Stop Solving Problems

Too often individuals in leadership positions see their job as solving problems for others instead of engaging others in problem solving. Our mayor recently made this error when announcing he was considering the possible sale of neighborhood pocket parks.

Like many cities, Indianapolis faces some significant budget challenges. Our new mayor ran on a platform of reducing government expense and rightly is looking at every budget line for possible savings.

But a completely unnecessary political tug-of-war has since unfolded. I say unnecessary because however admirable the mayor’s overall intentions (greater fiscal responsibility), he failed to engage those most affected by the decisions as possible problem-solvers. In stead of seeing them as collaborators, he has left them to be critics.

A far better approach would have been to convene a meeting of neighborhood leaders and say something like this:
As you know we are facing difficult financial decisions. I recognize the value of neighborhood parks and how they enhance community pride and the quality of life. But having numerous very small parks is costly to maintain and difficult to manage. I need your help in identifying ways the city can collaborate with neighborhood associations and each neighborhood’s residents to maintain and even enhance park quality while reducing the city’s financial exposure. Let’s start brainstorming how we might be able to do that.
If we want people to accept more responsibility for the quality of their neighborhoods, their communities, their professional associations, their workplaces, and beyond, we have to engage them not merely as recipients of our decisions and solutions, but as active deciders and solution-creators themselves. Leadership then involves more convening and conversing, more thinking with than delivering to, more facilitation than mere providing.