Good Leaders Still Face Problems — Just Different Ones

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Lovett H. Weems, Jr., writes that effective leaders are never free from problems. In fact, as they make progress, they are likely to confront more complex and consequential problems. So, ironically, facing “higher quality” problems is a marker of success.


A governor not known for his intellect was once asked at a press conference about a rash of prisoner escapes from the state penitentiary. With all seriousness, the governor said, “The only way we are going to solve our prison problem is when we have higher quality inmates.” Well, leaders may feel some of the same frustration at times. Why, they ask, if we are making so much progress, do I have to deal with so many problems?

Don’t spend time fretting about the presence of problems. They never go away. Spend that time assessing the nature of the problems you face.

Leaders are never free from problems. The difference is only in the nature and quality of the problems. They still bring with them all the frustration, conflict, and dilemmas of the old problems, but, in truth, these are indeed higher quality problems.

For example, several years ago your congregation may have experienced a dramatic reversal in finances, so much so that there had to be cuts in staffing. Feelings ran high as decisions were made about where those cuts would be made and what ministries and people would be most affected. Those difficult financial days are years behind now. Unfortunately, you and the congregation find yourselves facing another problem. The increasing participation and giving of recent years have opened the opportunity to add an additional staff position. Feelings are strong about two or three options for the focus of that new position. On one level, everything feels a bit like years ago when the “problem” was reducing staff. That may be true, but notice that the congregation’s success has not eliminated problems. Nevertheless, all must admit that today’s problem is of a higher order than the one before.

More common examples may have to do with whether little or much is at stake for the church. A disagreement about which Sunday School class has the newly-renovated classroom is a problem, but one with low missional stakes. A debate about whether the newly-renovated fellowship hall will be made available for a program serving homeless persons might generate as much debate, but what is at stake for the church’s mission is much higher.

So, don’t spend time fretting about the presence of problems. They never go away. Spend that time assessing the nature of the problems you face. Are they big, forward-looking issues, or small, narrow, even petty, concerns? If the problems are of a high quality, then celebrate them as much as you hope they are solved soon.

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About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems, Jr., is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.


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