Chapter 5 - Teamwork with a servant heart

Copyright © 1996 Wayne Grovenburg

One would have to experience firsthand the team spirit and unity of the Warriors to truly understand it. This blend of experience, strengths and weakness', camaraderie and sacrifice was a powerful combination. Points were made by a team, not an individual. Tackles were made by a team, not an individual. Fights were fought by a team, not an individual. Everyone was putting the welfare of the team ahead of their own. There were no "prima donnas", no "stars", no "most valuable players". Everyone had a job to do for the team to function properly, and they did it. The team was only as good as its weakest link. Pass protection was only as good as the weakest offensive lineman. It only takes one man getting through the line to sack a quarterback. When someone was having trouble with a defensive player, the other linemen would help to solve that problem. Offensive linemen are as responsible for touchdowns as the running back that carries the ball. The Western Warriors knew that. Earlier in the season we had a "prima donna" running back who thought he did not need a front line. We showed him what it would be like if he did not have any blockers a few times in practice. We literally jumped out of the way of a defensive blitz. He saw the difference and his attitude changed.

I played defensive linebacker the entire game. I needed help for two reasons. One, I could not see very well. Second, I was a rookie linebacker and many times didn't know what to do. I was a weak link in the defense. My saving grace was David "Scrappy" Laman, our smallest and best defensive player on the field. "Scrappy" watched out for me and yelled instructions and encouragement to me the whole game. We leveraged his experience to help the weak link, who was nearly blind and ignorant. The unity of this team went beyond the football field.

There were times in my high school years that "racial riots" took place in cities all over the country. Las Vegas and Western High School were not exempt. There were no "racial riots" on the football field. We were unified regardless of race. We were all dedicated team players. We were all important and respected. One evening, during the days of racial tension, some of my black friends and team mates were stranded at school. The busses that "bussed them" to school were not running to the predominately black side of town. It was nearly a war zone, where white folks shouldn't be found. Well, I loaded up my parent's car with my friends who needed a ride and off I went. I felt pretty safe with these guys. As the last guy got out of my car, it hit me, "I am going to be a white guy driving through this neighborhood alone". This last guy turned to me, after dodging a flying bottle, and told me to "slump down in the seat so nothing white would show but my eyes, and don't stop until I was home". As I drove home, I think the "whites of my eyes" showing over the steering wheel were somewhat larger than normal. I never touched the brakes and I made it home safely. Why did I take those guys home at the risk of my own safety? Some may think it stupid. I like to believe it was an example of "teamwork with a servant heart".

We do not succeed or fail alone in life. We do it along with other people. Does a team win or lose based on one person? Does a company succeed on the merits of one person? Does a marriage succeed on the efforts and attitudes of only one partner? Does a church prosper and grow with one member working alone, under his own power? Does an author make a book happen without the cooperation of a publisher? Can publishers survive without authors? Obviously, the answer to all these questions is a resounding "NO, of course not!". If we all really believe this concept, then how can there be so many folks that seem to think the world revolves around them? I think it can be explained by short-sightness and selfishness. There are plenty of people like that running around this world, to their own disadvantage. They are limited in life to what they can do and what they can manipulate others to do. Team players are limited by what the whole team is capable of. And if God is on that team, there are no limits. Team players do not manipulate other people, they serve other people with sincerity of heart. And what a difference that attitude makes!

Putting others first is a very powerful, Biblical concept that Jesus explained nearly 2000 years ago.

The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
(NIV) Matthew 23:11-12

This concept is illustrated in the story of Dave Murphy and Jim Anderson.

