For those of you who took a Gordon Model workshop (L.E.T., P.E.T., Synergistic Selling, etc.), you will recall (I hope!) the concept of Problem Ownership. For many of us—and maybe even most of us—our tendency, our desire—is to solve, fix things for other people when we see them struggling or they’re upset (when they are in the “Other Owns” area of our Behavior Window).
Our aim is to help, to ease their pain, right? Or perhaps…this problem-solving thing we do is really to ease our own pain, because we’re too uncomfortable with the situation the other person is experiencing? Or maybe it’s officially a part of our job right? To solve problems. If I am a leader or a manager or a parent—that’s what I do—I fix stuff so we can all get along with our lives right…..?
I want to share some information I’ve gathered from a variety of sources on this concept of problem ownership. I hope you find it useful and even insightful!
So listen up you over-solvers! 🙂
1. From Leader Effectiveness Training by Dr. Thomas Gordon, Founder of Gordon Training International (GTI):
“Keeping the locus of responsibility in the one who owns the problem is important because:
First, leaders who get team members to solve their own problems are making a sound investment that will pay off with many benefits: their team members will become less dependent on them, more self-directing, more self-sufficient, and more capable of solving problems on their own.
Second, leaders seldom have enough understanding of the complexities and wide variety of personal problems which group members encounter in their lives, on the job and off. Consequently, skills that keep the locus of responsibility for problem-solving with the helpee relieve leaders of the impossible task of coming up with answers to problems about which they have little information. Even highly trained professional counselors, recognizing how limited their understanding of another’s problem usually is, refrain from assuming responsibility for generating solutions for their clients, often despite heavy pressure to do so.”
2. From Be Your Best by Linda Adams, CEO of GTI:
“It can be relieving, freeing experience to leave ownership with another person. It means you need no longer assume responsibility for solving problems or her or him. Other advantages are:
-You are relieved of the pressure of feeling you need to have all the answers.
-You allow others to solve their own problems, which helps them gain independence, responsibility, and confidence in their own perceptions and judgments.
-The other side of the coin of assuming responsibility for your own life, needs, and problems is allowing others the freedom to do the same.
-Your solutions are often not what’s best for another person.
-Giving people solutions to their problems carries the risk that they will blame you if the solutions didn’t work.
-It’s difficult to know what lies beneath a problem presented by another person. If you jump in right away with your solutions you may prevent the person from getting in touch with a deeper feeling or problem.
-Taking over another’s problems and offering solutions can make her or him increasingly dependent on you.”
“Many organizations have considerable confusion about problem ownership. Possessiveness, need to control, tendency to assign blame, making unwarranted assumptions and other unproductive actions lead to considerable error and lack of stability in organizations. I often encounter managers who try to ‘own’ all of the problems. While often motivated out of a desire to perform well and ‘stay on top’ of things, such a way of looking at his or her organization is unsustainable. A manager who tries to do this will ultimately fail.
Conversely, some managers try to shift blame at every opportunity. Also, not a winning strategy! If the participants are motivated to do the right thing, they will learn that taking a moment or two to determine who owns the problem will prevent a lot of unproductive conversations and arguments, reduce the number of times they try to solve the wrong problem and increase the sense of ownership among team members.
The Behavior Window allows the leader to assess, in a few seconds, if she needs to begin the conversation by listening and encouraging the other to seek solutions to a problem or if she needs to send a clear message about her own need, or if the parties need to engage in mutual problem solving. In any case, the conversation will have started on the right foot. The parties will be having the right conversation.”
4. From an article, “Isn’t’ It Obvious: Why Leaders Get Into Trouble by Giving Advice” by Dr. Stinnett:
“Every time the leader assumes ownership of the problem, he or she takes away a little bit of the ownership, or sense of responsibility, from the other person. Too much of that and the team member, or client, or colleague, may start to resent you. They may start to be overly dependent on the leader. Effective leaders strive to reduce or eliminate unnecessary dependencies within their organizations. Too much dependency on the leader is unhealthy for any team or organization. Effective teams foster a sense of independence and confidence.
Highly productive teams feel empowered to solve problems and get things done. It is the weaker, less potent teams who need to go to their leader for solutions to all of their problems. If you have ever worked in an organization where everyone had to check every little thing with the boss, you know how paralyzing that can be. Excellence becomes impossible.”
Still wrestling with this concept? I invite you to call or email me and let’s talk more about it. And I will listen. 🙂