You can own a problem you can't solve. (Letting go of the solution is a key leadership growth point.)

Musing for:

You can own a problem you can’t solve

In the days before Zoom, I could hear my product manager’s eyes widen in disbelief at my response to her question on a conference call with the VP of IT for our company’s largest client.

Going through action items at the end of a status meeting, she had asked if I could “own” one of the deliverables that hadn’t yet been assigned.

I paused.

I stammered.

“I don’t know how to solve that,” I pushed back.


I know now that was the wrong response, but I was a young and inexperienced leader. When our product manager finally broke the silence, I could hear in her voice that she was a little embarrassed for me and the personal insecurity I had just revealed in front of our client.

“Um, Steve,” she said. “You don’t need to do the actual work. We just need someone to take the responsibility to work with the people who can solve it and make sure it gets done by the due date. Can you do that?”

I paused as I mustered up the courage to commit to something I didn’t know how to do.

“OK. If that’s what it means to own it, I can do that.”

I would need several more growth opportunities before I finally learned to separate my leadership role from the hands-on doing of the task, but that was one of the more memorable steps along that journey.

As you grow in leadership, you’ll be responsible for more problems you can’t solve. Learning how to own them while relying on the skills of others will be key to your success.

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