Jim Anderson was a supervisor of a crew working on a section of a railroad track. It was a hot August afternoon and Jim was working and sweating along with the crew. About mid-afternoon, a special train pulled up on an adjacent track. This train consisted of an engine and one very special passenger car. As it stopped, a window came down, a head popped out and yelled, "Hey Jim Anderson, is that you?". Jim Anderson looked around and smiled and yelled back, "You know it's me Dave, how are you doing?". Dave replied, "Fine. Fine. Come on in here and let's talk!". Jim tossed his shovel aside and climbed into the car. After about a half hour, Jim came back out and waved as the train pulled away. All his buddies crowded around Jim asking questions. "Did you know that was Dave Murphy? Did you know he is the president of the railroad? How do you know him?" they all asked. Jim proudly said, "Yes, I know that was Dave Murphy and I know he is the president. Why, Dave Murphy and I started to work together on the same day, 25 years ago!". One of Jim's buddies then asked, "Well, if you two started together, how is it that he is now the president and you are still out here working in the hot sun?". Jim got quiet and sighed a sigh and said something, I hope you will take to heart as much as I have. Jim smiled and said, "It's really pretty simple. Twenty-five years ago, I started to work for $1.10 per hour. And twenty-five years ago, Dave Murphy started to work for the railroad."

That attitude made all the difference in the world then, it makes all the difference in the world now and it always will. Many people today go to work just for a paycheck and then complain when that's all they get. You reap what you sow. Always have. Always will. When management is deciding who to promote and give more responsibility, why would they ever pick someone who has demonstrated their self serving focus over someone else who is truly looking out for the best interest of the company? When deciding who you are going to do business with, why would you ever pick someone who had demonstrated that all they want is your money, over someone else who has preached and practiced, "customer first"?

When I think of some of the truly great leaders in successful companies, I think of people who truly had a servant heart in word and deed. When I was a young systems analyst / programmer back in the late 70's, there was an evening at work when things didn't look good. The computer system was down and literally hundreds of people were waiting on a co-worker and me to fix it. As time went by, more people drifted into the computer room where we were working. The phones were ringing and a vice-president came in to "watch us work" and ask the popular question "when will the system be back up?" The pressure was intense. After a while, our boss came in and called us to the side. The conversation we had sticks with me to this day. He said, "I know that you know how critical this situation is right now. I don't have to remind you of that. I wanted you to know that I believe we have our best two guys possible in this corporation working on this problem. I know you will fix it and get us back up as quickly as anyone possibly could. I am here to help. I am going to get all these observers out of here and off your backs. Then I am going to have all calls routed to me in my office upstairs. I will call your wives, if you wish, and tell them what you are doing and thank them for their patience during this crisis. I will order a pizza for you guys. I'm sure you could use it. When you have any updates on our status, call me and let me know. I'll be in my office." He did these things and left.

Can you imagine the effect that message had? They were inspired, bolstered and energized. It literally inspired love for that manager and a dedication to the task at hand. That supervisor is now the president of his company. I believe it is because of his servant heart. He takes care of his team and, together, they take care of the customers. I have seen this many times and in many circumstances over the years. The Bible says it. I have seen it. I know it's true.

I teach a management seminar where I refer to this definition of management skill:

"The skill of attaining objectives with and through the voluntary effort and cooperation of other people."

I do not suggest the manipulation of others. But, I do suggest that a key to gaining truly voluntary effort from others is your sincere, voluntary, selfless service to others. This principle works in business, at home and at church. As managers, I believe we should help our employees attain their goals within the framework of the company. I feel we should honestly and openly help them get what they want. And in due time, I know we will reap what we sow. We must be genuine, consistent, willing to take some risks and to believe in people, no matter what.

This principle also works in the success of corporations. A business phenomenon of the 20th century retail world is Wal-Mart of Bentonville, Arkansas. The attitude of Wal-Mart towards the American consumer is that of a servant. They have a "Wal-Mart cheer" that Sam Walton led at company meetings and the company still uses today. "Give me a W. Give me an A." and so forth spelling out the name of their company. Then, "What's that spell? WAL-MART!", "Who's NUMBER ONE?", "THE CUSTOMER!" They preach it. They do it. The American consumer has responded to it. Look around. Check out the results.

Arkansas Best Corporation (ABC), another Arkansas success story, adopted a "Quality Process" back in the 80's. Quality was defined as the "conformance to agreed upon customer requirements". The standard was set at "zero-defects". It was taught. It was supported. It was demonstrated. It had an enduring effect on the success of the company, the satisfaction of its customers and the lives of its employees. ABC's largest subsidiary is the freight carrier, ABF Freight System. The less than truckload (LTL) freight business is highly competitive where only the strong survive. I believe an underlying reason for ABF's success is its servant attitude towards the customers that is demonstrated every day in striving to meet their requirements, first time, every time. We are a team bent on serving our customers. We all play different roles but we are all essential and we all depend on the others to do their jobs.

