You Can't Let Your Problems Be a Problem
You can measure a leader by the problems he tackles. He always looks for ones his own size.
—John C. Maxwell
The measure of success is notwhether you have a tough problem to deal with,
but whether it is the same problem you had last year.
—John Foster Dulles, Former Secretary of State
The Small-Town Merchant Who Could
The founder of Wal-Mart, Sam Walton, has been called many things, including enemy of small-town America and destroyer of Main Street merchants. "Quite a few smaller stores have gone out of business during the time of Wal-Mart's growth," conceded Walton. "Some people have tried to turn it into this big controversy, sort of a 'Save the Small Town Merchants' deal, like they were whales or whooping cranes or something." The truth is that Walton was a small-town, Main Street merchant of the type he is criticized for displacing. The only difference is that he was an excellent leader who was able to solve problems and change rather than go out of business.
Sam Walton was born in Kingfish, Oklahoma, and grew up in Columbia, Missouri. He demonstrated leadership in high school when he was elected student-body president, led his football team to an undefeated season and state championship as its quarterback, and then performed the same feat with the basketball team as its five-foot-nine-inch floor leader.
After graduating from college and working for a few years, Walton served in the army during World War II. When he got out, he selected a career in retail, the field he loved, and along with his wife picked the small town of Bentonville, Arkansas, in which to live. That's where they opened a Walton's Five and Dime Variety Store.
The business did well, partly because of Walton's hustle, but also because he had shown foresight in making his store self-service, a new concept at the time. He worked hard and continued to expand. By 1960, he had fifteen stores. But that was also about the time when competitor Herb Gibson brought discount stores into northwest Arkansas. They competed directly with Walton's variety stores.
"We really had only two choices," said Walton, "stay in the variety store business and be hit hard by the discounting wave, or open a discount store. So I started running all over the country, studying the concept... We opened Wal-Mart Number 1 on July 2, 1962, in Rogers, Arkansas, right down the road from Bentonville."
Walton soon added additional stores. His Wal-Mart chain was small compared to some of the others begun around the same time—Kmart, Target, and Woolco—but it was going strong. And that led to the next problem. Walton realized that he needed to improve the stores' planning and distribution. He and his people solved the problem by creating central distribution centers. That, along with computerization, allowed them to order in bulk, keep track of each store's needs, and distribute to them quickly and efficiently. And when the outlay for new equipment and buildings for the new distribution centers created a heavy debt load, it was merely another problem to be solved. Walton did it by taking the company public in 1970.
When he died in 1992, the company operated more than 1,700 stores in forty-two states and Mexico. Sam Walton, the small-town variety store owner, had become America's number one retailer. And since his death, the company has continued strongly, its leadership still solving problems as they arise and keeping Wal-Mart and the other retail chain, Sam's Club, moving forward.
Fleshing It Out
Effective leaders, like Sam Walton, always rise to a challenge. That's one of the things that separates winners from whiners. While other retailers complained about the competition, Walton rose above it by solving his problems with creativity and tenacity.
No matter what field a leader is in, he will face problems. They are inevitable for three reasons. First, we live in a world of growing complexity and diversity. Second, we interact with people. And third, we cannot control all the situations we face.
Leaders with good problem-solving ability demonstrate five qualities:
1. They Anticipate Problems
Since problems are inevitable, good leaders anticipate them. Anyone who expects the road to be easy will continually find himself in trouble. I heard a story about David Livingstone, the missionary to Africa, that illustrates the kind of attitude leaders need. A mission organization wanted to send helpers to Dr. Livingstone, so its leader wrote, "Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to send other men to join you." Livingstone replied, "If you have men who will come only if
they know there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come even if there is no road at all." If you keep your attitude positive but plan for the worst, you'll find yourself in a good position to solve problems that come your way.
2. They Accept the Truth
People respond to problems in these ways: they refuse to accept them; they accept them and then put up with them; or they accept them and try to make things better. Leaders must always do the latter.
Broadcaster Paul Harvey said, "In times like these it is good to remember that there have always been times like these." No leader can simultaneously have his head in the sand and navigate his people through troubled waters. Effective leaders face up to the reality of a situation.
3. They See the Big Picture
Leaders must continually see the big picture. They cannot afford to be overwhelmed by emotion. Nor can they allow themselves to get so bogged down in the details that they lose sight of what's important. Author Alfred Armand Montapert wrote, "The majority see the obstacles; the few see the objectives; history records the successes of the latter, while oblivion is the reward of the former."
