Leadership and Labels


No, this post is not about labeling wires or gear.

We who are involved in technical arts are taught to label everything. Run a cable, label it. Pack a roadcase, drawer or storage shelf, label it. Have a broken piece of gear, put a huge warning label on it. You get the idea.

But there is a downside to our propensity to label everything. Volunteers who are always late or do not respond to Planning Center requests may get labeled. Band members who are never ready for sound-check or who change the lyrics get labeled. Sometimes we label our pastoral staff or our church ministries too. Technical artists, whether who serve in Houses of Worship or secular programming venues can be quite sarcastic. It’s often our cynicism, not the desire for organization which fuels negatively labeling people.

I was recently listening to Head Coach Bob Richey (Men’s Basketball, Furman University) talk about the power of labels, both good and bad. He referenced a Harvard University study where students were tested for their IQ and academic abilities. A group of students who supposedly scored the best were labeled “academic bloomers.” The students were then followed up over the course of years and retested. Not surprisingly the group labeled “academic bloomers” outperformed in all measurable respects a control group who were not given a “bloomer” label.

The catch was, the group labeled “academic bloomers” were actually chosen at random, average in their initial testing, no different at the start than the students in the study’s control group. The researches noted not only the impact of labels’ influence on the individual “academic bloomer” students (an apparent self-fulfilling prophecy), but also noted the differences in how the teachers and school administrators treated the “academic bloomers” labeled students versus the control.

The Harvard researchers hypothesized what they called the Pygmalion Effect. Our beliefs regarding ourselves influence our actions, including our actions toward others. These actions impact others’ beliefs about us. These beliefs cause the actions of others toward us, which then reinforce our beliefs regarding ourselves. And the cycle repeats. Other subsequent studies confirm the Harvard researchers’ theory.

The Bible is not silent on the subject. James 3:8-10 (NKJV) says, “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” It is inconsistent to praise God and speak ill regarding His creation … including our volunteers, band members and pastoral staff, even if they (like us) are imperfect and make (habitual) mistakes.

We would be well served to consider the labels we put on ourselves and others. Apparently our words have power way beyond that which we may realize. They impact not only the person labeled, but everyone else around them.

There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, But the tongue of the wise promotes health.

Proverbs 12:18 NKJV

Title Photo Attribution: paurian

Tom D'Angelo

Tom D'Angelo has worked in television production and AVL corporate theater for nearly four decades. He is Emmy Award nominated (Best Director category, Mid-Atlantic) and has been part of various teams nominated or winning national Emmys.  As the Media Director at a megachurch in the 1980’s he developed a love for the Church and church performing and technical artists.