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Influence your people's Growth by Challenging them through Problems

Leaders have a great opportunity in their hands when problems or challenges come up. How can you as a leader turn around your response to 'immediately fix' and use this chance as a growth avenue for your people?

One day, I remember feeling mentally exhausted towards the end of the day and someone came into my office. I don’t remember they question they ask, I don’t even remember the person, but I do remember not having an answer. My mind was not processing any of the words or information this person was giving me. When this individual stop talking, I heard myself asking:

“So, how would you solve it?”

It was one of the biggest “AHA” moments in my career, a realization that changed the way I led moving forward.

Your people, no matter their level of experience, have the aptitude to come up with great answers and solutions. Sometimes, they are just asking for permission.

Don’t give me the problem unless you have thought of a solution.

This became a new way to operate. Anyone knew that if they came to my office with a problem, they were going to be asked: “So, what solution do you propose?”.

There was a manager that I considered to be very talented (We are going to call him Peter in this story). Peter was great at developing sales professionals into great performance drivers, the team loved working for him. But Peter hated that question. His answer would consistently be: “I don’t know how to solve it, that is why I’m coming to you”. I could sense his growing frustration over time.

I started dreading seeing him come my way with these questions because I knew an interaction filled with frustration was about to happen. At one point, I just said: “Peter, from now on, every time you look for me with a problem or a question, make sure you have already come up with 2-3 possible solutions for us to discuss”. I also promised to provide my thoughts and feedback.

Here is the deal people: Leaders are not supposed to know all the answers. But they are responsible for the growth of those in their team. Feeling challenged gets to be uncomfortable at times, but it is the only proven route towards improvement and development.

Peter eventually got it. He started leveraging his team for solutions, helping others’ boost their confidence and engagement when they felt their input was important.

Shift the Mindset: From PROBLEMS to SOLUTIONS

This is something that won’t change overnight, but can become a new habit for you and your team members. It is on you to stay consistent and not default to the easy route (which in most cases would be to just give an answer).

Take every opportunity presented by those in your team to help them build confidence in their thoughts and decisions. Think about this as a muscle you train: It will not respond easily at the beginning, it might even hurt, but with time, strength will build up and great ideas and innovation will happen!

Two challenges I have for leaders out there:

First: When approached with challenges, questions or problems, stop your immediate habit of just responding and go with this approach:

1. Acknowledge the issue: “What you are saying is that we have two people in your team concerned about their Performance Improvement Plan and are afraid of losing their job

2. Challenge and Empower: “You know their situation very well, how do you believe we should approach this?

3. Bring them up, not down. The answers will not always be appropriate, but welcome them and appreciate their input and effort. Instead of saying “NO” or “That won't work”, keep challenging them with questions: “What would be HR’s opinion on that?” or "How do you think your people will react to that approach?

Second: Lead by example and start training yourself to do the same. When meeting with your manager (boss) and going over the topics to discuss, evaluate things on the list you are bringing up as problems or challenges.

Get in the habit of thinking of ideas to solve the problems: “This is the issue and these are a couple of ways I would approach it”. Done. Ask for feedback and know that your solutions will not always be the best, but don’t let that stop you. Just keep building that solutions muscle!

Read more about your influence as a leader of people: DO YOU REALIZE YOUR POWER BY JUST BEING "THE BOSS"?

I could go on for pages talking about this topic, but just keep in mind that right behind the PROBLEM the SOLUTION is standing and waiting to say hi to enlighten you with possibilities. Just take your eyes (mind) away from the problem for a moment so the solution can catch your attention and wave at you.

Mariana Jaeger is a Leadership Development and Performance Success expert and has successfully trained, mentored and coached hundreds of people in her career. To learn more about Mariana, click here

Mariana Jaeger


Austin, Texas based, serving clients globally.

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