by Thom S. Rainer

It was not one of those days that I expected. Indeed, my schedule included several items that I have done more than once in my eight years at LifeWay. One of those was our “Pursuit of Excellence” chapel, where we recognize several outstanding employees.

Our executive vice president, Brad Waggoner, called each name before a packed chapel. The employees in the audience had a brochure with photos and accomplishments of the recipients of the award. As the names were called, those in attendance expressed appreciation with hearty applause.

Then it happened.

Brad called the name “Kenny Washington,” and the place went crazy. It was not simply applause but screams of delight. I had never heard anything like it in my days at LifeWay. Brad and I looked at each other, and we mouthed the same question: “Who is this guy?”

We would soon discover more about this incredible employee named Kenny Washington.

A Man Named Kenny
Brad and I took Kenny to lunch recently. On the one hand, we wanted to honor him for his service to LifeWay. On the other hand, we wanted to learn from him. There was something about Kenny our employees understood. We in the executive office needed to learn that as well.

I hope Kenny didn’t view our lunch as an inquisition. I just had to learn more about this man.

Kenny was born the eighth of nine children to Christian parents, though his mother had the greater influence. He came to LifeWay almost 25 years ago and works in mail services. He also serves in the National Guard reserves. His most recent deployment was in Afghanistan. We got to hear incredible stories of his diving for the bunker as rockets sailed over his head.

But my question focused on his work as an employee. Simply stated, Kenny Washington is one of the most incredible employees I’ve ever known. Here are his “secrets” to work success.

Keys to Being a Successful Employee
In the course of 90 minutes, Kenny shared with us a wealth of information. Though I am the president and CEO of the company, I was really the student learning from the teacher. Here are the seven lessons I learned:

  • View your work as a gift. Kenny has absolutely no sense of entitlement. He views his opportunity to work as a gift from God, and he treats it as such every day.
  • Seek to serve your fellow employees. Because his job is in mail services, Kenny gets to know a lot of fellow employees in LifeWay’s corporate offices in downtown Nashville. He sees his work as an opportunity to serve others. Indeed, he takes every opportunity to do for others on a daily basis.
  • Have a great work ethic. When Kenny described his work ethic, he made me tired! He said he never gets tired because he finds so much joy in what he does.
  • Do more than your job requires. Kenny told me about saving the organization money when he found a way to cut one division’s postage costs. You won’t find that assignment anywhere in his job description. He is always looking for areas to serve beyond what is expected of him.
  • Accentuate the positive. This man does not have his head in the sand. He knows there is no perfect place to work, including LifeWay. But he chooses to focus on what is good rather than complain about the negative. That outlook makes his disposition positive, cheery, and optimistic.
  • Accept responsibility. I bet Kenny Washington has never blamed a co-worker or a boss for his work. I bet he has never succumbed to the victim mentality. His entire perspective is that he is responsible for his work, and he must do it with excellence.
  • Seek to improve your skill set. Kenny has seen a lot of change in the world in 25 years. He’s seen a lot of change at LifeWay too. He knows that he must constantly upgrade and improve himself to remain a successful employee—and he does.

Lessons Learned
As my dad used to say, “He really schooled me.” Kenny Washington taught me so much. He inspired me so greatly. He motivated me so powerfully.

Thank you, Kenny. Employees can learn so much from you. Employees in the secular world. Employees in churches. And employees at LifeWay.

Including one employee who happens to have the title of “president and CEO.”

This article was originally published at on February 19, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at