Wicked Problems – Another nail in the “tell-style” coffin

April 6, 2011 by · View Comments 

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The biggest influence on how we lead is the leadership we have seen.  For many of us that includes a wealth of examples of being told what to do and how to do it.  This tell-style has it’s place – it gets things done quickly and efficiently. OK, so you leave your people behind, increase your staff turnover and stifle all the creativity in your workforce but at least the job is done.

We now have another nail in the coffin of the “tell style” of management.  Fundamentally it relies on the Manager / Leader knowing more than the team member; the expert giving their considered view on how to fix whatever problem the team member faces.

This falls down when the manager does not have the right answer or even the problem does not have an answer at all.  The team will still look for him to solve the problem.  With no solution, both the manager and the team suffer a crisis of confidence.

Problems like this are appearing more and more often.  Wicked problems / Adaptive Problems or whatever you call them seem to be a growing breed.  They are not amenable to authoritive expertise or standard operating procedures.  Think of reforming the public sector, understanding the business of social media, the big society, managing a generation that has no employee loyalty.

Leading teams through these issues needs you to remove yourself from being the font of all knowledge to being a new leader – one that coaches, challenges and supports his team.  Accept you don’t have all the answers and let other people know this. Earn your respect by being the person that helps others deal with these issues not by fixing it for them.  Focus on changing the attitudes and behaviours of others.  Spend your day coaching and challenging others.

We all need to be great coaches and leaders, not just managers. and to let go of that bit of ego.

About Rob Priestley

Rob Priestley has written 13 articles on this blog.

Senior Consultant

  • Anonymous

    Over the years I have heard from a few wise people that the best managers are those who know to employ people who are far more skilled in each area then the manager him/herself. Even though I know and understand that I still think it’s one of the hardest things to get your head around especially when your business is still your ‘baby’, but it just makes so much sense – we can’t all be experts at everything!

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