4. They Handle One Thing at a Time
Richard Sloma has this advice: "Never try to solve all the problems at once—make them line up for you one-by-one." The leaders who get into trouble most often are the ones who are overwhelmed by the sheer size or volume of their troubles and then dabble at problem solving. If you're faced with lots of problems, make sure you really solve the one you're working on before moving on to the next one.
5. They Don't Give Up a Major Goal When They're Down
Effective leaders understand the peak-to-peak principle. They make major decisions when they are experiencing a positive swing in their leadership, not during the dark times. As NFL fullback Bob Christian says, "I never decide whether it's time to retire during training camp." He knows not to give up when he is in the valley.
Author George Matthew Adams stated, "What you think means more than anything else in your life. More than what you earn, more than where you live, more than your social position, and more than what anyone else may think about you." Every problem introduces you to yourself. It shows you how you think and what you're made of.
When you come face-to-face with a problem, how do you react? Do you ignore it and hope it will go away? Do you feel powerless to solve it? Have you had such bad experiences trying to solve problems in the past that you've just given up? Or do you tackle them willingly? The ability to solve problems effectively comes from experience facing and overcoming obstacles. Each time you solve another problem, you get a little better at the process. But if you never try, fail, and try again, you'll never be good at it.
Bringing It Home
To improve your problem solving, do the following:
Look for trouble. If you've been avoiding problems, go out looking for them. You'll only get better if you gain experience dealing with them. Find situations that need fixing, come up with several viable solutions, and then take them to a leader with good problem-solving experience. You'll learn from his decisions how he thinks when handling difficulties.
Develop a method. Some people have a hard time solving problems because they don't know how to tackle them. Try using the TEACH process:
T ime—spend time to discover the real issue. E xposure —find out what others have done. A ssistance —have your team study all angles. C reativity —brainstorm multiple solutions. H it it—implement the best solution.
Surround yourself with problem solvers. If you aren't a good problem solver, bring others onto your team who are. They will immediately complement your weaknesses, and you will also learn from them.
Boxer Gene Tunney won the world heavyweight championship by beating Jack Dempsey. Most people don't know that when Tunney started his boxing career, he was a power puncher. But before turning pro, he broke both hands. His doctor and manager told him he would never be a world champion as a result. But that didn't deter him.
"If I can't become a champion as a puncher," he said, "I'll make it as a boxer." He learned and he became one of the most skillful boxers ever to become champion. Never allow others to put obstacles in the pathway to your dreams.
MUCH OF THIS IS NOT SPECIFICALLY APPLICABLE TO PASTOR-MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL; THEY DO THOUGH ENGAGE OFTEN IN TRYING TO HELP SOLVING PROBLEMS THAT PEOPLE IN THEIR CARE, BRING TO THEM FOR SOME OVERALL GUIDANCE. IN THAT SENSE PASTORS HAVE TO KNOW SOME POINTS OF SOLVING PROBLEMS FOR PEOPLE; SEEING THE PROBLEM, AND SENDING THE PERSON TO SOMEONE MORE QUALIFIED IN THE SPECIFIC DETAILS OF THAT PROBLEM. THE PASTOR HAS TO KNOW AND ADMIT THE PROBLEM BROUGHT TO HIM, IS OUT OF HIS LEAGUE OF TRAINING, BUT MUST HAVE THE WISDOM TO SEND THE PERSON/S TO SOMEONE MORE QUALIFIED. YOU DO NOT USUALLY GET THE INFO ON SOLAR PANELS BY GOING TO A BAKER. IF THE BAKER DID HAVE SOMEONE ASKING HIM ABOUT SOLAR PANELS, THE BAKER WOULD SAY, “I KNOW SUCH AND SUCH PEOPLE WHO ARE EXPERTS ON THAT SUBJECT.” SO YOU COULD SAY THE BAKER IS HELPING TO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS.
A PASTORS HAS TO BE GOOD AT DELEGATING OUT TO OTHERS, WHAT THEY ARE STRONG IN, FOR A BETTER FUNCTION OF THE CONGREGATION, AND OF THE CARE OF THE BUILDING, IF IT IS NOT A HOUSE CHURCH.
PHYSICAL PROBLEMS IN A PHYSICAL CHURCH BUILDING, OVER TIME AND WARE, NEED FIXING…..SOMETIME NEWER THINGS HAVE REPLACED THE OLD ONES. THE PASTORS SHOULD BE ASKING WHAT IS THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY IN THIS AREA; A MEETING SHOULD BE CALLED WHERE NEW TECHNOLOGY, AND ANGLES AND COSTS CONSIDERED; AND FINALLY WHO AND WHY IS THE COMPANY BEST TO HIRE TO GET THE JOB DONE, WITH DECENT PAY FOR A GOOD DAYS WORK.