Lighten up

Anyone see this article on MSNBC today? It’s about the benefit of humor in the workplace (and the host of issues surrounding offensive jokes). Years ago, when I worked at the School of Management at North Park University, I worked for a wonderful retired Air Force Colonel who, among other things, taught strategic mangement classes and attended a yearly conference put on by the Humor Project. He taught his management courses from a Christian worldview and often remarked that humor should have it’s place among the other sound disciplines of management. I think he was right. The Apostle Paul tells us to avoid “obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes” (Eph 5) but that certainly doesn’t relegate us to become a bunch of humorless relgious stereotypes, does it?  I think not. As an example, if you’ve not seen it yet, one of my favorite funny places for a Christian laugh is the blog Stuff Christians Like. For example, hand raising in church. Enjoy.

Productive Anger

“A man is about as big as the things that make him angry.” – Winston Churchill

“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” – Dr. Laurence J. Peter

I had the pleasure of catching up with an old coworker this past weekend. While we mostly talked about our personal lives, we also got a chance to catch up on what each other is doing at work and the opportunities and challenges we face. It’s always interesting to me to see that people who really care – those who are really invested in their organization and its future – often go through periods of feeling disenfranchised and even angry with the decisions of their organization. I’m not talking about being angry because one feels personally wronged (although that sometimes happens); I’m talking about feeling frustrated with not having the ability to help your organization make better choices. And while no one can be assured that their way is the right way, we shouldn’t be surprised that sometimes these situations can create a degree of anger wtihin us.

Understandably, we’re taught on some tacit level that  if we disagree with the organization’s decisions, that concern – not anger – is the more appropriate response. That’s probably true behaviorally (I’ve not yet “cleansed” the conference room after a meeting a la Jesus in the temple… yet), but we need not be ashamed when frustration bleeds over into anger. I’ve seen similar situations within the church. No one wants to seem like they’re too sensitive or easily provoked, but when we ask people to heavily invest their time, talents and their heart into an organization, we get the whole heart – not just the fuzzy part.

Fortunately, there is such a thing as holy anger. Simply put, holy anger is that anger which stems from somthing that is justifiably upsetting and that is handled appropriately. As Paul told the Ephesians, “In your anger, do not sin.” Jesus and many other people in the Bible grew angry at times without letting their anger lead them to sin. The real test for us, it seems, is to handle it well… to channel it into productive means of improving the organization, and, when those opportunties arise, to seek the campanionship and counsel of our fellow workplace believers to give us some healthy perspective.

Standards of excellence

Today I hopped in the car to travel between buildings for a meeting and caught all of two minutes of Pastor Greg Laurie’s talk about Daniel in the lions’ den. Daniel is a really interesting guy, isn’t he? He’s a Jewish exile, but he’s got a killer job, working as a right-hand man for Darius, the King of Babylon. Darius, and for that matter the other high officials that plotted to kill Daniel, found him faultless in his behavior and outstanding in his service to the king. Now this is a guy who cared about integrity and pursued excellence.

In the part of Greg Laurie’s talk that I heard, he was exhorting Christians to raise our personal performance standards. On some level, many of us assume that because we’re Christians that others will want to work with us (or have us work for them). We assume that letting others know we’re Christians will let them know that we value integrity and carry a strong worth ethic. Christian business owners put Jesus fish on their logos and many of us take steps to brand ourselves as workplace believers. These aren’t necessarily bad things, but as Laurie pointed out, we may have the process backwards. If we are Christ-followers, we should do like Daniel did – create a standard of performance and professionalism that is unquestionable. Then, once our reputation is cemented, and people later realize that we’re people of faith, our reputations in the workplace will assist us in representing (“re-presenting”) Christ to an unbelieving world.

To hear the rest of the sermon, go here and choose “Daniel in the Lion’s Den – 7/23/08”

An ambitious week

What comes to your mind when you think of having an ambitious week? Making a huge sale? Taking charge of a major project? Putting in long hours to get ahead of your upcoming work? Applying for a new position that has more responsibility and pays a little more? I don’t know about you, but some weeks I crave the simplicity of something a little less… well, ambitious.

Fortunately, my upcoming ambitious week will consist of putting in 45 hours at the office, mostly staying focused in my project room on tying up some loose ends on a number of projects, and getting home by 5:30 to have dinner with the family. Life has been a little crazy lately, and tonight I got thinking about God’s words to the people of Thessalonica (in 1Thes 4),

“This should be your ambition: to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we commanded you before. As a result, people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others to meet your financial needs.”

How awesome is that? Isn’t it great to know that the ultimate boss doesn’t really care that much about us trying to achieve that bigger title or the “Salesperson of the Month” award? What’s really important is working hard, having integrity, and being respectful of others.

That, I can do.

Forks, Fat and Fruit

Well after nearly two weeks of traveling, I’m finally back at home. Last week, the family and I went on a very enjoyable vacation and I spent the early part of this week in Chicago and Milwaukee. And what have I got to show for all of that travel? About four pounds.

