November 29, 2019

The Servant-Steward's Handbook

The Servant-Steward's Handbook

The Servant-Steward's Handbook is now available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

Many of the concepts that have appeared in this blog over the past few years have been updated and are now gathered into one collection with even more practical suggestions  to help leaders effectively supervise the people in your organization. We hope this handbook becomes a handy desk reference or textbook for training supervisors in business or ministry settings. 

Thanks to Max Greiner, Jr. for graciously granting permission to use the photo of his "Divine Servant" sculpture on the cover of the book. The setting with high-rise office buildings in the background perfectly illustrates the concept of servant-stewardship in the 21st CenturyChristians in the marketplace today often feel we are swimming upstream, against the flow. At the same time, it appears to me that most people really want their supervisors to act like Christians without actually having to be followers of Jesus. Having the same attitude that Jesus had when He took the form of a slave is not a popular concept, but it is the way He expects us to act. (Mt.20:25-28; Jn.13:1-19; Ph.2:3-11) 

And if we act like that, we might be as conspicuous as a near-naked CEO washing the feet of a worker in downtown Atlanta, Dallas, or New York. Others will notice and it will make a difference in how they respond and perform.  

August 24, 2016

An Olympic Lesson on Teaming

The XXXI Summer Olympics are over and I am going through a bit of withdrawal. For the entire two weeks we were drawn to the television to watch whatever event the network producers decided to highlight. We especially enjoyed watching the swimming events, since I had coached my three grandchildren to meet their own individual swimming goals by the end of summer. Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky had us mesmerized with every race. Simone Biles caused our jaws to drop with her near flawless gymnastics and support of her teammates who dubbed themselves the "final five." And there were many exciting moments in a number of sports that we do not regularly follow. We saw much of what the old ABC Sports theme described, "The thrill of victory... and the agony of defeat."

Bicycle racing is one of the sports we do not follow. But we were fascinated with both the men's and the women's road races this year.  Both races had us on the edges our seats for the final few kilometers and the last 200 meters had us absolutely glued to the set cheering them on. Both races saw a lone rider out front with a sizeable lead ahead of the nearest pack until the last few hundred meters when a pack of three riders overtook the leader and snatched away the gold, the silver and (in the women's race) the bronze medal.

For years I did not understand why they called cycling a team sport. It looked to me like a race of individuals. But this year I learned about the peloton, the group (from the French for "platoon"). Like geese who fly in formation taking turns drafting the leader, each rider takes a turn up front taking the full wind resistance, allowing the other teammates to exert less energy and increase their stamina.

Mara Abbott had stayed with her peloton up to the last hill in Rio. Hills are where Abbott is strongest, so she pulled way ahead of her teammates with them cheering her on, although she was still far behind the front leaders. Then there was a major accident on the last brutal curve with bikes descending at well over 50 miles per hour.  As Mara passed the pile of spilled bikes and riders, she sped down the hill to take a 38 second lead ahead of the nearest pack of competitors. All the way up to the last 200 meters we were sure Mara Abbot would take the gold medal. But then the final drama began to unfold.

Three riders working together as a peloton began gaining on her. I don't know when she became aware of how close they were coming and how fast, but when she tried to turn on the kick, the turbo chargers just weren't there. The pack of three passed her and Mara finished fourth--no medal.

 The really interesting part of this for me is the fact that the three riders in the championship pack were from three different competing countries: Anna Van Der Breggen of the Netherlands, Emma Johansson of Sweden, and Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy. Somehow the three managed to form not just a pack, but a pact. If they joined forces, each of them would increase their potential to win a medal. At the very end of the race, all three of them pedaled with all their might to go for the gold, but up until that final stretch they knew that they had to form a team and work together for any of them to possibly overtake the front rider. In the final seconds Mara Abbott saw the agony of defeat as Van Der Breggen won the gold, Johansson took silver and Borghini got bronze. Mara Abbott put in a magnificent individual performance, but at the end of the race she finished fourth, which in Olympic terms means she lost.

Hint to the Leader:
Sometimes you have to team up with unexpected partners to overcome common challenges. Keep your eye on the big picture--not just your department or division, not just your own goals, but the ultimate goals of your company or organization. What can you do to motivate your followers to work together more as a team?

Hint to the Follower:
If you only work for number one, then you are likely to discover one is the loneliest number. We all need others with different strengths to help us reach our larger goals. Who do you need? Who might also need you and your strengths?

© Dr. Larry N. Gay, August 2016.

October 16, 2015

Feeling Valued at Work

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."  Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)
Over the last few days, I have asked a number of people, “What makes you feel valued in your workplace?” It seems to come down to three things: Trust, Respect and Input.

