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A Common But Damaging Leadership Statement You Should Never Make

I heard a leader make a common but damaging leadership statement recently that made me cringe. It is perhaps one of the worst leadership statements to organizational health, but I have heard it numerous times in my career. 

Have you heard this one?

Don’t bring me a problem without a solution.

When the leader I heard said it he was frustrated by all the complaints he was receiving from staff about a systems issue in the organization. It was causing added work for people and not accomplishing enough value for the effort required.

Passionately, he banged on the table and said, “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution. Don’t bring me a problem without a solution. That’s my leadership philosophy. Don’t bring me a problem without a solution.“

I suppose it made him feel better to repeat it several times. 

Here’s the problem with that damaging leadership statement.

Actually two problems. 

  • Stifles creativity of problem-solving.

No one is going to offer any input to a leader with an attitude like that. Conversation done. Complete. Over.

  • Forces real problems to continue – everyone knows it but can’t mention it.

Silence is forced upon people because they aren’t given permission to bring up the problems they see.

Here’s the reality. There are people on any team who don’t have the power or authority to solve the problems they see. They only know there is a problem. And they likely know it better than anyone else because they have to live with it daily. That was the case in the illustration above.

Consider positions such as administrative assistants, for example. Or facilities personnel. In most organizations, they have usually not been empowered the authority to change the rules. (Hopefully your organization is an exception to this.) They can only live with what they have been given. But they potentially see dozens of problems with the way their work is done.

When they have the freedom to expose a problem to leadership, they can help improve efficiency, productivity and team morale. Not to mention the impact it has on organizational trust.

Instead of shutting them down with this horrible saying, empower people to solve problems. Pull together teams of peers to suggest solutions. Promote open dialogue where people feel comfortable bringing a problem forward. Make sure everyone on the team – regardless of their position – feels the freedom to share what they see and are experiencing. 

That’s part of serving on a healthy team. And it will make the entire organization better.

(In fairness, if there is truly a culture of empowerment at every level within the organization – where everyone feels safe to offer suggestions for improvement – then I have far less of a problem with this statement.)

 and I are about to launch a new season of the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast, so subscribe now. You don’t miss the next one.

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Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Jim Pemberton says:

    Completely wrong-headed. The leader is in a position to help guide a subordinate. Additionally, many challenges need a team to develop appropriate solutions. My own organization uses multiple problem-solving tools like 8D and A3. I've been on teams where people representing multiple departments have pulled together their knowledge and expertise to own their part in being the solution and have produced opportunities for improvement and growth. For example, we had a shortage of supply because the method we were using to handle inventory wasn't covering all situations. We pulled together purchasing, material handlers, managers, and leaders, and developed a new method that was so good that we applied it to nearly all of our raw material inventory. It required changes in multiple areas that one person wasn't going to be able to develop on their own.

  • Kelly D King says:

    I have often heard this, but I would like to argue the benefit of this statement. There are times when employees can focus on being critical of problems without considering the opportunity to bring their ideas to the table. If a leader uses this phrase, I would encourage him/her to foster creativity, not hinder it. Creativity begins when a problem or need exists, but then a leader should encourage collaboration and dialogue to find solutions.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Kelly, thank you for your comment. We are absolutely on the same page. The statement, however, without a culture of empowerment and collaboration is extremely damaging to cultures. If that culture exists – then I have no problem with using the statement. Don't bring me a problem without a solution because we've granted you every right to suggest an alternative and make things better. When that is in place – for every level of position in the organization – it can actually be a helpful statement. Sadly, I've not seen that kind of empowerment very many times in the organizations where I've heard/witnessed the comment being made.

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