Tag Archives: Service

A New Org Chart

If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good!
1 Samuel 12:14 (NIV)

One of the more fascinating parts of my job is getting to observe and experience many different company cultures. I have learned a lot about both leadership and how systems function from being in the trenches with many different companies large and small.

Once we were hired to help a company improve their customer satisfaction and customer service. Our survey of the company’s customers revealed a lot of room for improvement. Customer Satisfaction was low, and there were a few major things customers didn’t like. Our assessment of recorded phone calls between the company’s customers and the Customer Service team revealed that there were huge disparities in service quality between service reps, and some customers were getting such bad service experience as to make them detractors.

As we began working with the leadership team to address some of the issues, I quickly learned that the company was a mess internally. The long-time CEO of the company set an example of management by power, fear, and intimidation. The rest of the company followed suit. The org chart was a mess. Silos in the organization worked against one another. Front line managers directly reported to multiple superiors and simply answered the loudest threats each day.

The sign on the wall said that they were committed to exceptional customer service, but the entire organization was built in such a way as to make exceptional customer service an impossibility.

Today’s chapter is another key episode in the transition of the Hebrew system of government from a tribal theocracy to a national monarchy. The org chart is changing. In the old org chart, God was recognized as King. Then came a Judge (Samuel was the last) who was recognized as the one God had raised to lead and deliver the tribes along with a tribal council of elders. From there, each tribe had its own governance.

Today, Samuel lays out the new org chart. King Saul will now be at the top of the org chart and all the tribes will be ruled by him. Yet Samuel is quick to remind his people that God is still above King Saul on the org chart. The new monarchy will only work well if both the King and the people will serve the Lord with all their hearts and avoid the worship of idols.

As for Samuel? He makes it clear that there’s a new role on the org chart. He is giving up civil governance, but he’s taking up the mantel of spiritual leadership:

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.

From this point forward, the nation would have prophets in the org chart who would directly report to God, and they will be God’s spiritual mouthpiece to both the King and the people. Future Kings would also assemble “yes men” prophets who would be subordinate to them and tell them what they want to hear, but God would ensure that His prophets would speak His words even if it wasn’t what the King wanted to hear.

One of the things I’ve learned in my career is that companies typically don’t make dramatic changes in corporate culture unless the person at the top of the org chart is driving it. The company I mentioned at the top of this post was a great example of that. The CEO had created a culture that worked against what they claimed to be the company values. If the CEO doesn’t change, the organization isn’t going to change either.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about the org chart of my own life. As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to make Jesus the Lord of my life. Like Samuel reminded Saul, God is at the top of the org chart. And yet, like the old Kings of Israel, I have the autonomy to either obediently submit myself to God’s authority or to pay lip service to God while I willfully do my own thing. I can also do a little of both.

That leads me to ask myself some tough questions here in the quiet. Where am I being obedient? Where am I simply paying lip service? Some days I need a fresh reminder that God is at the top of my life’s org chart.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Crowns and Surrender

Crowns and Surrender (CaD Rev 4) Wayfarer

They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created
    and have their being.”

Revelation 4:10-11 (NIV)

I was speaking at a business conference and struck up a conversation with a gentleman from a company for whom we’d written a proposal a year or two prior. In charge of that company’s Customer Experience operations, he told me how much he loved our proposal and how convinced he was that we could actually help them move the needle in “improving their serve.” When I asked why we lost out on the opportunity, his answer was telling: “My boss wasn’t really interested in actually improving anything. He just wanted a program that would make it look like he had accomplished something and that would provide plaques to hang on his office wall saying how good we were.”

There’s something innately human about wanting to win awards. Children participate in programs, like scouting, in which they earn merit badges and are recognized for their efforts. Children’s sports programs dole out trophies, ribbons, medals, and even championship rings. In adulthood, we often continue to chase some kind of tangible proof of our achievements by way of titles and awards. As children, we like to wear crowns and tiaras and pretend we’re kings and queens. As adults, we do the same thing it’s just that it’s usually less visible and obvious.

This human penchant came to mind as I read today’s chapter. Having completed dictating letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor, Jesus calls John “up” to the throne room of heaven in today’s chapter. It is from here that John will be given the visions of what is to come.

This “throne room” vision is not without precedent. Both the prophets Isaiah (Is 6) and Ezekiel (Ez 1) had similar visions of heaven’s throne complete with strangely described angels (also known as “cherubim” and “seraphim”) surrounding the throne with endless praise.