 Trust “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” (Merriam-Webster)

Trust is the building block for transformational leadership.  Leaders want their followers to trust them, but to gain trust one must first prove himself to be trustworthy. One way to build trustworthiness is to place trust in the other person. The more trust I show you, the more I increase the likelihood that you will trust me. Delegation of responsibility is a huge way to build trust. Sharing of information and sharing personal prayer requests are also trust builders.

Respect –“a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” (Oxford Dictionary)  

The simplest recognition of the other person’s experience, contributions or individual accomplishments can go a very long way toward making the person feel respected. Another simple way to show respect is to put down the smart-aleck phone and give the person your undivided attention. 

 Input – “advice or opinions that help someone make a decision.” (Merriam-Webster).

This is about feeling you have the opportunity to share Information and Insights.  Being given the opportunity to share these three I's creates a feeling of empowerment. 
Information x Input x Insight = Empowerment  ( I3 = E ).  
The word “empowerment” is often confused with delegation of authority.  People do not necessarily have to be given a delegated authority, however, to feel empowered.  The opportunity to give input up line with absolute confidence that they will be heard makes people feel they actually make a difference. This is more than just having the opportunity to influence decisions. It has to do with simply being heard, knowing that your manager has an open ear and will give attention to what you have to share--even if your idea is not implemented.

The ability to give input also helps to build trust that leads to respect. Of course, if a person's input is repeatedly rejected outright, then that becomes a trust-buster, making the person feel disrespected and devalued. 

All of this boils down to helping people feel that they are persons of worth, that they are known and valued for who they are and not just for what they do. Who you are amounts to much more than just what you do in your job at work. 

Hint to the Leader:
Imagine what your organization would look like if leaders would go out of their way to demonstrate a genuine value for every worker at every level throughout the organization.  What could you do to start building such an organization right now?   What could you do to show that you are genuinely TRI-ing? (Remember, Trust, Respect, Input.)
Hint to the Follower:
Even if you are not feeling valued at work, you can make others feel valued. Consider starting your own campaign by showing respect for your manager or supervisor. Offer your input with an attitude of helping.  By the way, would your family members say they feel valued by you? Would they say you are TRI-ing?

© Dr. Larry N. Gay, October 16, 2015

January 30, 2015

Don’t Confuse Me with the Facts

“How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?” …And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?”

(King Ahab, before he rejected the counsel of Micaiah and was defeated and killed at Ramoth-gilead by the king of Syria.
[1 Kings 22:16-18, ESV])

In her confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate, Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch was asked if she would be willing to say no to the president. Concern was expressed over comments by the outgoing Attorney General, Eric Holder, referring to himself as “the president's wingman.” 

Lynch responded, “I think I have to be willing to tell not just my friends but colleagues 'no' if the law requires it. That would include the president of the United States." When asked how she would be different than her predecessor, she said, "I will be myself. Loretta Lynch."

Are you looking for a man or a “yes man”?

Great leaders do not just take yes for an answer.  Some disagreement and low-level conflict can lead to better consensus decisions.  The best leaders encourage dialogue and welcome challenges to their decisions when there might truly be a better idea. Then, once the decision is made, they can reasonably expect their followers to follow through with commitment.  

While attending the annual convention meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1987, I was introduced to a liaison from the Catholic Church. Our mutual friend had recently been named to a position of leadership for what was then the FMB. As he tried to equate that position to his own organization’s structure, he commented that a bishop once told him, “Once you become a bishop, it marks the last time two things will ever happen. It’s the last time you will ever be served a bad meal and it’s the last time anyone will ever tell you the truth.”  


Sadly, the farther up the chain of leadership one moves, the more difficult it becomes for subordinates to feel free to share bad news or facts that contradict the leader’s stated position. Often, leaders say they want to know what is really going on out there in the trenches or on the frontline, but they express their preconceived conclusions in such a way that others receive the message, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.”


I have a button on my desk with that inscription. It hangs in front of a yellow Tweety Bird pen holder, a gift from my sons years ago. Together, the button and Tweety remind me of at least five things outlined in the hints below.


Hints to the Leader and to the Follower:

1)  Remember to Stop, Look and LISTEN to others first, before expressing your own opinions (better yet, before FORMING my own opinions).

 2)  Don’t draw conclusions too quickly.

 3)  Don’t think too highly of your own opinions.

 4)  Stay open to the possibility of altering, changing or perhaps even ditching what you thought was a “final” conclusion.

