“The key to developing people is to catch them doing something right. Unfortunately, most leaders have a genius for catching people doing things wrong” (Ken Blanchard, The Heart of a Leader).
After sharing this quote on social media, a friend of mine commented that the “Same goes for kids and dogs.” It’s funny, but so very true. Whether you’re a manager in a company, a teacher in a classroom, a parent, a pastor, or any other leadership role, you’ve likely fallen into the trap more than once of letting your focus drift away from highlighting what people are doing right and onto what they’re doing wrong. And as an employee, a student, a child, or a church member, you know how deflating it can be when an authority figure in your life seems always to focus on your mistakes. It’s counterproductive if the goal is to help people grow.
A perfect example of this scenario is displayed in Luke’s gospel where Simon the Pharisee rebuked Jesus for not realizing that an immoral woman was anointing his feet. Simon focused on the woman’s failings, but Jesus very specifically pointed out everything she had done well.
Throughout the gospels you can see that Jesus was very good at catching people doing things right. When the widow gave her last two coins, when the Roman officer showed great faith, and when Zacchaeus pledged to repay everything he had stolen and treat people fairly, Jesus was quick to highlight what each of them had done right and to praise them publicly for it. Jesus wasn’t afraid to praise people, young and old, men and women, because He knew that focusing on what people are doing right energizes them. Jesus didn’t come to this Earth to catch everyone doing bad things.
So, what are the implications of this truth as it relates to our mission to reach the unreached in Thailand? I can tell you that we didn’t come to Thailand to catch people doing something wrong. How productive do you think it would be if we focused on telling people how foolish they are to believe in karma or reincarnation, or to shame them as idol-worshipping pagans, or to judge them harshly for holding a view of reality that doesn’t mesh with our personal worldview?
The primary focus of our ministry in Thailand is children and youth because we want to start an intergenerational movement. That means helping them build a biblical worldview that they will pass on to their children. But working with children isn’t easy. Kids make a lot of mistakes as they learn and grow, and it’s easy to get distracted and frustrated when they make a mess of our plans. It’s easy to start focusing on their mistakes and forget to praise them for what they are doing well. But, as Ken Blanchard wrote, “The key to developing people is to catch them doing something right.”
So, what does it look like when we catch children doing something right? Over the past year and a half, we have been very intentional about teaching them to respect each other’s personal boundaries. Bullying and physical abuse are serious problems here, so we have worked hard to teach the kids that they should always show respect for each other’s bodies.
Every Sabbath during Kid’s Church we have a time when the children circle up and hold hands to do an activity. A few months ago, while holding hands in a circle, we asked the kids to raise and lower their arms together. Then we asked them to swing their arms back and forth at the same time. Suddenly, one girl stopped swinging her arms, turned to the boy whose hand she was holding and said, “Excuse me, is it okay if I hold your hand and swing your arm?” The boy nodded his head.
Noting the exchange, Teacher Ming stopped the activity and praised the girl for showing respect for the boy’s personal boundaries and for asking permission to hold his hand. The girl beamed with pride because Teacher Ming had caught her doing something right. Teacher Ming took the time to acknowledge and reinforce the positive behavior, and that’s important in helping kids develop into emotionally healthy adults.
I think the apostle Paul had it right when he encouraged the believers in Philippi to focus on whatever is good and admirable (Philippians 4:8), and I personally believe this applies to people, too. I want to be more intentional about catching people doing what’s right and good and admirable. How about you?