It’s amazing how much an organization can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit for progress

Many organizations are hampered by unhealthy attitudes among team members, including: territorialism (defending one’s turf), the silo effect (lack of communication and involvement among different divisions), posturing and manipulation, lack of shared knowledge (reluctance to share best practices), and competition among team members (competition between an organization and other similar organizations is healthy, but competition within an organization is undesirable).

Most of these roadblocks can be eliminated by one major concept: when all employees work together toward a common goal, and no one cares who gets credit for progress, the workplace-environment becomes more healthy.

There are many reasons why this attitude is so beneficial.

 Most progress is made by teams, not individuals.

In their must-read book, The Knowledge Illusion, Sloman and Fernbach discuss the fact that most major accomplishments are the work of teams of people, not individuals. They give the example of the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012. It was a monumental event; it helped physicists understand the most fundamental theory of how the physical world works. In 2013 Peter Higgs and Francois Englert won the Nobel Prize in physics for their contributions to the effort. But the truth is, the Higgs boson would never have been discovered without the efforts of thousands of physicists, engineers, and students from almost forty countries. Nearly 3,000 key physics papers contributed to the discovery, and the people who funded, built, and ran the $6.4 billion CERN supercollider in which the observations were made obviously played an indispensable part.

In an organization, major progress is made by teams of people so credit should be widely distributed.

Employees should be primarily focused on the success of the organization, not personal advancement or aggrandizement.

As an employee, my overriding goal should be to contribute to the success of the organization. I am a servant to the organization; I should not intentionally use my position for personal gain. If the organization succeeds, I should be happy, even if my contribution is not acknowledged. 

When you contribute to the success of a project, you gain invaluable experience that makes you a better person.

Throughout our lives and careers, we should continually develop personal core competencies that will accumulate and shape us into highly competent and productive people. These skills are best developed in real-life “boots on the ground” experiences, often provided by the organizations you serve. These training opportunities are invaluable. So even when your effort is not acknowledged, you’re gaining indispensable assets that make you a better person.

When you contribute to the success of a project, you will feel satisfied and contented with your good work. 

When you work hard and produce results, you can enjoy a sense of accomplishment and contentment. You’ll also enjoy quite peace and satisfaction that comes from doing a good job. The apostle Paul taught, “Do your work as unto the Lord.”

More will be accomplished if everyone has this attitude.

If I am inordinately focused on whether or not I will be properly acknowledged for my work, I may slow down my pace of work, withhold helpful input, or even quit working on a project. If this attitude is widespread among team members it will inhibit progress, but if it’s not a factor, the team can reach its full potential.

This attitude is an expression of a powerful truth: prefer others.

The apostle Paul taught, “Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead” (Philippians 2:4, The Message). This verse espouses one of the deepest principles of Christ-like living: we are to prefer others and help them get ahead. We should rejoice in another person’s success, even if it means the diminution of our own.  

In most cases, individuals who contribute to the success of an organization will eventually be recognized. 

In the long run, if you continually contribute to the well-being of your organization, you will probably be recognized. Not always, but usually. 

[Note to leaders. In this essay, I’m not suggesting that you ignore the accomplishments of individuals. You should acknowledge and reward individuals who excel. This essay is a message to team members who do not receive the accolades they deserve. Consider: Are there unsung heroes in your organization that you have failed to recognize?]

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Which is more reliable, intuition or deliberation?

In his celebrated book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman distinguishes between two types of thinking; he calls them System 1 and System 2 thinking. System 1 thinking engages our intuition. System 2 thinking requires deliberation and reflection.

Our intuition gives a fast response to stimuli; deliberation and reflection take more time and effort. Intuition can save us time and effort—when ordering from the menu at a seafood restaurant, we may intuit that the restaurant’s seafood is better than its red meat—and is particularly helpful when a quick decision is needed and the stakes are not high (pun intended). At other times, deliberation is best.  

