Who’s problem is this?

Who’s Problem is this?Image

I recently heard Colin Powell speak at a leadership conference. A story he told hit me right between the eyes. He told of a very tense time as Secretary of State when things were heating up. He went to speak with the President and they met in the White House Garden. (Now this is my recalling his story, so it may not be completely accurate, but you will get the point!)

Colin was very stressed and upset. The President said hello and began commenting on the garden. “Watch these squirrels. Aren’t they something?” Colin is wondering how in the world the President can be enjoying the garden when things were so tense. He says to the President, “President, we have a problem.” The President looks at him and says “ No, Colin, YOU have a problem. How can I help?”

A few days later in another setting things were again very serious. The President was in charge and fully engaged. “Mr. President, now YOU have a problem.”

This was a story of both boundaries and empowerment. And it sure hit home with me. I am such a problem solver by nature. And my tendency is to make every problem “my problem.” Just asking myself this simple question “Whose problem is this?” could save me a lot of duress. And other’s would probably grow more, learn more, and have more fun around me.

It’s also great to share problems. Sometimes there is an “our problem” but most of the time you actually need someone who “owns” the problem, or “our problem” can become “nobodies problem.”

As a parent of adult, married kids this is a great lesson for me. How can I be encouraging and supportive without making their problem mine? I think I would be way less annoying.

And at work, I think it’s even harder for me. It’s so hard to focus on the problems that are squarely mine, and give other’s the space and encouragement to solve their own.

And all of this makes me realize there are way too many problems out there, and if I make too many mine I will never enjoy the garden!


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