Seven Traits of a Successful Employee: Lessons from Kenny Washington

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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.”


  1. Sherry Turrentine says

    What a beautiful testimony and tribute to Kenny!! Thank you for sharing what an impact he’s made on your life. To know Kenny is to love him!

  2. James Jackson says

    I first met Kenny when my wife and I were interns for the Centrifuge program in 1994. At that time, the Fuge “cage” (where we kept all our camp inventory) was right next to Kenny’s work area. A day in the cage was not always something we looked forward to as interns. It was dirty, dusty, sometimes backbreaking work as we sorted out what came back from camp that needed to be repaired, re-ordered, or recycled. But without fail, Kenny would greet us with a smile as we passed him.

    Four years later, I came back to work for LifeWay full time. Kenny was still there, still smiling, still doing his part to make LifeWay “go.” And 15 years later, he still is. I truly never have not seen him smiling. His attitude is inspiring. I don’t think anyone who has ever walked through 2OP on their way to the bookstore has passed by Kenny and failed to feel better for having done so. I am so glad he was honored in chapel.

  3. Lee says

    Great column! I love to go past Kenny’s work station, because he always has a cheery hello and a huge smile when anybody goes by. I had the honor of praying for him when he was deployed and was SO happy to see him return safe and sound! He’s a joy to work with and I’m proud to call him my brother!

  4. Cody West says

    I had the privilege of working closely with Kenny from 05-09 in the print services department. He is the most positive and energetic person I have ever known! I was very fortunate to get to know Kenny on a personal level and looked up and respected him very much! Congrats Kenny, you deserve it!

  5. Elizabeth W. says

    I have had the privilege of working with Kenny for several years now and he is really a blessing. I love walking by his station and saying hello. He is always smiling. But also what I most admire from him is his work ethic and wiliness to serve. I work in the International area and our shipments are usually send to other countries. Kenny has always do everything in his power to help us, by getting quotes and researching the best way to send our resources in a reliable way, following all the international rules and keeping cost down. I am so happy he is getting this recognition. He deserves it.

    Thank you Dr. Rainer for this tribute to Kenny and his work.

  6. Monica Palmer says

    I worked with Kenny’s sister Rose Mary before I came to “the Sunday School Board”. I knew instantly he had to be her brother. The Washington’s are good people!! Kenny’s our own rock star!!! Well loved and well deserving. Thanks for sharing! Brought tears to my eyes. So proud to know this man.

  7. Beth says

    Man! This was a punch to the gut! I have just gone from part time to full time, and things are changing in the office where I work. I must admit that I have “voiced” my opinion, as have others after finding out just yesterday just how much it was going to change. I must admit that my reaction was far from Christlike. Thank you for reminding me to reign in my grumbling, to be thankful for the job I have, and to strive to go above and beyond what is expected. Even if my boss and peers don’t take notice, that’s ok, because the ultimate approval will come from my Jesus.

  8. Jenny says

    Dr. Rainer, thank you for this post on Kenny. Before that Pursuit of Excellence service, I honestly didn’t know his name. I only knew him as the man I pass in the hallway at LifeWay who always has an enthusiastic and friendly smile on his face. I didn’t know what his job was and I had not interacted with him as part of my work. It isn’t just his work ethic that has made an impact. This may sound too simplistic, but Kenny has impacted more people than he will ever realize just by his greeting in the hallways at LifeWay. All he believes comes through that smile.

  9. Rusty Faulks says

    A great blog about a man who has impacted many people, probably without even knowing it. Kenny Washington is humble, full of faith, considering the interest of others above his own. What a blessing to have a man like Kenny working at LifeWay.

  10. Cathy says

    This post brought tears to my eyes. Kenny is an excellent example of what a great employee really is. You NEVER pass Kenny in the hallway without a cheerful greeting and that sweet smile on his face. You can certainly see Jesus shine though him. Well deserved recognition!

  11. Jim Shull says

    It was great to see Kenny get this well-deserved recognition. He has consistently maintained his upbeat, positive attitude and enthusiastic customer service through the years. He goes the exta mile to help with any project. He is an exemplary employee whose life honors Christ.

  12. Sheila G. Brown says

    Kenny is “the real deal” – he lives out his convictions on a daily basis! A favorite of mine from the day I met him. What an example of a “servant heart”. Well-deserved recognition and the extraordinary response from his peers! Thanks for these wonderful insights on his character.

  13. Emily Ryan says

    I was so glad to see Kenny up on that stage being celebrated, but I’m even more pleased to read this post . LifeWay leaders asking “who is this guy?”………exactly. You now know how special Kenny is to all of us at LifeWay and beyond. This post fully recognizes Kenny for his knowlegde, expertise, and forever willingness to help. One more thing that makes Kenny a favorite here at LifeWay is his constant smile and positive attitude. Thanks for acknowledging Kenny. He very much deserves it!

  14. Michael Williams, Sr says

    Kenny Washington is truly a genuine friend and a Christian man he is my Battle Buddy as we call it in the Tennessee Army Guard where we serve together on Sidco Drive in Nashville, he is the someone you can talk to when you are felling down or depressed about something we all have a Battle Buddy and I chose Staff Sergeant Washington a long time ago to be mine. I have called on Kenny in 2011 when I lost my brother Johnny Cunningham to drowning in the Kentucky Lake at Paris Landing State Park; I called on him again when my daughter was incarcerated in 2012 leaving 4 children for us to care for as grandparents for 5 more years. Also in 2013 my son was going through tough times dealing with anxiety and depression almost losing his job but his mother and I intervened and he is still working and doing better now. Each of these times weighed heavy on my heart so I called on my friend and shared all of my personal issues with Kenny and at the end of each conversion I was always more relieved and at ease, and felt like there going to be a better day tomorrow. Listing to Kenny’s kind and caring words has meant a lot to me over the years and I agree he is a gift from God. Oh I almost forgot my Battle Buddy Staff Sergeant Kenny Washington gave me a fine leather NIV Version Bible, the 9th July 2009 as a gift. I just want everyone to know Kenny is a role model in the Military also.
    Master Sergeant Michael Williams Paris, TN

  15. David R Kennedy says

    Kenny is a good worker, very efficient in what he does. I have seen several times when he was out –vacation or guard duty- that it took 3 or 4 persons to do his work!

    Also I’d like to thank you Dr Rainer for honoring Kenny not only with this post, but also your kindness in taking him to lunch that day. I was very glad to see it happen!

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