One piece of advice I give to young business leaders is to never ask a question that can easily be answered online.
"Let me Google that for you" is a service I have used more times than I care to admit.
This may seem harsh and lacking in empathy, but I consider it tough love. Tomorrow's business leaders will look much different from those of today, and with the ability to find any answer with a device in our pocket, our responsibility as business leaders is shifting from providing skills and training to providing opportunities, experience and support.
Moreover, what will separate future business leaders from the pack is the ability to find the solutions to problems on their own.
So how do you transition from being an effective problem-finder to an effective problem-solver? Just follow these three simple steps.
1. Identify the root problem
This is where education and experience play an important role. Most individuals have an inherent ability to spot top level problems but few have the ability to properly assess them.
Consider this example: Someone keeps stealing your lunch from the company refrigerator. Clearly the problem is that you have a thief or really untrustworthy people in your midst, so you should go to your boss and report it. Right?
Wrong. The "problem" is probably something less sinister but no less important. More than likely, there is an atmosphere of mistrust or contempt among everyone in the office, which extends from a lack of leadership or a poor workplace culture. This can affect productivity and hurt the business.
A good rule of thumb is to always consider how the issue affects the company's bottom line. If it does not, then it really is not a problem worth analyzing.
2. Identify a solution to the problem
This is where you have the opportunity to show initiative and value to your organization.
Instead of becoming an extension of the problem by either ignoring or contributing to it (you know it's Todd who is stealing your lunch, so you are going to take his stapler), give the issue some thought and brainstorm possible solutions for the issue.
3. Communicate the solution -- not the problem
Most people stop at number one above, or they rush into the problem with a host of options that really do not help the business.
Instead, consider how to communicate the solution in terms of helping the bottom line. In this case, the problem is not that people are stealing lunches but rather that the culture is not conducive to trust, which is hurting productivity.
Now, compare these two reactions to the problem of lunch theft:
Someone keeps stealing my lunch out of the refrigerator. We need to have a meeting with the staff and tell everyone that this behavior will not be tolerated.
I think we have an issue with motivation in the office, and it is affecting productivity. I found a great team-building exercise online that I think will help create more cohesiveness at work. Would you mind if I use Friday's staff meeting to try it out?
It will be argued that it should be the responsibility of a business to train, mentor and nurture business leaders, and I don't disagree.
I would counter, however, by saying that the next generation of business leaders will know how to identify root problems AND find meaningful solutions on their own -- or with the help of Siri or Alexa -- and these are the individuals who will find their way to the top of organizations.