Have you noticed that with authority comes the assumption that you have all the answers?

Legendary leadership guru John C Maxwell says, “Your problem-solving skills will always be needed, because people always have problems.”

But helping people with their problems doesn’t mean having all the answers.  If that was the case, then you’d only be able to help people with an incredibly finite number of problems, since you don’t know everything. (No, you really don’t.)

It does, however, mean having strategies that work with all types of problems, whether you’ve got an inkling of the answer or not.

Here are 5 tips for tackling the problems that present themselves to you or your teams.

Don’t solve problems for people, solve them with people

John C. Maxwell’s recommendation is to be the coach and not the commander when it comes to people bringing their problems to you.  It’s the “teach a man to fish” philosophy that helps you grow your team into problem-solving experts who can handle the bulk of challenges they’re faced with.

Don’t solve it if you don’t know what it is

The biggest mistake I’ve seen people make is implementing a solution when they’re not clear on what the problem really is.  Because the event that happened which alerted you to the existence of a problem (a team member quits, sales drop) isn’t the problem.  It’s the after-effect of the problem.

So what’s the problem really?  You’ll need to do some digging to find out why what’s happening is happening. Brian Tracy, author of “Goals! How to Get Everything You Want – Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible,” recommends that you state what you think the problem is, and then ask “What else could be the problem?”  Answer that question, then ask it again.  And again.  Keep going until you get to the cause for what’s occurring.  You know you’ve reached the real problem when you have a clear idea of what you would have to do differently to solve the original problem.

Get clear on how long it’s been a problem

Be honest with yourself.  Is this really a new problem, or is it a rehash of a recurring one?  If it’s new, good for you for tackling it right away.  If you wait, then the original problem multiplies, because you have a new problem called procrastination to add the list of things to solve.

Asking yourself when the problem started will force your mind to find patterns and will help you notice what you mightn’t have noticed before.  At what point do you recall not having this problem?  What was different then?

Make it someone else’s problem

In his brilliant free e-book called The Flip Manifesto (download it for free at www.danpink.com), Daniel Pink refers to a recent psychological experiment on undergraduate students where they were asked to solve specific problems.  One group was told to imagine they were the person with the problem.  A second group were told they were solving the problem for someone else.  The second group, believing they were solving the problem for another person, consistently came up with better, more creative solutions.

Get distance from your problem and it’s easier to see past it.     The theory is that the closer something is to us, the more we try to use concrete thinking to resolve it.  Things that we perceive as further from us – for example, someone else’s problem – results in using abstract thinking that helps us come up with better solutions.

Solvitas perambulum

Gary Bertwhistle, author of “Who Stole My Mojo” advocates doing as the Romans did:  “Solvitas perambulum – solve it while you walk.”

Get out of your chair.  Step away from the desk.  Change environments to a place where you can move.  A new location for you and your team can open your mind to new possibilities.  Find a place where you can relax.  Gather in the park, and give your brains fresh oxygen and inspiration.  If the team’s up to it, try a walking meeting.  Just find a place away from the problem.

Problems will never go away.  But when you have strategies that help you move past problems, no matter what those problems are, you’ll always have people coming to you for solutions.

And John C Maxwell calls that the quickest way to gain leadership.