There is a sobering story for leaders in Victor Hugo’s novel, Ninety-Three. The story concerns a young ensign on a wooden military sailing ship who is given the responsibility of caring for a large rolling cannon. One of his jobs was to keep the cannon lashed securely to the deck to prevent it from rolling around and causing damage that might endanger the ship and its crew.
One night when the crew was below deck, a violent storm erupted and the ship began to pitch and roll. Soon after, the young ensign hears a cannon rolling around on the deck and realizes that he forgot to lash down his cannon. So, courageously he braves the elements and goes up on the deck and succeeds in lashing down the gun, thereby heroically saving the ship and crew.
The next morning, the captain gathers the entire crew on deck to honor the young ensign with a medal for heroism. After awarding the medal, the captain then orders that the ensign be shot!
The moral of this story is that we shouldn’t be rewarded for solving a problem that we create, even if great heroism is demonstrated. But, more importantly, that we should be responsible for taking steps to preclude problems from occurring in the first place.
It Happens in the Church as Well
I remember one Sunday in our church’s video venue when the live video feed from the sanctuary failed to come on. Desperately, the tech volunteers tried to resolve the issue to no avail. Our paid tech coordinator was summoned from the sanctuary, and with a few deft strokes on the sound board restored the video feed. As he exited the room to return to the sanctuary, the congregation gave him a nice round of applause and several “thumbs up.”
The next morning I requested a meeting with our tech coordinator to find out what had happened and what we might do to prevent a reoccurrence. He confessed that he had failed to preset the switches for the video feed, nor had he trained the volunteers for just such a situation. I proceeded to tell him the story of the young ensign and then assured him that he wasn’t going to be shot, but was clear that the applause from the congregation was the only reward he was going to receive for saving the service by solving a problem of his own creation. We then talked about the lesson to be learned from the situation, that of practicing problem prevention.
Practice Problem Prevention
In the article, “Problem Prevention: An Essential Practice of Effective Leaders” we discuss how problem prevention is avoiding the creation of problems. It is anticipating problems before they happen. It is making the decisions and taking actions that prevent a problem from ever occurring. People focused on problem prevention go out of their way to make sure they don’t have to deal with problems. They have a decision making process that is grounded in preventing problems. They take actions that produce desired results, yet do so in a way that won’t create unnecessary problems.
So, the take-a-way for our tech coordinator was that leaders skilled in problem prevention have fewer problems come across their desk that demand immediate attention. And, that problem prevention is a prime leader responsibility and therefore an essential skill for effective church leaders.
Posted on November 12, 2019