 5)  Don’t take yourself too seriously.



(For more hints, see also the earlier article “Leaders Need Three I’s  (


© Dr. Larry N. Gay, January 2015

August 4, 2014

A fine way to say hello

"When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting.
If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation.”
(Matthew 10:12-13, The Message)

          Greetings can be interesting. In English, for example, instead of a simple “Hello” we are likely to say, “How are you?” or if we haven’t seen each other for a while, “How have you been?” In the southern United States one of the most common greetings is, “Hiya doin’?” In the southwest that might be pronounced, “Howdy do?” a compressed version of “How do you do?” That was shortened even more to become just “Howdy.” It’s not that people really want to hear about your physical or emotional health. They simply want to acknowledge your presence within proximity of their personal space, sight and sound.

          By the time we reach the age when the AARP corresponds with us more than our children, people don’t just ask “How are you?” because we might start telling them how we actually feel! They don’t really want to know about our chronic back pains or our depression over the fact that we just realized our retirement fund will probably be barely enough to buy a pup tent instead of the house on the lake that we had dreamed about. They don’t have time hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They just want to hear, “Fine, and how are you?” to which they can respond, “Fine.”

          Since I passed fifty, I have noticed how some people will greet me in the morning with “Did you sleep well last night?” Now that’s a simple, direct question that can be answered with a short, direct answer. I know they want a plain answer and I want to give them one. I also want to be honest in my answer since, by my definition, I might not have slept the entire evening in the restful, continuous, uninterrupted sleep of a ten-year-old child. So my answer is usually, “Yes, several times.” I might also answer truthfully, “I slept like a baby” which really means “I woke up every two hours crying because I had bathroom issues.”

          Whenever someone asks how you are doing, what they really want to hear is one simple word—“Fine.” That’s how most people respond. “Fine.” But what in the world does “fine” mean? Look the word up in a thesaurus and you will see such synonyms as: well, in good health, satisfactory, adequate, acceptable, excellent or superior. It can also mean delicate, dainty, slender, thin or diaphanous (that’s what my dad might have called a ten-dollar word for fine).

          You go to the doctor because you have fever, chills, diarrhea and nausea. The doctor comes into the examining room and asks, “How are you?”
           Come on! Why are you in the doctor’s office if you are really fine? So after the exam is over, he gives you the news that you have only three months to live because you have an aggressive cancer that has advanced beyond the possibility of any treatment. As you are coming out of the doctor’s office you run into a friend who greets you, “Hey! How are you?”
          “Fine, fine.”

          Yeah, sure. If fine means, “I am feeling the weight of my whole world crashing down on me right now”, then I suppose “fine” is an honest answer. Diaphanous might be more appropriate response in this case. Try it some time and see how people react:
          “How are you?” 
          “Diaphanous. And you?”

           OK, maybe not.

          “Fine” doesn’t tell me a thing! When I ask someone “How are you?” and they respond, “Fine,” I usually follow up with something like, “In spite of everything and everybody?” If you are really doing fine, then it must be in spite of the bad things that are happening all around you and the way people are treating you.

          I was an Emergency Medical Technician with a volunteer fire and rescue department in Texas for three years. When we would arrive on the scene of an accident the natural thing to do was greet the patient and ask how they were doing. Can’t you just see it? The guy is laid out on the street, broken and bleeding having been thrown from a vehicle doing fifty miles an hour when it crashed into a barricade and the conversation goes something like this:

          “How you doin’ buddy?”
          “That’s good. Let’s see if we can get that arm stabilized so that bone sticking out won’t be too uncomfortable on the way to the hospital.”
          “Fine, thanks.”

          I rather prefer some of the Asian languages with more practical greetings that require a simple affirmative or negative answer. For example, in several East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures, the common greeting can be translated literally as “Have you had your rice yet?” That is a very subjective question that should be easy to answer honestly: yes or no.

          Granted, some people really are doing well, not just in spite of the bad things or difficult people around them, but because of the good things that surround them. I suppose some of us really are doing fine, but I doubt if most of us really feel all that fine.

          Instead of throwing around careless greetings and responses, what if we all decided to take our greetings seriously and showed a real interest in the people we meet and greet every day? What difference could such a small gesture make in your workplace? Then, after a brief word of encouragement, perhaps they could honestly say, "I feel fine, now."

© Copyright Dr. Larry N. Gay, August 2014.  “Lessons on Leadership and Followership”

July 28, 2014

You Really Can Choose (Part 2)

“…and again I say, ‘Rejoice!’” (Apostle Paul, Letter to the Philippians 4:4)

I mentioned earlier how I have tried to teach my grandchildren about choosing to be happy. My oldest grandson, Andrew, became interested in Tae Kwon Do from about age six. I can see how the discipline of the sport has helped to build character, self-control and growth toward healthy self-confidence among other good things.

