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Solutions, Not Problems!


My absolute favorite leadership quote of all time comes from philosopher Karl Popper:

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded that you don’t care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” – Karl Popper

IMO, no other leadership quote comes close to hitting the nail on the head as Mr. Popper’s. Do you wanna know why? Because over my long and un-illustrious career, I’ve heard some anointed leaders say the equivalent of this:

“Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!”

I’ve heard that at least three times, and all three times I’ve thought:

If you’re not here to help solve your soldier’s problems problems too, then what do you do here besides watch numbers, approve/disapprove actions, reduce costs, and strut around; why are you even here at all?

Anyone with half of a brain in their head knows that saying shit like “don’t bring me your problems” drives important problems underground. And under the surface, they fester, grow, and morph into downstream crises that eat into the treasury from which these “keep your problems to yourselves” leaders draw their personal sustenance.

Great leaders encourage their troops to bring their problems forth into the light. Then they roll up their sleeves, jump into the tar pit, and help as much as they can, where they can. Paradoxically, this style is called “servant leadership“, and Theory-X managers just don’t get it. They never have, and never will. Solutions Not Problems In case you’re wondering why the nerd in the cartoon is just thinking the word “Clueless” instead of saying it out loud, it’s because:

To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize. ~ Voltaire

  1. June 24, 2015 at 9:07 am

    “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!” is a perfect example of how an extremely shallow understanding of a concept can lead to a bumper-sticker formulation and completely negate what was originally a good idea. As you noted, anyone that is not there (or, just as bad, not perceived to be there) to help their people achieve is no leader. You never want to discourage people from coming to you with issues, that’s a guaranteed way to set yourself up to be blindsided. By the same token, in discussing issues, I always asked the individual if they had an idea of how to handle the issue before making a decision and went with their approach as long as it was feasible unless I had a much better answer which I would discuss, not just dictate. The reasons: as the person on the point end of things, I valued their point of view; further more I wanted them to know that I valued their point of view; and finally, I wanted them to be in the habit of formulating reasonable, justifiable responses and feeling comfortable with going with those responses in my absence. IMHO the best leaders are those that can take time away without fear that their units will disintegrate. The worst are those who are so insecure as to be unable to trust their people with any decision.

    • June 28, 2015 at 4:00 am

      As always, thanks for sharing your insights and personal experiences Gene. Listening makes for great leaders. Discouraging others from talking is the opposite of listening.

  2. HH
    August 13, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    Great quote no doubt. Great quote no doubt. Transformational leader would say “Enter with a problem, leave with a solution”. One of my favorites leadership quotes “Your people made you and they will break you if you don’t take care of them”.

    • August 13, 2015 at 6:29 pm

      Thanks. You’ve got some good quotes too.

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