Tag Archives: Integrity

Lunch with the CEO

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
2 Corinthians 10:3 (NIV)

A number of years ago my company served a midwest client. We were providing them with on-going customer satisfaction research, conducting Quality Assessments in their contact center, as well as coaching their sales and customer service teams. Then we learned that the company had been sold to a much larger conglomerate with global reach.

As always happens in a corporate buy-out, there was a subsequent shift in the executive ranks as the new owners brought in their own executives to run their new asset. I know that when this happens there is a very good possibility that we will lose our contract. New executives tend to come in having already formed their own strategic partnerships and alliances along their career journey. They use their new authority and this initial season of massive change to bring in the friends and colleagues they already know and trust.

In this case, the new CEO decided to let us finish our contract year as he observed the work we were doing and allowed us to present our data and explain the continuous improvement model we’d implemented which was successfully making positive changes to the customer experience. We were fortunate. As the year progressed he not only allowed us to continue our project, but he actually gave me additional projects to work on with him. At the end of the year he agreed to keep our projects moving.

During one of my visits I had lunch with the CEO. “Do you know why I keep you around?” he asked. He was a type 8 challenger so I had to be ready for him to ask almost any kind of arcane, direct question at any moment.

I hope we’re providing you with value,” or some such generic guess was my answer.

It’s your expense reports,” he answered just as directly as he’d asked the question.

Excuse me? My expense reports?

I deal with all sorts of outside vendors and consultants,” he went on to explain. “You wouldn’t believe what people try to charge me and get away with. First Class airfare, magazines they buy to read on the plane, luxury hotel suites, and the most expensive meals. One guy tried to expense a $200 bottle of wine with his lunch. Then they even try to charge margin on top of their expenses.”

You and your team,” he said, “are different. You only expense what is necessary and reasonable. In fact, I can tell you actually try to help me contain costs. It tells me a lot about who you are and how you operate. It tells me I can trust you.

It was a nice thing to hear, because our company has always tried to operate with integrity in all of our dealings and relationships. If you happen to have been in our gathering of Jesus’ followers a couple of days ago and heard the message, then you’ll understand when I say that I try to bring “Level 4” principles into our “Level 3” business dealings.

In today’s chapter, Paul expresses the same vein of thinking. He’s operating in the world but trying to bring a different level of operational principles in his relationships and dealings. He’s trying to bring the Kingdom into everything that he’s doing from his ministry to all of the fledgling gatherings in the Jesus Movement to the tent-making and repair business he ran wherever he went to provide for his daily needs so as not to be a financial burden on the believers he was serving.

This morning I’m preparing for a business trip. Once again I’m thinking about how I can serve well, love well, bring measurable value to my client, and be an example in all of my dealings. My memories of lunch with that CEO are a good reminder for me as I embark on my journey. I want my stated principles to be evident in my daily words and actions.

People are watching, and they notice.

 

A Simple Act of Integrity

“You shall purchase food from them for money, so that you may eat; and you shall also buy water from them for money, so that you may drink. Surely the Lord your God has blessed you in all your undertakings; he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.”
Deuteronomy 2:6-7 (NRSV)

Many years ago I did a short stint as youth pastor of a fairly good sized youth group. I would often find myself taking large groups of kids on various outings throughout the year. There were mission trips, ski trips, camping trips, trips to conferences, trips to concerts, trips to sporting events, and trips to the amusement park. It was common for me to lead a bus full of middle and high schoolers into a restaurant for a meal while we were on the road.

I made a point of talking to my kids about the integrity of not only paying for what you eat and drink, but also paying the human beings who served us in restaurants. I could see the look of agony behind the counter as my little nation of teens poured into Pizza Hut. My kids and I talked about putting ourselves in the shoes of our servers, the integrity of paying for both what we consume and the service we receive from others.

One evening I had a my usual throng of kids in the city for I can’t even remember what event. Knowing that their hunger was voracious as always, I herded them into an all-you-can-eat spaghetti joint and we loaded up on carbs Italian style. It just so happened that our server that night was a girl who was in my high school youth group when I had been part of the herd a few years earlier. After the meal, as I was rustling my kids out of the restaurant, my old friend from high school tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned to receive a warm hug.

