Who Owns the Problem – Taking Back Control

Who owns the problem - taking back controlDiane is intelligent, driven and stuck in a dead end job. “Why do I always settle for boring jobs I’m overqualified for?”, she asked in a recent session. “I know I have so much more to contribute but whenever I see a position that really interests me, I always seem to find some excuse why I’m not cut out for it.”

Melissa, on the other hand, has been the rising star of her company. She was recently promoted to a managerial position. But her star is starting to look a little tarnished. Her boss sat her down recently because her department wasn’t hitting its goals. She thinks her former coworkers are jealous of her success and trying to sabotage her.

What do these two women have in common? In order to find the solution they need to figure out who owns the problem.

Whenever you are stuck, blaming someone else or making excuses chances are  you are either taking ownership of a problem that’s NOT yours or avoiding a problem that IS yours.

After some further questioning, Diane told me she paid for her college education although her parents footed the bill for her brother. Her father didn’t see any point in a woman getting an education. His expectations for Diane didn’t go beyond getting married and having children. The message she got was women aren’t as worthy. All through college, her father constantly called her “Miss High and Mighty” for daring to want more. And while she did graduate from college, her father’s message became the tape that played in her head. Diane was taking responsibility for a problem she didn’t own. It was eating away at her self-esteem and keeping her trapped in jobs well below her skill level. She had internalized her father’s opinion instead of viewing it as just that – HIS opinion. She didn’t own the problem – her father did.

Melissa charged into her managerial position like a bull in a china shop. She implemented changes and then started micromanaging her team. Her team rebelled and dug their heels in and productivity dropped. Melissa didn’t see how her managerial style was affecting morale and tried to pass off her problem on to her coworkers, blaming them for not hitting the goals. After overhearing one of her employees call her “The Dictator”, she questioned how her behavior might be affecting everyone else. She took ownership of the problem and began changing how she interacted with her team.

We all want control over our lives and the answer to “who owns the problem” is all about who has control. When you are owning someone else’s problem, like Diane, you are letting someone else control you. When you are blaming someone else for your problem, you are trying to control them. The only person we have control over is ourselves so it’s important to take care of our own problems.