For instance, answer these two riddles:

  1. A bat and a ball costs $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
  2. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

If we rely on our intuition, our answer to the first riddle will probably be: The ball cost 10 cents. And our answer to the second riddle will be: It will take 24 days for the patch to cover half of the lake. Both answers are wrong. Before responding with the seemingly apparent answers, a slower, more methodical approach would more likely yield the correct answers-5 cents and 47 days. 

Both systems are useful, so we need to discern when to use each one. If we analyzed every issue and decision we face in life (System 2 thinking), our lives would grind to a halt. But if we solely rely on System 1 thinking, we’ll often be misled. 

Consider the following scenarios. Which ones would benefit from each type of thinking?

  • You’re hiring a new team member. 
  • You’re considering a new job.
  • You’re choosing a paint color for your bathroom.
  • Your ordering dinner at a restaurant.

Sometimes, we may realize that an issue is very important (for instance, choosing a spouse) so we do slow down the decision-making process, but we still don’t engage in System 2 thinking—we just continue to marinate in our intuition, which tends to strengthen our confidence in it. Instead, we should intentionally seek a more deliberate understanding of the issue. 

One of the best ways to safeguard against being misled by our intuition is to have robust dialogue with other people regarding important issues, because intuition is an individualistic response and groups are uniquely qualified to engage in deliberate thinking (unless the group suffers from groupthink). 

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Be kind, be honest, work hard

Five years ago my life changed with the birth of my first grand-baby—Benjamin. I now embrace the unassailable truth that grandchildren are God’s reward for not having killed your own. This picture was taken at my vineyard; Benjamin and I had just enjoyed a day together, playing and working and we were musing over the result.


Here’s a picture of a necklace that I had when I was a child. I wore it periodically during the first 18 years of my life. I can’t remember where it came from or if it had any special meaning. The necklace is made from three colored pieces of acrylic—green, orange, and white—cut in the shape of a scalene triangle. 

I have shown it to Benjamin and told him it will become his when he turns ten. Until then, I let him wear it occasionally and I’m going to use the necklace to teach him three important life lessons.

I have assigned each color a meaning: green represents be kind, orange means be honest, and white is a reminder to work hard. In the next five years he and I will talk a lot about these three virtues; hopefully they will become a permanent part of his life.

Be kind

Benjamin, be kind to everyone, all of the time. Don’t pick and choose who you will be kind to, or when. Be kind to everyone, especially those who may feel marginalized or out of place. And be kind all of the time, because it’s the right thing to do and everyone needs a kind word or deed. 

Being kind can take on many forms, most of them pleasant, but sometimes being kind means telling someone the truth, even though the truth may temporarily cause pain, or saying “no” to someone who wants to hear a “yes.”  

Be honest

B, always tell the truth. Always. It’s the right thing to do and honesty is a gift that we can give to others. Once people realize that you are always honest, they will have confidence in you. Honesty also involves being authentic; be who you are, not what other people want you to be. 

Work hard

Benjamin, this suggestion may seem odd and out of place, but it’s important to me and I hope it will be to you. Growing up, my father never worked and that created hardship and embarrassment for our family. So a good work ethic has always been a priority to me. Work hard and work smart. Some people work primarily with their hands, others work with their minds. Both are necessary and legitimate. I hope you’ll learn some type of manual labor because it will teach you good lessons. If you’re a knowledge worker, stay fresh; be a lifelong learner. Balance hard work with times of relaxation and reflection. 

There are many benefits derived from work: it provides a social network, helps organize your life, gives you purpose, keeps your talents and skills sharp and in use, and it will help sustain your confidence. 

Someday, give this necklace to your child or grandchild and compose your own meanings for the three colors.  

Question: What three virtues do you want to pass on to the next generation? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Your memories shape who you are

Plus - the best magazine article I read this week

In his extraordinary book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, psychologist Daniel Kahneman teaches that we have two mental operating systems; there are two expressions of self: the experiencing self and the remembering self. 