Several years ago, my family and I were on Interstate 40 driving to Tulsa to spend the weekend with my parents. As we passed an ABF truck going the opposite direction, my wife noticed me saluting. She asked if the company requires that we salute the trucks. I chuckled and explained. I was not saluting the truck. I was saluting the man behind the wheel. I realize that he was probably on a 8 to 10 hour drive, that would leave him getting off work 8 to 10 hours away from his wife and kids. He would sleep for 8 hours and then he would be dispatched again, maybe home, maybe not. Just think about this. If you left somewhere at 8:00 A.M. and drove 10 hours, what time would it be? 6:00 P.M. Then you rest for 8 hours. Now what time would it be? 2:00 A.M. Now you are back on the road for another 8 to 10 hours. Whew! You have to be a special kind of person to be able to do that for very long. Where would I be if those folks weren't driving those trucks, getting the customers' freight down the road? I'd be looking for another job because my company could not function without these drivers doing what they do. I am deeply grateful for the special kind of people that are capable and willing to do that job. I need them. They need me to do my job, too. The fact is that we all need each other to be successful. So to this day, when I pass an ABF truck on the highway, I still salute the driver, not the truck. As I salute him, I give thanks for the job he is doing, for the time he spends away from his family and for his dedication to the team and the customers.

I suggest to students in my live seminar that they adopt an attitude like this:

"We do not work for Arkansas Best Corporation. We do not work for the management of the company. We do not work for our supervisors. We do not work for the company. We are the company! We work with our supervisors, with our president, with the dock workers, and with the truck drivers. We all work for the same person. We all work for the one who pays the bills. We work for the one who literally can fire us all. We all work for the customer! Never forget that!"

Teamwork with a servant heart certainly applies to Christianity.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
(NIV) Phillipians 2:1-4

If you are a Christian, you probably will agree that we are supposed to serve God by serving others. Well, who are others? I believe "others" include our families and friends, lost souls wherever they are, widows and orphans, neighbors and enemies, alike. As we go through this life we should look in a mirror and ask ourselves, "Do I have a self focus or a servant focus". The Lord knows our hearts. He knows what we're made of. It is we who need to find out!

Imagine teamwork with a selfish heart. It can't be faked for long. If the heart is selfish, the teamwork will be a contrived act. The true colors will show through. If one serves with a selfish heart, we may see manipulation, hypocrisy, and insincerity. The heart is the source of the words, actions and reactions. I mentioned in the "Discipline to Work" chapter that the majority of the work for the Lord is done by a minority of the people. I believe some of that problem may stem from selfish hearts unwilling to yield to the Lord's will in their life. If we focus on fixing our own heart problems by yielding to God to fix them, the appropriate behaviors will be a natural outpouring. If we focus on changing behaviors without healing the heart problems, we have a very temporary and unstable fix in place. We have built a sand castle on the beach. When the tide comes in, the castle will be washed away. This is true in our relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is also true in our marriages and families.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
(NIV) Ephesians 5:25-28

Gentlemen, we are being told to model the kind of servant leadership that Jesus provided the church. He "gave himself up" for the church! He literally died for the church. Our wives and families don't need us to die for them, but they certainly need us to "give ourselves up" for them. It is a big order to fill. Some guys are not living up to the responsibility they accepted when they married and started bringing children into this world. Notice there is not any conditional statements in these verses. It does not say, "If you feel like it..." or "If your wife does what she is supposed to do..." or "If you are happy with your spouse...". It says, "Do it!".

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
(NIV) Ephesians 5:22-24

Ladies, this is for you. This is a direct quote from the Bible. I didn't just make this up. It says that wives are to submit to their husbands in everything as the church submits to Christ. This, too, is a mighty tall order with no conditional statements in it.