With tears in her eyes, she admitted to me that she swore when she saw our group coming in. She knew from experience that a group of teens meant she was going to work her butt off for a bunch of rowdy adolescents and then get stiffed for the effort. She told me how kind the kids had been, how well they had conducted themselves, but most of all she couldn’t believe how well they had tipped her.

Along my life journey I’ve observed our culture increasingly given to cost shifting. As long as something is free to us, we ignore the fact that someone else has paid the price for it. I was struck this morning by the very simple command God gave to His herd of Hebrew children on their trip to the sea: “Pay a fair price for what you eat. Pay for the water you drink. Don’t take it. Don’t expect someone else to pay for it or incur the cost of it.

This morning I am reminded of a waitress weeping over a couple of bucks that she both earned and deserved by her good service. I’m reminded of the simple integrity of paying for what you consume.  More than ever, I find it a differentiating mark of character in this world.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured photo:  global panorama via Flickr

A Tale of Two Agents

source: johnjoh via flickr
source: johnjoh via flickr

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. Luke 16:10 (NIV)

I was recently with a client providing call coaching for a team of agents. In these coaching sessions the client’s front-line agents join me in a small conference room with their supervisor. We review the agents service quality data and listen to recorded calls between the agent and their customers that my team had analyzed. On this particular day, I was coaching several young agents I had never coached before, and it was as if one of Jesus’ parables was coming to life before my very eyes.

There were two agents…

The first agent came into the room confident and smiling. She was bright and confident. When I asked how it was going for her with her calls, she immediately recounted what the data had revealed about the strengths and weaknesses of her service delivery. She had obviously been paying attention, had taken responsibility to go out and review the information available to her, and had digested the data and recommendations. When I played her recorded calls and then asked what she thought, she quickly picked out exactly how she could have improved and explained what she would have done differently if she had the chance to do it over again. When the agent left the room I expressed to the supervisor that I was impressed. “She won’t be on my team long,” the supervisor said. “With her attitude and work ethic, she is going to go places quickly in this company, and she should.”

Before the second agent came into the room the supervisor explained that this particular agent always demanded the last session so that she could put it off as long as possible. When the agent came into the room I could tell from her physicality that she was defensive and did not want to be there. I tried to break the tension. I pulled up the service quality data that had shown a recent trend toward improvement and complimented the improvements. “I don’t know why I improved,” the agent mumbled, “I haven’t done anything differently.” We listened to calls together and when given the opportunity to self-critique the agent simply responded with “it sounded pretty good to me.” In one call, the agent responded to a customer’s question with “I don’t know anything about that” despite the fact that the agent clearly knew the answer. When asked why she didn’t answer the question the agent shrugged and said, “Yeah, I probably should have. I don’t know. I just didn’t.” After the session was over, the supervisor looked at his watch to see how much time was left in the agent’s shift, explaining “She won’t get anything else done today. She watches the clock for the last hour of the day so she can be out the door as soon as the second hand hits twelve.”

I thought of these two agents when I read Jesus’ words this morning. I have observed countless times over the years that the difference between successful people and those stagnate in their careers is usually a small handful of things done faithfully and done well.

Here are seven qualities I’ve consistently observed in those who succeed:

  • Showing up early (or at least being at your post and working on time)
  • Doing the job faithfully
  • Dealing with people honestly
  • Approaching things positively
  • Handling yourself professionally
  • Keeping productive and busy in slow times
  • Going the extra mile without being asked/required

 “If you are faithful with a few things,” Jesus said, “You will be put in charge of many things.”

A Mysterious Tension: Personal Initiative and Divine Timing

david with saul's spearAs surely as the Lord lives,” [David] said, “the Lord himself will strike [Saul], or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed1 Samuel 26:10-11a (NIV)

Last week I shared a sliver of the story of how I began working for the company of which I am now a partner owner. It happened in the summer of 1994. I had been working for a parachurch ministry for a year, and had been raising financial support from friends and family to do so. The agreement I had with my employer had been that I would raise financial support for one year. It had been a good year in many regards and I enjoyed what I was doing, but as the end of that year drew closer my employer remained silent regarding the plan for what was going to happen next.

