Green and Clean (Part One)

My friend, Todd Nettleton, reminded me of a great story that Stephen Covey included in his classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Enjoy!

Some years ago, I had an interesting experience in delegation with one of my sons. We were having a family meeting, and we had our mission statement up on the wall to make sure our plans were in harmony with our values. Everybody was there.

I set up a big blackboard and we wrote down our goals — the key things we wanted to do — and the jobs that flowed out of those goals. Then I asked for volunteers to do the job.

“Who wants to pay the mortgage?” I asked. I noticed I was the only one with my hand up.

“Who wants to pay for the insurance? The food? The cars?” I seemed to have a real monopoly on the opportunities. As we went down the list, job by job, it was soon evident that Mom and Dad had more than sixty-hour work weeks. With that paradigm in mind, some of the other jobs took on a more proper perspective.

My seven-year-old son, Stephen, volunteered to take care of the yard. Before I actually gave him a job, I began a thorough training process. I wanted him to have a clear picture in his mind of what a well-cared-for yard was like, so I took him next door to our neighbor’s.

“Look, son,” I said. “See how our neighbor’s yard is green and clean? That’s what we’re after: green and clean. Now come look at our yard. See the mixed colors? That’s not it; that’s not green. Green and clean is what we want. Now how you get it green is up to you. You’re free to do it any way you want, except paint it. But I’ll tell you how I’d do it if it were up to me.”

“How would you do it, Dad?”

“I’d turn on the sprinklers. But you may want to use buckets or a hose. It makes no difference to me. All we care about is that the color is green. Okay?”


“Now let’s talk about ‘clean,’ Son. Clean means no messes around — no paper, strings, bones, sticks, or anything that messes up the place.
I’ll tell you what let’s do. Let’s just clean up half of the yard right now and look at the difference.”

So we got out two paper sacks and picked up one side of the yard. “Now look at this side. Look at the other side. See the difference? That’s called clean.”

“Wait!” he called. “I see some paper behind that bush!”
“Oh, good! I didn’t notice that newspaper back there. You have good eyes, son.”

“Now before you decide whether or not you’re going to take the job, let me tell you a few more things. Because when you take the job, I don’t do it anymore. It’s your job. It’s called a stewardship. Stewardship means ‘a job with a trust.’ I trust you to do the job, to get it done. Now who’s going to be your boss?”

“You, Dad?”

“No, not me. You’re the boss. You boss yourself. How do you like Mom and Dad nagging you all the time?”

“I don’t.”

“We don’t like doing it either. It sometimes causes a bad feeling doesn’t it? So you boss yourself…Now, guess who your helper is.”


“I am,” I said. “You boss me.”

“I do?”

“That’s right. But my time to help is limited. Sometimes I’m away. But when I’m here, you tell me how I can help. I’ll do anything you want me to do.”


“Now guess who judges you.”


“You judge yourself.”

“I do?”

“That’s right. Twice a week the two of us will walk around the yard and you can show me how it’s coming. How are you going to judge?”

“Green and clean.”


I trained him with those two words for two weeks before I felt he was ready to take the job. Finally, the big day came…

I love this story. In fact, it reveals good leadership, for our staff or our students. Tomorrow, I will reveal what happened as Stephen Covey’s son took on the job.


Green and Clean (Part One)