Yes, it is much easier for both parties to be what they should be, if their spouse is doing what they should be doing. That is right. That is how God designed it to work. By doing your part, you are actually helping your spouse to do theirs. I believe that a successful marriage is based on teamwork with a servant heart. Do you have a self focus or servant focus? The Lord knows what's inside us. It is we who need to find out! Remember this:

Teamwork with a servant heart inspires love. Selfishness destroys love.

Many years ago in a small town, a young father went for a walk with his nearly seven year old son. The father had been turning his back on God for years. He had neglected Bible study, prayer, attending worship services, or acknowledging Jesus Christ in much of any way at all. The small boy had been regularly taken to church and taught about God by his mother. As they walked, they stopped at a monument in front of the Veterans of Foreign War building. A large stone monument contained the names of all the local people who had died in the various wars in our history. This monument led to a discussion of war and death. The father asked the son, "If our country went to war, would you join the Army and go fight?" The son immediately replied, "Sure, of course I would". The father pressed further, "All these men on this stone died in wars, son. How do you feel about that?" The son replied, "Well, if I died, I'd just go to some place much better than this." The father, a little taken back by his son's cavalier attitude about dying, said, "You mean you figure you'd go to heaven, huh?" "Yes, daddy. You see Jesus loves all the little children." As they walked along the father asked one last penetrating question, "Well, what about me? Do you think I'd go to heaven, too?" The smile left the small boy's face. He turned his head down. His little eyes started filling with tears. He replied in a soft gentle voice, "Maybe it would help some if you started coming to church again with me and mommy." With hearts up in their throats, the two walked slowly back to grandma's house.

At this point the man felt he should start attending church again, if for no other reason than to put his son's mind at ease. So he started going again. His stone hard heart was cracked, but not yet broken to the point of repentance. One Sunday morning in church the congregation sang "America! America!". Later in the service during the Lord's supper, the man's mind was led to these thoughts:

"Yes, this is a great country. Many have died to make it free. Even, my little boy would be willing to die for it. But, what if my son gave up his life fighting for the freedom of others? What if he died to make men free and they did not appreciate it? What if they neglected his memory? Scoffed at his sacrifice? Said he was stupid for going to war? " As the man thought these things, the rage of a father swelled up inside him. "If they did not honor my son after he died for them, why I'd...I'd...I'd..."

You already know what hit this man, don't you? He hadn't been honoring, serving, acknowledging the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. Jesus died to make men free and this young father was completely taking it for granted. The man first trembled in fear. "God must surely feel the same wrath for me, that I was just imagining a father would feel. Why doesn't God just strike me down?" It was at that moment the man felt the tremendous and awesome love and grace of the heavenly Father. Yes, God knew how the man had been treating Jesus' memory, and when He could have and should have condemned the man, God offered him grace and love instead.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
(NIV) John 15:13

The young father's life was eternally changed that day, at the heart level. Catching a glimpse of God's love, and of Jesus' servant heart, made a lasting and permanent impression. I know the details of this story real well because the young father was me.

Maybe as you read this chapter you see where you have not been living with a servant heart. Maybe you have only been looking out for good old number one. Have you been putting others first? Especially those in your own family?

What if you have tried having a servant heart and things have just not worked out? You say you have served your customer, your fellow team members, your employer, your spouse; and they just take from you and take from you until you have nothing left to give? I must ask, "are you dead yet?". It takes longer in some instances than in others, but folks will eventually come around. The "opera ain't over" until they throw dirt on your casket!

I have heard it said, "You only have one life. Grab for all the gusto. You only go around once." I know an Italian word for this: BALONEY! We go around twice and the second lap never ends. The second is the only one that really matters. Our spiritual life is eternal. This earthly life is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. The most important thing is what will be happening 10,000 years from now and beyond.

Teamwork with a servant heart requires vision, courage, discipline and faith. I encourage you to make a decision to trust and to serve, no matter what! Make a difference in this world! And make a difference in the next! Leave a piece of yourself behind in the hearts of those who were on your team, in your company, in your family and in your church.

Choose to develop within yourself, teamwork with a servant heart.

Copyright © 1996 Wayne Grovenburg

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