How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance


James A. Autry

Prima Publishing, 2001, 265 pp. 

ISBN  0-7615-3535-7

AutServ 02-12-140

 Autry is a writer, speaker, consultant and former executive.  Interestingly, the book categorizes itself as “business/inspiration.”  It is a “spiritual” book (in the secular sense) following the Greenleaf servant leadership tradition.  Much of it reiterates what has been commonly written about leadership and management in the last decade.  But there are also sections dealing with very specific workplace issues.

“Leadership in service of others requires a great deal of courage.” (Intro)

“What we’ve learned is that over the long-term, the old top-down, command-control ways don’t work….  They dispirit and frustrate people; they suppress creativity; and they rob organizations of people’s best efforts.  The military doesn’t even do it the old way anymore…”  (Intro)

Five ways of being that will move to an unswerving attitude of service:  authentic, vulnerable, accepting, present, useful.  (10)

Authentic means “be the same person in every circumstance.  Hold to the same values in whatever role you have.  Always be your real self.”  (10)

Vulnerable means being honest with your feelings, being open with your doubts and fears, and being able to admit mistakes openly.  (15)

Useful means being a resource for your people.  Think of yourself as their principal resource.  (20)

Six things the author believes about leadership:

1.     It’s not about controlling people but caring for them and being useful to them.

2.     It’s not about being boss, but about being present for people and building a community at work.

3.     It’s not about holding on to territory but letting go of ego.

4.     It’s less concerned with pep talks and more concerned with creating a place where people can do good work, find meaning in their work, and “bring their spirits to work.”

5.     It’s largely a matter of paying attention.

6.     It requires love.  (20-21)


Ch. 2. Understanding Three Aspects of Vision

“Furthermore, the top management of many companies developed mission statements or vision statements (or both) in all the wrong ways.  Rather than involve employees in the process of defining the vision, top management took it upon themselves to develop a statement which then, in top-down mode, was give to the employees and the public.”  (23-4)

“Chances are the employees forget about it because it is so removed from their everyday work lives and from their understanding of their jobs that the consider it irrelevant.” 

“Unfortunately, ‘irrelevant’ describes far too many vision or mission statements that are promulgated by organizations these days.”  (25)

Purpose describes the over arching reason for a company’s or organization’s being in the world.  (Why are we here?).  The answer should always contain language that helps everyone understand and focus on why they themselves are there.  It helps people define the purpose of their own involvement and align their own purpose with the organization’s purpose.

Mission describes what the company or organization does to fulfill its purpose (What do we do?  or What do we do to fulfill our purpose?)

Values describe how the people are together as they go about performing their mission in order to fulfill their purpose.  (26)  Values are fundamentally about interpersonal relationships or social culture.  (31) [Seems to me it is more than that, perhaps the credo for operation, the guidelines for how to solve problems and resolve conflict, the principles that are so important that they guide decisions, even when it’s tough.  dlm]

In workshops the author asks participants to finish the sentences.  “We want to work in an organization that values ______.”  And “We want to work with people who value _______.”  Then he follows up with:  “This organization values _______.”  And “These people value _______.” 

Everyone has a responsibility for creating the culture or values, for living out the values they desire in the organization.  (32)

“Creating a trusting environment means a workplace in which people are part of the decisions about the goals to be accomplished….”  (33)

“Once you, the leader, have inculcated this concept of vision into your own consciousness, the next step is to help others in your care—your colleagues and employees—develop their own vision.  The confluence and alignment of these personal visions with the organization’s vision will then become the most powerful possible determinant of success.”

[The author says “vision” is “the confluence” of purpose, mission, and values.  But he does not define vision or describe an example.  This is different from the more common understanding of vision, as a clear, mental picture of a compelling future.  Dlm]

“Every leader must possess and demonstrate good management knowledge and skills.”  (37)  “The organizational preparation for leadership begins with the fundamentals of management.”  (38)

Ch. 3.  Finding the Right People

Eleven interview questions are suggested to ascertain whether a manager candidate has servant leadership attitudes.  [A few of the questions obviously lead the candidate toward the right answer.  The desired answers indicate a philosophy that man is basically good, honest, industrious, etc.  The concept of sin is neglected.  Dlm] (41-47)

Whether change is positive or negative, if it’s sudden, it produces fear or anxiety.  (52)

Systems and procedures are necessary, not for control but “to give people more understanding, more clarity, and more freedom.”  They are to be used as a tool to fine-tune understandings and provide assurance.  (61)

Four Myths regarding the High-Tech Workplace

1.     We are more connected.  (Electronically, yes.  Personally, no.)

2.     Communication is faster, better, and more accurate.  (E-mail is great for sending information but generally lousy for communicating.  Communication is a process, not an act, episode or incident.)

3.     Having people work in a central place is obsolete.  (The workplace environment provides creative energy.  You can’t build an organization with lone wolves.  Everyone needs to feel personally involved with others.  One leader brings in his scattered work force six times a year.  (98-92)

4.     When people multitask they get more done.  (The leader must create an ethic that honors work well done, not just a lot of work done.  “One of the most troubling trends in American work life is the inordinate number of hours that people seem to be working.”  “This then becomes an identity problem to the extent that some people can’t feel worthwhile or useful or fulfilled if they aren’t working.”  (96)) 

Part Three deals with specific difficult issues of organizational life:  negative appraisals, firings, layoffs, structural changes, sickness, disability, substance and alcohol abuse, office romances, sexual harassment, lawsuits.

Part Four deals with finding the balance

Ch. 10.  The Crisis of Loyalty

“As more and more of our businesses become driven by knowledge, information, and service, thus absolutely dependent on people for success, more and more young people think of themselves as free agents of their own careers….”  “What happens to loyalty in this scenario?  There always has been a certain social foundation in functioning organizations, an understanding between employee and company that works like an adhesive to hold the enterprise together.” i.e. loyalty.  (159)

“The servant leader does not operate out of ego and does not expect the old-time personal loyalty to the boss.  Instead, the servant leader must understand the true nature of loyalty, then work to nurture it.”  “Loyalty begets loyalty.”  “For the organization and its leaders, loyalty to employees means being honest and trusting, … acting with integrity,… being open in communication, sharing information, doing what you say you are going to do.”  “Loyalty must be earned and deserved.” (162-3)

“There must be a balance between the loyalty to one’s peers and team members, one’s colleagues, one’s manager, and one’s employees, and the loyalty extended to the community itself, including the organization and its vision.”  (165)

Ch. 11.  Conflict

Ch. 12.  Responsibilities of Family and Community Life

“…we all have to put in nights and weekends from time to time, but if you have an employee doing that all the time, then you have a problem that needs attention.”  (209)  “One of two questions needs answering.  One is, what’s wrong with (the employee)? The other is, what’s wrong with the job?” (210)

Ch. 13. Leadership When Things Go Wrong and Times are Bad

“There is no crisis that justifies the suspension of your servant leadership values and practices, one of which is open and honest communication in an environment of trust.”  “Never give in to the temptation to put any other element or situation above the welfare of the people.  Nothing is as important or is as likely to help your organization get through its crisis as the continued commitment and hard work of your people.”  (227-28)