Spell It Out.

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Years ago in my clothing retail days I made what I thought was a simple assignment to a newer team member: “Hang this box of pants on this wall.”

I returned fifteen minutes later to find the pants were being hung, but not correctly. I had particular expectations. Very particular (I’m pretty easy-going, but…) In fact every other hanging pant in the store modeled the correct finished product.

I could hang a wall of pants correctly with my eyes closed. I knew how to grasp and tuck the front buckle/button of the pant, clasp the hanger inside the folded material, pull the waistline tightly, snapping the other hanger clip over the back side of the pant, and hang the pant with the zipper facing out. Easy. Routine. And oh so beautiful. Every time.

But I hadn’t communicated any of these details that would result in the crisp presentation I expected. I had to start over with my associate. I first pointed to the finished product: the pristine presentation of evenly hung, accurately sized pants in the display nearby. This time I demonstrated how to achieve that result as I explained every step. I modeled as I taught. Then I had him show me what he saw. Then I coached the specifics, helping him perfect the process.

I’ve been thinking lately about the simple words I use with staff and volunteer leaders that I assume everyone understands.

Words like: empower, shepherd, coach, even lead.

The truth is we only position people we trust. There’s good reason we’ve asked them to lead. However, these people – staff and volunteers – come from diverse backgrounds and environments: marketplace and other churches; sales and management; healthy teams and broken teams; small and large; visionary leadership and micromanagement. Diverse environments.

And within these environments, functions like empowering, shepherding, coaching and leading take on very different practices in each of those environments.

My associate did hang the pants. But if he and I had taken a stroll through the mall, we would have found several different approaches to pant-hanging. I needed to be clear and I wasn’t.

But isn’t empowering empowering and leading leading? Yes and no.

When I consider what I know empowerment to mean, I assume everyone knows the definition of empowerment. But words and functions are defined and understood through what we experience, what we see modeled.

So when staffer John comes from an environment where empowering meant – in practice – delegation, micromanagement, harsh correction, and little trust, he will not hear what I mean when say “empower your team.” He’s only able to hear what he already knows.

Now maybe he was wise enough to know that what he witnessed everyday in that environment was not empowerment. That’s why he wanted to leave. But I cannot assume that. Nor should I assume that he knew it was inaccurate, that he knows what it can and should look like.

So, I’m reviewing some coaching and training I’ve done and I'm asking: what have I assumed? What do I need to define with more clarity? How will I teach and nurture so that everyone operates within our culture and together we produce a consistent outcome?

(Sounds a lot like disciple-making, doesn’t it?)

What are you doing to set your leaders up for consistent wins that honor your culture and expectations?