Work family (aka, my favorite post yet)

If you happen to be one of my regular readers, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been a bit inconsistent in my posts lately. I could easily blame it on the monster product introduction that my team is helping to coordinate next week (next week will be nutty too) but I must confess that the Stanley Cup Finals probably took their toll on my blogging just as much as work-related issues.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an insatiable Red Wings fan, and I consider hockey to be a gift from God. After doing the quick math, I estimated that I spent about 13 days of my year (104 games x 2 hours each = 208, divide by 16 waking hours in each day) watching Red Wings games, not counting going to spring training and local Grand Rapids Griffins games. That probably sounds like a lot, but I don’t take any vacations or hunting trips with the guys… I just spread out a couple of weeks worth of guy time each week over the 9-month televised hockey season. I thank the good Lord for every one of those months.

Anyhoo, my Wings won Lord Stanley’s Cup on Wednesday night. I’m still basking in the glow and was very happy to see this article from ESPN about why the Wings are such a special team. Take a minute to read it. In a nutshell, it stresses that the culture of the team (which, not surprisingly, starts at the top) is like a closely-knit family with a strong sense of loyalty.

This isn’t news to us Wings fans, as back in the beginning of the ’02 season (when they also won the cup), many of the top paid stars on the team took a voluntary pay cut to make room for one more guy (Brett Hull) whom they wanted on the team. I’d like to see that happen in the NBA or NFL. Also, each year the owners of the Red Wings pay to have all of the players’ dads (or in some cases, sons) travel with the team on a 3-game West Coast road trip. Very cool. Hockey is, and hopefully always will be, a sport where the personal ambitions of players take a backseat to the wellness of the team. As someone once put it, it’s a sport about what’s on the front of the jersey, not what’s on the back.

James wrote, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice(James 3:16).” The Wings success and the team’s ability to help rehabilitate the lives of Darren McCarty and the careers of guys like Dan Cleary point to the absence of selfish ambition. Imagine if all of our workplaces were so devoid of these toxins…

(but before you get all caught up in that heavy thought, check out this clip from Scrubs)

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Starting over

Most people I know have had to start their careers over at some point. Sometimes these moves are voluntary, like when someone wants to make a major career shift late in life, but often they aren’t. Living here in Michigan, where the job base is shifting away from manufacturing and unemployment is high, I know quite a few folks that are starting over. I was reminded of this last night when my father-in-law was discussing how he started over thirty years ago. He had decided to open a restaurant which unfortunately didn’t make it. Left with a lot of debt and a young family, he looked for a job that paid him a modest amount that could grow into over time. He found a job in sales that he enjoyed and could do well at (extremely well, actually), and it wasn’t long before he was out of debt and one of the owners of that company.

It reminds me of the woman described in 2 Kings 4. Widowed and deeply in debt, she found herself with virtually no options (women couldn’t just find jobs in ancient Judah) so she sought out the help of the prophet Elisha. He asked her “what do you have in the house?” and she replied that she had nothing except a small flask of olive oil. He told her to borrow as many empty jars as she could from her friends and family and once she had, he miraculously filled every one to the brim. She was able to sell these jars of oil, get herself out of debt, and have enough left over to support her children.

This is a story that can teach us all a little something. Left with few options, the widow sought help from God, and he allowed her to build on the little that she had. The combination of a flask of olive oil and a few friends whom were willing to lend a hand allowed her to climb out of the hole she was in, and to provide her a foundation for her future. The key, I think, is that it starts with asking God to help us build on the gifts he’s already given us.

Modern-day Amos

 

Have you ever noticed how much better known the people and stories of the New Testament are than the Old Testament? As a bonafide history geek, I enjoy looking back at books like 1 & 2 Chronicles, the books of “minor” prophets such as Hosea and Habakkuk, and digging up some of the classic narratives from Genesis. So for something a little different this week, I thought I’d highlight some of the folks I’ve found interesting from the OT and we’ll see if their lives offer us any helpful perspectives for being a 21st Century Christian in Corporate America.