He describes the experiencing self as an example of the fast, intuitive, unconscious mode of thinking that operates in the present moment, focusing on the quality of our experience in the present. The remembering self is the slow, rational, conscious mode of thinking that tells the story of our experience and how we think about our experience. The experiencing self is the “you” in the moment who lives through the event. The remembering self is the “you” who writes the history. Our short- and long-term sense of well-being is influenced by both.

Our experiencing self is shaped by what’s happening to us in the present (with a little influence from the most recent past and a projection into the near future). As I write this essay, I’m relaxed, sitting in a quiet library early in the morning, having slept well last night. I’m drinking a cup of coffee. In several hours I’ll visit Malaga, a delightful Spanish town on the Mediterranean. All bills are paid, family members are okay, May and I are fine. My experiencing self is happy. 

Our remembering self is composed of memories of the past that we have chosen to remember and have allowed them to shape and influence our lives. I’m 66 years old so I have tens of thousands of memories to select from. Which ones will I choose to focus on? Which ones will find purchase in my life and which ones will fade away? 

For instance, my family of origin had some problems. If I allowed myself to linger on those memories, they would negatively impact my present life. But also during those growing-up years, my church had a wonderful and consistent influence on me—it was everything a loving community should be and it provided wonderful opportunities. At church I felt affirmed, encouraged, accepted, welcomed, and loved. When I reflect on my first 17 years of life, I choose to reminisce on the positive experiences. 

Please listen to this TED Talk by Kahneman. 

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

This article, by Arthur Brooks, is a good read, particularly for those who are 50+ years old. Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think – Here’s how to make the most of it. [The Atlantic, July 2019]

Followers: leaders “see” things other people don’t see, so sometimes you must simply trust your leader and follow

Also...I highly recommend Malcolm Gladwell's podcast (see below)

A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others do. —LeRoy Eims

When Disney World first opened, Mrs. Walt Disney was asked to speak at the grand opening because her husband, Walt, had recently died. She was introduced by a man who said, “Mrs. Disney, I just wish Walt could have seen this.” She stood up and said, “He did,” and sat down.

Leaders “see” the future. Just as Walt Disney “saw” Disney World in his mind, long before it was actually built, leaders have a picture in their minds about what their organization can look like in the future, and, as Warren Bennis says, they are willing to “disturb the present in the service of a better future.”

In this post I want to focus on how this affects followers.

Recently, my daughter, Lauren, started a recycling company called Turn. The catchphrase is farm to table to farm. Part of the business is recycling food scraps and turning them into compost. Families are given a 5-gallon bucket to put their scraps in and Turn picks up the buckets weekly. Then they must be cleaned, which is a yucky job. 

One day, while I was helping clean buckets, I had a vision for a large rack-system that would make cleaning the buckets more efficient. I bought the materials at Home Depot, recruited a helper, and started building. I had a clear picture in my mind of what the structure would look like so I didn’t take the time to draw a diagram. I had difficulty explaining to my helper what it would look like and how it would work. My helper was constantly pushing back on my directives because he couldn’t “see” what I saw. I finally said, “Just do what I ask you to do; I see something you don’t see.” When we finished the project my helper said, “Okay, now I see what you saw.”

It’s a simple, mundane example, but hopefully it illustrates my point: leaders often see things that other people don’t see. So followers often need to just follow.

Let me add balance to this thought. I am not suggesting 

  • that followers adopt mindless obedience to everything a leader dictates. It’s fine for followers to question the leader’s directions and at times, to push back. 
  • that a leader should intentionally keep followers uninformed. Indeed, part of a leader’s job is to thoroughly communicate vision to her constituency.
  • that a leader should craft vision unilaterally. It’s always best to craft vision collaboratively; all of us are smarter than one of us.

I’m simply saying…sometimes a leader sees things that others don’t see. 

Bill Gates saw a computer on every desk; Sam Walton saw a chain of discount retail stores; Steve Jobs saw a handheld device that would function as a phone and a link to the world; President Kennedy visualized an American going to the moon and returning; President Eisenhower saw an interstate highway system, much like the German autobahn that he saw during the war; the apostle Paul saw the church, a spiritual community of believers.  

