57 Cents: Multiplying Leadership

by Stephen T. Messenger

September 6, 2022

Hattie May Wiatt was a six-year-old girl who lived in Philadelphia in 1884. One day, she walked to Grace Baptist Church, but it was too crowded for her to enter. As she stood there sobbing on the sidewalk, Russell Conwell, the minister and future founder of Temple University, saw her tears and told her they hoped one day to build a church large enough so everyone could come in.

Two years later Hattie died, and her parents told the minister of how she was saving to build a bigger church by running errands for a penny each. They gave the minister a bag containing 57 cents from under Hattie’s pillow with a note from her. It said: “To help build [the church] bigger so that more children can go to Sunday school.”

The minister told the story of Hattie May to the congregation, converted the money into pennies, and offered to sell each one to raise money. They raised about $250.

This money was used to buy property for the Primary Department of the Sunday School, where the first classes of Temple College were held. Later, this building was sold to fund the growth of Temple and the Good Samaritan Hospital, now Temple University Hospital. Hattie May’s 57 cents began a movement.

Multiplying Your Efforts

Great ideas often start with one person, but the tasks quickly exceed their abilities. Leaders need to take their individual efforts and multiply them, leveraging other people. It’s not so much about what you personally can accomplish, but the exponential impact you have through those you lead.

In the book Multiplier: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman, the concept is moving from doing everything yourself to leveraging the incredible talent of those around you. You have so many hungry, intelligent, motivated members of your team ready to use their imagination to do great things—use them!

Yet, we all find ourselves at times micromanaging and exerting authority, stifling productivity in the process.

Shifting Your Leadership

Study this Leadership Shift from Kacy Maxwell, Executive Marketing Leader. He depicts these scales from leaders on the left “doing” to leaders on the right “multiplying.”

Leadership Shift created by Kacy Maxwell, Executive Marketing Leader

There are certainly times when leaders need to be on the left side of the scale. Hattie was when she earned her pennies.

But the best leaders camp on the right side. They think about the future, delegate tasks, coach through challenges, lead teams, and empower others to succeed. They take on a role as servant leader, providing vision and guidance while allowing others to maximize their talents and passions.

You don’t have to be the smartest one in the room, but you do have to be the best at identifying whose skillset matches with what tasks. Then, as author Stephen Covey would say in his book, Trust and Inspire, tell them what to do and let them wow you with how they did it. It’s less commanding and controlling others and more inspiring them to do great things while trusting them through the process.

Leaders multiply their efforts through others to achieve the organization’s maximum standard.

The Siren’s Song of Micromanagement

If you find yourself doing a lot of tasks that others can do in your organization, you are literally taking power from other people. And when you do, they will allow you to do their job for them. Not ideal. Leaders should do only the things that their position should be doing—everything else should be about empowering others.

This is hard. I find myself wanting to get into the tactical fight all the time because it’s fun… and comfortable. But that’s no longer my lot in life. It’s less about earning another penny to fund the building, and more about multiplying those pennies through other means.

This doesn’t mean you should never get your hands dirty. Last week, I took a tour of our waste water treatment plant and spent a few minutes cleaning out a pipe which collected all the trash from the toilets. Not a pleasant job, but critically important. And a few great men down at this plant clean the pipe every day to keep the water system moving.

Leaders need to see what their people are doing and understand their tasks. How else will you identify challenges and obstacles that exceed their capabilities? But the preponderance of your time should be focused on providing intent, resourcing others, and removing barriers so others can be successful.

Multiplying Cents into Dollars

Hattie May didn’t know her 57 cents would be the foundation for Temple University. Yet this effort grew exponentially through Dr. Conwell casting vision, inspiring others, and multiplying the full efforts of a team to create overwhelming success. Our job as leaders is to multiply the work of others to go above and beyond the original goals.

Take a look at the tasks you’re doing. Are you the only one who can do this, or can you trust and empower others so you can focus on multiplying the effects of your team?

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