Leaders Concentrate on Big Problems First

By | September 10, 2018

[September 10, 2018]  Last week I was at a local college listening to a criminology professor complain about the “epidemic” of police shootings in America.1  A young student asked him what he thought about the Opioid crisis which was responsible for many times more deaths and social ills.  The professor said he didn’t care about that problem.  Frankly, it doesn’t take a brain scientist to know that good leaders concentrate on big problems first.

Ultimately this is about leader priorities and we know establishing priorities can be complex and difficult.  It is the duty of leaders to deal with issues that are not simple … or everybody could do it and leadership would mean nothing.  I was once told that leaders should work to fix problems at their level.  It meant that a Lieutenant will never resolve a strategic problem and a General should not try to fix a weapons malfunction.

“People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.” – Vince Lombardi, American football coach

Leadership is about getting people to do things they would not ordinarily do … and do it because they “want” to do it.  My favorite football coach, Vince Lombardi, had it absolutely on target in his quote about problems.  Leaders not only concentrate on solving complex problems, they do it with a team.  Individuals rarely solve large, complex problems so putting together a team and getting them to work a problem and fix it, is the epitome of great leadership.

If you want to learn more about concentrating on big problems, just look at most professional sports teams that are winners.  Winning teams have a basic rule about dominating their opponents.  They quickly discover their opposing team’s most effective tactic being employed and the winning team puts all their effort into stopping it.

There are always leaders who don’t want to tackle the big problems.  Big problems take a lot of energy and often take a long time to resolve.  It’s also more “fun” to work on smaller, easily fixable issues.  I’ve witnessed high-ranking military leaders at the Lieutenant level working on junior leader problems.  They don’t need to be there.  It shows a lack of trust in one’s subordinates and removes the opportunity for a junior leader to gain valuable experience.

The professor I was listening to missed an opportunity to show that he understood what it means to be a responsible academic.  No problem should be put aside and not resolved but his efforts could have gone to more productive use.


  1. The total number last year was around a thousand. The number of deaths in 2017 attributable to Opioid overdoses was around 72,000.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

25 thoughts on “Leaders Concentrate on Big Problems First

  1. Mark Evans

    Good article on an important topic that I personally find is often ignored.

  2. Scotty Bush

    I think this is another one of those important topics often overlooked or just ignored. Well done.

  3. Roger Yellowmule

    I too agree that many leaders are less than stellar in their performance and if we look at their daily activity, we will find that they don’t live up to the standard of concentrating on important issues. However, I find that they can be redirected to get back on track if they have a good mentor, coach, or teacher.

  4. Wesley Brown

    I agree that leaders should concentrate on what is important but they should not ignore the lesser important things either.

  5. Dale Paul Fox

    Good start to my day when I come here. I agree that leaders who fail are often those who don’t focus on the big problems first. They are intellectually and socially lazy. Why, I don’t know.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      … and with a cup of coffee in hand and dog at my feet. Ha. Thanks Dale for making my day.

  6. Mr. TJ Asper

    Leadership means many things but one thing that always stands out is being able to focus on what is important. For leaders who fail, this is the area they fall down on first.

  7. Tracey Brockman

    Keep up the great work here. I like the comments from readers also.

  8. Martin Shiell

    People will ignore this advice, but only at their peril and at the risk of not getting the job done. Sad when that is the case because everyone loses.

  9. Nick Lighthouse

    There was a time that I too was guilty as a leader of not focusing on those important things that must be done to accomplish the mission. Thanks Gen Satterfield for another good article on a topic that I’m putting in my leader rucksack.

  10. Greg Heyman

    True! Everyone should come here and post a comment to add value. if nothing else, we need to know folks are reading these pages and applying the leader lessons.

  11. Tony B. Custer

    I love coming to this site every day for my little bit of leadership advice. These tidbits help make me a better leader but only if I apply them in my life. Thanks too to all those who comment here. Don’t be afraid to tell us what you think because it adds to the value.

  12. Forrest Gump

    Another great blog post on leadership to go with my morning coffee. Thank you.

  13. Andrew Dooley

    This is really about a leader who focuses on what is their vision. The vision tells everyone, if communicated properly, what is to be done. The leader makes sure everyone knows it and what to do. The leader then must concentrate (ie., focus) on getting it accomplished.

  14. Mike Baker

    I agree that leaders must concentrate on those big problems first but maybe they are working the big and small problems simultaneously. Just thinking. Great job here at theleadermaker.com website.

  15. Max Foster

    This is something that you just don’t think about because it becomes so second nature that you just do it. There are, however, those that take the easy road and fail to take on the important issues of the day. Those are the ones that need reminding of what is truthfully the important things they must do.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      As usual, always good to hear from you Max and to read your thoughtful comments.

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