“His Name is Carlos” – A Leadership Lesson

kinnon —  April 18, 2007 — 2 Comments

Back at the beginning of March, I noted a sermon by Nancy Ortberg that Guy Kawasaki was pointing to – I recommended it highly, Jesus and Your Job. (It’s still available for viewing on this page.) Forbes Publisher, Rich Karlgaard, who blogs @ Digital Rules has written an article called Godly Work (worth reading in total). He tells this story from Nancy Ortberg’s sermon,

Ortberg spoke of how her mentor, Max De Pree, former CEO of Herman Miller, engaged his workers. “Max had a rule for his leadership team. Every Wednesday they were to bring a brown-bag lunch and go down to the factory floor, where the furniture was being made, to eat. They were to sit and listen for an hour to get to know the names of the workers on the floor and to learn about the obstacles workers were facing as they did their jobs, as well as to hear about the ideas they had for future designs.”

Ortberg herself was at one time an emergency room nurse. One night she witnessed an astonishing leadership act: “It was about 10:30 p.m. The room was a mess. I was finishing up some work on the chart before going home. The doctor with whom I loved working was debriefing a new doctor, who had done a very respectable, competent job, telling him what he’d done well and what he could have done differently.

“Then he put his hand on the young doctor’s shoulder and said, ‘When you finished, did you notice the young man from housekeeping who came in to clean the room?’ There was a completely blank look on the young doctor’s face.

“The older doctor said, ‘His name is Carlos. He’s been here for three years. He does a fabulous job. When he comes in he gets the room turned around so fast that you and I can get our next patients in quickly. His wife’s name is Maria. They have four children.’ Then he named each of the four children and gave each child’s age.

“The older doctor went on to say, ‘He lives in a rented house about three blocks from here, in Santa Ana. They’ve been up from Mexico for about five years. His name is Carlos,’ he repeated. Then he said, ‘Next week I would like you to tell me something about Carlos that I don’t already know. Okay? Now, let’s go check on the rest of the patients.'”

Ortberg recalls: “I remember standing there writing my nursing notes–stunned–and thinking, I have just witnessed breathtaking leadership.”

Aside: Max De Pree is one of my heroes, a Neo-Calvinist, and the founder of the De Pree Leadership Center. The De Press Center is one of the partners in the Allelon Summer Institute at Fuller in Pasadena this summer. Please watch this video to learn more about it.

2nd Aside
: If you want to read a great webzine with Neo-Calvinist leanings, check out Comment, edited by my friend, Gideon Strauss – from the Work Research Foundation (which has a connection to Max De Pree – I’m just not sure how.)



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

2 responses to “His Name is Carlos” – A Leadership Lesson

  1. Interesting you would bring up ‘Comment’. Through email I just introduced Al Roxburgh to Michael Van Pelt who is the ED of the Work Research Foundation. They will hit it off, I think.

    Michael is a friend of mine from Hamilton, and his local church was the one just featured in the Allelon interview with the pastor from the Christian Reformed church in downtown Hamilton.

  2. Mark,
    ‘Tis wild this interweaving of all our lives. We met Gideon through our friends the Chaplins (ICS folk who’ve just moved back to England) though I’d been reading his blog for a while. Gideon is South African and knows good friends of ours there. We may just have to start a six degrees of Alan Roxburgh fraternity.


What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.