LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 38–“Recognition is Good; Just Don’t Need It.”

Let me tell you about a local fellow.

Drew Brees is the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints football team. After a great season last year, the team got off to an 0-4 start in 2007, but since have come back to even their record at 7-7. If they win the next two games, they’ll end up at 9-7, only one game off last year’s record with a slim possibility they will make the playoffs.

Even so, Drew Brees is having the best year of his career. Football fans will appreciate these numbers. Brees has not thrown an interception in the last 121 passes. He is on a pace to break the NFL record for the most completions in a season (he has 378 passes and needs 41 in the next two games to pass Oakland’s Rich Gannon who had 418 completions in 2002). Brees has 25 touchdowns this year which means he will probably hold the Saints record in that department after this year.

But wait, it gets better. In the past 10 games–after the disastrous first 4 games–Brees has completed 71 percent of his passes. Last Sunday, against the Arizona Cardinals, certainly no pushover, he completed 26 of 30 passes, including the last 12 in a row. That is almost unheard of, and figures out to a completion rate of over 86 percent. Ask any football fan how impressive that is.

And yet, Brees was not selected for the Pro Bowl, professional football’s all-star exhibition. It’s the recognition from fans, coaches, and fellow players that you are at the top of your game. In fact, no one on the Saints received that honor this year. Dallas, meanwhile, is sending 11 players to the Pro Bowl.

If Brees is disappointed, you’d never know it. This man is the most even-tempered, the most mature, of any player we’ve ever had in these parts. His foundation helps underprivileged children in the New Orleans area and he can frequently be seen interacting with children and parents as he uses his fame, his influence, and his resources to make a lasting difference. If our works indicate our faith, as James says in the epistle that bears his name, Drew Brees is our brother in the Lord.

Recognition is good in almost all cases. Most people seem to like it, particularly when it comes from their peers. In the annual awards show of the motion picture industry–the Oscars–time and again, we hear movie stars who receive the golden statuette speak of how special it is to have been chosen for this honor “by my peers.”

The only thing I recall from Psych 201, a course required of sophomores at my college a long time ago, is this incident. In a factory where hundreds of people were slaving away at menial jobs, someone walked back and replaced the light bulb above the head of one particular worker. There was nothing wrong with the old bulb; he just put in a new one. Immediately, the productivity of that worker went up. Evidently, someone knew he was back there and felt he was important. It’s a great lesson.

The trick is to appreciate the appreciation without requiring it in order to do your best work. And to extend it to others without needing it yourself.

In the last “leadership lesson,” the one dealing with humility, we encouraged readers to take down from the wall all those plaques of appreciation, recognition and achievement that seem to accumulate over the years. And yet, maybe not. There is something to be said for leaving them up. At least, leaving them where you alone can see them and be motivated by them.

After posting that essay on humility, as I was walking from my study, I noticed a plaque given by my seminary some 9 months after Katrina. The text says something about “distinguished service.” Now, it was not hanging on the wall and never has been. It sits on a lower shelf of a bookcase in front of some reference books. So, why is it there? Why did I not relegate it to the drawer–or worse, to the dumpster–as I’ve been counseling readers to do?

The answer is that I’m of two minds on this subject.

Appreciation is good and we ought to give it freely, although honestly. Furthermore, when it’s extended to us, we should receive it graciously and humbly. And if the recognition encourages you to do a better job in your assigned task, keep it and glance at it occasionally.

Just don’t let it fool you into thinking you’re something you’re not. Don’t let it distract you from giving your job and resting on your laurels, as the saying goes.

I seem to remember that last year Drew Brees won numerous awards for his brilliant quarterbacking. This year, he may win none. And yet, he’s staying the course, giving his best. In fact, he may post greater numbers this year than last in every area except one: he’ll have fewer wins.

Occasionally when a church or denomination is honoring someone, a well-meaning but misguided Christian will cry foul. “We’re not to worship man or idolize him,” the person will say. “All glory belongs to the Lord.” True enough. But the scripture also says, “Give honor to whom honor is due.” (Romans 13:7)

Earlier in these leadership lessons, I told of a political leader who embarrassed me by the effusiveness of his praise for my preaching. When I remarked on that to an aide, a long-time friend of mine, I was told, “He does that with everyone who comes into the office.” That gave my ego the deflation it needed at that moment, then my friend added, “But the people who work for him are dying for a word of appreciation.”

I’ve not forgotten that lesson. Not that I’ve always done a good job of showing honor to those around me who work faithfully and well, but I’m working at it.

The best recognition and reward of all, every Christian will agree, is not earthly but heavenly, not of this world but the next, not from man but from God. Over and over we are promised in Scripture that the day will come when the faithful will hear words like these from the Savior: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many.” (Matthew 25:21,23)

Ask any pastor. This issue of recognition of workers in the church can present one of his biggest headaches. “Why was this person honored but not me? I’ve been here longer.” “I’ve served all these years in the kitchen (or nursery or sound booth) and never been thanked.” “I resigned because you don’t seem to know I’m there, so I figured you’d never miss me if I left.”

On the other hand, every church has those faithful laborers who give their best week after week after week, for years on end, without ever receiving any reward or recognition. These are the low maintenance, high reward type of members who make serving a church such a blessing to pastors.

“Labor not for the meat that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27)

There’s nothing bad to be said about groceries–we require them to live–but we need a greater purpose in life to cause us to get up in the morning and to give our best in serving God and humanity. Likewise, it’s fine to receive the occasional recognition or reward. But do yourself a big favor, and do not look for it or require it or appreciate it too much once you get it.

Stay the course; keep your eyes on the prize.

2 thoughts on “LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 38–“Recognition is Good; Just Don’t Need It.”

  1. My mother had a saying in her Bible that read, “Flattery is like chewing gum, chew on it a while, enjoy its flavor, but don’t swallow it.”

  2. Joe: I was reading the Courier Journal newspaper from Louisville and came across the following story. Read the whole story and I will relate it to leadership afterwards.

    As I was reading the paper this morning a story caught my eye. It is as follows.

    There was a 47 yr. old man on his way either to or from the McDonald’s where he worked. I might mention he was also on food stamps. As he was walking he needed a piece of paper to write on and looking around he picked up what appeared to be a discarded envelope. He opened the envelope and inside was a check for $185,000.00. After he had completed his original task he got on his bike and went to the bank of origin and got in touch with the party who had written the check and returned it to her. She thanked him and gave him a $50.00 bill. Someone asked if he ever thought about keeping it. He then told them the words of his mother. My mother always told me, “If you take something from somebody you will lose 3 times that amount. If you do something good something good comes back to you”.

    Leadersip examples come in many forms, from experts, people who teach leadership classes and other forms. The leadership that is best is that that is exemplified in every day life. Watching the noon news today they had the man in the above story on talking about what he had done. He appeared to be a humble man and told on air what his mother had said. He was recognized for doing what was right but did not need the attention.

    I’ll bet he is the type of man at work that completes his task before he leaves to go home.

    Seems like the Bible says something about leadership. In Matthew 23:11-12 it says “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.(RSV)

    Pastor’s and others. Are you listening?

Comments are closed.