As leaders, should we be solving all the problems all the time?
What are our problems to own? When, instead, should we be coaching other people to solve problems?
And how can we move away from the tools of problem-solving, and instead focus on the principles and behavior of people-centered leadership?
Problem-solving is a favorite topic of mine, and also one of the areas in my life I’ve had to be most reflective and intentional.
I love solving problems!
But I have also had to learn that it’s not always beneficial to be the problem-solver.
I’ve literally had to learn to Break the Telling Habit…and it’s had a profound impact on me personally, the people I support, and the organizations I work with.
When a problem arises, it is a fantastic learning opportunity for you and for your people. It requires you, as the leader or continuous improvement coach, to allow the space for someone else to learn and grow…not to always tell your ideas or give your suggestions.
It requires that you ask the questions that will lead to your people solving the problem.
How do we do this?
How do we make space for other people to learn the process of problem-solving?
How do we change our own thought process around solving problems…and break our telling habits?
And what are some of the barriers to effective problem-solving (and how do we navigate those?)
Jame Flinchbaugh Shows Us How
Jamie is the Founder of JFlinch and in his 30 years of experience, has helped purpose-driven leaders craft effective, resilient organizations at over 300 companies. Jamie has helped to build over 20 companies, collaborating with leaders and their teams to bridge capability, strategic, cultural, and systems gaps so that they can safely span potential pitfalls and have a purposeful impact on their organizations.
His latest book People Solve Problems: The Power of Every Person, Every Day, Every Problem explores the real leverage to improve problem-solving. In it, he dives into the problems with problem-solving, including both the value and limits of tools and templates, as well as the marriage of problem-solving and standards.
Jamie outlines the culture needed in an organization in order for problem-solving to be effective, and the role of leaders, whether the CEO or a team leader, in building an environment where problem-solving can thrive.
I recently interviewed Jamie about his book and all the lessons in it.
I really enjoyed People Solve Problems. Jamie distills years of wisdom into a great guide about solving problems. In it, he moves away from tools and really focuses on the principles and the leadership behaviors needed to solve problems, and coach people to solve problems too.
It was a fantastic conversation about one of my favorite topics to talk about!
Congratulations to the Winners of the Book Giveaway!
We gave away three copies of the book People Solve Problems: The Power of Every Person, Every Day, Every Problem to our readers during our book giveaway. Be sure to join my community to hear about all of my future giveaways.
Without further ado, check my interview with Jamie Flinghbaugh about People Solve Problems!
See below for a list of the questions and time stamps if you wish to jump to specific topics in the video. We’ve highlighted some excerpts of the discussion below for you as well.
But be sure to check out the video interview for Jamie’s full answers! It was a great discussion.
1 – (01:35) What inspired you to write this book in the first place?
It’s been 15 years since my last book, which is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, with Andy Carino. So it was due. But two things really came together.
One, writing for me is always a process of discovery, of articulation, of refinement. I write as a way to help shape my own thinking. So this was an effort to do that.
Second is the number of conversations I’ve had over and over again about problem-solving, and the mistakes I’m seeing people making.
2 – (03:50) In your experience, what are some of the barriers that you have observed in problem-solving and people taking initiative for problem-solving?
One is the focus on the outcome: we’re not solving problems just to solve problems, we’re solving them to produce results.
So, certainly the outcomes matter, but sort of pre-assessing where you’re going to end up and determining whether you’re going to be successful in doing that means that we kind of ignore the journey and the process.
3 – (07:24) What’s one suggestion that you have for leaders in navigating this continuum between asking and telling, and when they should be the problem solvers and when they should be coaching other people to be problem solvers?
I think the most important thing is to deliberately check your intentions before you go into any of these conversations.
I actually have a separate set of notebooks for people that I coach, and I pull those notebooks out for those conversations. And one of the reasons for that is that pulling out those notebooks is a mental check for myself around what I’m trying to do in that particular moment.
I think the most important thing is to deliberately check your intentions.
4 – (11:09) What is one of the important deliberate actions that you coach leaders on that they can take to generate learning experiences and start creating this culture?
The important things are the day-to-day interactions, right?
So, this is the accidental culture leaders sometimes fail to appreciate the impact that they have, right?
Every word that you say, every reaction to an email, every email you decide not to respond to, is an experience and that’s how we end up with the accidental culture.
So I think the two actions that really go the furthest, from a consistency and from an opportunity standpoint, are the questions that we ask and the things that we say good job in thanking for.
5 – (14:10) What do you think or consider to be the biggest problem with problem-solving in the organizations you work with?
One’s more of a macro, one’s a micro.
On the macro is the idea that we can get better at problem-solving. We often take it for granted. We think it’s just a matter of raw intelligence plus experience, and it’s not right.
That’s just not enough.
We can get better at it. Acknowledging that, or failing to acknowledge that is one of the biggest problems with problem-solving. That’s why we don’t spend more time on how we do it and how we get better on more of a micro level.
And, and so just acknowledging that, or failing to acknowledge that I think is, is one of the biggest problems with problem-solving. That’s why we don’t spend more time on how we do it and how we get better on more of a micro level.
We can get better at it. Acknowledging that, or failing to acknowledge that is one of the biggest problems with problem solving.
6- (17:05) What’s something that you’ve learned personally about problem-solving through the process of writing this book?
The scoping of problem-solving, scoping of projects, and always checking in.
You know, I had an outline of this book and if I would’ve written that book that I first outlined, it’d be 850 pages. I didn’t know where I was headed but I also didn’t know how to get started in the refining without jumping in, without getting the ball rolling. And so the scope changed twice in a pretty major way.
But the idea that can we get the scope right before we start, or are we going to have to check in with that scope as we go forward and, adjust thoughtfully, but still adjust on the fly as we go forward? That was sort of where my content and my process intersect.
7 – (19:55) My last question that I love to ask is this: What is a question that you haven’t, or are not usually asked about the book? What is that question? And what’s your answer?
I think one question that I haven’t gotten is, ‘what topic in the book do you wish you had spent more time on?’
There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t get to, that I originally intended to. For example, the role of the leader as a system architect. Talking about what are all the elements of designing your local locally appropriate system to manage, to refine, to focus your problem-solving efforts as a team. It could have been its own section.
Additional Resources on Problem-Solving
Articles and videos
As you think more deeply and reflect on your problem-solving practices, take a look at these articles for enhanced thinking and guidance:
- Starting with Study-Adjust before you Plan-Do means that you won’t jump straight to solutions without knowing what the gap is first. This article and video explore that more deeply.
- In this article, I dive deep into the idea of taking an intention pause and slowing down in the service of creating learning.
- Take a look at this free webinar I led for 7 tips on how to effectively coach for problem-solving.
- And for the problem-solving questions that I recommend, take a look at this article.
Take the Break the Telling Habit workshop!
And, if you are looking to dive even more deeply into how to coach for problem-solving, check out my on-demand Break the Telling Habit Workshop — facilitated by me, which explores how to tap into your team’s potential by using powerful questions to unlock innovation and amplify engagement.
You can also work with me to create a custom learning experience for your team and or dive more deeply into how to both solve problems and coach for problem-solving in my Leading to Learn Accelerator program (offered both as a self-paced experience or with a facilitated group coaching cohort).