My first job out of college was for the Home Depot. I worked in the Business Leadership Program that was intended to fast-track young talent to middle-upper management, presumably in that company. I had committed mentors with whom I met once a month at a minimum, and even as senior leaders, their annual reviews were tied to how well they made time to invest in young talent.
I was partnered with their executives for the ringing of the opening bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and empowered to assist in opening Home Depot stores in Mexico at age 23.
Despite the griping of entitled 20-somethings who “didn’t study four years at a prestigious university to drive a fork lift!” everyone in the program worked for the better part of a year as a manager of a Home Depot store. I hired people and let people go. I sat in an office with a weeping mom who had shoplifted two paintbrushes from the store while her kids waited in the mini-van. Sales went up. Sales went down. I have never learned so much in such a short amount of time about how to claim my own authority, even as a young female leader in a macho-male environment.
Back in the corporate headquarters, new ideas were pitched all the time, and we were invited to these blue-sky meetings. “We should get into the credit card business since we already deal with GE Capital so much and its very lucrative!” “We should start restaurants since we already sell food in the majority of our stores!” “We should ship packages since we have so many trucks delivering things around the country!” “Let’s sell beef jerky!” All of the ideas, from the most terrible to the most delicious, were encouraged. After a new idea was piloted, it was used in training, especially if it had failed miserably. “Why didn’t that work? What can we learn?”
People were rewarded for new ideas and given crystal trophies for entrepreneurial spirit. But, everyone was challenged with the question, “What does this have to do with selling hammers?” Leaders were constantly mindful of their base product, so even if an idea was (pun intended) “out of the box,” it had to be connected and directed back to the core of the business.
They brought in the best leaders from other industries because good ideas are transferable. It was in a training session with Don Keogh, former Chief Operating Officer of CocaCola, where I heard a quote that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “There is no limit to what you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
I look back on the tremendous level of investment placed in me by an already successful company and what that said about their commitment to live into their values. And, it causes me to pose some hard questions to the Church, which sees me, even 10-15 years after I worked at Home Depot, as a young voice.
How are church leaders held accountable for investing in young talent? How are new ideas fostered and championed? How do we learn from dismal failures as much as raging successes? How might it change committee meetings or denominational change initiatives if people echoed the phase, “Who cares who gets the credit?” What other voices could we bring into our congregations because good ideas are transferable? And, how do we challenge our ministries that try so hard to please all constituencies with, “What does this have to do with Jesus?”
I don’t work for Home Depot anymore, but instead for a healthy 750-member traditional suburban Presbyterian Church. It might be our prototypical church model. I wouldn’t have made a dramatic career change had someone in a Presbyterian church not introduced me to the Young Adult Volunteer program, a great example of our denomination trying to invest in young talent. Now I wear a robe instead of an orange apron. I attend different meetings with different notions of success and failure, winners and losers. But there is heavy lifting in church transformation that might warrant a forklift and all the best practices of industry. Now, “if I had a hammer….”
Becca Messman is the associate pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Herndon, Virginia. She leads “Lunch for the Soul” – a ministry with Hispanic day laborers. Her other passions are preaching and offering pastoral prayers, leading retreats, energizing church leaders to serve the community around them, youth and young adult ministry, and cultivating the “fear and trembling” holy journey of parenting. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Dave, her two young children, and her dog Luna.