by Brian Dodridge
If you’re a leader, you see problems. Many times you’ll see them before others do. But what if as you see these problems, and you choose not to engage them?
When a leader chooses not to engage a problem in their area of influence, I can think of at least two reasons for making that decision – one is good, healthy, and exemplifies excellent leadership – the other is bad, unhealthy, and indicates you may be done with leadership.
The healthy reason:
Solving the problem in question won’t help your church or organization get further down the road. It’s a problem, but it’s not the problem. You know that with or without your input, the problem won’t last or be prohibitive to fulfilling your mission.
You’re conserving energy, by choosing the important over the urgent
You’re staying in the lane only you can run in. You know there are better-equipped people to solve that particular problem.
When you’re evaluating problems this way, you’re exemplifying excellent leadership.
When I’m tempted to engage problems that aren’t mission-critical, it’s usually for a couple reasons:
I want a win. When I can successfully solve small problems, it feels like “winning.” It makes me feel better, and in control. It also makes me feel useful to others, and my worth is validated. Yet, we know this isn’t good leadership.
I don’t bill my hours like an attorney – nor do I deserve that kind of money. But one thing I’ve done, is I’ve figured out my hourly rate. Now that I know it, I use it this way—
When there’s a problem to be solved or a question to be researched and answered, I run it through this filter: Is this the kind of issue the church had in mind for me solving when it selected my hourly wage?
After I’ve done this, out of pure stewardship of the church’s money, I back away and disengage from many problem-solving activities. For example, last week, I was asked to approve a paint color variance in our office color scheme. It won’t impact my personal office space, and I’m not an interior designer. I began to consider the question and was tempted to ask a lot of questions and give my decision. But when I placed that filter on the decision, I realized it wasn’t my problem to solve and it wasn’t good stewardship of the church’s money for me to pursue it further. Instead, I said, “Whatever you all decide is fine.”
I think disengaging from these kinds of problems is healthy. But there’s also an unhealthy reason for disengaging from problems.
The unhealthy reason:
You see a problem, but have no desire or energy to engage it.
When you see problems hurting your mission yet can’t muster up the energy to begin solving it, it could be a sign of something unhealthy, and needs to be addressed – not only for your sake, but also for the sake of those you serve and lead. A filter for discerning the ambivalence factor: If one 1, 3, or 5 years ago you saw the same problem, would you’ve jumped in without hesitation?
If so, your lack of energy and willingness to engage could be a sign of unhealthiness (but not always). In April’s monthly podcast with Andy Stanley, this idea was unpacked and attributed to the former Home Depot CEO, Frank Blake. In Blake’s case, he was seeing things that needed his attention at Home Depot, and yet, he didn’t want to wade into them. He found himself not engaging things needing his attention, and that reluctance caused him to ask questions about whether he needed to remain in his CEO position (he later chose to transition out of that role).
The people around you will catch on that you’re problem-avoiding. It’ll be like Maverick in the movie Top Gun when he wouldn’t re-engage in the dog fight (I always look for opportunities to point people to Top Gun) and people around him are screaming, “Engage, Maverick!” But even before others notice, it should begin with you noticing it with self-awareness and then self-governance. As a leader, you need to be aware if you’re mentally backing away from the work you’re supposed to be doing. If you’ve become ambivalent and lack energy for the work and the vision, you’re not necessarily wrong for feeling that way, but you’ll be wrong to not make changes.
Maybe a shift in the responsibilities will be enough, or you just need a two week vacation. Possibly, it could indicate the need for a more permanent change. What problems are you currently avoiding? What’s left unchecked on your task list or unread in your email? Is your avoidance intentional because those particular problems are a distraction from your most important work (healthy leadership)?
Or is it because you no longer have the moxie to wade into the hard issues and lead out of them?
If you’re avoiding problems, use these filters, and then make the courageous leadership decision.
Brian Dodridge serves as executive pastor at Brentwood Baptist Church near Nashville, TN.