Many of us gravitate to, and excel at, solving problems. In fact, solving problems has made us successful in school, college, at home, and in the workplace. It seeps into our identity, becoming a part of how we distinguish ourselves as professionals. We gain rewards and recognition for solving problems and therefore it becomes reinforcing behavior.
Problem solving is addictive. And with good reason – most organizations have been successful because they find, deliver, or sell solutions, whether it be in healthcare, construction, or technology. Companies must identify challenges and solutions in order to remain relevant and profitable in the marketplace.
Sometimes, though, problem solving becomes our “currency,” or how we base much of our value as professionals. Think of interviews you have been on – rapid problem solving is revered and sought after. And there can be a bit of a high when you are sought after to be the fixer, to be the one at the 11th hour that saves the project or meets the deadline.
The conundrum occurs when you enter into management and leadership. Our “currency” of being the hero problem solver, swooping in on our red cape to save the day, is not necessary the currency that helps you succeed as a leader. While many leaders are “working managers” through necessity in our current economy, leadership requires a different set of skills. No longer are you the sole do-er of tasks, but rather the leader of people. The emphasis is still on delivery and solving problems, but THROUGH your teams, not on your own. Leadership is about empowerment, strategy, delegation, teamwork, mentorship, and communication.
And for those do-ers who have thrived on a career of strong problem solving, that currency can be hard to let go of. Some people truly enjoy the art and science of problem solving, loving thorny and tricky challenges. Some managers, especially newer ones, may not have the experience and knowledge of delegation. And some have a harder time letting go of the very skills that got them to where they are now. They are wondering how to be successful when the rules and expectations have changed.
This is a very common occurrence with managers and leaders, especially those in technical fields. Often promoted due to solid work history, delivery, and expertise, the shift from strong individual contributor to leader can be a challenging one. The good news is that there are tools to support you, whether it be coaching, mentorship, training or other options. Reach out, be courageous, and try on a new set of skills. Problems will always be there to be solved, but you will empower your staff if you allow them to solve while you lead.
For help with transitioning from problem-solver to true leader through others, schedule a