The praise in today’s chapter is motivated by God’s eternal nature (“was, and is, and is to come”) and in God being the “alpha point” of creation, from whom all things flow and have life and being. The visions provided in the rest of the book describe the “omega point” to which all things flow to the end (before a new beginning).

In this throne room, John describes 24 “elders.” There are numerous interpretations of who they are or represent. Jesus told his disciples at their last supper that they would “sit on thrones and judge the tribes of Israel” (Lk 22:30) so many believe the 24 thrones to represent the 12 tribal patriarchs and the 12 disciples. The bottom line is that John doesn’t identify them.

As I pondered this, I realized that the important thing is not who they are, but whose they are and what they do. They lay their crowns before the throne and offer praise to the One who sits on the throne.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about my own ego and penchant for awards and achievements because I have it too. I want to look good. I want to be a success. I want to be recognized for my hard work and accomplishments. And yet, one of the most simple and profound things about being a follower of Jesus is the fact that He calls me to consciously choose against my ego-centered human nature.

To carry out my faith quietly and personally – not for show.
To worry more about treasure in heaven than awards on earth.
To serve others more than I serve myself.
To humble myself before God and others rather than play endless psychological and spiritual versions of “King of the Mountain.”

In other words: To surrender my crown and lay it before the only One worthy.

And so, I enter another work week this morning. I don’t know who the 24 elders are whom John saw in heaven’s throne room, but I know whose they are, and I know what they did. My goal this week is to do the same.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Two Paths

Two Paths (CaD Jud 9) Wayfarer

Abimelek son of [Gideon] went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, I am your flesh and blood.”
Judges 9:1-2 (NIV)

I still have vivid memories of the bully. I remember his name. I can see his face in my memory along with the bathroom at Woodlawn Elementary school where it happened. I was in second grade and he was a year older than me. He was bigger than me. He was mean and intimidating. He demanded that I give him my lunch money, but I didn’t have any. I brought my lunch to school. This made him mad and he feigned that he was going to hit me. He then told me that after school he would find me and was going to beat me up. The two-and-a-half block walk home was sheer terror, but I managed to walk with my neighbor who was two years older and that gave me some comfort.

That was my first experience with a bully, and it obviously left a strong impression on me. History is filled with those who use threats, violence, and intimidation for personal gain. What begins as bullying on the school playground can easily become a way of life that in adulthood turns into gangs, organized crime, and rackets. The same tactics of power and intimidation get “cleaned up” but still fuel political parties, corporate boardrooms, and union organizations. I’ve also experienced the same basic bully tactics from powerful individuals in churches.

The stories of Gideon and his son Abimelek form the center of the book of Judges. Ancient Hebrew writers, poets, and lyricists commonly used a literary device and placed the central theme of their work smack-dab in the middle. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that one of the central themes of the book of Judges is the tension the Hebrew tribes were experiencing as they tried to be a theocracy and follow God as their ultimate King and the reality they were experiencing with their enemies of what a powerful leader/king could do for a city or region. At the center of the book are two contrasting examples of this very tension. Gideon and his son take two very different paths to power and end up in very different places.

The story of Gideon provides the example of a powerful leader who humbly refuses to be made king, and he calls on his fellow Hebrews to recognize God as their only true leader. In today’s chapter, Abimelek provides a contrasting example. He takes the path of the power-hungry individual who will stop at nothing to seize and maintain his power.

Beneath the story of Abimelek are other subtle themes that were crucial in their time, and they still resonate today. Abimelek was one of some seventy sons of Gideon, the offspring of Gideon and a Canaanite slave. It’s likely that the biracial son of a slave was treated as less-than by his pure Hebrew half-brothers, the sons of Gideon’s legitimate wives. Abimelek uses his Canaanite blood, and his position of relative power as Gideon’s son, to convince the Canaanite people of the city of Shechem to appoint him their king. He then goes all Michael Corleone and “settles accounts” with all the potential threats to his power, his brothers, by killing them all (with the exception of the youngest brother, who escapes).

Chaos, political intrigue, violence, vengeance, and the continuous struggle for power follow Abimelek through the entire chapter. The Godfather epic is an apt parallel. Once he stepped down the path of power by violence and vengeance, Michael Corleone could tragically never escape the consequences of where it led. Abimelek found himself on the same tragic path.

