Ignoring People Problems
Ignoring People Problems
Becoming a parent affects our vision. Not literally, of course, but it makes us blind to many of the flaws, imperfections and weaknesses of our own children.
Even though we can clearly see the flaws in someone else’s child, we have a tendency to minimize, excuse or outright ignore the same flaws in our own children, while exaggerating and embellishing their assets. I know that firsthand—I’m a mother of two young boys.
There is much beauty in a love that’s strong enough to overlook the ugly, forgive and extend grace, and see endless potential. But there is also the danger of becoming blinded to certain behaviors and attitudes that, if not corrected, can wreak havoc in our families and also in the lives of those who will eventually come under our children’s influence.
Leadership is a lot like parenting. While it’s easy to see flaws in someone else’s organization, when it comes to the teams we lead, it’s much harder to recognize and confront those problem areas, especially when people are involved.
Eli’s costly failure as a father
In 1 Samuel chapters 1 and 2, we are told about God’s prophet, Eli.
Eli was a priest and a judge in Israel, and Eli’s family line was appointed to minister before the Lord for generations to come.
Eli was also a father of two sons to whom he gave the responsibility of ministering in the House of the Lord. In chapter 2 of 1 Samuel we read that: “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord.” Instead of following the Lord’s instructions about burnt offerings, Eli’s sons greedily indulged in the fat of the sacrificed animals and in the choices of cuts that should have been set aside for the Lord.
Like any good parent, Eli loved his boys. However, he loved them so much that he ignored their evil behavior until the people’s complaints forced him to act. But Eli’s soft rebuke of “don't do that any more, boys” came far too late. By then, the Lord was so fed up with both Eli’s sons and Eli himself that He delivered his own rebuke to Eli through the young, up-and-coming prophet, Samuel:
“At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them” (1 Samuel 3:12-13, emphasis added).
Eli’s story is a stern reminder to me, a parent and a leader over my children. I’m not only to love my sons, but I’m also responsible to train them up as godly young men. Overlooking, ignoring or excusing contemptible attitudes and behaviors can have dire consequences, both on my children and on me.
Eli’s costly failure as a leader
Not only did Eli carry the responsibility of a father, but He was also a leader over the people of Israel, responsible before the Lord to make sure that the priests he appointed fulfilled their duties with integrity. His inability to “nip it in the bud” and remove his incapable, arrogant and self-centered sons from their priestly duties cost Eli his “job” and the lives of his two beloved sons.
Now, I know Eli’s story is extreme. How many of us, after all, lead or work with people who display such blatant, evil behavior? It’s easy to look at Eli and quickly judge his poor decisions, thinking: If it were up to me, I’d never let this go on!
Yet, on a daily basis we as leaders miss opportunities to solve people problems within our organizations for many of the same reasons Eli failed to deal with his “problem people.”
Solving people problems does not necessarily mean terminating employees, letting go problem partners or moving away from problem vendors.
What it does mean is NOT ignoring issues, pretending they don't exist, making up excuses, or praying they’ll eventually just go away on their own.
So what are some of the most obvious “people issues” that are often ignored? Here are just a few:
The Loyalty Trap
As leaders we build strong bonds and loyalties to certain employees, business partners, vendors and even customers. Loyalty is a great trait and much needed, but it can also become an obstacle.
When we hire friends, family members, friends of friends or those “highly recommended” by people with whom we have a relationship, things can get muddy. Often those hiring decisions will make it harder for a leader to address a personnel issue simply because some type of non-work relationship is on the line. We will often compromise or neglect to use the vetting process we would use with someone else. We will overlook or excuse underperformance. We will pay higher rates for less than excellent delivery. We will make excuses for missed deadlines—all because of relational sensitivity.
Eli’s closeness with his sons completely blinded him to the fact that his boys were not only underperforming, but they were engaging in outright evil behavior. Who knows what would have happened if Eli had shown the courage to confront them when there was still time!
The Resume Trap
Skills are critical, no doubt. There is no way I would allow a self-taught or self-licensed surgeon to operate on my children or me! I want someone who’s not only been to medical school, but who also has a strong record of success. Great resumes, however, can become an obstacle to dealing with personnel issues, especially when we have someone whose resume is full of accolades, degrees and experiences.
Leaders can become so enamored with someone’s resume that they’ll ignore issues like weak character, rudeness, pride and ego. This often happens with top performers. Their contributions to the bottom line can be used as an excuse to overlook important character traits that can eventually damage or even ruin a business.
There are multiple times in the Scriptures where we see God raise up men and women with less-than-stellar resumes in order to carry out His work. King David, Moses and Mary are just a few examples. There are also examples of biblical leaders with eye-catching resumes who miserably failed due to ego, pride and trust in their own abilities. King Saul is just one of many.
The Fear Trap
Fear can be very crippling, especially when it comes to fear of confrontation. Leaders who have a need to be liked, accepted and approved will quite often allow fear to prevent them from having difficult conversations with problem people.
Whether it’s just one individual who in a passive-aggressive way exerts pressure on a leader, or a group of individuals like employees or a board of directors who voice strong opinions on a specific issue, the fear of rejection or not pleasing everyone can prevent many leaders from addressing issues.
In 1 Samuel 15, the prophet Samuel gave King Saul special instructions regarding the Amalekites. Saul was told to destroy the Amalekites and everything belonging to them. No exceptions. But, because of the pressure exerted by his own soldiers, Saul and his army spared the “best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good” (1 Samuel 15:9).
When confronted by Samuel, Saul confessed that the fear of the people and what they would think of him prevented him from obeying God’s instructions. In his own words found in 1 Samuel 15:24, Saul replied: “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them.”
There are plenty of other reasons why leaders fail to confront and resolve issues with problem people. Pride, not knowing how, nepotism and complicated business relationships are part of a long list.
Because people are at the heart of our organizations, the healthier the heart, the better the organization will perform.
So what can we do to become better at addressing personnel issues? Here are a couple of steps to consider:
- Know yourself well. Understanding what prevents you from confronting others will help you become more aware of potential pitfalls. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to drive a positive result. The longer the undesired behavior or attitude is allowed to continue, the more the one in the wrong will think his or her behavior is okay and acceptable.
- Pray first! Seeking wisdom from the Lord before going to others for counsel will help align our hearts with the heart of Jesus. Those moments of solitude and listening to our Father are crucial! Pray not only for the solution but also for your heart and for the heart of the person who needs to be confronted. A beautiful thing happens when the Lord prepares both hearts to receive and submit to His instruction and direction.