Creative Leadership

Visible Symptoms Versus Underlying Problems

When leaders of organizations ask me to come in and consult about a problem they’re experiencing, their goal is to make the organization well again. In most cases, they’re trying to understand how to make change happen, but have been shipwrecked due to multiple issues. But in 90% of the cases, they’re only focused on a symptom of a much bigger issue, but don’t realize it.

It’s much like the difference between medical symptoms and disease.  A “symptom” is a physical issue or an expression of the problem. It’s what you see on the surface during a heart attack for instance.  But the real issue you ultimately have to deal with may be obesity, poor eating habits, genetics, or stress. It’s the personal and social problems that cause the bigger issues.

Just ask a nurse – they know the difference.

What you THINK is the problem, may only be a visible symptom of something much more systemic and potentially more deadly. You can treat the symptoms forever, but until you solve the deeper problem, it will never be fixed.

And in a similar way with organizations, you should know the difference when you’re trying to fix a problem.  What you think may be the problem may really just be the visible presence of a deeper network of social, relationship, cultural, and even psychological issues we need to deal with first. As a result, some clients aren’t happy with my answers because it’s not what they expect, since they don’t see the deeper problem, think it’s just too difficult to fix, or worse – it’s the elephant in the room about which no one speaks. As a result, they don’t consider it a priority.

But without fixing the real issues, the symptoms keep coming back over and over again. Then one day, often without warning, you’re dead.

Leaders: The deeper issues matter. They may not seem as important as the in-your-face problem that’s driving you crazy, but to make positive change happen, you have to deal with both.

Let’s start digging.

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  1. Phil, you bring up this question in my mind: The broadcast church has refused most significant corrective tonics, remedies and courses of restoration. By doing this for forty years, what is the patient telling the doctor? It’s a hard answer isn’t it? The patient is telling the doctor, “Let me die!” Further, when that is the will of the patient; the doctor, the relatives…. not even God Himself can intervene. Thus we face one of the hardest things to face: the unstoppable death of a loved one. But this too shall pass. And a new child shall be born…

  2. In our experience, a lot of times it seemed as if the head of the ministry was the cause of most of the problems. Or the fear of his closest associates that made it worse as they reacted in fear. A lot of times also preachers don’t easily trust other people, especially when their associates disagree with him… this could be a real problem. Also, many of these preachers are carrying on their shoulders the heavy weight of the financial burden of being a broadcaster at the same time as they are pastors… it could be crazy… now, this could possible affect some of these ministers and their doctrine. Now that I don’t work for a ministry, I have been reading more the Bible and it is amazing how many things these people preach that don’t math the doctrines of Christ. It is my theory that perhaps the pressure is too much that their theology is somewhat affected…
    I don’t know…it could be…

  3. Dear Dr. Phil… thanks for your diagnosis. Its true…without finding the root cause the patient will die.

    A 4-D diagnostic scan viewing problems from different angles can bring discovery and potential cure to the illness.

    A specialist or internist (i.e. you) not tied to an organizations politics or concern over losing their jobs, can bring wisdom, answers and insight beyond the symptoms.

    As noted, the question is will the patient swallow the pill and get better or just keep “acting out” the same ol harmful patterns over and over again? Maybe some have become blind and can’t see or accept the truth?

    However, there is a solution to getting a 100% better and a breakthrough…it comes from God, listening to His Word and following His perscription. Gee, I’m feeling much better… Thanks!

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