Tag Archives: Service

Poison on the Team

As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.

Proverbs 26:21 (NIV)

There is a client of mine who had a team that had been struggling for some time. While other teams around them were making great strides in their service performance, this one particular team languished in mediocrity. My quarterly training sessions with this team were sometimes painful. Silence. Arms crossed. No eye contact. No participation.

There was one member of this team who was, by far, the worst performer of the group. His performance on the phone calls we regularly assessed were so bad, that one almost had to willfully try to be that consistently awful to their customers. Over several years, the management team tried just about everything to motivate a change in this person. They tried offering cash bonuses for better performance, they provided remedial coaching (I had the joy of conducting many of the coaching sessions…ugh, also painful), they wrote him up on multiple Performance Improvement Plans with HR, and they made threats to fire him. Nothing worked. The longer this went on, I believe the more convinced he was that he didn’t really have to change and the more stubborn he became.

Coincidentally, I was asked at one point to mentor this team’s new supervisor. The newbie had been a member of the team for a long time and was promoted to his first managerial position. I watched him go through all of the same efforts as his predecessor trying to motivate behavior change in the team’s entrenched curmudgeon.

“What am I going to do with him?” the supervisor eventually asked me directly.

“Fire him,” I responded just as directly.

The supervisor seemed shocked by response. I explained.

Look,” I said, “Your management team has wasted their efforts for years trying to get this person to perform. There is a well-documented track record of a bad attitude, poor performance, and an unwillingness to do any more than the very least that is required to avoid getting fired. His attitude has poisoned the entire team and your team will never be healthy until you get rid of the problem at the source.

I had made this same suggestion multiple times to the supervisor’s predecessor and managers, but they could never take the final step of terminating his employment. I actually expected nothing different from the new supervisor, because he was new and firing a team member went against this client’s corporate culture.

I was, therefore, surprised to learn that my managerial protégé took my advice and fired the team member a short time later. Wouldn’t you know it? That year the team that had been mired in mediocrity reached their service quality performance goal for the very first time. I handed out more year-end performance awards to members of that team than ever. The team that had been so painful to train for so many years was laughing, cheering, clapping, and celebrating.

In today’s chapter, Solomon wisely says that a quarrelsome and contentious person is like adding wood to a fire. It spreads. My client’s entire team was stuck in their contentious mediocrity and poor performance because of one team member’s poisonous attitude. I wish I could say that this is the only example I’ve seen in my years of helping my clients improve the quality of their customer service, but it’s not. It’s actually fairly common. What isn’t common is a client’s willingness to do the right thing for everyone (especially their customers) and decisively extract the poison from the system whether it is firing the person or moving them to a different job with a different team that might be a better fit.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about other poisonous team members I’ve encountered in my vocational journey and the reticence, even in my own company, of confronting it. What I’ve observed over time is that these individuals really don’t want to be in their positions. Sometimes getting rid of a poisonous team member actually frees that person to find something better for themselves. I have followed the careers of a few fired team members on social media and it appears that they are much happier after finding a job that better suits their talents, desires, and personalities. And, some appear to be tragically angry and contentious people in any role no matter where they work.

At least a company can fire such a person. When the contentious and quarrelsome individual is part of a family system, it’s a far more difficult situation. Solomon had another proverb for such tragic circumstances:

To have a fool for a child brings grief;
    there is no joy for the parent of a godless fool.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Willingness

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said.
Matthew 8:3a (NIV)

When my daughter Madison was about four years old I called out to her from my home office in the basement of our home. She came scampering in my office from the next room where she had been playing. I needed something (I can’t remember what it was) retrieved from upstairs. “Will you go upstairs and get it?” I asked.

“Sure Dad!” she said with a big smile and child-like excitement. “I’ll be happy to!” And with that she ran off, immediately did as I asked, and cheerfully returned with the item.

I sat there for a moment thoroughly dumbstruck by her willing attitude. I can vividly remember sitting there and enjoying that little moment. She didn’t do what I asked grudgingly. She didn’t do what I asked dutifully. She didn’t do what I asked because I paid her allowance. She didn’t do what I asked out of obligation or familial obedience. She did what I asked out of a cheerful, willing attitude. I’ve never forgotten that moment.

One of the rarely demonstrated service skills I teach my clients is the simple act of expressing your willingness to do what a customer asks.

“Can you…?”
“I’ll be more than happy to do that for you.”

“Will you…?”
“You bet I will. I’m on it.”

“Is it possible…?”
“It sure is. And I’ll be glad to take care of it.”

In this morning’s chapter, Jesus begins by using this simple service skill when asked by leper if He’d be “willing” to heal him.

“I am willing,” Jesus said, and I imagine the warm smile on his face as he reaches out to touch the contagious, infected, deformed leper.

