The Best CEOs Create More Fixers Than Fix Problems

You're an entrepreneurial startup, CEO problem-solving machine. You take on and dispose of issues faster than Kim Kardashian goes through husbands. As soon as you sniff out a problem, it disappears faster than a politician's promise after election day. It feels good to be such a problem-solving machine. It's good to be the man! Right? — WRONG!

Why wrong? Because your problem-solving creates problems. It creates a corporate culture of dependence.

Here's a real life and all-too-common example: I'm talking to a crackerjack, multi-profitable-exited, serial CEO, and he lays out a problem he's trying to solve with his partner. You see, his partner has certain financial needs, craves security, and other non-entrepreneur-like issues. This CEO listened to his partner, thanked her for voicing her concern, and then started working on the problem for her.

Great, right? No… not so much. Because what just took place was a game of hot potato. You see, as standard operating procedure, Mr. CEO accepted Ms. Partner's problems as his own. Just picked them up, put them in his problem-solving queue, and committed to spitting out an answer in the near future. My advice: give that potato back to Ms. Partner, and have her come back with a solution. Instead of wasting cycles on her need for security and more income, give her some parameters like:

“Right now, it would be difficult for us to afford that. What can you do to help pay for that? Why don't you come to me with some possible solutions, and let's talk.”

See what just happened there? We just freed up some CEO brain-cycles by passing back the potato. Now, here are the good things that could happen:

  • Ms. Partner might just drop it, meaning it really wasn't that important.
  • Ms. Partner will analyze the situation, have a better understanding of the issue, and learn to be a problem-solver instead of a problem-creator.
  • Ms. Partner will buy in to the solution and take some ownership of the outcome.
  • Or, Ms. Partner can come up with a totally ridiculous, unrealistic solution, in which case you have a real problem…. is Ms. Partner really a partner or an employee, and do you need an employee?

Look, just because we are fixers doesn't mean we should fix everything. We'd be better off  creating more fixers. If you want to improve the capability and learn to trust your team….. next time you're handed the potato problem, don't give into instinct; take a breath, and hand that potato back.

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Written by:
Glen Hellman (@glehel), is an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, and works for venture capitalists as a turn-around specialist. He is the Chief Entrepreneureator at Driven Forward LLC, frequently muses on his blog, Forward Thinking, and works with entrepreneurs to help them figure out what to do and get them to do it.
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