All these leaders saw something that others did not. We’re glad they did.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers) offers a free podcast that is outstanding. Revisionist History is Gladwell’s journey through the overlooked and the misunderstood. Every episode re-examines something from the past—an event, a person, an idea, even a song—and asks whether we got it right the first time. Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance. One of my favorites (and a good example of what his podcasts are like) is season one, episode 8, titled Blame Game.

Learning from people’s obsessions

As I write this blog, Mary and I are crossing the Atlantic on our way to the Iberian Peninsula. It takes seven days at sea to make it across the pond. We’ve been together 24/7 in a 189 sq. ft. cabin. We’re doing great. But the constant closeness has made we wonder about the pros and cons of obsessive behaviors. 

Mary is obsessed with neatness and cleanliness. The highlight of her day has been when the cabin steward cleans our cabin (twice daily). She doesn’t want me in the room for several hours after it gets cleaned. She enjoys it that much.

I’m obsessed with time management, particularly being punctual. If I had my druthers, we would live our lives within sight of a large clock that organizes our every minute and beeps when we’re late or wasting time. 

Obviously, being neat and clean and being a good steward of time are virtues. Just consider their opposites: being sloppy, unclean, tardy, and wasteful of time.

But there’s a point at which obsessive tendencies become tedious, even unnecessary, inordinate, and bothersome. 

Several days ago we needed to leave our cabin at 6:50 p.m. to be on time for a 7:00 dinner. We missed the deadline and I got upset. I didn’t say anything or do anything that I later had to apologize for, but my  displeasure was apparent. That was unnecessary. Being late to a dinner is not equal to killing someone with a dull knife. I needed to relax and focus on the larger context.

Several days ago Mary challenged me because, while I had put my socks in the closet on the floor, I did not put my socks on top of the appropriate pair of shoes. Oh my. I think she needed to relax and focus on a larger context.

Through the years, our individual strengths have revealed weaknesses in each other. I am not the neatest person on the planet and Mary is prone to disregard her watch. But through the years, our weakness have been tempered by each other’s obsessions. Mary is now more punctual than she’s ever been, and I am more neat (sort of).

The moral of this essay is: be aware of your obsessions (they can be inherently good or bad) and don’t unduly inflict them on other people. And, instead of pushing back on other people’s obsessions, learn from them, and when appropriate, acquiesce to them. 

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Don’t assume that all people have leadership skills

I’ve been a student of leadership for forty years. In 1980 I defended my doctoral dissertation on strategic planning and I’ve continued to study the topic of leadership since then.

One fallacy I constantly see is the assumption that someone can lead well even though he or she has never had any training or experience in leadership.

This approach doesn’t work in other professions: to become a doctor, accountant, or pilot, one must study for years; degrees and certifications must be earned. Sadly, there is no such criteria for leadership. Anyone can call herself a CEO, manager, entrepreneur, or leader and not get arrested for practicing without a license. 

Contrary to popular sentiment, leaders are not “born”; leaders are “made.” There is no “leadership gene” that some people are fortunate to have been born with and others are lacking. Just as it takes years of training to become a commercial pilot, it takes focused training to become a good leader.

Said differently, an effective leader must develop certain skills. For instance, a leader is responsible for formulating the mission, vision, goals, and plans for her organization. But without training, most people don’t even know what these elements are, how they differ, and how they are related. Leaders are also responsible for selecting quality team members (it could be argued that this is the leader’s most important task), but many people who serve in a leadership position have had no training in this area.

We must not even assume that a professional degree qualifies someone to lead in his field. For instance, just because a physician is good at his job doesn’t mean he can lead well in his field. Nor should we assume that because an individual has achieved a professional degree or certification (physician, accountant) in one particular field, that he will lead well in other fields. For instance, the post-nominal M.D. doesn’t automatically qualify someone to be a leader in his church, mosque, or synagogue. Knowing how to read x-rays doesn’t prepare one to make important organizational decisions. Similarly, a degree in theology (learning ancient languages, apologetics, preaching, systematic theology) does not equip one to lead well—leadership requires a separate skill set. 

