Why Leaders Should Focus on Outcomes Instead of Solutions

Posted 09.28.2017

Yesterday morning, before delivering a workshop on how to lead and live at your best, I had the privilege of sitting in as a roomful of high-potential managers shared what they’ve learned so far during their company’s multi-month leadership development program. There were a lot of good observations but the one that really landed with me was from a participant who said he’s become a lot more aware of the difference between solutions and outcomes.

He went on to explain that he’s been working on making a shift from focusing on solutions to defining outcomes. He’s realized this year that his job is to describe and keep the team focused on the outcomes they’re trying to create. He’s also learning that his job isn’t to come up with or prescribe solutions for how to get to the outcome. That’s his team’s job. His job is to make sure they’ve got the information, perspective, skill sets and motivation to do that.

I love that distinction between solutions and outcomes. Too often, executives and managers overlook the difference between the two. In those cases, they confuse their commitment to a particular solution with the outcome. Of course, it’s not. A solution is a means to an outcome, not the outcome itself.

And the thing is, there’s usually more than one solution that will get you and your team to the desired outcome. One of the distinctions I make in The Next Level is that leaders need to pick up defining what to do and let go of telling how to do it. It’s really the same idea as focusing on outcomes more than solutions. Over the years, I’ve lost track of the number of clients I’ve worked with who, once they started focusing more on the outcomes (the what) and less on the solutions (the how), have told me how thrilled they were with the quality of the solutions that their teams came up with. Most of the time they tell me that the teams come up with solutions that are better and more elegant than what they would have come up with on their own.

Last week, I wrote a post on why micromanagement is really a trust issue. This post is sort of a companion piece to that one. If you want to get better outcomes, trust and support your team to come up with and implement the solutions. Pick up the what; let go of the how.

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