“Why is it that every time a smart person needs help to solve a problem, they look everywhere except their own mind?”
[Quote from a 1957 Manpower operating manual]
This is a particularly telling quote one of my colleagues at ManpowerGroup found and highlighted to me last week. It’s a particularly telling quote, as it really highlights the responsibility we all have as team members and leaders to contribute to the solution, not the problem. Note the timeless nature of the quote – from an operations manual back in 1957!
This reminds me of a funny story one of my former colleagues told me that is worth repeating. He was telling me about a boss he once had [we’ll call her Suzy to protect the innocent] who drove home the message of leadership and responsibility, particularly around offering potential solutions to problems and not relying on others to solve those problems. The story goes like this:
“I remember when I first started working for Suzy. The first time I had an issue arise, I called Suzy and said, ‘Suzy, I have this problem, what should I do?’ Suzy then responded, ‘well, what options have you considered?’ ‘None’, I said, ‘that’s why I called you.’ To which Suzy offered two or three solutions.
The next time I brought a problem to Suzy I got the same thing. ‘Well, what options have you considered?’, said Suzy. ‘None’, I said again, ‘that’s why I called you.’ To which Suzy sighed and again offered a few solutions.
The third time I brought a problem to Suzy, she again asked, ‘Well, what options have you considered?’, to which I again replied, ‘none, that’s why I called you.’ The phone immediately went dead. So I called Suzy back and said, ‘we must have been cut off.’ ‘No’, Suzy replied. ‘I hung up on you’. ‘Why?’, I asked. ‘Well, if you aren’t going to bring some options to solve the issues you raise, I don’t need you as a leader.’”.
A bit of a harsh lesson, to be fair. But the story does highlight an important point. Leadership isn’t about always having the right answer, but it is about taking the time to explore potential answers and not just highlight problems.
Every day you will be faced with challenges. Your job in supporting your customers inherently requires you to face such challenges and issues on almost a daily basis. So ask yourself this simple question – Are you acting as a leader and part of the solution, or looking to everyone else for the answer?