Get more done, stop seeking praise

Published 8:23 pm Monday, February 11, 2013

I wrote a column recently about President Harry Truman’s desk sign, “The Buck Stops Here.” Truman grew weary of bureaucrats not taking responsibility for their decisions, so he decided to make a personal statement with this sign. President Carter had the original brought out of archives and placed on his Oval Office desk.

I must admit I was frustrated as a pastor when I bought several of these Truman signs and gave them to my church staff ministers several years ago. I wanted them to take accountability for their work and stop being so quick to blame others for lack of accomplishment.

After I gave my personal sign to Gov. Robert Bentley a few weeks ago, Mayor Tony Long of Marion ordered one that now sits on his desk at city hall.

Email newsletter signup

President Reagan had a sign on his Oval Office desk, too. It read, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” Reagan’s philosophy was that it is more important to get things done than to sort out who deserves credit for achievement.

This motto is antithetical to the path we often choose. We want public acclaim and enjoy being in the spotlight. But the spotlight is fickle. It can shine on us one day and not the next day regardless of the value of our work both days. In fact, some of the most worthwhile work in the world is accomplished by those never in the spotlight of public approval.

Throughout my ministry I’ve known wonderful Christians who’ve done significant work without much commendation. Sometimes they take care of opening doors and tending thermostats. Sometimes they play musical instruments or teach Sunday School or superintend the kitchen.

Sometimes they make plumbing and electrical repairs as my dad did for many years. He chaired what we called the “maintenance committee” at our church in suburban Birmingham. Sometimes they’re like the lady I saw in the hallway one day dressed in her Sunday best mopping the floor after a little child had gotten sick.

A story is told of a frog who convinced some geese to take him south for the winter. He suggested two of them hold a twig in their beaks and he’d clamp onto it with his mouth as they flew. Everything was fine until another goose came near for closer inspection.

“Wow!” he said. “What a brilliant idea. Who thought of this?”

The frog opened his mouth to claim credit, and the villagers down below had frog legs for dinner.

President Reagan had it right. We’d get more done if we’d stop clamoring for praise.