Tag Archives: leadership styles

the difficult shift from control to facilitation

about 18 months ago, i was sitting in dr. robert epstein’s living room with a group of youth workers from my youth ministry coaching program, talking about his ideas about the cultural construct of adolescence. at one point, his children came home from school and trotted through the house — elementary-aged kids. he had previously mentioned to us that he had two older son (about 28 and 30) from his first marriage, and how a grip of young kids from his second marriage. trying to understand some of what he was talking about, i asked him, “how has your parenting changed from when you parented your older sons to how you parent the children in your home now?”

i remember his response verbatim, because it has impacted my parenting (and other thinking) in significant ways. he said, “i’ve shifted from parenting by control to parenting by facilitation. and by ‘facilitation’, i mean identifying and nurturing competencies.”

he unpacked that thought a bit more, but the damage was done. i instantly saw the truth in what he was saying. and i could see that, while not a super-high control parent, i hadn’t thought of it in these terms before. since then, jeannie and i have tried over and over again to remember this idea when faced with parenting issues.

an illustration:

my amazing 14 year-old son max recently said to me something like, “i want to do something!”
i think he’d said something prior to that, but i hadn’t been paying enough attention. i didn’t know what he meant.
“what do you mean?”
“i want to do something to make a difference. and i’ve tried a few times to start something, but it hasn’t worked”
(i started to realize he was talking about doing something to make a difference in the world, and his “it hasn’t worked” was an attempt to explain the combination of his own lack of follow-through and others.)
he continued, “so, i want to get rubber bracelets made to raise money for haiti, and i want to sell them.”

i was at a control or facilitation junction, baby. i love my son, and i want him to impact the world, and i want him to succeed. and the best way i know to ensure this is to exert my control, to take over the details and tell him what to do, overseeing and prescribing each step. i knew, in that moment, that if i encouraged him and served him, helping only when he asked, it would be a more fruitful growth opportunity for him (get this:) even if he failed.

i said, “that’s great, max! tell me if you need anything from me.”
he said, “well, is there anyone i should talk to?”
i suggested he talk to the guy at our church who oversees our church partnership with haiti. that was it.

max found that adult’s phone number and called him. he also called the pastor on staff who oversees that ministry area. he gathered info all on his own. he found a website that makes rubber bracelets and priced the whole thing out. he asked me for input on what to have inscribed on the bracelets, and i suggested something like “remember haiti” might be cool.

a few days later, max asked me if he could use my credit card to place the online order. i asked, “are you asking for me to pay for the bracelets?” “no, i’ll pay you right now, i just need your credit card to order them.” i had absolutely nothing to do with him placing the order, choosing the quantity, color, shipping method, or anything else. he covered the cost out of his own bank account; and a week later, i paid him $5 for one of his bracelets.

max still has a bag full of bracelets, sometimes remembering to bring them to school and church to sell them, and sometimes forgetting. it’s still unclear whether or not he will make back his investment and raise enough to make a nice donation to our church’s haiti ministry. but this is clear: whether he “succeeds” or “fails”, the experience will be better for him than if i had controlled it.

and here’s where my thinking goes on this…

replace “parenting” with “youth ministry” in that epstein line:
we need a shift from youth ministry by control to youth ministry by facilitation, where facilitation means identifying and nurturing competencies.

heck, replace “parenting” with “leadership”:
we need a shift from leadership by control to leadership by facilitation, where facilitation means identifying and nurturing competencies.

these aren’t easy shifts (especially if you’re steeped in parenting, or youth ministry, or leadership by control). but the implications are massive.