Are you a problem solver… and overloaded? Delegation is a critical skill for managers and leaders

Being good at solving problems and focused on doing so is a useful attitude in business.  “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” is a well worn phrase of many a manager.  However, whilst taking on and resolving problems is a great approach that usually helps success in business, it can also be dangerous if you take on too many challenges that ought really be solved by others (especially by your staff.)

I was discussing this challenge with one of my clients recently and remembered a great metaphor that someone explained to me many years ago and which has stuck with me ever since.  I’ve just looked it up and am shocked to discover that twenty five years ago it was being referred to as a twenty five year old article.  So it’s been around a long time, but re-reading it now I think it is just as valid as it always has been.

As usual I’ll summarise it here and give you the link to read the full article if you find delegation a challenge. Or, since this blog is aimed at business leaders, if one of your managers is finding delegation a challenge!

The article is quite simple really.  It tells the engaging story of an overburdened manager who unwittingly takes on all of his subordinates’ problems and becomes overloaded.  The metaphor is simple.  Think of the problem as a monkey.  When someone says to you “I have this problem boss” and you respond with “I’ll sort it out,” you need to visualise that monkey (problem) jumping from their back to yours.

That is fine for one monkey.  You can manage that.  It’s when you get that great reputation of being good at solving problems that it goes wrong – and you struggle to remain standing with all those monkeys on your back.  Your success can become the cause of your downfall. All too often, you find yourself running out of time while others are running out of work. And you (or others) say you’re a ‘control freak’ or ‘poor at delegation’ – which is of course unfair as solving problems is good for business.  You’re just solving too many of other people’s problems!

Wherever possible put the monkey straight back: What do you think you should do? How do you think you should solve it? What do you suggest? On the rare*** occasion you do need to intervene, make sure it’s right for you and the business that you do.

 *** It should be a rare occasion.  Beware your ego collaborating with their aversion to being accountable.  If you solve the problem you feel good and they feel good.  You are the hero who can solve the problem.  They don’t have the risk of being accountable for the success of the solution. Asking them to come up with the solution helps them to think for themselves, learn and be accountable.

There’s quite a lot more detail in the article and it’s an easy read so I recommend it:

Original article

Adrian Leer

Managing Director - Triad

"MD2MD provides an invaluable opportunity for me to learn from my peers, for me to road-test my thinking in a safe environment, and for me to keep developing my leadership skills. "
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Bob Bradley

Bob is a specialist in running high value added service businesses, having run five such businesses as General Manager, Managing Director or Chief Executive. His last employed role was as Chief Executive of a £16M, 200 person family owned business having previously been Chief Executive of an AIM listed company for which he raised £5M funding and which he grew from £4M to £12M in three years through two acquisitions and organic growth, and a corporate PLC subsidiary where he was Managing Director responsible for delivering £10M profit on £45M turnover through 450 staff.

Bob is now following a portfolio career providing entrepreneurial business leaders with mentoring and coaching around business leadership, business growth, merger integration and exit planning.

Core to his portfolio is MD2MD. Having experienced for himself the value of having a strong sounding board of fellow Managing Directors he founded MD2MD in 2004 to provide groups of business leaders with a confidential environment within which they can support and challenge each other to raise their game as leaders and by doing so improve the success of their organisation.

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