[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.
- The total number last year was around a thousand. The number of deaths in 2017 attributable to Opioid overdoses was around 72,000.