In the quiet this morning, I said a prayer for my elementary school bully. I hope God led him to find a better path in life. He taught me a lesson that day. He provided me an example of the person I never wanted to become. I’m grateful for that.

I also find myself pondering the simple contrast between Gideon and his son, Abimelek. Gideon wasn’t perfect, but his deference to God’s power and authority kept him from the tragic ends experienced by his son.

I’ve learned along my life journey that whatever positions of earthly power and/or leadership I might find myself should come because I am led to them, not because I seized them for myself. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to the path of humility and service to others. Looking back from my current waypoint on Life’s road, I can tell you that it is a path that has always led, not always to easy places, but ultimately to good places.

I think I’ll stick to this path.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

At Your Service

At Your Service (CaD Jos 24) Wayfarer

[Joshua said] “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been studying James‘ letter to Jewish believers who were scattered by persecution. I’ve been spending a lot of time in it in recent weeks. One of the major themes of James is that being a follower of Jesus is not simply a mental assent to belief in Jesus. James makes it clear that real faith generates and motivates action. He’s riffing on a word picture that Jesus used when He told His followers to pay attention to the fruit a person produces in their life and relationships. He said that one can tell what is in a person’s heart by the fruit of their actions.

Today’s chapter is the conclusion of the book of Joshua. The conquest of the Promised Land was successful. The land had been allotted to the twelve tribes. The people had settled. In the final act of Joshua’s leadership, he calls the tribal assembly together. Joshua reminds them of their family’s story, starting with Abraham, and how God had led their ancestors to this particular moment of time. Joshua then acknowledges that in the land that Abraham left, and the land that they just conquered, there are many dieties worshipped. He reminds them of commandment numero uno in the Top Ten commandments God gave them: serve God alone.

Joshua then calls for a commitment. It’s a fish or cut bait moment. He tells the tribes to choose whether they will serve the God of Abraham and Moses, or if they are going to serve the plethora of local idols and dieties worshipped by other peoples in the region and around the world. Joshua then makes his choice public: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The thing that struck me as I read this call to commitment was that Joshua didn’t ask the people which god they would believe. He asked them whom they would serve. The Hebrew word used can also refer to the act of tilling the ground in preparation for planting, growing, and harvesting. In a way, Joshua’s question lays the foundation for Jesus’ word picture: For whom will you labor? Who’s fruit are you going to produce?

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about my own journey. When I was a kid, I took a class, assented to a statement of beliefs, and got a certificate making me a member of a church. A couple of years later I realized that this had nothing to do with the person I was. I may have believed in God, but I was serving only myself. The fruit of my life was sour grapes. It’s when I chose to step out onto this faith journey, to actually follow Jesus, and to serve Him that the seeds of good fruit got planted.

Which brings me back to James, who writes:

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? James 2:14-17 (MSG)

It’s not about what I believe. Its about who I serve.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

A “New” Command

A "New" Command (CaD John 13) Wayfarer

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35 (NIV)

The other day I was in a video conference with my business colleagues. We were meeting a new vendor for the first time. At the end of the meeting our vendor made a statement that struck me.

“It’s obvious you guys have a really good synergy.” he said. “I do a lot of these meetings and it’s amazing how often people don’t talk to one another or don’t seem to like each other. You clearly have a good thing going. I like it.”

It made my day.

Todays chapter marks a way-point. We are two-thirds of the way through John’s biography of Jesus, which means that over one-third of his biography focus on roughly 43 days of Jesus earthly journey. The night before His crucifixion. The day of His crucifixion. His resurrection, and His appearances over 40 days.

As today’s chapter begins, it is Thursday night. Jesus and The Twelve have a private Passover meal. Even in the telling, John carefully chooses the elements of the events that he wants to share. As I’ve noticed throughout the book thus far, the elements John chooses are connected. The thread that connects them is Jesus’ foreknowledge of what will happen, and His driving of the events. He is not a helpless victim of circumstance. Jesus is a man on a mission.

The first event described is that of Jesus washing the feet of The Twelve. In dusty, hot Judea at a time when everyone wore sandals or went barefoot, one was bound to have dirty feet. Washing the feet was an act of hospitality and it was performed by lowly servants, which is why Peter balked at having the “Master” washing their feet. Jesus then tells the boys that He had done this as an example of what He expected them to do for each other.

Jesus knows He’s leaving them. He also knows that even that week they were having incessant arguments about which of them is the greatest and who was top dog in the pecking order. He provides them a word picture to remember: “If you want to lead, you have to serve those you’re leading.”

