Don't Tell People How to Do Things—Really?

General George Patton
Patton pins the Silver Star on Private Ernest A. Jenkins, a soldier under his command, in October 1944. (Wikimedia Commons)

I'm reading Bill O'Reilly's latest book, Killing Patton. Bad reviews aside, the book reminded me of a classic quote from General George Patton ...

"Don't tell people how to do things; tell them what to do and let them surprise you with results."

Well, the good general has one thing right in his thinking: There is a surprise coming.

I suppose the General forgot about boot camp, otherwise known as basic training. The essence of basic training is to teach men and women HOW to do what needs to be done. "How" must precede "what."

Aren't you regularly surprised by what people don't know how to do?

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I truly believe that every business problem I have seen in my years in consulting and leadership could be traced back to a nexus of poor or nonexistent training. Leaders may speak about culture and policies during on-boarding, but a vacuum exists, in general, in the teaching of "how."

Remember Lombardi's classic opening to his training camps for the Green Bay Packers ... "Gentlemen, this is a football." His first few days of camp ... for an NFL team ... consisted of blocking and tackling drills. How many games were lost in the NFL this past season because of miserable blocking and tackling? Most players know WHAT to do but have perhaps forgotten HOW.

Our millennial leaders and those in development learn from YouTube and Google. If we pay close to attention to the training being delivered online, we will probably conclude the video creator was well aware of the HOW-GAP. YouTube has become a how-to library.

So leaders, how much time per week do you spend teaching the younger members of your team on how to do what you expect them to do? Please consider the following tips for training:

  • Frequency. I recommend no less than one specific training class per week. How would your ministry be changed with 50 training sessions this year? Transfer the HOW to your team with sustained, consistent effort.
  • Basics. Teach blocking and tackling. Do you have a "how-to-greet-visitors class?" Handshakes and eye contact seems to be a declining skill set. Start all training with the basic assumption that your team doesn't know the basics. And of course, there's nothing wrong with reminder training.
  • Train the trainer. Leaders frequently delegate training to someone who hasn't been trained in the topic or teaching methods. Invest resources in the development of trainers.
  • Curriculum. Certainly, great libraries are available for training content. Be careful to review and edit ALL outside material. It's much better for the leadership team to develop, write and conduct in-house training.
  • Read and write. Reading should be a significant component of all training. Since all of your team can probably use writing help, I recommend a written assignment be included at the conclusion of every class. Ask open-ended questions and review the content of the answers as well as the writing. My prophecy is that you will quickly see that training needs to happen twice each week.

And what's a training session without a good devotion? Find a Bible lesson to tie in to every class. Pray for the Holy Spirit to teach the hearts and minds of your team.

The efficacy of your ministry will ultimately depend upon know-how.


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Today's Scripture

"But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you" (John 14:26).



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Dr. Steve Greene is the publisher and executive vice president of the media group at Charisma Media and executive producer of the Charisma Podcast Network. His book, Love Leads: The Spiritual Connection Between Your Relationships and Productivity, is now available.

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