Great leaders don’t spend all their time-solving problems, but they’re smart about how to find problems and how to fix them. I see the best managers position themselves to hear problems and to see problems.
Hearing problems means being open to the problems your people bring you. If your people aren’t bringing you problems, that’s your meta- problem, or should I say your mega-problem! There are two explanations, and they’re both ugly: They think you can’t help or you don’t care. The can’t help scenario isn’t easily remedied, but the don’t care explanation is fixable.
If you want to hear problems, so you can deal with them, don’t send signals that say otherwise. Don’t be irritated or unsupportive when your people approach you with problems. Be encouraging. Lean in.
Ask questions (whether to learn more about the problem or, in a Socratic way, to help the person find their own solution). Use the opportunity to challenge their thinking. Help them consider other angles and learn how to be resourceful in their problem-solving. Don’t allow them to wallow in their problem, or get bogged down in trying to find the grand solution to huge problems. Instead, show them how to break that big challenge down into component parts and how to take the first steps forward.
Be a part of the process, but only be a part of the solution when there’s no other way. It’s good to hear problems, but you do no one any favors when you let those problems move from their plate to yours.
If hearing problems is a reactive process, then seeing problems is its proactive counterpart. Seeing problems means putting yourself into position to notice, identify, and diagnose problems others are missing.
You can’t see if you don’t slow down to look. I recently attended a workshop our company conducted, and the leaders of the client organization invested the time to sit in and observe. It was time well spent. They saw their salespeople do a subpar job in the prospect needs analysis role-play. I didn’t have to convince them afterwards—they saw it all. The sellers were not naturally curious, they didn’t ask good follow-up questions, they talked too much and asked too little, and on and on. The managers in the room recognized the problem and understood that their people would not excel at business development until they could perform a strong needs analysis.
These managers slowed down, looked, and saw. From that point, they had all the motivation they needed to fix that problem, and I helped by making suggestions as to how they could go about it. Of course, you don’t need a role-play to identify problems; it’s not even the best way. Your salespeople are out there every day doing it for real. Where are you? The more time you spend in the field, observing your people performing, the more problems you’ll see and the more you can help people grow.
Have you positioned yourself to hear and see the problems in your sales organization?
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