At the end of the chapter, after Judas’ departure, Jesus tells The Twelve Eleven, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

What’s “new” about it?” Jesus has been talking about love His entire ministry. He’s talked about loving others, loving your enemies, blessing those who persecute you, loving outcasts, loving the sick and poor…love has been central to all of Jesus’ teaching. So what’s “new” about this command?

He’s talking about them directly. Peter the brash one. James and John the angry “Sons of Thunder” whose mother tried to arrange places of honor in Jesus’ administration. Simon the right-wing, militia member. Matthew, the left-wing Roman collaborator. Thomas the cynic. This rag-tag team of largely uneducated men, who have always been more-or-less at one another’s throats, who have constantly been playing “king of the mountain” with their egos, are going to be left to carry out Jesus’ mission. If it’s going to work, they must love one another and serve one another.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that there is a spiritual contrast between good and evil. Good is willing to humbly sacrifice self for others and the good of the whole. Evil demands its way until it eats its own.

I’m reminded of a client who became a follower of Jesus during the stretch of life’s journey when our company worked for his. He later told my colleague that it was the way our team members treated each other that led him to seek out what motivated us to treat one another with such love, respect, and service towards each other. “It was obvious to everyone,” he said. “People at work would talk about it.”

I think that’s what Jesus was getting at with the “new” command He gave The Twelve Eleven. If they were to succeed at their mission, they had to stop devouring one another, and start serving one another with humility.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“Ins” and “outs”

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
Mark 9:38 (NIV)

Over the past five years, I’ve quietly watched as divergent lines of political, social, and religious thought have become more and more entrenched behind walls of prejudice and across what appears to be a “no man’s land” dictated by either and/or both sides of the great divide. It grieves me to observe, and to experience, the lack of grace, tolerance, love, and simple human kindness for other human beings.

Like every other human being, my life journey has been dotted with observing and experiencing the “ins” and “outs” of social groups. Favorites emerge in family systems. Sides are chosen on the playground. The new kid on the block must navigate how to earn acceptance from the neighborhood gang who’ve known each other their whole lives. Social groups with unspoken rules of “in” and “out” emerge out of the shared identities of being jocks, nerds, band geeks, and stoners. Sororities and Fraternities create shared loyalty through their pledging, hazing, and strict hierarchies. Corporations have well insulated “C-Suites” where executives are sequestered in corner offices with private bathrooms. Churches manage who’s in and out with membership cards, doctrinal litmus tests, and unspoken religious rules about dress, speech, morality, and acceptable political stances.

In today’s chapter, there’s an interesting exchange that, in my experience, doesn’t get much air time. In my forty years of following Jesus and regularly attending the gatherings of various groups of fellow followers, I have never heard one sermon, lecture, or lesson on this exchange.

It comes from the mouth of John who bears the moniker, “the one whom Jesus loved,” and one of the three who comprised what’s known as “Jesus’ inner-circle.” It was that “inner circle” (James, John, and Peter) whom Jesus took to witness His transfiguration in today’s chapter. I have to wonder how that went over with the other nine. I think I can guess.

Jesus and His “twelve” are together in someone’s home, away from the crowds. Jesus is holding a little child in His arms, telling his disciples that in the economy of God’s Kingdom the “greatest” are those who are humble and willing to welcome and serve “the least” of society with open and embracing arms.

John then looks at Jesus (who is still holding the child as a living word picture of this lesson about humility, love, openness, and inclusion), and says, “Teacher, we saw some guy we didn’t know today performing an exorcism in your name and we told him to stop, because he’s not one of us!”

He doesn’t belong “in” our group.

You didn’t choose him, like you chose us.

He hasn’t left everything and followed you like we have.

We don’t know where he is from or what he truly believes.

Be proud of us, Jesus, we’re keeping “out” those who don’t belong “in” your entourage!

Jesus, still holding the child in His arms, rebukes John for what he’s said and done. John can’t see the disconnect. Jesus then tears down the wall of John’s “in” group distinctions: “Whoever is not against us, is for us.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating all of the walls of distinction that have been erected by various social groups on every side of every issue. And this is where my heart lands as I consider Jesus’ words in today’s chapter, and picture Him holding a little child in His arms:

First:

When I go downstairs this morning to have coffee with Wendy and peruse the news of the day…
I am only going to see what their cameras want me to see.
I am only going to hear what their editors want me to hear.
I am only going to read, watch, and listen to the sources I choose
who, let’s face it, I choose because it makes me comfortable in.my.own.groups.

