Home Features Management Matters Problem fixed: Why a manager’s job is to come up with solutions

Problem fixed: Why a manager’s job is to come up with solutions

Rachel Lefkowitz* says most people want a manager to be someone to help problem-solve the challenges they face.


Photo: Hebi B.

If you are a manager, one of your top goals is likely to be an effective (and maybe even beloved) leader of people.

If this is you, then the number one quality you should exhibit is: problem solving.

LinkedIn Learning recently surveyed over 2,000 professionals to find out the qualities employees want most in a manager.

Overwhelmingly, people want a manager to help problem solve the challenges they face.

Problem solving (68 per cent) was followed by a manager who can manage time effectively (44 per cent), who’s decisive (41 per cent), and who has empathy (38 per cent) and compassion (36 per cent).

Lacking these qualities not only affects your team, but LinkedIn data shows it also limits your ability to hire great people.

Be the boss people want by using these four steps to help your employees solve their greatest challenges.

Four simple steps to help an employee solve a problem

Managers: picture this.

Your direct report approaches you very frustrated.

A challenge has surfaced, blocking a key deliverable.

They need your help to find a solution.

This is an opportunity to show that you take them seriously — that you have the time, resources, and experience to help solve this.

Lead them through this four-step problem-solving process.

Leadership expert Mike Figliuolo defines the process used by major consulting firms around the world in his course ‘Solving Business Problems’.

  1. Help the employee identify the root cause.

“You cannot skip this step,” Figliuolo says.

“People think they know what the problem is; that they can answer a few quick questions and immediately rush into the solution.”

“You’ll get into trouble if you do that.”

Ask the employee to define the problem by documenting the core issue, prior efforts to find a solution, and who or what will be affected by potential solutions – or lack thereof.

Do this by asking the employee questions like:

  • Who are the key stakeholders and what are each of their goals?
  • What metrics will you use to determine if we’ve solved the problem?
  • Have we had similar problems like this in the past?
  • If we solve this problem what is the impact on partners or processes?
  1. Work with the employee to identify and prioritise the right solutions.

Have the employee talk you through each of the issues they are facing as a result of the problem.

Prioritise how to fix each of them based on time and resources available.

As Figliuolo says, “You need to focus your problem-solving on the highest-value opportunities.”

He recommends using the 80–20 rule in this process.

Ask the employee to rank the possible solutions from ‘minimal effort, high gain’ to ‘maximum effort, low gain’.

  1. Help the employee think critically about the paths forward.

Work together to analyse feasible solutions to the problem based on the state of the project, prior commitments, teams involved, and the scale of the impact.

Sometimes the top ‘minimal effort, high gain’ solution isn’t possible in the current circumstances.

Help them tap into both logic and gut feeling to find the right solution.

  1. Enable the employee to pitch the solution to their colleagues.

No matter how good the employee’s solution is, if they “can’t come up with a clear recommendation that is relevant to your stakeholders, it’s all been for naught,’’ says Figliuolo.

Prepare the employee with a few practise rounds.

Look for ample examples of assertions – facts stated to persuade – in their pitch.

Role-play with the employee by voicing logical arguments against their solution.

“The key to getting your idea supported is having the right set of facts and articulating them in a manner that’s going to be compelling to the audience,” says Figliuolo.

How to be a great manager is no longer a guessing game.

Employees have spoken.

What they want most in a manager is someone to help them problem solve.

They also want a boss who manages their time effectively, who is decisive, empathetic, and compassionate.


Rachel Lefkowitz is Brand and Content Marketing Manager, Learning Solutions, at LinkedIn.

This article first appeared at learning.linkedin.com