Are you a problem solver or a fixer? Do you pride yourself on being the individual people go to for answers or solutions? How often do you think during a meeting, “I know just what to do”, and then offer up your sage advice? It’s time to stop this behaviour and thinking.

Why you want to stop being a problem solver

It’s so easy to step in and solve the problem. Even offering your advice turns into solving the problem. Others around you listen to what you say and act on it so your ‘advice’ becomes the solution pretty quickly. If you can give someone a quick resolution or way to handle something, it takes less time and they do things in the manner in which you want.

What’s wrong with this? A lot of things are wrong with this approach:

  1. People don’t learn how to think for themselves. They come to you for the answers and merrily trot on their way. They don’t have to consider options, think about ‘how’ to find the answer, learn to be analytical…they get what they need from you.
  2. They stay in a solution-focused mode rather than shifting into a learning-focused mode. Part of what you do when you offer solutions is pulled from your past experience by knowing what’s worked or not and have drawn some conclusions that you bring to the answer. They need to learn to draw upon their past experiences as a place of learning, not simply focus on the solution.
  3. They can avoid responsibility and accountability. If you give them the answers or tell them how to do something and it doesn’t work out they aren’t responsible, you are.
  4. At some point, they become doers rather than thinkers. Do you really want a team of people who can simply do what you tell them?
  5. You won’t learn what they can do themselves. If you provide the answers, you’ll never be able to determine what they can or cannot do on their own.
How to shift yourself from problem solver to mentor

Shifting from being a problem solver to a leader who mentors can be challenging, especially if your natural tendency is to offer advice or direction.

There are some strategies you can employ to make this transition and they will take practice. Whenever someone comes to you asking for advice or a solution, train yourself to ask one of these questions:

  • What have you done so far to solve this?
  • If I wasn't here to answer this question, what would you do?
  • What options have you considered thus far?
  • Is this the first time this has occurred or is this a repeated situation?
  • Are there similar situations you have experienced that you could draw upon to help you figure out how to handle this?

Asking them to think about the options available will not only help them become critical thinkers, it will help you determine what they are missing in their thinking so you can guide them. Over time, they will gain confidence in their ability and you will recognize what they can and cannot do on their own.

Are there times you have to be dogmatic? Of course! But I suspect those times are less frequent than we think. For many of us, our natural tendency is to step in to help or offer advice. The old adage of teaching a man to fish rather than feed him applies perfectly here.

If you want to always have a line at your door of people needing you, then keep feeding them. On the other hand, if you want them to become self-sufficient, critical thinkers then you have to step back from feeding them and teach them how to find the answers themselves.

About the author

Before launching Incedo Group, Executive Coach Linda Finkle built and managed an executive recruiting firm for more than twenty years. She has been interviewed in Harvard Business Review, Investor’s Business Daily, US News and World Report, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal among numerous other prestigious publications. Her book, Finding the Fork in the Road, hit the bestseller list on Amazon within three days of being launched. To learn more about Incedo Group, visit

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