How To Solve More Problems As A Leader

7 Steps For A More Productive Team

One of the problems I see with leaders is they solve too many problems. Wait…you just said this article is about solving MORE problems, not that I am solving too many! That is right. Sometimes we get so solution oriented, and so bottom-line obsessed, we actually make more work for ourselves. You may be sabotaging your ability to be productive when your team members come to rely on your genius and acumen instead of developing their own. They pass the ball to you to make the game winning shot because they have confidence in you and also, because they lack confidence in themselves.

Many managers I know are overwhelmed with day-to-day responsibilities. They spend much of their time fighting fires or going from one crisis to the next. When they do spend the time to plan, they rarely implement those plans; instead they go hastily back to their frenetic problem solving ways. Worse, they spend very little time developing the capacity of their teams. They may abdicate employee development to HR or a training course. It is time to get off the hamster wheel of crisis management! To become more productive and efficient, start investing time to develop the skills and abilities of your team members.

One of the most important tasks of leadership is to elevate the leadership capacity and problem solving skills of our teams. Managers may intellectually understand this is true, however, the following may be some reasons they don’t change:

  1. Managers are addicted to being needed:
    There is something satisfying about being the “go to person”. Some managers believe that making themselves indispensable may provide job security.
  2. Managers don’t know better:
    They have been taught their whole life to take action. They have been told what to do by parents, teachers, coaches, professors, military leaders, past bosses and more. They may have learned habits of tell and do. Because telling or dictating is a poor way to get people to act, employees of today may fall short of the “dictator’s” expectations. This reinforces the manager’s belief that his people are incapable and perpetuates a vicious cycle.
  3. Lack of trust:
    When manager’s lack trust in the ability of direct reports to solve problems or take on greater responsibility, they actually stunt their employee’s growth. This leads to only assigning tasks they are “certain” they can handle. I believe people can accomplish much more than we give them credit for. By not challenging our people, we ensure their dependence on us and keep ourselves on the hamster week. I discuss the importance of giving your people stretch assignments in How To Prepare Your Next Generation of Leaders. Giving your team members opportunities to grow means getting out of your comfort zone and their comfort zone. Let me give you an example: My son’s both play volleyball for their high school. One plays varsity and one Jr. varsity. The Jr. Varsity coach has begun a rotation only relying on a few starters. In practice, he only focuses on starters. In tough games, only this group plays and they get tired after a while and make mistakes. However, since the coach does not have confidence in the ability of the other players, he only plays the same few. While this groups ability increases, the ability of the rest of the team begins to atrophy’. The coach’s dependence on the group of starters actually increases his dependence on them. At first this is great for the starters. But they soon feel tremendous pressure to perform and with very little respite, their performance begins to diminish.
  4. Control obsession:
    Managers may be controlling in how they want things done. When team members are given authority to solve problems on their own, they may take a different approach than the manager.
  5. Confused good boss syndrome:
    Some manager’s may actually think they are being kind by bailing their team members out. They may shoulder more work thinking they are protecting their team.
  6. Managers are busy:
    They think they don’t have the time to invest in their people. They hope they figure it out on their own. After all, isn’t that what you did? What worked for you and your generation, will probably not work today. There are to many options for our employees. If they do not get what they need and want from you, they can easily get it somewhere else. The revolving door of employees adds to the lack of time managers have to train and develop. Hiring new employees takes a lot of time. Not to mention the extra work required filling the vacancies of employees who quit or were terminated.
  7. Talent hoarding:
    According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, one reason some managers don’t elevate, develop and encourage some of their top performers is to keep them on the team. It is called talent hoarding. This natural tendency to hold on to top performers will back fire and hurt the business. If these employees are not given an opportunity to grow and develop with you, they will go somewhere else. You will be forced to replace them.

Whatever the reason you are not developing your team, stop it. You will only disengage your employees. People usually perform to the level of expectation. If your expectations are low, they are probably being met, though not to your satisfaction. You then will probably shoulder more responsibility until you become at least frustrated, or worse, exhausted and burned out. And finally you may take drastic measures like quit, or fire the people you feel are making your life miserable.

