“Don’t tell me what is wrong, tell me what is better.” That quote is attributed to Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. During his 20 years as CEO, GE’s market value grew 4000%. While he has earned a reputation as a tough business person, the success of GE under his leadership is very impressive.
One of the keys to his success — and to your success — is being solution focused. I have learned it is relatively easy to find problems at work, in fact problems seem to find us at times. Early in my career, I felt it was my duty to report problems to my supervisors. I was behaving as if they didn’t know or care about those problems. I took it on as a challenge.
One day, I was visiting one of our clients with a colleague. That client had a very large dustpan on his wall, clearly a conversation piece. So I bit and asked about the dustpan. The client smiled and stated that no one is allowed to dump a mess on his desk unless they bring a dustpan to clean it up.
It took me a few moments to understand his point, but it was there as plain as the dustpan. Dumping the mess on others is not solving the problem and is most likely not even helping in the least bit. Don’t dump the mess on others unless you bring a solution or even better, several possible solutions.
" Don’t dump the mess on others unless you bring a solution or even better, several possible solutions. "
I think a key to career success is standing apart by bringing solutions not problems. Very few supervisors are enamored with staff who point out the problems. Many supervisors are quite pleased when staff bring solutions, not just problems. Consider the type of person you would rather work with: the person who is really good at finding problems or the person that is really good at finding solutions. Imagine if you surround yourself with those with solutions, what a powerful impact it would have on your career. That dustpan several decades ago helped me focus more on answers not just questions, on solutions not just problems.
To be clear, recognizing problems and asking questions are very important. I am not suggesting you should not notice errors or ask questions. I am suggesting you include your critical analysis of that problem or question and seek your solution before dumping it on someone else’s desk. Focus on the answers, focus on what is better.
I was reminded of this recently when my supervisor called to seek my opinion on a work-process issue. Her comment was that she always wants to hear my opinions and suggestions. You see, I have become that person she comes to when she needs input or perspective. My career goal has always been to be in a position to influence the results in a meaningful way. I believe by bringing answers and not just questions, by bringing solutions and not just problems that I have a significant influence on our results.
Oh, and there are few things better than having your supervisor calling you for advice.
Don’t tell me what is wrong, tell me what is better.
Bring your dustpan.