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12 Problem Solving Tips to Teach Your Gen Y Future Leaders

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GUEST CONTRIBUTOR: Authored by Lisa Orrell. Orrell is known globally as The Generation Relations Expert. She is the author of the top-selling books Millennials Incorporated and Millennials into Leadership. In the final part of this three-part series, Orrell further explains the importance of training your Millennial employees for leadership roles – and shares practical tips for teaching your employees that crucial leadership skill: problem-solving.

As a consultant, I often hear employers tell me that one of their main challenges – and one they feel their Millennials struggle with – is problem solving. With that in mind, I’d like to share the following tips for problem solving, which you can share with your Millennial team members as you continue to groom them for leadership.

12 Problem-Solving Tips to Teach Your Gen Y Future Leaders:

  1. Leaders First Envision Success: Leaders know that every problem has an answer; it just needs to be found. Worrying about the problem gets you nowhere, while working towards the answer will get you everywhere. Leaders control their attitude and focus on results.
  2. Leaders Clarify the Problem: Leaders determine what’s wrong by cutting through clutter and noise, and by focusing on the issues that are at the core of the problem.
  3. Leaders Get the Facts: Leaders collect all the facts about the problem because they know that some problems are not as big as they seem. Fact-finding is an analytical, rather than an emotional task, so it is useful in other ways, too. When a follower comes to a leader with a problem, a good leader will start asking questions and gather the facts, rather than engage in an emotional discussion.  Fact-finding is a process and you may have to dig deep to get to the real problem. Leaders are great at asking the right fact-finding questions. They’re also adept at listening to the answers and “hearing” any sub-text that could illuminate the situation.
  4. Leaders Start By Looking to Themselves for Possible Solutions: If the problem does need attention quickly, leaders first look to themselves for answers. They ponder what actions they might take personally that could resolve the problem. They brainstorm all ideas and write them down. If the problem was developed by someone else, they ask that person how they think it should be resolved. And if the issue is significant, the leader will go to their team, or trusted advisors, for idea sharing. Being able to get a variety of solutions to choose from, from people with different perspectives and experience, is powerful.
  5. Leaders Continually Self-Evaluate: Leaders constantly assess whether the process is going well, if the solutions being discussed make sense, and if they are doing everything they can to solve the issue.
  6. Leaders Do Research: Leaders consider what research would be valuable to their problem-solving efforts (like searching the Internet, asking other people, reading books, etc.). Leaders do not think of themselves as all-knowing and understand that the first instinct for an answer is not necessarily the best. Sometimes when you are too knowledgeable about a subject, you can overlook something obvious.
  7. Leaders Make Decisions: Leaders pick a solution and implement it. They may start with a quick-fix solution and follow up with a more long-lasting fix, but they decide what needs to be done…and they do it.
  8. Leaders Follow Through: Effective leaders don’t just implement the solution and turn away. They follow through with making sure necessary team members are also doing their part (if required). And they ask everyone involved how they think the “solution” is working out now that it’s actually being used.
  9. Leaders Create Achievable Markers: Leaders break the problem-solving process into small steps, and then focus on the most immediate steps. They know how to break problems down into their component tasks and then track the progress of each one over measure.
  10. Leaders Aren’t Too Proud to Say “I’m Wrong”: Be ready to undo whatever (ineffective) solution you implemented without shame. A respected leader is never embarrassed to correct mistakes. Without mistakes no progress would ever be made!
  11. Leaders Don’t Just Know How to Solve Problems; They Know How to Find Them: Great leaders can detect smoke, rather than simply trying to fight raging fires. That’s the type of leader you should groom your Millennials to be. And it’s critical they have a good rapport with their team to encourage them to share bad news, red flags, or concerns with them quickly!
  12. Leaders Take Ownership: Ineffective leaders try to pass-the-buck by placing the blame on their peers or employees. They act like small children on a playground when confronted by an adult after a toy is broken; all of them point fingers at each other. But when you’re a boss and something in your department or team is “broken,” and your supervisor asks you how or why it happened, you must own it as the team leader.


Finally, if nothing else, remember that great leaders view problems as opportunities. They recognize that problems happen, even in very successful organizations, despite the best leadership talent and most sophisticated management techniques. They actually embrace problems, because they see them as opportunities to learn and improve. Therefore, they seek out problems rather than sweep them under the rug. Tell your Millennials not be sweepers!

If you missed the first two parts of this series on preparing your Millennial employees for leadership, you can read about “6 Ways to Retain Your Gen Y Future Leaders” and “9 Ways to Teach Gen Y Employees a Leadership Mindset now.


Want to win a free copy of Millennials into Leadership or Millennials Incorporated?

WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR WORKING WITH MILLENNIALS? Whether you work with Millennials, or are one yourself, chances are you have some nuggets of wisdom to offer. Give us your thoughts, and you could win one of Lisa Orrell’s best-selling leadership books.

In the comments section below, simply submit a one- or two-sentence answer to this question: “What advice do you have for working with Millennials?” Ten (10) lucky winners will be drawn at random to receive a copy of one of the books of their choosing: Millennials into Leadership or Millennials Incorporated. See contest rules for details.