This post is part of a series honoring the Balcony Persons in our lives. If you have a BP you’d like to tell about, then please email me your story to WMEades@gmail.com.
In Honor of Del Poling
by Mike Murray
“My Reputation Is on the Line”
In the Fall of 1973 I had just made a significant transition in my life. After twelve years in the ministry (during which I served in three different congregations) with more than 4 of those years serving as an associate pastor in a large suburban church in Pittsburgh, PA I left the parish and started a business as a “trainer.”
To make the transition I had studied for three hard weeks with a company called “Synectics” that taught Creative Problem Solving, but that was the extent of my preparation for this vocational “shift”.
My reason for making it had to do with the fact that the church I served in Pittsburgh was filled with corporate executives from companies such as Westinghouse, United States Steel, Gulf Oil, Alcoa, PPG and the like. I had grown up in small towns in Texas as a minister’s son and then served in small towns as a pastor.
My experience at the church in Pittsburgh was a major culture shock. I decided that if I was going to be a pastor to folks who worked in large corporations I would have to go live and work there for awhile myself.
The person who encouraged me in this transition is my “balcony person”, Del Poling. Del is an ordained Presbyterian minister, graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Western Psychiatric Institute of Pittsburgh, and from 1966 to 1972 was the director of The Center for Creative Living and Spiritual Growth in Athens, Georgia.
In 1972 he moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, and was working for the Presbytery based there as well as working with numerous companies and organizations across the country as an organizational development consultant and leadership development trainer.
The specific story which drove home his important role in my life happened soon after I had moved back to Texas from Pittsburgh. I did not have a lot of work; indeed, I had almost none.
I was working on a sermon on the text, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.” I had decided to have the congregation meditate for a few moments on this text, using it as kind of a mantra, emphasizing a different important word in the text each time they said it. Then I thought, well, if I am going to ask the congregation to do this, I had better do it myself—which I proceeded to do.
As I recited the text the phone rang. It was Del Poling’s secretary calling to tell me that Del needed me to come to Florida the following week to do some work with a local school system. She briefly described the nature of the work. I told her I needed to talk to Del; I had never done anything like that before. He and I talked later that day and I learned even more about the project which convinced me even more deeply that I had no business getting involved.
“Del, I have never done anything like that.”
“Murray, I know what you have and have not done. But, you can do this.”
“But I don’t know how.”
“Yes you do. You just don’t know that you know how.”
“Just get your tail over here next week and be prepared to do the work. Oh, and by the way, it is my reputation that is on the line. So don’t mess it up.”
Obviously, Del saw things in me that I did not see in myself. And, he had the confidence that these things that I did not even know I had would show up in the situation into which I was going.
Since then I have learned that “Delegation” can be defined as “giving another person the opportunity to do some thing that will enable them to practice getting better.” The criteria for whether or not to delegate is NOT, ‘Can this other person do it as well as I can?” Rather, the criteria is, “Can this other person do the job as well as I did the very first time that I did it?”
The point is: to whatever degree you are good at something, there was a time when you had to do it for the first time. You were not that good, but someone gave you a chance to practice getting better. Perhaps they even put their reputation on the line. They understood motivation — and I am grateful to this day, more than 37 years later, that Del Poling had the courage to take the risk.
Indeed, Del has been my model for one of the things that excellent leaders do. They not only look for strengths and weaknesses. Quality leaders look for “potential” in those they are seeking to lead. They keep a sharp eye out for gifts and qualities and talents and virtues that other people have and then give them opportunities to develop them. Leadership involves a willingness to look deep, to take risks, and to be about the task of helping other people grow. Del Poling did that for me, and I am forever grateful.
Do you have a Balcony Person you’d like to honor?