It’s Easier To Take Out Than To Put In

Two weeks ago, I mentioned a book that the Cabinet and I read together last year, Marcus Burkingham and Curt Coffman, First, Break All the Rules, (Simon and Schuster, 1999, the Gallup Organization). The Cabinet is charged with the deployment and development of our pastoral leaders. First, Break All the Rules makes the rather surprising assertion that people are not equally talented and that it is easier to match people’s talents to specific job responsibilities than to teach people to do things for which they have no talent. In other words, it’s easier to develop the talents that are there, than to put in qualities in a person which God has not seen fit to give them. We found all of this challenging so I give you a synopsis of some of the ideas we’ve been discussing:

Talent is what managers look for in an employee. Talent is defined as a pattern of thought or behavior that can be developed and productively applied to the good of the organization. Talent involves recurring behavior. Behaviors you find yourself doing all the time. (Ability to remember names, ability to think on your feet, etc.)

Seniority systems tend to think that experience is what makes the difference, maturity, rather than talent. Some people say that brainpower makes a difference. Smart people just do better than others. Or sometimes people think that willpower, determination and hard work make the difference. Grit. Now all of this is true. But the right talents are the prerequisite for success in any role. You cannot teach talent. You can only select talent. Talents are the driving force behind an individual’s job performance.

The cardinal principle is that people don’t change that much. Rather than trying to put in what is not there, try to develop what has been put in. Although you cannot teach talents, you can teach skills and knowledge. Good managers try to teach skills and knowledge. There are two kinds of knowledge, factual knowledge–things you know. And experiential -understandings that you have picked up along the way. (For instance, I think I have a talent for love of worship, for transforming moments, the acquisition of new skills).

There are relating talents, collegial talents.

Two of the most pervasive management myths are: Talents are rare and very special. But this isn’t true. Talents are recurring patterns of thought, knowledge, and behavior. Your job is not to teach people talent, but to match their unique talents to the role. You have to pay attention to the unique aspects of the role. You must never assume that some roles are so simple that they require no talent, that is the second management myth.

As a manager you need to know exactly which talent you want. You need to be adept at recognizing talent. When you are interviewing someone, he or she will represent his or her talents to you in the rosiest way possible (she will say she is “ambitious” rather than “aggressive”).

There are temptations for the manager. One is to believe that we can make perfect people out of people’s normal imperfections. Managers must resist their attempt to come up with rules and attempt to control people’s imperfections. They must match imperfections well with the role and help turn those imperfections into virtues. Managers sometimes make mistakes into thinking that anybody can perform a given role. They don’t realize the unique qualities that are acquired by the role. They therefore hire the wrong people

I think these management thoughts, from the world of business and commerce, have implications for those of us who are called to management and the ministry of administration in the church. I’ll let you draw out the implications that you see. The Cabinet and I have found these thoughts most challenging.

William H. Willimon

3 thoughts on “It’s Easier To Take Out Than To Put In

  1. Bishop Willimon – Thanks for the excellent post. I think that you are right on for bringing forward this consideration of talents and relating it to the UMC.It does seem at times as if the appointment system is based on “moving up” from appointment to appointment. I recognize that this is a perception that is closely linked to what makes a “good appointment.”I believe that good appointments are ones in which the gifts and graces of the pastor are matched to the needs of the particular congregation. I do not believe that the goodness of an appointment is in any way related to the size of the congregation or the compensation package for the pastor.


  2. I used to be on staff at Lovers Lane Church in Dallas where Stan Copeland is the Sr. Pastor. He always said his talent was the ability to recognize talent. “I look for the stars” he would say, “then find a place for them in the church”. I will always remember that!You said these management thoughts have implications for those who are called to management and the ministry of administration in the church. And that you and the cabinet have found these concepts challenging. Picking up on Andrew’s comments about the appointment system, these are the implications I see:While I know the appointment system has some good qualities (it is good for minorities, good for women), I think of it in light of your post and just get frustrated because of all the talentless, unproductive, under-performing pastors we have out there who we are stuck with because of the appointment system. There is very little accountibility appealing to quality control because our pastors know they will always have job security. Yes, this is most challenging….


  3. I agree that matching someones talents to a particular job within the church is a good idea. But doesn’t the word of God enable us to do things we have no talent for? My pastor may have no talent but if he is faithful in his office then he has done his job. I don’t want a Star pastor.I hope my pastor is under-performing in all things except delivering Law and Gospel, Word and Sacrament


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