I worked a few years back at a fine company in Central Florida called Health First Inc., as an organizational development practitioner. I had a wonderful manager named Mary, who had a unique approach that I’d seen in few supervisors across the years.
Mary wanted to spend most of our time talking about my strengths, and how I might apply them, and she wasted few calories telling me what was wrong with me.
I had read about managers such as Mary, people who are passionately wired to serve their people so that they might unleash all of their gifts within the context of the workplace. I had often dreamed of working for such a person, and perhaps becoming one myself.
What was especially significant about Mary is that our little department of four was geared toward developing managers in particular. We sought to replicate the DNA of servant-oriented, strength-affirming management into the hundreds of health care and administrative people leaders whom we touched every week.
As I continue this 12-part series that began with the foundation of a strategic, integrative “life plan” that synergizes the buckets of Health, Family and Vocation, I’m struck by how intentional, caring managers have the opportunity to debunk the conventional wisdom about the word “manager” itself. Much more than a taskmaster or a process guru, a manager has the opportunity to inspire and equip people to take their strengths to another level in real time. The result can be that customers are served well, the company grows and the employee builds a great career. As stated by the authors of First, Break All the Rules, talented employees need great managers—and great managers can only serve out of the overflow of an integrative life.
Perhaps the best sign of a great manager is how he or she responds when one of their direct reports has “messed up.”
I can think of no greater example of this than when that volatile fisherman Peter gave into his fear after Jesus’ arrest, and denied three times that he even knew his Lord and Savior. After his resurrection, Jesus shared breakfast with Peter on the seashore and, essentially, restored and re-commissioned him. He asked Peter three times if Peter loved him, and Peter responded three times in the affirmative. And each time, Jesus gave Peter the same important task: Feed my lambs.
Jesus knew Peter had what it took to be a great feeder of the lambs of the kingdom of God. He kept Peter’s strengths always before his eyes, and spent little time focused on the apostle’s many weaknesses—or on those of any others within his core group of students. He gave impactful feedback when it was needed, and kept his followers growing, learning and serving—even when they couldn’t’ see the full picture.

Are you this kind of servant-manager, who thinks strengths before weaknesses, who sees what is full and spilling over rather than what is lacking?
If so, your greatest days of management are still to come. You are in the trenches with your teams every day, helping them make it happen. Your mission is to develop the persons who might replace you, as you move into a more global leadership capacity. We’ll talk about leadership in the next blog post.