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Trusting People (Part 1)

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Last Wednesday night Speak Up partnered with The Free Store Charlotte and hosted  a cookout to serve hungry people. Our reasoning was that since Wednesday night is a go-to-church night for many of the folks and organizations who often provide food during the week, we could step in one time to fill that gap.

The idea was sparked by Speak Up’s vendors, some of whom are homeless and many of whom have recently been living on the streets. “We want to do something to feed the homeless,” one of them said.

After coming up with the idea, those same vendors then coordinated, organized and promoted the event.

They designed and printed the marketing material, recruited attendees, found organizations to donate pizza, clothes and other supplies. They manned the grill, oversaw food distribution and helped to create a welcoming environment for visitors. Many of these vendors are homeless.

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I came away impressed. The food was good, so that’s always an easy way to my heart. But even more so, I was pleased with the follow-through, pride and sense of ownership I saw in some vendors.

Earlier this year I read  a great book called “It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.” Its author, Captain  D. Michael Abrashoff, places a big emphasis on empowering the people in your organization, even to the point of taking risks on them. He says, “Trust people. They usually prove you’re right.”

More and more at Speak Up, we are trying to put this approach into practice. It comes easily with interns and volunteers; they’ve come to help out and usually bring a specific and clearly communicated skill set. But with our vendors–who may not have worked or had a position of responsibility for a long time before Speak Up–it feels like a “riskier” endeavor.

What if they fail? What if they don’t know how? What if the idea turns out to be a waste of effort and resources? All of those questions come to mind, of course. But I’m learning (and Speak Up is learning) not to let that glass-half-full analysis paralyze and steal the excitement of an empowering idea.

Two years ago if a vendor had proposed the cookout, it probably would have been shot down (by me). Now when approached, I say, “Pitch me. Convince me why we should do this.” And I hope that they do.

As the cookout was winding down last week, one of the those motivated vendors pulled me aside and pitched again: “How about this becomes a recurring event for Speak Up?”

It was a good idea.

So I’m happy to announce it will be a recurring event. Starting in March, we’ll partner with The Free Store Charlotte, 24-7 Prayer Room and embark on the first monthly community cookout. It is an opportunity for “cross cultural collisions”–a chance for people of different walks of life and places in society to come together, share an experience, network, make connections, find commonality and journey together towards hope.

It’s a good idea. And it wasn’t mine.

See you March 19th! Stay tuned for the next empowered idea.

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