Why I have a problem with bosses who always say “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!”

I wonder if, like me, you were taught that to impress you need to not bring problems to the table, just solutions? In fact as I’m writing this I can still hear a previous boss of mine yelling this, or some version of it, across the office.

Now I get the idea, if we’re feeling empowered and we have the skills required we ought to be able to work out how to do things for ourselves.

But sometimes we can take this too far, particularly if we’re the sort of person that tends to automatically think we’re responsible for everything. Perhaps the sort of person who whenever there’s a discussion about who in the team isn’t pulling their weight thinks “They must be talking about me, I’d better pull my socks up”, even though we're one of the hardest workers.

As well as developing solutions for problems within our control, we can find ourselves starting to try and do the same for other peoples’ problems, problems that can be solved by others. And indeed even problems that others intended on solving themselves and were just bringing to our attention for information.

This happened to me recently.

The Summer Fair

We were organising the school fair and the person who usually sorted a particular aspect of it was no longer able to, so someone else said they’d do it. My mind immediately jumped into fast forward and anticipated all the things that person needed to consider, and all the pitfalls and negative consequences if they didn’t handle it properly.

So I started to interfere, listing the things they needed to sort out. I was taking over the problem and making it my own!

If I had taken a step back I might have considered that perhaps they had already spoken to the person who normally organized this and discussed what was needed, or perhaps they had all the experience they needed to just get it sorted.

I’d assumed she was bringing me a problem for me to solve “The person who usually sorts this can’t do it”.

One more problem to weigh me down. One more thing for my TODO list.

The Alternatives

If I’d have said simply “Is everything in hand? I’m here if you need me” then both of us would have had a very different experience. In fact in this particular case I wonder if I had even managed to see a problem where there wasn’t one at all… ummmmmm….

So like every over-used phrase that just trips off the tongue rather too easily - the phrase “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”, is one we really ought to keep an eye on.