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The Manager’s Dilemma

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The Manager’s Dilemma

How to Empower Your Team’s Problem-Solving (Performance Development Series)

Irial O'Farrell,

15 min read
9 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Managers are great problem-solvers. But when they fix problems, they aren’t managing. 

Editorial Rating



  • Applicable
  • Eye Opening
  • Concrete Examples


Most managers expect to drop everything and jump into problem-solving mode when unexpected issues pop up. There’s just one problem: When managers are fixing problems, they aren’t managing. Managers must decide whether to be fix-it champs or to help their team members develop their own problem-solving skills. Executive coach Irial O’Farrell advocates the second choice: Teach your employees to handle problems as they surface so you can focus on your immediate and ongoing managerial tasks. She advises coaching your team members and confidently turning problem-solving over to them – and she tells you how.


Most employees can identify problems, but many struggle to solve them.

Often, employees ask team managers to answer questions or fix problems they should resolve on their own. These employees can identify problems, but can’t solve them, in marked contrast to managers, who usually are good problem-solvers because they have to be. 

An employee's inability to figure things out and to fix local problems has a negative impact on their team’s productivity. Team members waste their manager’s time when they expect the boss to set aside managerial tasks and ride to the rescue.

In this context, a problem usually relates to an unresolved interruption or delay in the team’s work that impedes its ability to attain its goals. For their employees’ welfare, as well as their own, managers need to coach their team members to develop problem-solving skills, so they can discuss and tackle these issues themselves.

Your employees want you to solve problems; instead, teach them how.

Managers who try to solve employees’ problems can create an unfortunate pattern in which staff members don't take ownership of the issues...

About the Author

Ireland’s first and currently only Change Management Institute-accredited Master in Change Management, Irial O’Farrell is a leadership-development trainer and executive coach. She also wrote SMART Objective Setting for Managers: A Roadmap and Values – Not Just for the Office Wall Plaque: How Personal and Company Values Intersect.

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    M. W. 12 months ago
    Some useful reminders here. There are easier ways to explain it & I like the monkey metaphor.

    To paraphrase the Chimp Paradox, and probably not remembered it fully - If the monkey is the problem & as a manager it looks like it is being passed to you - ask about it first. Find out how it has been looked after, what has already been done for it& what the specific problem is - among other questions. Likelihood is that the person will take another look at their monkey and may want to keep it - resolving the problem themselves rather than trying to pass the monkey to you.
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    T. F. 1 year ago
    Very interesting
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    A. 2 years ago
    Its an interesting summary and I think it touches on a key aspect of modern ways of working using Lean/Agile methods, in those they actively promote a managers role as being to remove blockers for the team and without appropriate coaching so the team can tackle their own problems they will over-escalate. I have seen this many times especially with teams new to Lean/Agile ways of working. It sounds like this book could be very helpful in general for managers but specifically for those using or transitioning to Lean/Agile methods