KidMin Insights: Leadership Lessons from Home Depot


I recently visited Home Depot to purchase some new accent pillows, which I hoped give our worn patio furniture a much-needed facelift. Trying to make my shopping experience easier, I had searched online to find the exact pillows I wanted, so I went straight to the “Home and Garden” section expecting to get what I wanted. It was there that I  first encountered the sea of colorful pillows and the warm, tall Home Depot employee named James Dunkin. I told him what I was looking for, and he quickly pointed to several freestanding racks and said, “If I have one, it will be there.”

I began to search and James watched me from afar, much like parents watching their child do something for the first time. I searched the first two racks and no pillow. I looked back at James for some affirmation and help. To encourage me, he offered a deal: If I found the pillow, he’d give it to me for free. Immediately I increased the intensity of my search while inquiring how he could give me a pillow for free. James said his goal was to make customers happy and put a smile on their face. The offer certainly made me smile, but apparently not enough for James. Our talk of pillows and brands continued until I reached the last section where I did not find my preferred, patterned pillows! James saw my despair, and offered to help me search other stores via the Web.

James accessed with finesse, as if he were showing me a family portrait. He quickly clicked on the pillow page and typed in my selection’s SKU number.

Turning the screen so I could confirm the selection, he exclaimed, “Here they are! Got ‘em!”

I flashed him a huge smile and together we proceeded to order the pillows. As we continued our pillow talk, I commented on his excitement. He humbly acknowledged that he had gotten me to smile, and we began to talk about why James loves working at Home Depot.

Amidst the clicking of the fingers on the keyboard, James began sharing his story. He started working at Home Depot two years ago as a seasonal employee and was now on the management track as a department team leader. With each word, his smile grew larger and larger. James obviously loved being a Home Depot employee. I could feel his enthusiasm and dedication, but I longed for more details. What made working in the “Home and Garden” department at Home Depot so special? What could I and the church learn from his experience?

James works at Home Depot for three reasons, which he articulated clearly and passionately.

Doing the Right and Remarkable Thing

First, Home Depot empowers their employees to do the right and remarkable thing at all times. For example, a woman came into the store with a sprayer that was broken. James recognized that the sprayer was not a Home Depot product, and that  it came from an industry competitor—Lowe’s. Instead of sending her to Lowe’s, he exchanged the product for a comparable model he sold at Home Depot. The customer was shocked and delighted. In doing the right thing in a remarkable way James made that customer’s day.

As church leaders, how are we empowering our people to do what is right and remarkable? In what ways can we share Jesus’ love that brings smiles to people from the inside out? Perhaps it starts with sharing your vision often, and inviting people to be a part of what God is doing in your midst. Give people a map for living out the vision of your church. Show them how to be part of a life-changing movement of Jesus’ radical love and grace. Point to areas of need and despair in your community, while constantly reminding people that we love because He first loved us.

Working As a Team

As he continued his story, James shifted from salesman to storyteller; never missing a keystroke on the computer.

“What’s your address, m’am?” he asked.

While I gave him my home address James pointed out that working at Home Depot is like being a part of a family — a tight-knit group of people who support one another and have each other’s backs. He shared that they work in teams and a big part of teamwork is having fun together. The employees have lots of parties and try to celebrate each other’s success. Sometimes they even have parties when things aren’t going well! James concluded that everyone needs encouragement.

Each Home Depot store is a community of people living life together, and in many ways their culture reflects Jesus’ call to love one another. What would our churches and communities look and feel like if we truly treated each other like family, having each others’ backs through our successes and failures, as we work together for the greater good? Practicing the key behaviors articulated in the beginning of Acts 2 gives a good framework. Live in harmony. Devote yourself to prayer. Pool resources and help each other. Eat meals together and celebrate. Worship God and follow the disciplines of His teaching. Act like family.

Training and Equipping Leaders

“How will you be paying?”

“By credit card,” I answered.

“Okay, for your security, would you enter that data into the computer?”

We switched places and I began to type, while James continued his story. He shared that there’s lots of room for advancement at Home Depot. Leadership gives employees the tools to grow if they want them. Leadership won’t force this on employees, but they’ll build on their initiative. About six months ago, James said he mentioned to his leader that he’d like to advance into management. He’s now in leadership classes and is thrilled. In fact, James can’t wait to see where he’ll be in five years!

Building up volunteers and supporting staff initiative is the key to motivating and sustaining long-term service in the church. When we intentionally train and equip our leaders, they grow in faith as they acquire marketable and valuable skills that are applicable in everyday life.  In a recent youth ministry training event small group leaders learned the art of active listening. During the session one leader commented that she needed to practice active listening not only with the youth she mentors, but also with the staff she leads at work.

She added, “Being fully present, making eye contact, and having open body language can change a person’s perspective of the communicator and the message. I’m trying this technique on Monday.”  When we enhance the skill sets of our teams, we increase their ability to effectively minister to others, both inside and outside the walls of the church.

Why Stay?

As I entered the final payment info, James commented, “We’re nearly done with your pillow purchase, ma’am.”

I flashed him another smile and asked if he had time for one more question. Tossing a pillow in the air, he agreed.  A few seconds passed and then I asked: “Why will you stay here?”

James responded, “That’s easy. I stay because of the people I work with and the people I serve. They’re my family and friends. I get to spend my day with ‘family’ —  folks who look forward to making new friends and reconnecting with old friends (our customers) daily.  That’s something I can sink my teeth into.”

Jesus said, “I no longer call your servants, but friends.” As a result of His friendships, Jesus radically changed people, communities, cultures, and the world. What if we viewed the people who serve on our team and community as friends in ministry? How would our motives and methods change? Taking a lesson from James’ pillow talk, one answer would be to give more, without receiving anything in return. Another would be to make people smile as you meet their needs. Finally, we can be intentional about sharing our time, talent, and presence to the people God puts in our path, or in James’ case, in his store.

“If you need anything else, come back and see me. Here’s your receipt.” “Thanks,” I said, “for the pillows and the talk.”

As I left the store, I remembered that I needed a new light fixture. Perhaps James can refer me to another “family member” in the lighting department. My guess is that he or she can shed even more light on the attributes of Home Depot and its leadership.



Patty Smith

Patty Smith is the Director of Ministries with Family and Children for the TN Annual Conference, and a consultant on ministry with kids and church leadership.


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