Flying Purple People Eaters

Written by Burt Braunius /
April 15, 2014

“Flying Purple People Eater” is a novelty tune from the early days of rock and roll. It was number one on the pop charts in 1958, in spite of the fact that the lyrics made little—if any–sense. To hear an original edition of this number about an alien who comes out of the sky, has one long horn, one big eye, is pigeon-toed; and wants to eat purple people, as well as be in a rock and roll band, click here.The title of the song somehow reminds me that there are leaders who “eat people.” By that I mean, they seem to chew people up and spit them out. They are the heavy-handed directors or the passive-aggressive manipulators. Their organizations, including “their” churches, are revolving doors for staff turn-over and dysfunction. The reality is that there is some “people eater” in each of us. Here are some of the characteristics.

You might be a people eater if you …

  • are not open, transparent, and vulnerable with other team members and are, consequently, unwilling to admit mistakes, acknowledge weaknesses, or ask for help;
  • do not allow your team to engage in forthright, straightforward, and intense discussion about key issues, especially when their views are different from your own;
  • expect team members to be unquestioningly committed to your conclusions without having some level of buy-in to the decision-making processes and without being given genuine opportunity to ask questions or provide feedback;
  • choose not to hold team members accountable for ineffective performance, counterproductive behaviors, independent agendas, or passivity in their areas of responsibility;
  • fail to focus on team or organizational results, or if team members are permitted to put personal success (e.g., individual status and ego) before team success.

(These points are based upon The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.)

Conversely, you might be a people developer if you…

  • earn the trust of team members;
  • interact positively, thoughtfully, and even passionately with others as you tackle together ideas and issues;
  • follow through on your commitments, doing what you said you would do;
  • are a person of integrity as you set high standards and processes of accountability for yourself and others;
  • get the job done as a team and afterward together celebrate the results.

A biblical story
I think of the centurion in Luke 7:1-10 as a people developer. His servant is sick. He hears about Jesus and sends representatives to him. When Jesus is nearby, he sends the message, “Say the word and my servant will be healed” (verse 7). Jesus responds by saying that he has not found such great faith in Israel. And then, the passage tells us, the servant who was sick is healed.

The passage causes me to wonder about the centurion:
How is he an example of trust?
How does he interact positively with others?
How does he follow through on his word?
To what standards or commitments does he hold himself accountable?
How does he use teamwork to get the desired results?/What do you imagine the celebration to be like?


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