Lessons from Elite Leaders: Bearing Witness at Work through Generosity, Part 3 of 8

Blog/Produced by The High Calling

Lessons from Elite Leaders: Bearing Witness at Work through Generosity, Part 3 of 8

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

People of faith are called to use their influence and power to work toward the common good. Laity Leadership Institute Senior Fellow D. Michael Lindsay says his new PLATINUM Study on elite leaders tells an important story about how leaders can work toward the common good through workplace generosity.

The story of David Grizzle, Chief Counsel for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), stood out to Lindsay from his interviews of some 500 leaders. Grizzle had a long career at Continental Airlines, retiring in 2008 as senior vice president of customer experience. (The High Calling interviewed Grizzle in 2006.)

In the late 1990s, Grizzle brokered a landmark marketing deal between Continental and Northwest Airlines that transformed the industry, according to Lindsay. Continental and Northwest sold seats on each other’s airplanes and shared reciprocal agreements in their frequent flyer programs that laid the groundwork for the mergers and consolidations that have since become standard in the airline industry.

Grizzle and other senior executives received extremely generous end of year bonuses as a result of Grizzle’s work, but he decided he didn’t need another seven-figure bonus. He declined it and redirected the money through Continental’s corporate philanthropy to the relief organization, World Vision. Because he didn’t have to pay income tax on the money, approximately 30 percent more went to people who really did need the wealth of resources it could provide.

“He’s just an amazing guy. His example of taking something that was actually due him and giving it back, that really impressed me,” says Lindsay.  Sadly, he hasn’t heard many stories like Grizzle’s in his extensive research of elite leaders. “When I do encounter them, they really stand out,” he adds.  

The impact David Grizzle made at Continental has followed him to the FAA, where his online bio says, “He led Continental to address persistent deficits in product delivery, improving the total travel experience for Continental's customers by building a culture of honesty, caring and simplicity throughout Continental and creating a new type of relationship between Continental and its customers.”

In 2004, the executive took a 14 month leave of absence from Continental to serve as U.S. Department of State Attache, Senior Advisor and Coordinator for Transportation and Infrastructure in Kabul, Afghanastan. Again, his FAA bio says, “In Kabul, he steered the American reconstruction effort in the areas of aviation, roads, power and communications. He advised the US Ambassador and four Afghan ministers and coordinated the efforts of the US Agency for International Development and other multilateral development banks. A major focus of his work was balancing the competing demand for immediate, visible results with the slower and less conspicuous process of developing Afghan human and institutional capacity necessary for sustainable progress. He witnessed first-hand the challenge of following good development theory in a highly politicized aid environment and was able to contrast the theory and practice of nation-building.”

Lindsay believes workplace generosity is one of the best ways Christians can bear witness at work. David Grizzle serves as an example of someone who has done that to great effect. The question for us is: how can we, ourselves, bear witness by being similarly generous?

D. Michael Lindsay is a Senior Fellow at Laity Leadership Institute. He is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rice University and Director of the Program for the Study of Leadership. He is also author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. For this eight part series of lessons from elite leaders, The High Calling talked to Lindsay about his new PLATINUM Study, for which he has conducted 500 interviews. Photo used with permission, via Flickr.