6 Really, Really Bad Ways to Respond to Problems

Naturally, there are things you love about the ministry or organization you lead. Probably lots of them.

But chances are there are also a few things you don’t love. Maybe even a few things you see that bother you deeply. Being discontent with things comes with the territory for most leaders. In fact, an ability to spot problems is in part what makes a leader a leader.

After all, it’s often a deep discontent that drives us to want to make things better and makes us leaders in the first place.

But that discontent can also hurt us and hurt others if we mishandle it.

In fact, most leaders fall into a variety of traps when trying to figure out how to respond when they see something they don’t like. When you respond inappropriately to something you don’t like, you can end up:

  • Hampering your ministry or organization
  • Hurting good people
  • Stunting your own growth and development

Here are 6 terrible (but common) ways to respond when something upsets you as a leader.

1.  Failing to take responsibility

It’s just so easy to blame other people or other factors when you see something you don’t like.

While laying the blame on external factors is a problem (I wrote about that here), sometimes we blame others inside our organization for the problem. Great leaders never do that.

If you’re the senior leader in your organization, everything you don’t like about it is your responsibility.

Great leaders never blame. They take responsibility instead.

Sure, it’s not your responsibility to handle all the problems personally. But it is your responsibility to ensure your culture stays healthy, people remain on mission and that the problems you’re facing get solved well and in a timely manner by the right people.

For years I’ve had to remind myself: I’m the leader. I’m responsible. It’s no one else’s fault but mine.

2. Not taking action 

The fact that something bothers you is natural.

But too many leaders let the problem linger. They walk in and allow themselves to be bothered by it day after day after day.

Don’t do that. Deal with it, or else decide it’s actually not a problem (sometimes you just need an attitude adjustment).

And if it actually is a problem, DO something about it!

Getting upset over the same issue again and again and not doing anything about is futility and a failure in leadership.

Change the situation. Work on a solution. Or be quiet about it.

3. Failing to get a proper diagnosis

Just because you see the problem doesn’t mean you understand the problem.

I’ve caught myself on this more than a few times.

I’ve caught myself on this more than a few times: Thinking I understand the problem and actually understanding the problem are often two different things.
The best way to avoid this trap is to ask people around you for input.

Sometimes all that’s missing between your observation and the right diagnosis is more information.

4. Bypassing proper channels

The bigger your organization, the more of a temptation this becomes for leaders.

Because leaders are often doers and fixers, our temptation is to by-pass several layers and just fix something. In other words, the people who created the problem are three or four ‘layers’ removed from the situation and you just decided to bypass all their managers and deal with it yourself.

When you do that, you undermine the leadership of everyone who stood between you and the problem. Not to mention the fact that you have likely just traumatized the person you just dealt with (see point 5).

5. Saying too much to the wrong person

Your words weigh a lot as a leader. When you walk into an environment and point out five things that are wrong with it, the people who worked hard to put it together can easily become devastated.

As we’ve grown, I’ve learned to keep a few people around me who I can say anything to. They act as a sounding board and often tell me I’m wrong, or I don’t have the right information, or explain to me why something is the way it is.

Once I have all the information, I often change my mind.

But sometimes, if I’m right, we’ll get someone else to take action because they’ll either say it better than I will or will be the person who has to fix the problem anyway.

The larger your organization, the more important it is that you say mostly positive things to the people who work with you and keep your criticism for your very tight inner circle.

Because I started the church and teach most weekends my words weigh a lot. I need to remember that.

6. Not articulating a clear alternative

It’s one thing to spot a problem. It’s quite another to create a solution.

If something is bothering you, that’s understandable.

But real leadership happens when you can work with your team to create an alternative. That’s far more work, but it’s so important.

Simply telling people what’s wrong is of very limited value. Helping them work toward what’s right – a preferred future – is far better.

As a leader, your highest value comes when you help your team find constructive alternatives.

What Do You See?

Those are 6 traps I see leaders fall into when they find something they don’t like in their organization.

