The Problem with the “Inner” Problem Solver

Lessons Learned

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend company mandated management training. Any training that is “Company Mandated”, for many of us, might generate a vision of boring, non relevant, check-the-box training. While I do not consider myself a pessimist, being prior military, I have gone through many such “company mandated” trainings that have shaped my perception.

Despite a sub-optimal attitude, I learned many things about myself as a leader/manager. One such “light bulb moment” came when I realized that my “Inner” Problem Solver was getting in the way of effective coaching.

You see, throughout my career my mindset has been problem x = solution y; get the job done. As challenges inevitably would arise my “inner problem solver” would identify a solution and guide coaching conversations to achieve that solution without necessarily knowing it.

Can you think of a time when your boss told you how to handle a situation? How motivated were you to get right on it?

Now, with that vision in your head, think of a time when you were invited to a conversation that led to you uncovering the way forward? If you were like me, you walked away with ideas flourishing and motivated to get started. Perhaps you found yourself jotting down ideas on a notepad so you would not lose them.

The response to actual “coaching” can be dramatic. John Kotter’s’ statement in his 1990 Harvard Business Review article, “What Leaders Really do”, illustrates:

Motivation and inspiration energize people, not by pushing them in the right direction but by satisfying basic human needs.

Come to think of it, the many mentors I have had over the years would operate in this fashion. Regardless, of the importance or visibility level, I was given the opportunity to arrive at a solution. I felt valued and wanted to give more.

Effective coaching is not telling (directly or indirectly) our folks what to do to be successful. It is guiding them to the solution. This is how we help our team members grow and achieve their personal and professional goals.

When coaching situations present themselves we should identify them for what they are: An Opportunity. Be self aware of your inner voice and how it might be unintentionally influencing the outcome.

Resist that urge to race for the solution and create a dialogue that allows members of your team to arrive at the solution.

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