Have you been around a group of preschool children in the last few months? One of the things you might observe is a significant difference in how the children approach problems. In one group, you’ll see the children working diligently to build a block tower. The tower may fall, but they will stay with it until they have built “the highest tower in the world.” When other children knock down the tower, these children will diligently work to rebuild. This process may include a few bruises or crying children, but these kids will keep working at it until they feel they have ultimately conquered their block challenge.
On the other hand, you will also see children that are not so diligent. For some, their attention span is simply not very long. However, for others, whenever they experience an obstacle or challenge, their first response is either to cry or to run to the nearest adult and plead for help. In other words, these children feel that only an adult or someone else can solve their problems. And, if that doesn’t work, they cry, fall to the floor, or give up.
In the first group, you see children that are developing confidence. When they see a challenge, they face it and keep working until they are successful. Thus, they become more confident. In the second group, the children feel they are helpless to solve their own problems. Thus, the challenge appears hopeless unless they get someone else to solve their problem.
I’m sure you know where this is going…. We can see the same characteristics in the workplace. Some individuals have “never met a challenge they couldn’t defeat.” They are unaffected by roadblocks. When they need an answer, they will be persistent until they get the information they need. Thus, by getting things done, they become (and are perceived as) more competent. Lack of information is no excuse to these individuals. When they see that something needs done, they are relentless in doing it. They help others, as well. The confident & competent individual is one that will not sit idle and wait for someone else to answer an e-mail, return a call, or give them permission to accomplish a needed task. They simply do whatever it takes to achieve results.
On the other hand, the hopeless & helpless individual is easily defeated. I heard an individual recently say something like, “That has been a problem for us for a long time. We keep hoping that someone will do something about it, but no one has yet.” Certainly, we cannot solve every problem ourselves. However, when someone comes to me and says something like that, my response is likely, “So, tell me all the things you have done so far to solve this problem. Who have you talked to about this? What steps have you taken? What have you tried that did not work? What do you think your next actions should be? Who else have you worked with to solve this problem? Why did you come to me before you have exhausted all other possibilities?” As leaders, we absolutely want to serve our team. We want team members to be successful. We want to help solve problems. However, we do individuals no favor when our first response is to take control of someone else’s problem that should have solved it on their own. We should not accept hopeless & helpless.
So, which group do you most often fit in to? Are you more likely to see obstacles as challenges to conquer or issues to elevate? How would your teammates or supervisor classify you? As a leader, is your first response always to attempt to solve everyone else’s problems? Could this be a wake-up call?