Which ones snag you? What are other traps you’ve discovered?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is lead pastor of Connexus Community Church and author of the best selling books, Leading Change Without Losing It and Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. Carey speaks to North American and global church leaders about change, leadership, and parenting.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Josh — 05/02/17 4:35 am

Good stuff Carey

Recent Comments
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 
Where may I purchase the Church Unique kit?
 
— Linda Winkelman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

4 Questions That Can Prevent Your “Leadership Autopsy”

I didn’t see that coming.  Everything seemed fine at first, well, for awhile, then seemingly out of nowhere we were in conflict and in a few months he was off staff. It didn’t go well at all, it was like a death on staff!”

This is a familiar phone call from pastors, where they tell me about a staff breakdown that went bad. We all understand that not every staff situation works out perfectly no matter how hard we try; but to be blindsided and end in heartache is unnecessary.

The following is a 4-step “autopsy” of sorts to help dissect, analyze and learn how this happens, so you might prevent it before it occurs next time.

Were expectations clear?

A breakdown on staff (or relational breakdown of any kind) most often begins with unclear expectations. Unclear expectations turn into unmet expectations every time. Sometimes this is a result of a vague or sloppy job description. It can also result from a lack of accountability and measurement of accomplishment.

Whatever the cause, it’s important to fight for clear expectations up front. Keep them fresh. Review and agree upon them at least once a year. At 12Stone, we review expectations three times a year as part of our MAP process.

Was communication honest?

It’s a good thing to be kind and loving. However, when Godly virtues potentially erode candid communication, (because we lack honesty), it’s no longer truly kind and loving, and you may be headed for difficulty. It’s just like in marriage, or any relationship, when you are not completely truthful it’s impossible to know and agree on anything from expectations to overall goals and dreams. In the work environment, this includes whether or not performance is up to par.

Were you aligned and headed in the same direction?

(You can begin to see how these questions are connected and build on each other.)

I’ve had the privilege as a pastor to marry many young couples over the years. They always start off enthusiastic and headed in the same direction. Then inevitably “life hits” and depending on what they want from life, and how they mature through difficulties, two possibilities occur:

Either they become stronger and closer, or begin to head in different directions.

It’s always heartbreaking when the couple tells me they just want different things in life. This happens with church staff leaders and key volunteer leaders as well. Now, there is obviously a difference between a marriage and a staff relationship. Sometimes God moves a person to another church and that’s OK! I’m talking about the situations where the problem was unseen, filled with tension and didn’t end well. The point is that for a staff relationship to work, you must both always be headed in the same direction, and wanting the same things.

Was this person able to accomplish the job?

When expectations aren’t clear, communication isn’t honest, and you aren’t headed in the same direction, this will always affect performance. It’s important to ask these two questions:

  1. Can the person do the job?
  2. Will the person do the job?

“Can they” is about competence. “Will they” is about attitude. The person may be able to do the job, but that doesn’t mean they will. The person may be willing to do the job, but that doesn’t mean they can.

It’s impossible to answer those two questions unless you have clear expectations, good communication and you are headed in the same direction.

Ideally, you would want to invest in leadership development and equipping to help them succeed. But that effort is in vain if they are not headed in the same direction or more bluntly, don’t really want the job.

I’ve seen this happen countless times in many churches and inevitably relationships begin to deteriorate, and without attention, it ends poorly.

It’s impossible to cover all the possible variables and nuances in a single post, but the above 4 questions will help you keep an eye on your critically important paid (and volunteer) staff relationships and prevent the necessity of an “autopsy” (What went wrong?) conversation.

> Read more from Dan Reiland.

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| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Leadership >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Reiland

Dan Reiland

Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together. Dan is best known as a leader with a pastor's heart, but is often described as one of the nations most innovative church thinkers. His passion is developing leaders for the local church so that the Great Commission is advanced.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 
Where may I purchase the Church Unique kit?
 
— Linda Winkelman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.