The rest of the chapter reveals so much about Jesus willingness:

  • Willingness to heal the son of a member of the despised Roman occupational force. (I’m guessing that Jesus’ disciple, Simon the Zealot, would have preferred Jesus kill both the Roman Centurion and his son).
  • Willingness to cast out evil spirits and heal anyone and everyone who came to him.
  • Willingness to heal the mother of his friend, Peter.
  • Willingness to use His power and authority to calm both the sea, and his followers fears.
  • Willingness to show mercy, even to His spiritual enemies, and grant the demons’ request.’

This morning I’m enjoying the memory of Madison’s cheerful attitude. I’m thinking about Jesus willing attitude, and I’m recalling what He said in yesterday’s chapter as He concluded His “Sermon on the Mount”:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

I must confess that I, too often, approach God and Life with the attitude of scarcity. I expect that God wants to punish more than bless, and even if He does bless me He will be miserly doling out those blessings. “After all,” I think to myself, “I’m such a wretch that I should be grateful for anything I receive.” I sometimes attach to God my own warped image of the begrudging parent. Ugh. I see God out of the lens of my own personal shortcomings.

“If you’re willing,” I hear Jesus whispering to my heart this morning in the quiet of my home office, “you can choose to see me differently. To see me as I am: Willing.”

Yes, Lord. I’d be happy to do so. By the way, thank you for your willingness to be patient, and to help open my eyes.

Spiritually Slimed Over a Cup of Dark Roast

“But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”
1 Corinthians 8:1b (NIV)

Many years ago I ran into a pastor in a coffee shop in Des Moines. He was a charismatic and persuasive teacher and had been on the staff of a large church in the area until he and a small faction of his followers led a coup against the senior pastor and elder board. The church broke asunder.

This young pastor led a small group to form their own church that was predicated on his own brand of arcane, intellectualism that split people into a spiritual version of Dr. Seuss’ Sneetches. If you agreed to his personal list of spiritual criteria then you were part of the small few who “get” the “truth.” In his eyes you then had an acceptable star on your heart and were among the chosen few. If you disagreed with him then you were pitied, ignorant, and his version of the spiritual star on your heart was woefully missing.

I make it my intention to love everyone and treat everyone with deference. So, when he recognized me and offered to sit down for a chat over coffee I invited him to join me. Over the next half hour I listened as my friend gave me the most subtle and insidious dressing down I’ve ever received in my life.

With a smile on his face and in the most gentle, patronizing tone my friend proceeded to inform me of all the ways I did not measure up to deserving his version of the Sneetches spiritual star. My education was woefully inadequate and poorly sourced. My belief system and theology did not include his requisite knowledge and acceptance of various teachings and “isms” that were necessary to elevate me to the minimum state of knowledge that he, and therefore God, clearly required.

I listened quietly as he waxed his own profundity over our cups of dark roast (at least the coffee was good). I said very little, as I’d quickly learned that any thing I said only earned me a new line of insult cloaked in arrogant, spiritual intellectualism. By the time we shook hands and he departed to his booth with his backpack of books, my soul felt coated in thick, sludgy, spiritual slime.

I thought about this experience as I read Paul’s words today. I have no idea where this gentleman is today. His own church seemed to fall apart over a short period of time and he seemed to fall off the map. For all of his own impressive knowledge, his brand of belief appeared to me not to be structured on foundation of love that builds others up, but rather on a foundation of knowledge that separated and diminished all but the few who followed him blindly and, therefore, he deemed acceptable.

This morning I’m  getting ready to train and coach some wonderful people on the principles of customer service, principles rooted in the teachings of Jesus (who understood and exemplified humility and servant-heartedness better than anyone). I have a lot of knowledge built on a quarter century of experience in my industry, but my knowledge is nothing if I use it simply to prove to my clients how much I know and how little they know. I will only be successful if I build on a foundation of love and use my knowledge as a tool for building them up to be better at serving others.

The Double Edged Sword of Marriage and Singleness

“I wish that all of you were [unmarried] as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”
1 Corinthians 7:7 (NIV)

Paul was unmarried, and in his letters to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he expresses his appreciation for being “undivided” in his loyalties. He means, that as an unmarried person he could devote himself fully to the work of God without having to invest time, energy, and resources into a marriage relationship. I understand the common sense in his reasoning. Marriage certainly takes work and a large investment of time and energy.

Over my earthly journey I have observed that we as humans tend to err on the extremes of many earthly issues. I have come to believe that my culture often does a disservice in fostering a pervasive expectation of marriage for all young people. Marriage is a great thing when it is right, but many young people walk into marriage thinking it will solve problems when it can actually creates more problems (with greater complexity) than it solves.

The traditional marriage vows of the church state that “marriage should not be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but soberly, deliberately….” but I’ve observed that this is what happens more often than not. If the church wants people to heed that advice, then I think we need to do a much better job of communicating that singleness is a healthy, acceptable, and advisable life choice.