Second:

What I will see, hear, and read is an infinitesimal and skewed vision of the daily lives, experiences, conversations, and interactions that I and billions of other human beings will have on this planet on this day.

Third:

I can’t control what others may think of me or what they perceive me to be. People may very well choose to hate me and be against me in any way one chooses. Nevertheless, no one is going to get me to hate them any more than they could get Jesus to hate them.

As a follower of Jesus, that’s my calling, my mission, and my heart’s desire.

Forgive? Yes. Hate? No.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“Some Other Mettle”

"Some Other Mettle" (CaD Ps 146) Wayfarer

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.

Psalm 146:3 (NIV)

Many years ago, our little town had a local Shakespeare Company that would produce a play each summer in the local park. Wendy and I were cast in Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy about a man and woman who despise one another and how this couple falls in love. Wendy was cast as the female lead, Beatrice, who in the beginning of the play waxes cynical about romance. When asked if she will every marry, she replies, “Not till God make men of some other mettle than earth.”

That line came to mind this morning as I meditated on today’s chapter, Psalm 146, in which the lyrics warn those listening to the song to avoid putting trust in human beings.

Along my life journey, I have observed that human systems almost always end up serving those who control them, unless those who control them have the rare quality of being both humble enough to eschew personal gain in order to serve everyone in the system and having the authority to ensure it stays that way.

Thus Beatrice waxes cynical to find a man who will serve her, honor her, and treat her as an equal partner rather than as a possession and chattel as human systems treated wives through most of human history.

Thus families become dysfunctional and unhealthy systems that end up hurting the ones they are supposed to protect and prepare for perpetuating healthy marriages and families for the next generation.

Thus organizations intended to serve the good of many become rackets that line the pride and pockets of the few in power at the top of the org chart.

Thus businesses established with eloquent vision and mission statements about valuing employees and exceptional service to customers end up cutting jobs and providing the least acceptable levels of service in order to eek out a few more pennies of dividend for shareholders.

Thus governments (of every type and “ism”) end up with those at the top offices rigging the system for themselves and their cronies while paying lip service to helping those living hand-to-mouth on a day-by-day basis.

I know this sounds cynical, yet I feel for where Beatrice is coming from. And, I have to confess that as a follower of Jesus I find myself in the quiet this morning hearing the words of Jesus and the teachings that call me to act against the grain of the systems of this world:

“Whoever wants to be ‘great’ and lead others but become the servant of all.”

“Husbands, love your wives sacrificially, even as Jesus showed us what love is by sacrificing Himself to save us.”

“Fathers, don’t exasperate your children.”

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone.”

Do you have individuals who work for you? Then treat them the way you want to be treated, the way that Jesus has treated you, and the way Jesus has called you to do. From a sincere heart, respect them, treat them honorably, and compensate them for the good they do.”

In find it fascinating that Jesus arguably never directly addressed those who were in control of systems of human power. The only one He did address was the Hebrew religious system who were supposed to recognize Him, but killed Him to protect their power, privilege, and profits. When given the opportunity to address the political powers of His day, King Herod and the Roman Empire, he largely kept His mouth shut.

In the quiet this morning, my mind wanders back to Beatrice and her mail foil, Benedict. Through the course of the play they have a change of heart, and you can guess where that leads. All good stories are a reflection of the Great Story, and therein I see a reflection of what Jesus was about. Jesus was not about creating or changing humans systems of power in order to, top-down, force God’s will over individuals. That’s nothing more than using the world’s playbook against itself, and I only have to look at the headlines to see how that’s working out. Jesus’ taught that the Kingdom of God paradigm is to change the hearts of individuals in order to motivate love and service to others, that in turn creates change within human systems of power from the bottom-up. It’s what He demonstrated on the cross, when the sacrifice of One served to effect change in the many, who effected change in many more.

I hear Wendy in the kitchen making my blueberry spinach smoothie, and it’s time to wrap-up my time of quiet this morning. As I do, I find myself taking a personal inventory of life and spirit. As a husband, as a father, as a grandfather, as an employer, and as a organizational leader in my community, am I reflecting the character of humility, servant-heartedness, honor, respect, and generosity to which Jesus has called me? Immediately, things come to mind to which I need to add to my task list. I better get started.

Have a great day, my friend.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.


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.

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.