling them or reducing their status in the situation and you’re encouraging them to do some thinking with you. And it boosts your credibility as a manager for being a coach or for being supportive, whilst maintaining their ability to solve the problem. Initially, this may feel like a slower method than just giving them the answer but over time, they’ll start to realize that you are always going to ask them to do some thinking with you.

Some great follow up questions here are

  • What have they considered previously?
  • Have they seen anybody else solve this before? What did they do?
  • Why do they think that worked?

The aim here is to help their thinking and help them reach a solution by coaching and exploring with them.

R — Research method.

Say

“Why don’t you spend 20 minutes, having a look online for solutions to this problem, or something similar and see what you can come up with see if your imagination is sparked by the research that you do, and then come back to me and let’s have a conversation about it”.

If nothing else it buys you 20 minutes or longer, where you can keep focusing on your own thing. It also puts the ownership of the situation back in their court whilst they have a task to go and do some research. And over time, again, you can say to them,

“Hey, before you come to me why don’t you do the same thing, why don’t you have a look online for 20 minutes and see what you can find”.

Google and YouTube have a wealth of answers.

The aim here is to have them take a little bit more ownership of the solution.

M — Mimic method (also known as WWMMD — what would my manager do):

A third way you can approach this is to ask.

“What do you think I would answer/do/say in this situation”?

Again, you’re not giving them the answer you’re asking them to think about the solution or the answer that you might come up with. And this starts to help them to think more like you do. Again, freeing up your time and reinforcing your desire not to fix the issues but to trust them to do it themselves.

Three simple approaches you can take to deal with the person who keeps coming to you for the answers to free up your own time.

Let me know if you have any other solutions to this issue. I’d love to hear them.

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Jimmy Burroughes

Jimmy Burroughes

Showing leaders and teams how to change their conversations to change their business performance results. jimmyburroughes.com