Do you ever sense that you’re in the midst of a world that never really stops and thinks about their relationship with God? Sure, lots of folks go to church, some might even tip God a $20 when the basket passes by, but the stuff they hear in the Bible (or don’t hear) and the exhortations of the minister never seem to transcend that hour on Sunday mornings…

Welcome to the life of Amos. Amos was a shepherd living in Israel about 700+ years or so before Jesus was born. Israel was in a time of prosperity, and while religious ritual was common, living God-pleasing lives was rare. God called Amos to take a break from his day job to send some prophecy to Israel’s leaders that, well, wasn’t exactly optimistic. He was quick to explain that he was an amateur (“I’m not one of your professional prophets. I certainly never trained to be one.“) and used his position among the people to tell them what God needed them to hear, and to set a bold example of devotional living for them.

This is us, friends. We might not be paid ministers, but we find ourselves in a land of prosperity, often surrounded by those that think being a Christian is about weekly church attendance. Like Amos, we should be perceptive of the differences between rituals and authentic Godly living. After using Amos to rebuke Israel for all of its immoral behavior, the Lord said, “I hate all of your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.”

So should we go and tell someone at work who is acting in an ungodly manner that their ritualistic church attendance displeases God? Maybe, but I also believe that we’re sometimes called to add perspective in the workplace in more subtle ways than what Amos was asked to do in his day.

If we lead dynamic, God-honoring lives, people are bound to notice. When they do, we should encourage them to see beyond the doldrums of rote religious service.  Can you imagine being stuck going to weekly church services while stuck in a life that was devoid of spiritual vigor? How boring. As C.S. Lewis once said,

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

You can quote me on this.

Ever notice how often quotes get used in business language? Business talks and PowerPoints are peppered with quotes from modern day business gurus like Peter Drucker, Seth Godin, Malcom Gladwell and Bill Gates. Most are used to justify a key point, but every once in a while they just seem to do a great job capturing a big thought. I’ve had a favorite quote near my cube for the last few years by Michael Hammer. In his book The World Is Flat, he wrote,

“One thing that tells me a company is in trouble is when they tell me how good they were in the past. Same with countries. You don’t want to forget your identity. I am glad you were great in the fourteenth century, but that was then and this is now. When memories exceed dreams, the end is near. The hallmark of a truly successful organization is the willingness to abandon what made it successful and start fresh.”

I’ve found this quote relevant in many contexts, including at work, in politics, in family matters, and in our churches. In business, it’s a cry for reinvention. With respect to our spiritual lives, it can be a reminder not to live in the past.

It’s critically important to understand our history, both as individual Christ-followers and as his collective body here on Earth. We should always remember him (as we do in communion) and what he did for us when he was on Earth, as well as what he’s done for us in our lives as we’ve walked with him. But we shouldn’t stop there. Do we spend enough time dreaming of what God will do, and whether or not we might get to help play a part in his plans? I know that I don’t. Many of us fall into the trap of thinking too fatalistically about the future, as if it’s going to hell in a handbasket and God has nothing wonderful in store until the Jesus returns. As the great William Carey once said, “Attempt great things for God, expect great things from God.”

In Godly matters, history builds our trust and cements our faith, but it’s the future that evokes hope and inspires action. When our memories exceed our dreams, the end is near.

Fireproof bridges

Did you ever have that girlfriend or boyfriend that you just couldn’t seem to stay broken up with when you were younger? Well, I’m beginning to see a parallel in the workplace.

I got talking with a friend who leads some of our new-hire training today and he mentioned to me that when we lose new-hires to other jobs, its almost always to their old employer. As I pondered that, I bumped into another old friend who had just returned to the company after working elsewhere!

You know the drill. A company offers you a job, and you think you’ve won the lottery. You take your job on romantic carriage rides and take closeup pictures of the two of you with your digital camera. After a while, the romance wanes but you’re happy not being on the market, searching Monster for available hotties. Pretty soon, you can’t figure out how this slouch of a job ever earned your affection in the first place and you are just certain that there’s truckloads of hot prospects waiting for you to become free. Ah, romance.