At age eight Andrew has earned his red belt and has been making progress toward completing the requirements for his black belt. We have enjoyed attending some of the testing ceremonies as he would advance to a new belt. It has been amazing to see this seven or eight year old kid as he completed the complex forms and movements and then would break through the reusable plastic boards that can be as tough as wood, but save the expense and environmental impact of wasting so many trees. (Not to mention the wonderful avoidance of having to dig splinters from the kids’ hands and feet!)

          Recently, we accompanied my oldest son, Andrew’s dad, and his family to New Orleans for his graduation from seminary where he was receiving his master’s degree. On the morning of the day before graduation, we decided to enjoy walking along the streets of the French Quarter. Andrew, however, was having a particularly difficult day and needed an attitude check. He was making life pretty miserable for everyone. Andrew and I walked together on the narrow sidewalk, ahead of the group as we neared the restaurant where we planned to have lunch. I place my hand on his shoulder and leaned down to say. “You’re having a pretty bad day already, aren’t you?”


“Well, I just want you know that I’m going to find a way to break through that bad attitude. I’m going to break right through it, like you break through one of your Tae Kwon Do boards,” I boasted.

“Well,” he responded, “Don’t expect to get a new belt today.”


I immediately lost all control and laughed out loud. “That was an absolutely great comeback, Andrew!” I said. “I don’t think I could have thought of a better response to that and certainly not that fast. After all,” I continued, “it is not a matter of me fixing your bad attitude. It is a matter of YOU deciding how YOU will respond—even when the world is not operating 100% the way YOU think it ought to go.” 


In a few minutes we were seated in the restaurant, and he was doing better after getting some good food in his belly and cooling off in the air conditioned dining room. I pulled him aside and asked how he felt.

“Almost there,” was his reply as he smiled sheepishly.

I asked if I could share our conversation with the rest of the family.

“Not yet,” he said, but then later he said it would be ok if he were not present. So I do have permission to write this record. I did not exactly break through his bad attitude that morning, but at least I got a good story from it!



Hint to the Leader:

Happy workers are always more productive. You can’t fix other individuals’ bad attitude, but you can do something about your own. You can set the pace for others by showing up every day with a determination to kindle a fire of joy, regardless of the circumstances. Don’t fake it. Find things to laugh about… even if it is at your own expense.


Hint to the Follower:

Even when the world is not operating 100% in agreement with how you think it ought to be, you still have a choice. You can choose to have a good attitude in spite of it all.


Having trouble finding something to rejoice about? The Apostle Paul reported, “Five times I received… the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure… At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.”  (2 Corinthians 11:23-33)  In spite of all that, this same person wrote to his friends in Philippi from prison while in chains, “REJOICE! ...and again, I say, REJOICE!”  You really do have a choice!


For more hints, write me at


 © Copyright Dr. Larry Gay, July 2014

"Lessons on Leadership and Followership"


July 14, 2014

You Really Can Choose

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24 (ESV)

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their mind to be.” (Abraham Lincoln)

     When my oldest grandson was not quite two years old I would say, “Andrew, we can chose to be…” and he would respond by throwing his hands up in the air and shouting, “HAPPY!”

     “That’s right,” I would continue. “We can choose to be happy. So what do you choose to be today?”  Again, he would shout, “HAPPY!” and we would laugh and laugh.

     My wife and others were convinced it was a purely Pavlovian response, but I never doubted that he knew exactly what he was saying. In fact, the first time he did it I promise I did not prompt him.
     One day when he was not quite two, I was riding in the backseat with him as he was at near tantrum level and needed a serious attitude check. His mother was driving the car and he was about to drive her to distraction. I leaned over next to him and, as was our custom, I said, “Now Andrew, we can choose to be…?” to which he immediately responded, “Not today, Papaw. Not today.”

     I could not just let it end there. So I pursued, “I guess that means you choose to be unhappy, right?”


     “Well, if you choose to be unhappy, that must be what you want to be. So if being unhappy is what makes you happy, then go right ahead and be unhappy! Does that make you happy? That’s fine with me as long as it makes you happy.” 

     It took about 15 seconds for him to ponder that idea before he began to break out in a reluctant grin that spread to full-blown laughter as we got silly with the idea of getting happy by choosing to be unhappy.

