Many believe that solving other people’s problems is an act of care. Is it? All of us have been on the receiving end of unsolicited advice, and well, you know how much you like it. But what do you do when people keep asking you to solve their problems?
Women tend to adopt servant-style leadership; we’re empathetic caretakers who put people first. However, there’s a fine line between empowering teams to succeed and taking on everyone else’s work. Over the last few weeks, one of the biggest challenges posed to us by the Powrsuit community is the sheer amount of time we spend solving problems for our team, peers, kids and partners. The mental load feels crippling, and it can be frustrating to be surrounded by people who seem incapable of coming up with solutions. 😤
When a challenge is so widespread, there can only be two options: everyone else is the problem, or we are. You know where this is going – you teach people how to treat you, and many of us are teaching the people around us to need our help.
It’s time for a bit of personal problem-solving
Let’s dive straight into the crux of the issue, why do we solve other people’s problems? We did some research, and common reasons quickly resonated: we don’t like to see others struggle, we do like to be in control, and we want to save time. Put simply: other people’s problems make us uncomfortable, and we often own the responsibility of fixing them.
We, we, we, we. Our compulsion to solve other people’s problems is more about us than them. Empathy is a real double-edged sword, isn’t it?
The shift from solver to supporter
We’ve all heard the phrase: give a man a fish, and he’ll be hungry again tomorrow. Teach a man to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime. You may not be shocked to learn that women respond in the same way. 😉
Empathetic leadership means developing other people’s strengths; they can’t do that when you do the work for them. When we solve other people’s problems, we take on the full burden and deprive them of the challenge and achievement. When we support people to learn, however? Our assistance helps them develop their own problem-solving toolkit.
Easier said than done, right? Luckily, we’re not aiming for perfection – just small changes that break bad habits. So with that in mind, here’s a classic three-step Powr guide to getting out from under the weight of other people’s problems:
1. Understand why you offer your help
Take note when you find yourself jumping to solutions mode. What triggers it? Are you sure you need to save the day? Some questions to ask yourself when in the moment:
- Are you being asked for help, or do they just need to vent?
- Could they solve it without assistance?
- Is there a time crunch?
- Why does it feel more important than what’s already on your plate?
- Does your ego get a wee boost when in white knight mode?
2. Identify your role in the ‘problem-solving’ committee
Recently a Powrsuiter shared her new catchphrase with us: “I’m not on that committee!”. We loved it because every problem is a project, complete with a committee tasked to work on it. You get to choose the committees you join, and if you do join one, there are various roles you can fill. Get curious about the best way to help, and try on a few different hats for size:
- Are you even on the committee?
Are you even being asked to join? Do you want to? A valuable contribution to any problem can be as simple as validating the pain it causes: “I hear you; that must be tough”.
- Are you the cheerleader?
Sometimes people just need a big ole dose of self-confidence, which can come in the form of “I back you; you’ve got this!
- Are you the coach?
What is the actual problem to solve? Spoiler: it’s rarely the one that’s presented to you. Most of us jump to solutions before getting to the real issue. Try gently probing nudges like “What’s stopping you from moving forward?” or “What do you think you’re going to do?”. Their answers will highlight the real issue.
- Are you the expert?
Yes, sometimes people have a blocker and need a hand – but before sharing your opinions, ask permission. A simple open-ended question like “How can I best support you?” is a good way to find out whether this is the right role to take on.
3. Solve the problem at its source
Now that you’ve got some immediate responses, it’s time to drive that problem-solving Ambulance back up to the top of the cliff. After trying different roles on a few problem committees, you’ll notice some common causes, and it’s worth considering how you might address the source:
When time is short, so is our patience, and upfront planning saves a lot of last-minute panics. Do you need to give people more time to do the tasks you set them? Do you need to set up more regular progress check-ins? Do you need to re-evaluate your standards? Could you formalise peer reviews? You have a lot of tools in your leadership belt. Which ones could you give the people around you so they are empowered and equipped to succeed?
If you’re stuck in the trap of problem-solver for all, then it might be time for a reset. One simple rule to share with your team (or children) is to only come to you with a problem when they’ve identified at least one solution. It doesn’t matter if it’s the correct solution, but it does matter that they get in the habit of trying to solve their problems before asking for help.
Remember to enforce your expectation too. When someone shares a problem, switch into coach mode and ask how they think they might solve it.
We’d love to solve your problems!
Yes, Powrsuit is a mess of contradictions, but we do want to take on your problems. 😉 Email us with the biggest challenge you’re facing in your career right now, and it may well be (anonymously) featured in an upcoming newsletter.
30 second action:
Think back to the last time you gave advice and identify one thing you could have done differently.
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