I mostly read new books, but maybe that’s not always good. There’s one very old book I try to read -– or listen to via audio — each day. Yes, it’s the Bible, and besides being God’s Word, it is the world’s bestselling book. I also read other lesser best-sellers, such as Bringing Out the Best in People, by Alan Loy McGinnis, 1985, which I recently reread finding it very helpful.
Dr. McGinnis (1933–2005) was a best-selling author, family therapist, business consultant, and popular speaker. After 20 years as a Lutheran minister, he became a counselor and co-founded the Valley Counseling Center in Glendale, CA. In the 1970s, he began researching friendship and his first popular book was The Friendship Factor, published by Augsburg Fortress in 1979 and revised in 2004.
For all the millions of words that have been written about him, Jesus has been rarely studied for his people skills, according to McGinnis, “a curious fact when you realize Jesus was clearly the most successful motivator of all time” (page 14). He believes he sees each of the principles of his book in the way Jesus treated and viewed others.
McGinnis affirms that everyone is motivated to do something. The leader’s challenge is “to channel already existing energies into the most worthwhile endeavors” (page 19). This differs from manipulation. Motivators find goals that will be good for both sides, and then they “weld together a high-achieving, high-morale partnership to achieve them” (page 21). It’s what my favorite seminary preaching professor calls preaching for agreement: find what people want, and assuming it’s a good thing, help them get it.
The best question for me in the entire book was from chapter 2: Do I expect the best from the people I lead? When I was the lead pastor at church, I fear I didn’t. In my present church role, such as currently heading the personnel team, do I? In my supervisory roles at Leadership Network, do I? In particular, when someone lets me down, it could be for a number of reasons I caused: maybe my instructions were unclear, maybe there was some other communication issue, etc. But if it wasn’t, if perhaps indeed the person got too hasty or (gasp) forgot, or whatever, I need to frame my attitude in a way that helps their behavior become better. I need to convey, “__, that wasn’t like you at all.” In short, treat people as they potentially could be, and if it’s something they genuinely want, you help them become that way. As McGinnis says, “When we elect such a positive view, lots of buried talent begins to surface” (page 34). As a result, people accomplish extraordinary things, he says. “The best motivators are always on the lookout for hidden capacities” (page 34).
Over the course of the book McGinnis outlines these 12 principles:
1. Expect the best from the people you lead
2. Make a thorough study of the other person’s needs.
3. Establish high standards for excellence.
4. Create an environment where failure is not fatal.
5. If they are going anywhere near where you want to go, climb on other people’s bandwagons.
6. Employ models to encourage success.
7. Recognize and applaud achievement.
8. Employ a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement.
9. Appeal sparingly to the competitive urge.
10. Place a premium on collaboration.
11. Build into the group an allowance for storms.
12. Take steps to keep your own motivation high.
Everyone is changing every day, either for better or for worse. If I want people around me to succeed, as much if not more than they themselves do, then according to McGinnis, I have potential to bring out the best in others.
Warren Bird, Ph.D., is Research Director at Leadership Network, and co-author of 21 books on various aspects of church health and innovation.