     I admit that I am not always pleased with the way others act. The world does not always operate in compete accordance with my idea of perfection—the world according to me. I cannot control all the circumstances and events that come into my life. I can, however, control my response to what happens around me or to me. It is more than a conditioned or controlled reaction. It is a conscious decision to be in control of my emotional and mental health. I refuse to let someone else have that power over me.  

     (By the way, his younger sister and brother both gave the same response by the time they were two as well.)

 Hint to the Leader: You really can set the mood for your family, team, department or the whole organization by choosing to show a positive attitude.

Hint to the Follower: You might not be able to control your initial reaction to a negative circumstance, but you can choose how you will respond. Even if you feel powerless in the organizational structure where you live and work, you have the power of influence. By choosing a positive attitude, you can start a chain reaction of joy that is contagious and will influence an unlimited number of people.  

© Copyright Dr. Larry Gay, July 2014
"Lessons on Leadership and Followership"

December 16, 2013

Don't Fixate on ONE Solution

Walking on the beach I noticed a dedicated, hard-working egret who knew what he wanted and thought he knew how to get it.
Fish in a bucket should be easy pickings, right?  The only problem was how to get them out of the bucket, because the fisherman had placed a weighted cover there... precisely to keep the egrets from eating his bait fish!
Throughout the morning other egrets smelled the fish in the bucket and came to check it out, but they quickly determined that there was a better way to get fish in the nearby surf. Not this guy, though. He was so fixated on this one solution to his hunger that he ignored the obvious solution that everyone else found. He was so convinced that this was an easier and better way, that he wasted the entire morning while all the other egrets got their fill of small fish in the surf. In fact, the fisherman told me this particular egret did the same thing every morning! Occasionally the fisherman would empty his bucket when he was through fishing, but he would never allow this particular egret to have any of the fish, because he was so fixated on this method of feeding that the fisherman knew he would never catch his own fish again if ever allowed to eat from the bucket. Even so, the egret still was determined that this was easier than catching fish in the water, so day after day he keeps dreaming of how to open the bucket and get at all those yummy fish that are just waiting to be eaten.

He reminded me of that simple definition of insanity--continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results.


Hint to the Leader: Don't get so fixated on ONE solution to the problem. There might be another way. Be willing to think a new thought.

Hint to the Follower:  Don't take rejection of your suggestion of a solution as rejection of the problem you are seeing. The resources to open the bucket might be beyond your reach. When you hit a wall of limitations, turn around and look at the ocean of other ideas that might also work, be willing to follow the example of others who are already getting results.
© Copyright Dr. Larry Gay, December 2013
"Lessons on Leadership and Followership"

April 10, 2011

Don't Be a Bonsai Leader

So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.”
(Paul’s Letter to the Romans 14:19, HCSB)

I once saw a demonstration of how to grow a bonsai tree. I was horrified to watch the professional horticulturist brutally hack away at a tree branch as he told how the tree, if left to its own nature, would grow to an unpredictable shape, large and reproductive. The goal of bonsai gardening, he explained, is to force the tree to grow small and remain small in a shape that is pleasing to the gardener and that will fit into the pot where the tree is intended to live. Bonsai trees do not reproduce. Later, I came across a website for “Bonsai Leadership” and I thought, “this must be a joke!” When I think of a “bonsai leader” I can only imagine someone who hacks away at people to force them into a cookie-cutter mold that can be controlled and micro-managed. Why would anyone want to be a bonsai leader?  (I honestly do not intend to offend anyone who might be associated with that group or with bonsai gardening.)

Wikipedia describes bonsai:
“Bonsai can be created from nearly any… tree or shrub species… its growth is restricted by the pot environment. Several times a year, the bonsai is shaped to limit growth… and meet the artist's detailed design…. Bonsai does not require genetically dwarfed trees, but rather depends on growing small trees from regular stock and seeds. Bonsai uses cultivation techniques like pruning, root reduction, potting, defoliation, and grafting to produce small trees that mimic the shape and style of mature, full-sized trees.”

Bonsai leaders achieve conformity, uniformity and deformity
While bonsai leadership might achieve conformity and uniformity, its ultimate result is controlled deformity. The bonsai tree was not originally intended by its creator to be small and sterile. By forcing the plant to grow small, it becomes a deformed imitation of its original intended purpose. In the same way, individuals respond to bonsai leadership by becoming small imitations of what they were meant to be.  By hacking away at any attempts to grow outside the box, the bonsai leader trains individuals, like a bonsai tree, to be ornamental instead of allowing them to grow to their maximum potential and multiplying their contribution to the organization’s purpose. “My way or the highway” is often the theme of such a leader.

