“I Have a Problem”

It’s Monday.

One of your employees identifies a lurking problem and brings it to your attention.


But did they also bring you their recommended solution?

Far too often, the answer has been “No” for me, during my six stints as CEO and COO. How about for you?

Hardly a day goes by without hearing one of your staff say, “I think we have a problem” or some variation.

Identifying problems is good, but woefully inadequate to earn their place as one of your Rockstar employees.


Most people can find problems. Business is messy and full of them.

But coming up with solutions… Now, for many that’s a challenge.

For starters, it involves thinking. Really thinking. And if you’re hired folks without analytical judgment and critical thinking skills, you’ll be waiting a long time for that answer.

Also, proposing a solution means putting themselves out there with you. They have to be vulnerable, and for many that’s nerve wracking.

“What if I’m wrong? What if he doesn’t use my solution? Or worse yet, what if he uses my solution and it doesn’t work and stuff really hits the fan? I’d better just say nothing.”

For many, it’s easier to say nothing. Because then they can’t make a mistake.

So what to do about all these problems and solutions?

  • Catch them doing something right. When they come to you with a problem and a solution, thank them and congratulate them – no matter what you really think of their idea. They’ll go back and tell the rest of your team that it’s a good thing to bring solutions to the boss.
  • Even if their idea is only half-baked, build on their idea using the Socratic Method, so the solution continues to be their idea when fully-baked.
  • When they come to you with a problem without a solution, politely and firmly send them back to come up with one (or more). Otherwise, you’re serving as a crutch for them, and holding back their development. Shame on you.
  • 90% of the time, defer to their solution. Only intervene on the big ones that really matter. This helps build their confidence. I’ve found the same applies in parenting. When they repeatedly come to you with problems but not solutions, you have a difficult decision to make.

Above all, hire only people who bring you as many solutions as problems.

Better yet, hire people who identify problems, solve them proactively, and then let you know it’s handled.

Jeff Hyman

Jeff Hyman

Jeff Hyman launched his recruiting career at Heidrick & Struggles and Spencer Stuart, the preeminent global executive search firms. Today, he’s Chief Talent Officer at Chicago-based Strong Suit Executive Search. Along the way, Jeff created four companies, backed by $50 million in venture capital. He currently teaches the MBA course about recruiting at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and hosts the five-star Strong Suit Podcast. Jeff has been featured by Inc., Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg, and other media outlets. He holds a master’s degree from Kellogg School of Management and a bachelor’s degree from The Wharton School.

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