Are you laden with your employees’ problems?

Most business owners find it difficult not to fix problems for their employees.

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After all, employees are supposed to bring problems to the surface in the business. And everyone knows that owners are there to fix problems. So it follows that employees should bring business problems to owners for fixing.

But we all know it’s no fun to walk out of meetings with more to do than when we walked in!

It could be worse

In one company, the owner literally ran into his office early in the morning and locked his door so that he didn’t have to deal with anyone who might bring him a problem. In the evening, he would poke his head out, check that the coast was clear, and dash straight to his car!

Most of us won’t get to a situation quite this bad. And yet his problem was not caring too little – he cared too much! He also didn’t know how to help unless he took on his people’s burdens himself. Clearly many business problems require your help to resolve – but which ones?

How can I help you with that?

The next time an employee approaches you with a problem, imagine they are carrying a very large brick. That’s right, a brick. If they are like most employees, they hold it out toward you, straining, and say, “This is a big problem!” And if you are like most owners you will take the brick and say “No problem – thanks for bringing it to me.”

But instead of grabbing the brick, what if we asked some questions about it, like: “What do you think is the impact of that brick? How did you find out about it? What have you tried so far to deal with this brick? How can I help you with that?”

Are you taking others' bricks from them?

Are you taking others' bricks from them?

When problems arrive, see them as opportunities to grow your people and enable them to solve problems by themselves. Tell your people specifically why you’re glad they found this problem, why you believe they can handle it, and work together to figure out what support they will need from you. The idea is that, over time, you will help people feel special about discovering and solving the problems they used to bring to you to fix.

Special note:  if you have a habit of grabbing bricks, unfortunately you may have trained your team to expect to offload bricks onto you. You’ll have to untrain them – and it’s important to do so in a supportive way. Remember, this isn’t about abandoning your employees – it’s about making them stronger, so that they can handle the bricks they encounter in your business.

Actions you can take today

  1. Stop picking up other people’s bricks unless you absolutely have to. The next time someone brings you a “brick,” ask questions to help the person figure out what they can do to handle it, offer support so they can take care of the problem, helping them get better at solving problems.
  2. Remember – “How can I help you with that?” just might be the seven most powerful words to help you grow your people and keep you focused on the business instead of the “bricks”!
Chris Hutchinson, CEO 

Chris Hutchinson, CEO 

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Chris Hutchinson

As CEO of Trebuchet Group, Chris Hutchinson thrives working with clients and his team to improve organizational clarity, teamwork, and leadership impact.

After years of building Legos® and tree houses around the world, Chris earned his Mechanical Engineering degree and followed that with an MBA. His experiences in the military and the business world taught him great leadership can be learned, and everyone is in some way a leader.

Clients and peers describe him as an inspirational catalyst for positive change. He is the author of Ripple - A Field Manual for Leadership That Works.

Chris and his wife live, garden, and bike in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have four children. He has an unrequited love affair with brownies.