Leader-builders achieve diversity, variety and purpose
The best leaders are not threatened by the leadership potential in the people they lead. To the contrary, they actually work at building up others and multiplying their own effectiveness as they celebrate the diverse gifts and abilities of others. The best leaders recognize that it is precisely this diversity that contributes to the organization fulfilling its purpose and reaching its objectives. While uniformity might be easier to control, it is variety that builds strength in the team.

Hint to the Leader
Consider whether your leadership style is characterized by building up or tearing down. You could be doing a bonsai on your workers without realizing it. What can you do to encourage the people you lead to grow to their potential and use their unique gifts, talents and experience to contribute positively to the company’s goals and objectives?

Hint to the Follower
If you feel like you are the bonsai, hang in there! Never forget that your were meant to grow and be productive. Start looking for ways to reproduce and multiply yourself by mentoring others. Learn from the mistakes of others. Determine now that you will not be a bonsai leader.

[See also “Stress and Job Dissatisfaction”, April 4, 2010]

© Copyright Dr. Larry Gay, April 2011
"Lessons on Leadership and Followership"

April 3, 2011

Spring Cleaning for Business

            Spring cleaning is a time to clean out and throw away any old stuff that is no longer useful to make room for new stuff. Your business or organization needs a regular “spring cleaning.”  Every department should look for things not to do. Ask yourselves, “What are we currently doing that we should stop doing?”  You cannot keep adding new processes, procedures, or practices and also keep the status quo of old processes, procedures and practices going at their same rate… UNLESS, of course, you also add new personnel along with the new products or services you want to offer. Most managers will say, “This is all we have to work with. Make it work.”

Make the best use of what you have
            I love a scene from the movie Apollo 13.  The crew is in a critical situation with a damaged spacecraft trying to return to earth and needs to connect the air purification system from the Lunar Landing Module to the Command Module. The problem is, the ventilation hardware of the two systems does not match up. [Several technicians come onto a conference room at ground control and dump boxes containing the same equipment and tools that the astronauts have with them onto a table.] The technician then says to the engineering team, “OK, Listen up folks! We've got to find a way to make this [square CSM LiOH canister] fit into the hole for this [round LEM canister]  ... using nothing but that. Now let’s get to work!” 
            Somehow, they figured out a way to make it work using only what the crew had on board and they brought the crew safely back to earth.

Aim for higher performance
            The leadership team was sitting around the table looking at our job responsibilities and wondering how we could get to the next level of leadership and productivity. At one point, I asked the team, “What is your dream job?” As we went around the room, each team member affirmed that he had the best job in the region. “Alright,” I said. “But surely each of you has something in your list of responsibilities that you would rather not have to do—something that drags you down or you dread having to do, but is necessary because of the job. How could your job be even better?”

            One teammate said, “Yeah. I absolutely hate having to write new job requests and job descriptions. I hate having to write all this stuff in the second person to someone I have never met and in such a way as to make the job appealing and with good grammar and good form.”

            Immediately, another teammate said, “Really? Oh, I just love doing that!”

            To which the first guy said, “Well, here then. You can have ‘em!” He reached down and grabbed a stack of requests that he flopped on the table in front of his teammate.

            His teammate responded, “Great! Now I won’t have to spend nearly as much time rewriting and correcting your requests. Just tell me what you want and I’ll write the request from scratch.” 

            Both of them said something like, “Oh, what a relief it is!” That afternoon we shifted a few more responsibilities around the room until everyone felt we had gotten to our maximum potential, given the tasks we had to perform as a team. That day we began to be a high performance team.

Look for things not to do
            Consider the stated values of the organization. What do we say is most important to us? Is there anything we currently do that might actually be contrary to these values? Next, look at all the processes, procedures, policies and practices in every department to see how these effectively contribute to the company’s objectives and support the company’s values. Some of these might have served a very good purpose in the past, but have now outlasted their benefit.  Evaluate your products and consider if any of these has become less than productive. An unproductive product is not just oxymoronic—it is a drain on valuable resources that could be applied to more productive ones.

Consider the best use of personnel
            After completing your spring cleaning of products, processes, procedures, policies and practices, now consider the personnel. Ask yourself, “Do we have the right people in the right places doing the right things?” The “right things” includes what is right to contribute to the company’s success and it also includes what this individual is best suited to do. Often you will have exactly the right combination of people working together, but at less than their maximum effectiveness because some of them are not doing the right jobs to maximize their contribution. So what if their job description says they ought to be doing _____? Yeah, so what?! Don’t let a job description handcuff you and the organization and keep you from reaching your maximum productivity. Job descriptions are merely guidelines on paper and paper can be wadded up and recycled. SO WHAT  if one person in a job has a different job description from another person in a similar role? SO WHAT! Your goal is not to serve a job description. Your goal is to be successful. Eliminate barriers and facilitate people being all they are meant to be. The result will be increased productivity.