I should have known better. Some time ago, I determined that controling my burgeoning waistline during times of business travel really just boils down to making a few smarter choices and having some self-control.

Part of the issue is just that I love free things. Why eat that same Fiber One granola bar that I eat each morning when the company will pick up eggs benedict in the hotel restaurant? The other issue is that going out with coworkers for dinner and a beer often trumps getting up early and working out. But being gluttoneous is Biblically paramount with being a drunkard (Prov 23:20-21), and both vices ruin far more lives than most of the crazy things the news has us worried about.

Last year I managed to actually lose 10 lbs when I was traveling a lot, thanks to having both a great boss and a great traveling partner. My boss, who had truly embraced the concept of office wellness, encouraged all the members of our team to schedule a daily hour at the gym just as we would any other mandatory meeting. Knowing that none of us ever put in less than a full work week anyway, he was precient in realizing that this strategy would keep us mentally and physically in the game over the long haul. In addition to him, I had a traveling partner that enjoyed being social as a team during morning workouts instead of at the hotel bar each night. That changed things… fewer late nights, better sleep, fewer calories and more exercise. On top of that, I learned that opting for smarter food choices – sushi instead of chinese, and a glass of red wine instead of a heavy beer, oil and vinegar instead of ranch – can make a huge difference. 

I guess it’s time for me to brush off those learnings from last year, drop the fries, and opt for some fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and SELF-CONTROL.”

Permission to learn

 

Yesterday I mentioned how much I love Harvard Business Review, and I was reminded of how true that is today after reading Amy Edmonson’s article, The Competitive Imperative of Learning, in this month’s issue. Her article contrasts those organizations focused soley on executing business strategies and those that execute with a conscious desire to learn throughout the process. She used two eighties-era mega-companies as examples (GM as an example of the former and GE as an example of the latter). She points out what most of us know but so many managers are blind to see – that those companies which build opportunities for feedback and learning into their processes win over the long haul. In effect, they give permission to their employees to spend time learning (and not necessarily in a classroom) and they create, as she calls them, “psychologically safe environments.” These are places where people don’t work in fear of punitive reprimands, but are intentionally encouraged to try new things (which will often fail), learn, and share.

What a wonderful lesson for the Christian and the Church. For us Christians in the workplace, it’s up to us (particularly those in leadership) to reinforce what Solomon wrote in Proverbs 13:16, that “every prudent man acts out of knowledge.” Not every idea will be successful, but failures can produce invaluable knowledge. We have the power to create environments where learning and collaborating is not only safe, but deeply valued, and where rank and status take a backseat to dedication and thoughtfulness. Likewise, this is one of those arenas where the Church (the Christian church as a whole) can learn from it’s own mistakes and that of the marketplace. Like a company too rigidly focused on a tactical business plan, faith is not a series of tasks to be executed by legions of minions, but rather a dynamic and inspiring process during which we, as God’s precious creation, learn more about him through our shared experiences following Jesus. As Paul told the church at Rome (now, somewhat ironically, the Vatican) in Romans 3,

“But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight – not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.”

Better aisles

 

Happy Monday – I hope you had a blessed holiday weekend! I had a great one because it was thoroughly relaxing, and I even managed to read a book in-between hanging out with the wife and kids. I confess, though, it wasn’t a business book. Is it just me, or is reading business books slightly less fun than most dental exams? With the exception of a few gems (my favorites still being those brand books by Marty Neumeier), I’ve found most options on the business aisle shelves at Barnes and Noble remarkably empty. My biggest issue with them is that most, including those considered to be modern-day classics (Friedman’s The World is Flat) and vogue newcomers (Heath brothers’ Made to Stick) is that the content gets precipitously less interesting after the first chapter. In some cases, the author just goes to deep, but often  it’s the opposite – that these books really could have been written in 100 pages or less but the author or publishers felt the need to unpack until the suitcase is in pieces.

There are exceptions, though. In the vogue author category, Seth Godin’s marketing books are short and to the point. Here’s a guy who is smart enough to know that some of us will pay $15 for a 80 page book (as I did recently with his book The Dip) if it means we won’t be bored to death reading it. But the best business read out there, in my opinion, isn’t a book. It’s Harvard Business Review. It’s better than almost any other resource and I actually enjoy it.  And while it’s expensive, it’s not compared to the dozen business books I wish I hadn’t bought last year.

But if I really consider what I read and how I’ve grows at work, I’m not sure that business books hold a candle to my other favorites – political biographies and, of course, the Bible. With respect to the former, I thoroughly believe that learning how Washington leveraged his exceptional but horribly dysfunctional advisory triumvirate (Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson) is much more useful than reading some guy’s new management theory. But even those biographies I love to read so much pale to the wealth of riches that can be found in scripture, particularly the Book of Proverbs. Perhaps it’s time we all re-evaluate how and what we learn in preparation for future career growth. As the Apostle Paul once told his protege Timothy in 2Tim 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” You just can’t find it in the business aisle.