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s clear that some find celibacy and singleness to be a better spiritual choice. While I appreciate much about the Roman Catholic traditions, I have always thought the blanket prescription of celibate priests a silly idea. Just as it is wrong to think that everyone would be better off getting married, it is equally wrong to think that everyone is better off spiritually by staying single. I understand that the Roman church wants their priests to follow Paul’s example and be fully dedicated to their work, but I’m not convinced that celibacy is universally better for serving God.

This past Sunday I delivered the morning message in two services among my local gathering of Jesus followers. While I could have done it without Wendy, I am much better off with her by my side. She takes care of my needs in the morning (all the time, really) so that I can be prepared. She is a sounding board for my thoughts and ideas and helps me refine my message. She is quick and adept at helping me get wired for sound. She is constantly by my side providing relational and emotional support. She runs and gets me water or coffee if I need it. She gives me flawless and on-target critiques between services to help me improve. She is my greatest cheerleader and my strongest prayer supporter. After the service she helps me debrief. Paul may have been better off serving God without a wife, but I am certain I would not serve God as well were it not for Wendy.

This morning I am thinking of my unmarried friends and family, some of whom struggle constantly with the cultural (or personal) perception that there is something wrong because they are not married. I’m thankful for them, and happy for the good things in this life that they enjoy with their freedom. I am also thinking about Wendy this morning. Like all marriages, ours has its constant challenges. Nevertheless, I am constantly aware of the many ways she makes me a better human being, and a better servant of God.

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

Two Lives; Two Memories; Two Outcomes

Yesterday morning in worship a friend shared with us about her family’s own difficult journey of late. I have known Deb and her family for a long time. Her brother, Dan, was a high school classmate of mine. We were all in youth group together and, while a teenager, I hung out at their house on  frequent occasions.

Deb shared about her younger brother, Doug, who is in the VA hospital losing his battle with brain cancer. Deb shared that Doug was exposed to some nasty gas on the battlefield while serving in Desert Storm. I have followed Doug’s story from afar as I have followed the family’s Facebook posts for the past few years and have quietly kept them in my prayers.

As Deb shared yesterday, my heart and mind were awash in my own personal memories of Doug. He was just “a little kid” in that seemingly huge age gap when you’re sixteen and have to endure the presence of a ten year old. The bulk of my memories of Doug are of him and his friend, Jon, who were constantly dressed in camouflage and playing army. Doug followed his boyhood passion and grew up to be a good soldier. Now, the lingering consequences of what he encountered and endured on the battlefield are having their undesired, terminal effect.

I find it ironic that last night Wendy and I attended visitation for another soldier; A soldier who came home from World War II and lived a blessedly long life. My memories of this gentleman across the eleven or so years that I knew him were all of a gentle man, advanced in years, continuing to faithfully serve his community.

Two lives of service. Two very different sets of memories. Two very different outcomes.

This morning I’m praying for Doug and his family as they continue to praise God together despite the difficult path they’re walking. I pray for another family who bury their father and praise God for being blessed to have him in their lives for so long. In the midst of my own memories, I find my heart asking the same questions and mulling over the same thoughts as the author of Ecclesiastes.

However many years a man ay live, let him enjoy them all….”

featured photo: elphs_rule via Flickr

A Lesson for this Leader

rehoboam

King Rehoboam sent out Adoniram, who was in charge of forced labor, but all Israel stoned him to death. 1 Kings 12:8 (NIV)

A few weeks ago we were reading about Solomon’s reign and I commented:

Taxation, nepotism, and slave labor. [Scratching my head, carefully avoiding the receding hairline] If I’m standing in Solomon’s sandals things seem pretty cushy. If I’m standing in the sandals of a common citizen on the outskirts of Gilead who just watched the king’s official walk off with my children, my livestock, and a two month’s supply of olive oil, I’m not exactly feeling the love.

I feel a storm cloud rising on the horizon. 

Today those words came back to me as I read the conversation between Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, and the nation. It sounded to me like the people were being more gracious and reasonable than I might have been if I’d been standing in their sandals. David and Solomon had built a great kingdom, but somewhere along the line they forgot a small principle that Jesus was fond of reminding his followers: Anyone who wants to be great among you must be the servant of all.

I can see the progression across the generations. David, and to a greater extent his son Solomon, and to an even greater extent his grandson Rehoboam, were willing to advance their own self-centered desires by using their power, authority, and position to subjugate their own people rather than serve their own people.

In today’s chapter the inevitable happens. Rehoboam has an opportunity to redeem the situation, but he chooses to follow his father’s example and his peers’ foolishness. The people rebel in a bloody coup. Adoniram, who has been the national slave master since the days of David, is stoned to death. Rehoboam barely escapes with his life.

Today, I am thinking about my own positions of leadership, power, and authority as they relate to my family, my work, and my community. I want my own life and leadership to be marked by Jesus’ admonishment to be a servant all, especially those I lead. I don’t want a blind spot of pride, self-centeredness, or foolishness to keep me from doing the right thing for those I serve.