The Manager’s Dilemma by Irial O'Farrell
As a manager, do you find issues regularly landing on your desk? Issues that you know, in your heart of hearts, the team member does, or should, know how to sort out themselves? Is your own work regularly hijacked by team members interrupting you, to deal with their issue? Irritated? Frustrated? At the end of your tether?
If so, The Manager’s Dilemma – How to Empower Your Team’s Problem-Solving is the book for you. Understand the dilemma every manager faces. Discover the valid and invalid reasons for escalation. Explore the steps of problem-solving. Join Lisa, as she identifies the potential step each member of her team is getting stuck on. Follow Lisa, as she designs coaching options, to empower each team member. Consider your own problem-solving mindset. Plan how you’ll introduce the new approach.
Read this book and you’ll unlock your team’s potential and free yourself up and all of you will benefit.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 1 – G Rated Clean Read
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Many (many) years ago, an employee escalated a particular situation up to me to sort out. While I gave her the answer, all that was running through my head was "surely she knows the answer to that!". It got me thinking – what was going on for her that she would think to ask me such a question. Next time, I took a very different tack and within a couple of months, she no longer needed to come to me.
I didn't think too much about it until years later, I was listening to a group of executives talking and their situation sounded exactly like what I had gone through. I threw out my theory and the resounding response was "yeah, that's exactly it". I ended up designing a workshop on How to Develop Other People's Problem-Solving Skills, which allowed me to explore and hone my theory. Having published SMART Objective Setting for Managers in 2020, this book seemed the natural follow-on.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My book is nonfiction and I can't say the character development is great but…I did create a manager, Lisa, and her team, to explore the different challenges that can arise and how to approach them.
CHAPTER ONE: THE MANAGER’S DILEMMA
What’s the one “thing” that makes a good manager good?
This is a question that regularly crops up when exploring topics such as leadership, emotional intelligence, and personality styles. I customarily demur from answering the question as it’s usually asked in a manner that leaves me thinking that if the questioner could just find that elusive elixir, all would be right with their world. Since there is no silver bullet to sort out all the challenges of management, I don’t like to give false hope.
That said, I have noticed one “thing” being particularly prevalent in managers. It’s not a “way of being” or a particular “style” of doing something. I have no formal research evidence to back up my initial observation. I can’t tell you the exact percentage of the management population that demonstrates this “thing”. However, I can tell you that I’ve run my theory past hundreds of managers and it has resonated with all of them. Of which, the most recent response was, “Yes, of course, look at how we like Gerry, because he’s good at sorting stuff out while Jacob makes very little effort”.
Just what is this “thing” that managers tend to be good at? In short, it’s problem-solving. Managers tend to be very good at solving problems, resolving issues and getting things sorted out. To be clear, I’m not saying “every” manager is good at this. You might be thinking of Mary from accounts, who never solves problems, just leaves a trail of them behind her. Or Dan, two bosses ago, who dithered and dawdled and never seemed to make up his mind. Some managers definitely suffer from decision-making-phobia, while others are in the CYA game.
All of that said, most managers tend to be good at getting things sorted out. Why might that be? Taking a step back, who tends to get promoted? At the junior levels, the people that catch management’s eye tend to be those that can figure things out, get things resolved, at least come up with some ideas and suggestions. Let’s face it; people who take that approach tend to make managers’ lives easier. Ironically, the employee’s reward is often more work, in the guise of additional projects, high-profile projects, opportunities that provide them with greater experience, exposure and confidence. When promotional opportunities come up, who’s most likely to succeed? Yep, our problem-solvers. So, they move up the ladder and into management.
Just to reiterate the point, I used to lecture third-year manufacturing-design engineering students on Human Resource Management. The module was introduced in response to evidence that showed that many engineering graduates moved into management roles within five years of graduating. What do engineers tend to be very good at? You got it, problem-solving.
Surely, managers being good at problem-solving is a good thing, right? On the face of it, yes. It would seem to be a good thing, but let’s take another step back and consider it from another angle. Let’s consider Trish’s situation.