Think outside the box
            Spring cleaning also means rearranging, moving things around and getting a new look. Every time a team member leaves or a new team member comes on board, you need to consider if some responsibilities need to shift around the team. THEN, come back and write appropriate job descriptions that actually describe what the individual is supposed to be doing. Think outside the box. Again, don’t let antiquated job descriptions force your personnel into boxes of lower productivity.

Hint to the Leader
            So… are you ready to do some spring cleaning?

Hint to the Follower
            Don’t be afraid of change. Spring cleaning can be hard work, but it has the potential of actually making things better.

© Copyright Dr. Larry Gay, April 2011
"Lessons on Leadership and Followership"

March 27, 2011

Three New "R's" for Success

This past week I caught a portion of a radio interview with Arthur Alexander, an economist at Georgetown University, who stated that Japan will recover quickly from the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami. The reason, he said, is because Japan has three things that are built into advanced modern economies: Redundancy, Resilience, and Robustness.  As Susan and I rode down the highway, we reflected on how important these three R’s are for success in any organization.

We usually think of a redundancy as something that is superfluous or unnecessary. In fact, the first definition in supports that concept: “superfluous repetition or overlapping.” Look farther down, however, and see another meaning: “the provision of additional or duplicate systems, equipment, etc., that function in case an operating part or system fails, as in a spacecraft.” Redundancy, in this light, is preparing for an emergency to ensure the seamless continuation of production even if essential parts or players are unexpectedly removed.

Many businesses do themselves a huge disfavor by trying to avoid redundancies in an effort to reduce operating costs and increase profit margins. Whenever a major merger takes place, for example, redundant jobs are eliminated in an effort to streamline personnel costs. In difficult economic times, tenured workers (who, admittedly, usually have higher salaries and benefits) are offered early retirement incentives without taking into consideration the brain trust of experience they represent and without making sure someone else knows everything they knew before they leave. When the only person who knows how to do the job is suddenly unavailable, momentum is lost or production in that area comes to a screeching halt until the person returns or someone new learns to do the job.

Redundancy in your business or organization is not just a matter of having two people who do the same job. It is more a matter of contingency preparation. Redundancy might include such things as mentoring and preparing young leaders for succession. It could also be something as simple as keeping good backups of your essential files and correspondence. Redundancy, as Dr. Alexander pointed out, can be a good thing.

Again, comes to our aid in defining resilience:
1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

The opposite of resilience is resistance or rigidity. When managers take an attitude of “ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die,” they usually lead people on  a destructive path of resistance or resignation. (These are two R’s you probably would want to avoid!)

Resilience is the ability to deal with unexpected change and adapt to the new reality.  You build resilience by introducing change in increments and developing an ethos of embracing change for the better. In resilient organizations, frontline workers actually will introduce needed change.

Robustness is associated with good health., what do you say? “Strong and healthy; hardy; vigorous.

A robust organization will not suffer from a prolonged depressed morale. Even robust organizations will have setbacks when crises hit. The difference is, a robust organization will have built the resilience needed to recover and bounce back quickly. A sick organization, on the other hand, will have built up more resistance and rigidity that ultimately leads to another “R”: Rigor mortis.

To have a healthy and hardy organization, you need healthy and hardy personnel. Robustness is not only related to physical well-being. It also assumes emotional, spiritual, and psychological health. To be robust, the organization needs to build an ethos of its members caring for each other. That means coworkers looking out for each other. It also means supervisors taking a genuine interest in the welfare of their personnel. People throughout a robust organization will demonstrate their confidence that they are regarded as more than just expendable resources.

Hint to the Leader
Regardless of your position, you can help develop redundancy, resilience and robustness in the people who look to you for leadership. What can you do right now to start building the three R’s into your organization?

Hint to the Follower
The difference between building resistance or resilience starts with a personal decision. Decide right now to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Look for ways to make things better and find an appropriate way to share your thoughts with others.  

© Copyright Dr. Larry Gay, March 2011
"Lessons on Leadership and Followership"

February 2, 2011

How do you spell "Success?"

