three assumptions to avoid in leadership and work

I am looking at my hands. They are calloused, bruised, and scarred from work. Some of the scars are fresh and they hurt. Some still bleed when agitated. This is the way of things in a floorcovering warehouse. So much depends on diligent handling of materials and tools. Lifting, pulling, cutting, grappling, pushing, operating machinery, driving trucks and forklifts, and so on. It is the normal part of a warehouseman’s daily routine. I don’t complain about it; I just do it, as do my co-workers.

There is a culture which is unique to the warehouse environment. It requires part hard-nosed work, part conciliatory teamwork with well-honed negotiation skills, and part mastery of the requisite skills and processes of the business, plus top flight customer service acumen. Warehouses are the logistical hub of a local business. Everyday we are responsible for safely handling high value materials accurately. A simple mistake can cost a company thousands of dollars, and if the issue is significant enough, it can result in severe consequences.

So, there are three basic things I have learned to do to ensure safe, accurate fulfillment of orders, as well as a well-adjusted work environment. I suspect they may have relevance to the world of children’s ministry as well.

1. Never assume anything about performance. In floorcovering warehouses, one example is the task of verifying that the specific product’s part number and its description on the work order for a job match the specific product which needs to be cut, prepared and/or staged for delivery or will call. This is not always as easy as it sounds, especially when some types of tile, granite, and stone originates from other parts of the world and there is no English to be found on their boxes. Yet, this is no excuse for not getting it right every time.

A second example is the process of cutting any product, whether it is carpet on the cutting machine or floor, or other types of product. My motto is measure twice, cut once. In the case of the cutting machine, I triple-check the paperwork to the product tag, and before any cut is made always make sure the individual cuts add up to the designated total cut size. Both of these can be likened to pre-audits. Every several cuts, I throw one of the cuts on the floor as an audit to ensure accuracy of the machine, and my own accuracy! Again, I never assume anything, but verify and deliver optimal performance which is backed with the strength of redundant verification systems.

Are we willing to scrutinize our local ministries to this degree? Even if we may be volunteers rather than career professionals? What would happen if the professionalism we apply to our marketplace careers were migrated to our ministry roles? Not in terms of killing passion, creativity, or the joy of volunteering, but in terms of strengthening all that we do so that we are liberated to fulfill God’s mission in our contexts with greater clarity and effectiveness.

2. Never assume anything about communication. In my warehouse the three of us who comprise our team work hard to communicate with each other clearly. We don’t always get it right; sometimes there are breakdowns based on assumptions, but we are continually improving. As a result there is a strong mutual respect. Each of us knows that the others are working as hard and as smart as they can. We are learning the ebb and flow of our strengths and weaknesses, plus the demands of the business. We work to support each other. Sometimes this means one person will shoulder a heavier load to relieve the other. Sometimes it means we all jump in on a task to get it done. At other times we may disagree about an issue or the way something should be done. For my part, I am learning to pick and choose my battles, deciding what is most important (usually safety is what matters most to me) and what I am willing to let slide to keep the peace. If there is a substantive disagreement then I may ask for a decision from a superior, if I feel that strongly about it. Typically, however, that is not necessary. We are all adults, after all.

One wonders why church folks sometimes forget that, and what might happen if these kinds of thoughts were to enter the church conversation about how to communicate gracefully and well with each other.

3. Never assume anything about your importance to the organization. This cuts two ways (kind of like a knife used to cut carpet; I bet you didn’t see that pun coming!). First, I remind myself not to overestimate my importance to the company. There are plenty of workers wanting my job who are far more qualified than me. Knowing this reminds me to deliver my best effort every day as a competitor working to make the company and myself succeed as a result of my decisions and work ethic. Second, I try not to underestimate my importance to the company. This one is harder for me as I tend to be very hard on myself. Yet it is important to remember. My company did not hire me out of sympathy for my plight. They hired me because I am a top performer, as I have been in nearly every company I have worked for in the last 25 years. It is a matter of balanced perspective, believing in who God says I am and the hard work I know I have done to get where I am, but doing so with a healthy dose of humility, recognizing that just as the Lord gives, he can also take away.  

How might this attitude affect your role in ministry? For me, it liberates me to take my eyes off of me and apply my attention to the needs of others and the mission God has given me.

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