I am convinced the employees we hire do not take a job hoping they will be underutilized and hoping they will underperform. They join us with hopes and expectations of learning and growing and contributing. Here are some ways to help you enable your team members to be productive:

  1. Believe they can do more:
    Always believe in the potential of your employees. You just have to figure out how to enable their potential. That comes from taking personal responsibility for their development and not blaming them for your failure to support and train them.
  2. Refuse to solve every problem your employees encounter:
    When they come to you asking for help, ask them to come up with at least two ideas for how they would handle it. You may be surprised with the solutions they find. If the solutions are not good, give encouraging feedback. This is how they learn. Repeat the process often.
  3. Brainstorm together:
    This is an effective process when stakes are high and margin for error is small. Take opportunities to work on problems together. Make sure you give your employees space in these sessions to come up with ideas. Discuss the merits of ideas and come to a decision together.
  4. Praise your team members for their efforts:
    Let them know when they do well. Make sure they are not just hearing from you when they make a mistake. When you encourage them for initiative and perseverance, you will get more of that behavior.
  5. Be willing to let your people fail:
    People often learn the most from failure. If you trust your people are doing their very best, you know they do not purposely want to create problems.
  6. Take a close look at how you may be contributing to the problem:
    The culture of your team enables the results you are achieving. The culture of your team is a reflection of your leadership. Be willing to work on yourself. Learn how you may be getting in your own way as a leader. Learn how to ask better questions that engage and encourage versus being a teller or dictator. Learn how to create an environment of trust where people work to solve problems, go the extra mile and help each other out.
  7. Make time to teach them:
    In addition to your coaching and instruction, give them opportunities to develop their skills and talents through in house and external training programs.

The investment of time you make in developing your team will come back to you. You will see your direct reports shouldering more and more of the responsibility you now carry. As they do this, your trust in them will increase. As you give them more responsibility, their capabilities will grow. The only way for you to grow is to help others grow. As that happens, the ability of the team to get stuff done increases. What if one of the people you develop does so well, they get promoted off the team? Be happy for them. Change is part of life. Train their replacement and become known for the leader who elevates and develops other leaders.

The author Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC. Additional articles which may interest you: Leadership Is About Impact Not Intention; How To Prepare Your Next Generation Of Leaders; Increase Your Effectiveness As A Leaders With Perception Science; How To Create Success From Failure; How To Get Your People To Change Today; Cure For The CEO Disease

 

What Is Innattentional Blindness Costing You?

Have you ever gone to a movie when the theater was packed and you scanned the theater for open seats? You finally find them and take your seats. After the movie, you run into some friends who happened to be at the same show. They said they had two seats next to them and were waving at you when you came in, but you did not seem them? Or perhaps you were watching your favorite sports team on TV and you did not notice your significant other asking for your help. Have you ever been so focused on something that you missed what was going on around you?

This phenomenon is called innattentional blindness, and was first discovered by Ulric Niesser, known as the “father of cognitive psychology”, at Cornell University in the 1970’s. It is also known as perceptual blindness and occurs when an individual fails to perceive or recognize an unplanned stimulus clearly in their field of vision. When we are focused on something specific, it is possible to miss other plainly visible details that may appear.

Niesser’s experiments gained interest and popularity in the following decades. Harvard Psychologists, Daniel J. Simons and Christopher F. Chabris tested his experiments further. Their findings are reported in their article, Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. The research points out we are missing a great deal of what is happening all around us. They have since written a book about their findings, The Invisible Gorilla.

When I first saw the monkey business video, I was focusing on a specific task and I completely missed the man in gorilla suit who appeared on the screen for a full 9 seconds and pounded his chest. I was happy to learn that I am not the only blind casualty of this psychology experiment. About 50% of people, under the same conditions, do not see the gorilla. So what does this have to do with you and I? This implies, that to our detriment, we miss a great deal of what goes on around us. I work with many hard charging, results oriented, get it done now, professionals. These are certainly good qualities, but they come with cost, if we are not careful. Just as with the above example; of someone not noticing their partner while watching a sporting event, it is possible for us to not see how we are impacting important people, in our business, by our narrow focus.

As a CEO, I remember I was so focused on accomplishing a particular task, that I gave my administrative assistant some assignments, almost unconsciously. I failed to notice she was under tremendous stress because we had multiple clients in the office, she was supporting. At the end of the day, I could see more clearly and recognized that I had created a great deal of stress for my good employee. She was not about to tell me no for several reasons: My position power as CEO made it hard for her to say something like, “now is not a good time” or “can I complete these tomorrow?” Additionally, she was generally conflict avoidant, a behavior I knew to be a part of her behavioral traits and personality profile.