CASE STUDY DEBRIEF
I’d love to say that Trish’s situation is a one-off, but I’ve met way too many “Trishs” to know it’s a common pattern across many industries. Before we dissect the dynamics of this case study, it would be worth your while taking a couple of minutes and reflecting on what you think is going on.
TRISH’S PERSPECTIVE OF THE DYNAMIC
As humans, we tend to continue doing what works for us. Trish was good at her job because she was good at sorting things out, i.e. problem-solving. Trish was rewarded for being good at her job, by being promoted. Consciously or unconsciously, she has clocked that she is good at her job because she sorts out problems and she gets rewarded for being good at her job, by being promoted. Trish has connected the two and concluded that she should continue doing what got her promoted, i.e. solving problems. It’s also what she sees her peers and her own manager doing. When she goes to her boss, he tends to just sort it out for her or gives her direction on how best to deal with it.
In addition to her strength of problem-solving, nobody has sat down with Trish to explain the purpose of the manager role, how it differs from the functional work of the team, how her mindset needs to shift or what additional skills she needs to start developing. Her new boss just told her that her job was to ensure the team’s work was completed on time. She’s doing this as best she can, with the skills, experience, direction and training she has (or hasn’t) been given.
TEAM’S PERCEPTION OF TRISH AND THE DYNAMIC
As for the team, Damon likes to understand the reason why one course of action might be better than another course. If he just needs a decision, he’s happy to take Trish’s direction. However, if there are several options, he likes to be able to have a discussion about them and work out which is the right option to take. He has noticed that this doesn’t seem to be in Trish’s repertoire. He can deal with that, but what he finds really irritating is when he brings an issue to her that he has sorted out, she immediately jumps in to either tell him what to do or takes it from him to sort out. She doesn’t even allow him get to the end of his explanation before she’s whipped it from him. He has gotten to the point where he doesn’t even try anymore.
For Ericka, on the whole, she has found that Trish’s direction is usually similar to what she was thinking herself, so it works as a good sense-check for her. At this stage, she’s happy to just push on and sort things out herself. Since Trish often seems so busy with other stuff, Ericka doesn’t want to bother her.
The first time Merv brought an issue to Trish, she took it from him and said she would sort it out. He couldn’t believe his luck—off his plate and onto hers in one fell swoop! He tested it out a few times and she regularly either tells him what to do or takes it from him. It’s much faster just going to Trish and getting an answer or, even better, having it taken off him than trying to figure it out himself. He’s powering through his work while throwing the harder bits onto Trish’s desk.
Lisa, on the other hand, really wants to learn her role and the various tasks she’s responsible for. She really likes Trish and feels comfortable going to her with queries. Trish doesn’t seem to mind how many times Lisa brings issues to her. She just either tells Lisa what she should do next or sorts it out for her and Lisa is happy to take the direction.
When Carla is really stuck, she’ll bring it to Trish to discuss what the best thing to do is. Carla is a bit of a chatterbox and so sometimes she finds herself discussing her issue with others on the way back to her desk. Carla sometimes changes the final solution, off the back of these chats.
Jaime is very focused on the task. He’s a do-it-and-get-it-done kinda guy. If he’s stuck, he gets impatient and just goes straight to Trish to get the answer.
As is often the case when more than one person is involved, Trish’s perspective is somewhat different to her team members’ perspectives of the situation.
Ironically, the very skill that got Trish promoted is the very skill that is holding her back from being effective in her role. Without meaning to or without understanding how, she is causing unhelpful patterns of behaviour within the team. It’s unwittingly starting to foment a lot of performance issues. Worse still, she’s the one who is most likely to pay the highest price.
Trish is getting seriously swamped, but, all told, it’s easy for her to assume that this is how she should best deal with issues that are being escalated up to her. Over several months, her approach has influenced and cemented the team’s pattern of behaviour. Trish isn’t finding any of it beneficial to her, her team, her boss, the business, or the clients. Nobody is really winning here, but Trish doesn’t know what to do differently.
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