But who am I to talk? I was an intern at our company in college and then left after the summer. I came back the next summer and left again. Then I came back as a contractor, finally got hired, only to leave the company five years later to go back to school. Then, you guessed it, I came back to the company less than a year after getting my MBA. The lessons in all of this?

I learned two. First, our capacity for taking our employers for granted is pretty darned high. The cliche is often true – it’s not always sunnier on the other side of the street.  Second, it’s best not to burn your bridge because you might find yourself doing an about-face as you take that last step off of it.

James tells us in James 3 that, “the tongue is a flame of fire” that can set those bridges ablaze. Being thankful and keeping our tongue in check is key.  Paul tells his friends in the Colossian church in Col 3:16-17,

“Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise… And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.”

Yep, that should pretty much keep us out of trouble.

Age and advice

 

I recently got reading yet another article about the generational dynamics happening within today’s workplace. It seems that this is the topic-du-jour right now, and on one hand I’m sick of reading about it, but on the other hand I’m fascinated by it. With millions of Baby Boomers exiting the workforce and only about half as many Gen X’ers to take their place, companies are facing both a knowlege-management crisis and a talent crunch. Well, at least they will until the mammoth number of Gen Y’ers flood the workplace. If those Baby Boomers would have only had their kids before their mid-thirties, we’d have a little smoother transition here.

This particular articlefrom Businessweek made an interesting observation – that younger workers (Gen Y or Millenials) are ignoring traditional hierarchical protocols and shooting off e-mails and phone calls to senior Baby Boomer leaders in order to tap into their expertise on various subjects.  Good for them. I’m all for them breaking down the boundaries and asking some VP for a little bit of knowledge if they need it.  I hope that this trend continues. Among the Baby Boomers in leadership that I know, I’ve witnessed a strong desire from them to pass on their wisdom to others before they reach retirement. I also got in a chat with our Western Canada sales manager recently and he told me about how “mentorship contracts” are becoming all the rage at the energy companies in Calgary. Baby Boomers are put on contract immediately after retirement to spend time in the office doing nothing but mentoring younger employees who need their help. Brilliant!

King David (who as King of Israel and father of wise Solomon should know something about providing counsel), wrote in Psalm 37:30-1,

“The godly offer good counsel; they know what is right from wrong. They fill their hearts wtih God’s law, so they will never slip from his path.”

What a good observation for all of us, young or old. I’ve been very blessed over the years to not only have older co-workers that were willing to teach me a thing or two, but a few Christian ones whose advice and wise counsel have made a real difference in my life. I hope that as I grow in my career that I can share a little something with some younger folks that are willing to ask. That is, if any of them are willing to bother with an ancient Gen X’er…

Perfection, redefined.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15)

I’m not a perfectionist (just ask my wife), but I’ve known people that are. Perfectionism within the Christian community is particularly puzzling to me given that it’s only through the acknowlegement of our imperfection that we accept our need for a savior. Whether you drift towards perfectionism or merely witness it around you, we can turn to Gregory of Nyssa for some perspective.

One of the early Eastern church fathers, Gregory of Nyssa lived in the fourth century in what is modern-day Turkey. In addition to being one of the first to explain the concept of the Trinity, Gregory encouraged others to use the Bible to grow closer to God, including the following excerpt from his work, The Life of Moses. In it, he answers an inquiry from a friend about achieving spiritual perfection.

“Since the goal of the virtuous way of life is the very thing we have been seeking, it is time for you, noble friend, to be known by God and to become his friend.  This is true perfection: not to avoid a wicked life because like slaves we serviley fear punishment, nor to do good because we hope for rewards, as if cashing in on the virtuous life by some business-like arrangement. On the contrary, disregarding all those things for which we hope and which have been reserved by promise, we regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire. This as I have said, is the perfection of life.”

There we have it. We can forgive ourselves of our own imperfections since we’ve already been forgiven by God, and focus on what is really perfect – becoming friends with our Lord as we pursue the virtuous life and work together to care for those around us.