Remember as a teenager, really wanting to do something and asking your mom, “please mom can I go, EVERYONE is going.”  Of course, EVERYONE!  And if you had a normal mom, she would respond like this, “if everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?”  As a leader people will always be coming to you with problems, “this is not working” or “you need to rethink this”.  Now, stop me if you’ve heard this one, “they” are upset.”  Many times our first inclination is to think, “oh no, a bunch of people are upset.”

I like to call this the pronoun problem.  People love to speak in generalities.  So, how do you learn to successfully navigate the pronoun problem in leadership?  If you do not learn to deal with the pronoun problem it is possible to go through life trying to appease and cater to “everyone.”

  1.  I want to find out who “they” are.  I know “they” are upset, but who is they?  “Everyone” is pretty mad about that decision, but who is “everyone?”  I have found most of the time “everyone” is one or two people.  Now, this is not always the case, but it is most of the time.  So, get specific, when someone says “everyone” or “they” ask them who “everyone” is or who “they” are?
  2. Next, I ask the person to help me out.  I ask them to please have the person or persons come talk to me.  I tell them I cannot deal with a problem if I am unaware of it.  If the person will not tell you who “they” are, they are probably one of “them” or for that matter “the only one”.  At least now you have an idea of what you are dealing with and how big the problem really is.  If they insist it stays anonymous then I refuse to deal with it and tell the person I cannot address the issue.
  3. Now that you have a better grasp on the scope of the problem you must decide how you will deal with the problem.  If you are truly dealing with a large number of people you may have to look at the issue and make some changes, depending on the importance of the issue.  If however, you find “everyone” is quitting, really means my friend is quitting or I am quitting, maybe the issue that must be addressed is not the actual issue but the person.
  4. Move forward.  Do not let one person derail you from your vision or your mission.  Especially in ministry.

Our responsibility in leadership is to lead the masses not cater to the desire of one.  Not defining who you are dealing with can cause leaders to make really short sided decisions and derail you from the mission.  Solving the pronoun problem enables the leader to see the real picture more clearly.  In ministry this is of epic importance, because if you are not careful you will allow “THEM” to control the vision and direction rather than God.  So the next time “everyone” is heading for the nearest cliff to take the plunge, find out who is actually going!

What are some other ways you deal with the pronoun problem?


  1. I am not sure I have heard it stated this way before as the “pronoun” problem. Then again I struggle in grammar. You are spot on, especially defining that a problem typically is only a very limited group of individuals.

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