Many non-profit organizations put people into leadership positions simply because they embrace the organization’s core values or because they have achieved professional status in another field, or both. These qualifications may be necessary but they are not sufficient. To lead well one must possess leadership skills.

Here’s a list of 12 important leadership skills.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Mission, vision, and goals—how they differ and why all three are important 

Every organization needs a mission, vision, and goals. There’s often confusion about these three terms—how they differ and what they mean. Here is a brief description of each. 

  • Mission defines why the organization exists. It seldom changes and is usually never completed. It answers the question, “Why do we exist?”
  • Vision gives the organization direction and defines its uniqueness (how it differs from other organizations with the same mission). It answers the question, “How will we fulfill our mission?” Vision is malleable and doable.
  • Goals describe action, are measurable, and have a short timeframe (one to five years). 

For instance: 

The mission of every hospital is the same—provide healthcare for patients.

But the vision of each hospital may be unique. 

  • Serve as a general, regional hospital.  
  • Specialize in cancer research.
  • Focus on the needs of children.    

Goals for a hospital might include:

  • Become a certified level 3 trauma center in four years.
  • Outsource our ER department in the next 12 months.
  • Remodel the common areas next year.

The mission of every church is usually a blend of the great commission and the great commandment—and this mission hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. 

  • Love God; love others.
  • Exalt God, edify the church, evangelize the lost.
  • Share the gospel of Christ in our city and around the world.

But the vision for each church may be unique.

  • Appeal to a young audience.
  • Establish a strong local church and then create satellite churches.
  • Emphasize local and international missions.  

Goals for a church might include:

  • Debt free in three years.
  • Start a Sr. Adult ministry this year.
  • Sponsor a new church every three years.

Mission gives your organization general direction by defining what business you’re in. Vision provides specific direction and even distinguishes your organization from other, similar organizations. Mission is abstract; vision is concrete. Mission is usually never accomplished; vision is. Goals are “near-sighted”—they describe action that will occur in 3-5 years; they are clear and easy to understand—not ambiguous or imprecise; they are measurable—success or failure will be obvious.

Here is a fictitious example of how these three planning elements might be expressed in an organization.

Organization—Hope for Americans

  • Mission—Assist individuals and families in America whose basic needs are not being met.
  • Vision—Bring relief to homeless families. (This would be one of several vision statements.)
  • Goal — In the next four years, build 100 affordable, green, storm-resistant homes for families living in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. (This would be one of several goals.)

Notice how the progression from mission to goals becomes increasingly more concrete, doable, and engaging.

Having a clear mission is necessary but not sufficient. You must also have viable vision. A vision statements are necessary but not sufficient. You must have doable goals.

Sometimes, organizations get bogged down in the vision-crafting stage. When this happens, skip vision-crafting and move directly to goal setting. Goals will get the organization active and engaged. Goal-setting helps identify current opportunities and immediate needs. Ask “what can we do right now to accomplish our mission?” and the goals you craft will immediately activate resources and give momentum to the organization. Eventually, these goals will help clarify vision. 

Often, when constituents cry out in frustration, “What is the vision of this organization?” they are actually longing for goals; they are wanting to know what the organization is going to do. 

Here’s a summary of how these elements relate to each other and fit into the life of an organization. To succeed, every organization needs to have a clear answer to these questions. 

  • Why do we exist? – Mission
  • How are we going to fulfill our mission? — Vision  
  • Who are we? – Culture
  • What are we going to do to accomplish our vision? – Goals
  • How are we going to accomplish each goal? – Plans 
  • Relative to each goal: When are we going to do it (dates needed here), who is going to do it (names needed here), and how will we know when we are successful (metrics that reveal failure or success). – Every goal should include these elements. 

Question: What are your thought about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.