John Maxwell has noted, “There is a difference between problem solving and problem spotting.” While we need people around us to point out problems, we benefit for them being on the solution side of the problem and not merely ones who make it their mission to uncover problems for other people to solve. People who uncover problems without commitment to solve them are better consultants than employees.
While serving as President Bush’s secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, in reference to the war on terror, categorized the types of problems leaders face. He stated:
As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
1. Known Knowns
These would be challenges you know you face as a ministry or organizational leader. Moving people to small groups, developing people for ministry, building a bench of strengths are known challenges that leaders must continually strive to overcome.
2. Known Unknowns
There are challenges leaders face that they know are unknown. We can try and predict these challenges, but there are unknown variables that make them uncertain. We know a challenge such as a critical person leaving the team, an economic turn, or a tragedy. We know this can happen; we just don’t know if or when it will. We can plan how to respond to known, unknown problems, but we cannot anticipate when we will need to.
3. Unknown Unknowns
The most challenging problem leaders face is unknown problems that leaders are unaware of. They lurk beneath the surface and threaten the health and vibrancy of the team. The longer a leader leads, the less likely there are unknown unknowns, simply because experience helps leaders gain a broader perspective of the types of problems that can emerge.