Approach your boss with problems, not with solutions

While reading Radical Candor, I came across an interesting section countering the common advice that reports should always have solutions to problems when approaching their managers. The book states that reports should not do that. One aspect of a manager’s role is to help the team innovate and presenting ready-made solutions to managers gets in the way of that.

The common advice never sat well with me, either as a report or a manager, but before reading Radical Candor, I had never seen my feelings on this topic written down as clearly. This was a breeze of fresh air. I was never quite able to tease out why I didn’t like the common advice, but the removal of creative input from the manager is certainly a piece of it. Two other aspects are the loss of organizational awareness about ongoing problems and a potential loss of speed for solving problems.

Seven years ago I already wrote about another part of organizational awareness, a topic that’s dear to my heart. Teams have a collective awareness of their problem space’s past, present, and future that can be used to solve problems faster when drawn on. The manager is part of the team and part of the collective awareness. In fact, a good manager plays a key part in maintaining and growing the team’s collective awareness.

The common advice seems outdated at this point. It’s probably better to communicate new problems you come across early and widely. An early light-touch note about a new problem raises team awareness and can help everybody shift priorities if needed. The collective awareness of the team – including the manager – can also suggest potential solutions to explore faster and better than any individual team member can by themselves.

Approach your boss with problems, not with solutions

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