Months before the end of our one year agreement I began to ask my employer for a plan. I even offered to continue raising support if we could sketch out an agreement to reduce the amount I had to raise over a period of time. The answer I received multiple times was “I’ll put it on the board agenda for next month.” After the board meeting I would hear “We didn’t get to it. We’ll talk about it next month.” Finally, my year ended and I still had no answer from my employer. I felt a responsibility to my financial supporters who had faithfully sent me money that year to support me and the ministry I worked for. Many supporters had asked me about it, but I had nothing to tell them because my employer refused to talk to me about a compensation plan.

Suddenly, I felt a stirring inside me. While I wasn’t unhappy with my job and hadn’t really considered another job change, I realized that I could not trust my employer. There was a principle involved here that I needed to heed as it wasn’t just about my employers integrity, but also about my own. I had asked my supporters for a year commitment and the year was over. I felt dishonest asking them to continue their support. The problem was, I had a family with two small children and no earthly idea what I was going to do. I had no job prospects. I didn’t even have a resume put together.

Nevertheless, I knew in my heart that I had to make a move. One morning just after the one year anniversary passed, I began calling my financial supporters and telling them not to bother sending another check. On the list of supporters was my old employer and mentor.

“What are you going to do?” he asked me on the phone.

“I don’t know,” I answered, then explained my reasoning. I shared that I felt I couldn’t in good conscience ask my supporters to extend their commitment when my current employer wouldn’t even talk to me about extending his. I admitted that I had no plan and no job prospects.

“Are you really going to leave? Have you told your employer?” my friend and mentor asked.

“I haven’t said anything yet, but I really think I’m going to leave,” I answered.

There was a pause on the other end of the line. “Make a firm decision by noon and call me back,” he said abruptly. When I called him back an hour later to let him know I had decided to leave he said, “Meet me at 2:00 at Village Inn.”

We met that afternoon and he offered me a job. Within a few hours of deciding to leave, I had another job. Of course, my old mentor made a step of faith in asking me to join his consulting firm, but he also felt the divine timing of events. He did not have enough work to pay me much and had to trust that there would be new projects coming that he couldn’t see. The new opportunity was not a slam dunk or a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination. I was leaving a tenuous position to an even more tenuous position, but it was the right timing and I knew it in my soul. As I drove home that day, and I pulled into the driveway I heard Holy Spirit whisper clearly in my soul:

“Take this job and stick with it. You will be blessed.”

I took the job, stuck with it, and have been immensely blessed. That was 20 years ago next summer.

Along life’s road I have found a mysterious tension between taking personal initiative and waiting on divine timing. I even struggle to define it well, yet I can look back and see how certain circumstances and life decisions happened at what I know to be a divinely appointed moment in time. Had I attempted to make something happen by force of personal will it would not have worked out the way it was supposed to happen. Yet, it was important for me to be sensitive to God’s hand moving in my circumstances and listening for Holy Spirit’s whisper in my soul.

Today we read about the second of three opportunities that David had to take the life of the man who was hunting him: King Saul. His men even encouraged David to take personal initiative when the opportunity to do so presented itself. David, however, was sensitive to the tension between personal initiative and divine timing. David understood that Saul, despite his flaws, had been God’s choice to be King and God alone should end Saul’s reign.

Today, I’m grateful for God’s perfect timing which I see in many different experiences along life’s road. I want to continue holding that mysterious tension between personal initiative and divine timing, as elusive and ill defined as it seems.

Clean Hands, Clear Conscience

Pope Benedictus XVI
Pope Benedictus XVI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Now testify against me in the presence of the Lord and before his anointed one. Whose ox or donkey have I stolen? Have I ever cheated any of you? Have I ever oppressed you? Have I ever taken a bribe and perverted justice? Tell me and I will make right whatever I have done wrong.”

“No,” they replied, “you have never cheated or oppressed us, and you have never taken even a single bribe.”

“The Lord and his anointed one are my witnesses today,” Samuel declared, “that my hands are clean.” 1 Samuel 12:3-5a (NLT)

This past year the world witnessed something it had not seen in hundreds of years as a living pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church retired from the papacy and turned over his office to another. I thought of Pope Bendedict and his successor, Pope Francis, this morning as I read Samuel’s retirement speech as leader and judge of Israel. Reading through the historical narratives of the Judges, it appears that the Judges carried out their national leadership until death much like the leader of the Roman church has done for centuries. To have Samuel retire and transition his leadership and authority to King Saul was something of a unique moment in Israel’s history, as was his retirement speech in today’s chapter.

