That single character flaw of whining can stain and weaken the effectiveness of anyone, even if they are top-notch in every other area of their lives. That was the case of a man who once worked for me.
This fellow was a tremendous employee in so many ways. He was bright, extremely creative, a good leader, and very caring toward his people. But he also was a whiner. He would send me excruciatingly long e-mails about an issue or situation that easily could have been described in a sentence or two – without the whining.
It got to where everyone who worked with him would secretly laugh about his proclivity for these mini-novels of complaint. He turned out to be the inspiration, so to speak, for a gift his organization gave me when I left my job there: an animated, stuffed toy chicken that would emit a whining cackle while flapping its wings and kicking its legs.
I kept that chicken in my new office for a number of years, activating it whenever one of staff got carried away with whining about this or that. It proved to be a low-key, humorous, and yet effective way to get the message across. But that was not the chicken’s last duty for its country.
During peace-keeping missions to Bosnia, my organization oversaw the contractor workforce providing the care and feeding, essentially, of those soldiers charged with enforcing order and keeping the warring parties away from each other. As mission demands increased and military budgets got tighter, more of these support roles were taken out of military hands and put under civilian contractors. It was part of my job, every six months, to dispatch 50-member teams to oversee those non-military employees and make sure they fulfilled their responsibilities.
The strain and demands finally got to one of these units. Toward the end of its mission the team simply imploded. Long deployments can wear down the best of us, and that’s what happened in this case. Living in tents, away from loved ones, in the middle of groups of people whose hate for each other has simmered for centuries, minor interpersonal irritations became major personnel problems. The commander on-scene lost control.
I knew I had to find a way to prevent this from happening again, or the mission itself would begin to unravel. My solution? Special orders for the chicken. The whining beast went out with the next team to Bosnia with these orders from me: “Guys, when you start getting irritated and you sense the urge to whine coming on – pull out and activate the chicken. Then have a healthy team meeting to air your grievances.”
Seems pretty silly, doesn’t it? But that chicken, flapping its wings, kicking its feet and cackling in outrage, did its job. In fact, it did its job so well in relieving pressure and sparking positive interaction that, to my surprise, it got a nice fat promotion.
When that particular unit returned from its six-month stint in Bosnia, the chicken came back as a newly-minted “colonel” – bearing my name tag and wearing its own custom-made camouflage uniform! That chicken went on to many more tours in Bosnia, keeping one team after another on an even emotional keel. Within military circles, this literal “bird colonel” became quite famous!
Once you stop laughing, pause with me and say, “I choose to be a problem solver, not a whiner.”
Stu Johnson is the Executive Administrator for Grace International Churches and Ministries, Inc. Stu has extensive ministry experience as a conference speaker, youth pastor, college and career pastor, associate pastor, senior pastor, and district superintendent. He was also an Air Force officer for 30 years, retiring in 1999 as a Colonel. He has led organizations of 5 to 6,000 people. He has been married to Debbe for over 48 years and has 2 children, Andrew, a Vice Principal and Lisa, a medical doctor.