Finding Proactive Solutions: A Key to Demonstrating Your Management Fitness

In my book Talking Points: 25 Tips for Clear, Credible Communication, Tip #17 states: "Managers and professionals in positions of responsibility got there by finding solutions to problems. They didn't rely on someone else to come up with the remedy. They worked to find solutions proactively." Those of us in positions of responsibility can demonstrate our management fitness by looking for and adding a proactive step whenever we encounter potential problems. Adding that proactive step demonstrates our ability to take responsibility for the outcome of situations. Nothing speaks "management" more than this.

Finding creative solutions to unusual and routine situations helps develop your management skills.

In addition to taking that proactive step ourselves, part of our responsibility as managers is teaching our staff how to do this for themselves. Most of us in our careers have worked for a manager who tended to monitor every detail of our work. The result is we felt no empowerment to seek solutions on our own and to find methods of handling problems without that person's involvement. The problem this sort of micro-monitoring causes is lack of motivation on the part of the employee to seek out alternative, workable solutions.

Usually a micro-monitoring manager has an idea in mind about the best process or best solution when dealing with a problem. This "best process" generally comes from that manager's experience of having had that particular solution work the last time on a similar problem; hence, the attitude is born that this one solution will work on every similar problem. This is where the rut begins. When managers rely on solutions that worked in the past for current situations, they are no longer open to new ideas. As a result, they tend to direct their staff to use those same solutions on every problem in the future. The staff, then, begins to lose creativity when they encounter problems.

This method of management causes problems. It doesn't encourage creative problem solving among employees, nor does it encourage employees to try new ways of doing things. Instead, employees who have worked under this sort of manager previously will look to their next manager to "solve" their problems for them. And if these employees aspire to positions in management while relying on their managers to solve their problems, they will find their aspirations thwarted.

The staff members who are promoted above their peers to positions in management get there because they demonstrate their management fitness in finding solutions to problems and finding creative solutions to unusual and routine situations. When in management, these new managers run the risk of solving their staff's problems because they enjoy problem-solving so much. But these managers are going to have to remember how they got there and encourage their own team members to be creative in finding solutions to their own problems and not solve them for their team.

One of the best ways to encourage staff members to find their own proactive solutions is to use a series of questions to help them realize you are empowering them to seek solutions. For instance, let's say that your employee, Sam, comes to you with a situation-perhaps a failure in a process. Sam presents the situation to you by saying the process failed and then he asks what you'd like him to do about it. Instead of telling Sam what to do, ask Sam what he thinks should be done. Sam may at first be hesitant to give you any ideas because he may be gun-shy from previous micro-monitoring managers. Be patient with Sam; build trust with him so he knows you are truly interested in his ideas and that you trust his ability to work things out.

You might try a process I call the "blue sky" thinking process. Consider posing a question to Sam this way: "If money and time were not an issue, what would you do to solve this dilemma?" In every wacky idea, a good idea is waiting to be developed. Through a series of questions and answers with Sam, you'll discover that a good idea is just waiting to come out. And Sam's confidence and creativity will be awakened. He'll learn through this repeated process to start coming up with his own solutions. As his manager, you'll set the appropriate accountability with him on implementing his solutions so that Sam doesn't act without the proper authority to do so.

Following this process will not only increase Sam's management fitness by learning to find proactive solutions, it will further demonstrate your own management fitness by growing your staff into creative problem solvers.

About the Author:

Dr. Tracy Peterson Turner works with organizations that want to turn their managers into leaders and with leaders who want to get their messages heard. She is an expert in both written and verbal communication and conducts presentations and workshops to help individuals and corporations meet their communication goals.

Visit Tracy on the web at Email her at

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