Locations & Times

Setting Others Up For Success

by John Mehl on March 01, 2023

What if your next engagement with someone — (a boss, an employee, a spouse, a friend – maybe a meeting, or an important relational conversation, just a coffee, or whatever it may be) — was proactively set up to be positive and fruitful before you ever actually got together?

What if I made up my mind that before you ever say a word, before I gauge where you’re at and what will come from our conversation/meeting, that it is my job/role to set YOU up for success?

That might affect my tone. That might affect my body language. That might affect where we meet, or the information you need ahead of time, or it might bring to mind resources you might need or ideas you may not have seen.

A couple of years ago I completed studies in leadership across a couple of different programs, and I found that “Setting others up for success” was the most profound, most enduring concept that I learned; it should be stated right here that just because I studied it doesn’t mean I’ve personally mastered it!

“Setting others up for success” was the most profound concept I learned because the implications stretch WAY beyond organizational management: How could “setting others up for success” change your friendships? Your marriage? Your employees? Your teammates? A rising tide raises all ships, right? The success of the people in my life helps us all!

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Let’s start by considering how rare it is:

Most relationships — both personal and professional — are lucky if they can even begin an encounter on neutral ground, with a blank slate. Many of us just aren’t able to do that because we come in with our own baggage and emotions and conclusions, sometimes even called prejudice. And even when we are able to come to an engagement neutrally, we often assume a posture of “Let’s see how this goes” OR “I hope this goes well” as a default. It’s just our natural posture.

But the person that even precedes the engagement thinking about 1) what success looks like for the other person and 2) how can I “stack the deck” to help get them there is simply likely to find the engagement to be much more joyful and fruitful… even before it happens!

And even though “setting others up for success” may be rare, it isn’t new. It’s an extension of something this church family knows very well — The Christlike “there you are” atmosphere that we strive for (something that models Jesus really, really well!) Setting others up for success is a tool of the “there you are” culture that this church family strives for.

After considering how rare it is, let’s consider some tell-tale signs of setting others up for success:

  • Creative forethought – like “Where should our meeting even take place?”
  • Advanced resourcing – They’re going to need to know this information ahead of our conversation.
  • Sensitive empathy – They have been very rushed in their day. I need to factor that into how things start.
  • Delegated celebration/recognition – My role is to make sure other people see THEIR great work on this project.
  • Deep loyalty – My wife needs to know that I am on her side more than she needs to hear my perspective (like I said earlier, just because I learned it, doesn’t mean I’ve mastered it…)
  • Efficient efforts – If we are all clear on what a win looks like for this upcoming event, our meeting won’t take half the time trying to figure that out.
  • Prioritized time management – If I spend my time today on this, I might just end the day feeling like I accomplished something worthwhile.

Seeing as how we are headed into the Easter season, special attention is always given to the pressure-packed last week of Jesus’s life. The events and conversations packed into this history-changing week are well-accounted for in Luke’s Gospel.

It starts with Luke 11: Jesus’s Triumphal Entry. An important week in Jesus’s ministry. The last week of Jesus’s life.

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That Jesus would ride on a colt into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was not some trivial detail. It fulfills a prophecy made about the Messiah in Zechariah 9:9: 

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Jesus rides on the success of his disciples finding him a donkey. Not a horse. Not whatever donkey was available. Not even a “jenny” (that’d be a female donkey). “A colt, the foal of a donkey.”

And when he releases them to accomplish this very important detail, Jesus doesn’t just send them out with the command, “Find a colt. It must be a colt. Do whatever it takes to bring me back a colt.” He goes the extra mile to SET THEM UP FOR SUCCESS. Being God (and there’s a lot more to this story than I can unpack now, because this isn’t a sermon), Jesus gives perfect forethought and planning and what we just called “advanced resourcing” to his disciples:

“Go into the village in front of you, and right away as you enter you’ll find a colt. And if (really when) someone asks you what you’re doing, say “The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.” That’ll do the trick guys! That’ll set you up for success!”

“Setting others up for success” is absolutely a Jesus thing! So how can we try it?

Take an engagement, any engagement — personal or professional — and ahead of time (whether right before it or well in advance), try two things:

  1. Consider what ‘success’ looks like for the other person(s)
  2. Determine how you can ‘stack the deck’ to help them get there — what posture, setting, info, resources, etc. will give them a head start towards that success

This church is full of people that love one another, love those we live with, and love because He first loved us. Jesus does this kind of thing, and we follow in His footsteps.

Simply ask yourself this: Who wouldn’t want to receive this? Who wouldn’t want the spouse, the boss, the employee, or the friend that even just tries to set them up for success? We can be those people! Maybe it’ll be contagious.

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