“What do you think we should do?”

I’m a problem solver. I love to fix people’s problems, and over the last decade, I’ve honed a reputation for creative problem solving. But I discovered that when I’m the only one to solve problems and put out fires, I become a firefighter. It’s all I have time to do. Every problem routes through me… and usually adds another dozen emails to my inbox. The sad part about firefighting is that it’s not leadership. It consumes all your time so you can’t focus on the things that only you can do. As Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller say in The Secret, leaders can’t work on “Heads Up” activities like vision and strategy if they’re spending all their time on “Heads Down” activities like putting out fires.

So I’ve learned to turn it around. If my staff present a problem to me, the best way to respond is with a question: “what do you think we should do?” Put the onus on them, and draw them into the solution process. There’s a good chance they have some ideas. If they don’t, they will next time they bring a problem to me. I now keep a sign on my desk that says, “Equip problem solvers.” I’d rather do that than be the Chief Problem Solver.

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