I found it interesting that Samuel’s first concern with retiring his office was to make sure that he could do so with a clean conscience. He stands before the people and asks any who he has wronged to step forward and make it known so that he might reconcile the matter. When nobody does, he declares “my hands are clean.”

I have worked in the business world for twenty years and have been involved in one form of church leadership or another for over twenty five years. I have met precious few leaders who seem at all concerned with retiring with clean hands. I have met far more men and women whose lives are layered with feelings of guilt, shame, and regrets for past words and actions which haunt them. Key relationships from their past remain broken. In many cases, I observe that they have little interest in washing their hands, but appear to cover the dirt and stink of their past with a spiritual pair of good looking gloves and some cheap perfume.

As I read Samuel’s speech this morning, I felt an intense desire to be like him. I want clean hands and a clear conscience when it comes to my business dealings and relationships. If, like Samuel, I don’t want to face a long line of people bearing witness to the dirt of my life at my retirement party, then I better be careful how I think, speak and act today.

Simple, Honest, Straightforward

YesYou may be asking why I changed my plan. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? Do you think I am like people of the world who say “Yes” when they really mean “No”?
2 Corinthians 1:17 (NLT)

I recently had a conversation with a client who spent two weeks doing business in China. When I asked him how the trip went, he gave me a look of utter frustration. “I spent the entire time thinking things were going great,” he reported. “Then after I returned home and began following up I discovered that when a person in China nods their head ‘yes,’ and smiles what they really mean is ‘no.'”

I thought of my client and his frustration this morning when I read the opening to Paul’s letter to the Jesus followers in the city of Corinth. I guess Paul and the gang had their own frustrations with people who say “yes” but really mean “no.” And, I get it. Having organized and led countless volunteer projects over the years there is nothing more annoying than to have someone commit to something only to find out they never truly intended to follow through.

The further I get in life’s journey, the more I’ve come to appreciate being honest and straightforward in my answers. I am a people pleaser, so it’s easy for me to hedge and give a “maybe” or “I might” so as not to disappoint someone in the moment. But, I’ve come to learn that putting off a simple answer such as, “Thank you for asking, but I’m going to say ‘no,'” only serves to leave the “maybe” or the “kinda said ‘yes'” hanging over me for days or weeks or months like this cloud of unfinished business. In the end I will likely create even more disappointment (because they thought I might do it all along) and I will also create frustration and annoyance (because they expected or chose to hear a ‘yes‘ only to be told ‘no‘ at the last minute).

Today, I’m pondering Jesus’ instruction to make simple honesty part of daily life: “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no,'” He taught. As I begin the journey through another week, I’m reminded that in business, in relationships, in community, and in life I need to make my answers to others simple, honest, and straightforward.

Parenting and Integrity

Following in his footsteps
Following in his footsteps (Photo credit: AhmadHashim)

The godly walk with integrity;
    blessed are their children who follow them.
Proverbs 20:7 (NLT)

Notice that the proverb does not read that the godly walk with perfection.

As I look back over the past 23 years of being a parent, I am reminded of numerous mistakes that I have made. These mistakes include personal moral failures and regrets for little things I should have said or done differently both as a person and as a father. What has been clear to me is that my shortcomings are not hidden from my children. They are painfully aware of my weaknesses as well as my strengths.

Along the journey I’ve witnessed many parents who attempt to hide their weaknesses from their children. Taking on an attitude of perfection and high-minded omniscience, they act as if it would be disaster for their children to perceive a chink in the parental armor. They work tirelessly to offer the kids a spit-and-polished veneer of supremacy and will not admit failure or show weakness to their offspring. Mom and Dad are perfect.  They are not to be questioned.

I have tried very hard not to fall into that trap. I would rather my children learn that integrity is not about the illusion of perfection but rather about embracing the truth of my imperfections. I don’t want my example to be the appearance of being a flawless parent, but the honesty of being a humble, authentic human being. I want to teach by example how to admit my mistakes, seek forgiveness, and strive towards continually improving both myself and my relationships them, with God and with others. To me, that will do more good in preparing them for life than some false impression I try to create that I do no wrong.

[An index of all Tom’s chapter-a-day posts covering every book and chapter]