"I want that guy out of here in 60 days!" The angry CEO made it clear he did not like the lower level manager, not necessarily because of poor job performance, he simply did not like the guy.
A major part of the problem, however, was the fact that from the beginning there was no standard of performance or clear expectation of how the manager would do his job. So he had rocked along for several months doing what he thought was a pretty good job. Then, "Wham!" Out of the blue he was blindsided with the fact that he had not been meeting the CE0's expectations and there was no opportunity to rectify the problem.
Sometimes even following a clearly written job description is not enough to guarantee successful job performance. Job descriptions often describe typical tasks that are to be performed while failing to define the most important item of all, which is how will success be defined?
Remember the old antacid commercial: "How do you spell relief?" Smiling men and women declared, "I spell relief R-O-L-A-I-D-S." They knew exactly what to do to get the desired outcome of relief from the pain of heartburn.
So how do you spell SUCCESS? A team can get along fabulously well, with no conflicts, everyone respecting each other and enjoying working together while they are effectively accomplishing absolutely NOTHING for the company. They might rate themselves an A+ team in spite of the fact that they have zero tangible results. They can even come up with a score card rating themselves on their performance while measuring the wrong things.
To head off this train wreck before it leaves the track, be sure the train is on the right track! Make sure you both spell SUCCESS the same way!

Hint to both the Leader and the Follower:
Make sure the job description not only includes tasks to be completed, but also the main objective to be accomplished through this position.
Make sure you both know how you will measure success and agree on how and when success will be evaluated.

Hint to the Leader:
Clarify what steps will be taken if success is not acheived. The first corrrective action should be to help the follower improve performance, increase their effectiveness and contribute more positively to the company's objectives. Don't just fire under-performers without first investing in them to help them become peak-performers.

Hint to the Follower:
Ask how you are doing and if you are making a positive contribution to the company's objectives. If you have not received a performance review in over a year, ask for one. Let your boss know you want honest feedback so you can give the job your best effort. Show that you care for the company and want to help it be successful. To do that, you need to know how to spell SUCCESS.

(c) 2011 Dr. LarryN. Gay
     "Lessons on Leadership and Follwership"

December 6, 2010

Do what is right because it is right

How often do you vote for someone who has a reputation for being corrupt?  We try to elect people who we think will be men and women of integrity. Then we are often disappointed when our elected officials do not behave as we had expected. Politicians have no problem making promises about how they intend to make changes if they are elected to office. In fact, they probably really do believe they will behave differently than their predecessors when they come into office. All too often, however, something happens when they get to Washington, the state capital, or City Hall. They discover that the view from inside the office is not the same as it was from outside and, instead of changing things for the better, they seem to change.

But do they really change, or are they just acting like the person they really are?

The 2010 mid-term elections in the USA saw a large number of turnovers in national, state and local elections. Many of the elected officials promised to clean up, make reforms or otherwise change things for the better. While that all sounds very good, I am waiting to see if a king-sized HOWEVER spoils their good intentions. I know some of them will do good things, but they could do so much more if they would be true to values on which they campaigned.

In the First and Second Books of Kings and the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah and Israel, history records how every few generations a king would come to the throne with very good intentions. He would make decrees and reestablish the order of law according to the principles and promises God had made to his ancestors. In a few cases, it looked as if a man of integrity had come to the throne. Sadly, there would always be a big “HOWEVER” following all the accomplishments of these kings who set out to be faithful and trustworthy leaders.

What happened? Why do people who show such promise fail to follow through to the end? Because they reach the limits of their integrity. That’s when you can see the person’s true character. Even the great king Solomon failed the integrity test. He made some astute political allies by marrying many foreign wives, but did so in direct violation of clear restrictions God had established. Ultimately, he lost the majority of his kingdom for his descendants because of his lack of integrity and failure to be true to the values he originally espoused.  (See 1 Kings 11)

Leaders show their true colors when they come into position and power.  Integrity is not something that can be ordered, regulated, regimented or legislated. It also is not something you can switch on or off. Either you have it, or you don’t. 

Hint to the Leader:

Do what is right because it is right. Stand by your convictions, regardless of the political outcome. Someone is always watching and following your example.

Hint to the Follower:
Don’t fall into the trap of trying to climb the political ladder by compromising your values. Some hills are worth dying on. Some are not. Learn the difference.

© Copyright 2010, Dr. Larry N. Gay
“Lessons on Leadership and Followership”

(You can see some of the “Howevers” from the Kings in:
1 Kings 3:2-3; 1 Kings 11:1-6; 1 Kings 22:41-43; 2 Kings 10:28-29; 2 Kings 12:1-3; 2 Kings 14:1-4; 2 Kings 15:1-4; 2 Kings 15:32-35)