At the end of the day, I apologized to her because I wanted her to be a happy engaged employee. I did not WANT to put her under unnecessary stress. She was working hard and helping our customers. What I asked for was important, but it surely could have waited for a day. I was just hyper focused on getting things done; I did not notice the impact of my focus. The apology was accepted, yet how often do we repeat the same behavior. What happens to our team member’s engagement when the leaders poor behavior is repeated again and again? Employees become disengaged. They lose trust in leadership and the culture is weakened.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to get the job done (results). However, we can never get everything we need done alone. We must enlist the help of our team. We get so much more done when we have a team that is engaged and motivated. Leaders who have developed relationships of trust most easily achieve this condition. To get our desired results, we must also pay attention to relationships. Some leaders seem to have a natural talent for this. Some leaders can spend too much time on relationships, sometimes at the expense of results. The best leaders learn how to effectively balance tasks and relationships.

Let me give a personal example of balancing task and relationship. I have five children and I want a great relationship with each of my children. I also enjoy having a clean house and order especially when I come home after a long day at work. It just so happens, that some of my kids come home from school and immediately take off their shoes and socks. They just leave them where they are, which is usually on the family room floor. If I am just focused on the task when I come home, I see the socks and the first thing I say to my son, “why are your shoes and socks on the floor again?! Go put them away!” He gets up after rolling his eyes and takes his things stomping out of the room. When he returns, I want now focus on the relationship. I ask, “How was your day? How did your math test go?” My efforts at relationship building are not well received. My son is no mood to talk to me now.

Let me change the scenario. I come home tired, and I notice the socks and shoes on the floor. Instead of immediately focusing on the task of creating order, and a clean house, I focus on the relationship I want with my son. I ask him about his day and math test. I ask him how volleyball practice went and if the girl he asked to the prom responded to his proposal. We have a great conversation. I then turn my attention to the socks and shoes and say, “where are those supposed to be?” he says, “Away.” I say, “go take care of that please.” In this scenario, the outcome is so much greater. I have strengthened the relationship and improved household order. You can have both, and in the long run, balancing both is so much more effective and rewarding.

If you are like me, and get too focused on “task”, there is hope. You can improve your awareness and perceptional limitations. It takes a desire to improve your self-awareness. Improving your emotional intelligence will be a great help. Some of the suggestions I have given in other articles about emotional intelligence will apply here and some are unique. (See links at the end of the article.)

5 Suggestions To Improve Your Vision:

  1. Think about the end result:

    Sometimes in our rush to get things done, we may not think about the consequences of our actions and behavior. Slow down a little and think about the outcomes. We may still be innattentionally blind to some of the outcomes even when we slow down, however, this practice will help us to improve more and more over time.

  2. Change your focus:

    I find that if I am watching TV and focused on a sporting event and my wife talks to me, I may not hear her. I have learned to stop, disengage in what I am doing, and focus on her. The benefits of this to my relationship should be obvious.

  1. Schedule time to focus:

    As a busy executive, I am often focused on important tasks. If you are like me, you get many interruptions throughout your day. People constantly stop by my office with “got a minute?” situations. Several problems arise in these situations. Possibly, you ignore them because you are so focused, and they leave disappointed. Or you keep doing what you are doing and pay only partial attention to what is needed. You miss important details and send a message the employees concerns and the employee is not important. Maybe, you continually stop what you are doing, to focus on the needs of your employees, because you value the relationship. This can cause your own tasks to suffer.

    A better option is to let your team member know they are important. Tell them you want to give them the time they deserve, however, right now is not a good time, unless it is an emergency. You schedule time when you can give your complete attention to their concerns. You can effectively balance task and relationship.

  2. Identify your blind spots:

    Become aware of when you have blind spots. When you are talking on your cell phone, watching TV, in a stressful situation, giving a presentation, managing a project, etc. Our behavior in these situations is often predictable and tied to our preferred behavioral traits. Knowing your behavioral trait patterns will help you identify your blind spots. Use a behavioral assessment you trust and work with a trusted advisor to help you understand the implications of your behavior traits.

  3. Be vulnerable:

    Give others permission to give you feedback on what you may be missing. In order to see what we are missing, it is helpful to understand situations where this occurs. This help will come to you when you encourage feedback and avoid being defensive. That takes admitting you may occasionally miss things and it requires a willingness to improve.

The cost of not improving your vision is great. When you are so focused on the task, much is missed. We can miss changes in competitive landscape. Changes in market conditions. We can miss changes in our employee’s engagement. We miss opportunities to strengthen and improve important relationships with our team, clients, family, and friends. We miss areas in our behavior, which may be holding us back from being as successful and happy as we want to be.

Related Topics: Cure For The CEO Disease, How To Defeat The Fog of War in Business, One Reason We Struggle With Emotional Intelligence, Is The Fundamental Attribution Error Destroying Your Team?

The author, Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC