Tag Archives: Team

Corporate Changes; Eternal Brand

The Lord said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites.”
Numbers 18:20 (NIV)

I’ve recently taken on new responsibilities in our company that began with leading a strategic planning effort this past month. As part of that process, I’m evaluating the way our business does things and considering changes, enhancements, and improvements. I don’t want our team to simply make changes for the sake of change. There’s got to be good reason for the things we do that accurately reflects who we are and contributes to what we are called to do as a business.

As I think to the future and the road ahead for our group, I also find myself being mindful of the legacy of our founder’s mission. I don’t want to lose sight of what the company was created to be. There are some things that don’t change with regard to our brand. If anything, some things need to become enhanced. It’s simply who we are.

In many ways, the book of Numbers that we’re journeying through a chapter-a-day was God’s spiritual business plan for the ancient Hebrews. It’s an organizational manual for how God was establishing a system of worship. Things were not structured haphazardly. There are reasons that God, the founder and CEO, is structuring things a particular way.

One of the curious decisions God made was to make sure the priests and Levites, who were in charge of the temple, the offerings, and the sacrifices, could not own land or have an inheritance. “I am your share and your inheritance,” God said.

There is a very important purpose in setting up the team this way. Those who were part of the priesthood, the ones who were the spiritual conduit between God and humanity, were to understand and constantly maintain an eternal perspective. To quote the old bluegrass classic, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ though.” The priests and Levites didn’t own land and didn’t have inheritance passed between generations because they understood that ultimately this whole earthly journey has an eternal destination. The world and all the stuff get left behind. The priest and Levites were invested in that which is beyond this world, those things which are eternal, the things that the Founder and CEO are really all about.

Times changed over the course of history. The system changed. The spiritual marketplace went through a great depression. Legacy ways of doing spiritual business in this world changed. Jesus came to be the ultimate sacrifice once for all. Holy Spirit was poured out into all believers. It was a new economy for spiritual business, and God’s spiritual business plan was getting a face lift. Old religious practices passed away like the telegraph, the ticker tape, and the IBM Selectric. New sacraments and paradigms were put into place.

But some things don’t change.

The legacy concept of the priests not having an earthly inheritance did not go away as part of the updated business plan. In fact, Jesus made it clear that God being the “share” and “inheritance” was a foundational, core part of God’s brand. It was a corporate value that was no longer limited to one team in the organization, but shared by all. It was part of every team members job description. In speaking to all the shareholders on the mountainside, Jesus said:

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” Matthew 6:19-21 (MSG)

The CEO was updating the business plan, and the old business silo of the “priesthood” was being functionally expanded to include everyone in the organization (1 Peter 2:9-10). Along with it, everyone in the organization was to understand that this world, and the things of this world, have zero eternal value. The world, and the things of this world, in no way contribute to the mission and goals of the organization. They will not help the organization be successful in implementing the strategic plan. Therefore, this world and the things of this world are not where members of the organization are to invest our resources, our energies, or our corporate concerns.

This is the legacy from the Founder. This is the brand.

It’s simply who we are, and who we are to be.

A Good Follower

The next day Moses entered the tent and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the tribe of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.
Numbers 17:8 (NIV)

Years ago I was part of a team that had a leadership issue. Our appointed leader was a lightning rod who attracted a host of unnecessary concerns and distractions. Along with many other members, I could tell our team wasn’t functioning well. Our leader was an appointee, so there was no recourse other than to issue a complaint with the organizational authorities, but it appeared they fell on deaf ears.

As a member of the team, I came to a personal crossroads. I knew that becoming a part of the unceasing undercurrent of grumbling, complaining, and back-biting as not going to be profitable for myself or the team as a whole. Like it or not, this was our appointed leader. I could choose out and leave the team, or I could participate to the best of my ability, keep my mouth shut, and to support the team by doing my best not to be an active part of the dissension.

Grumbling. Whispers. Complaints.

If you’ve participated in any kind of human group, you likely have an example that you, yourself, have experienced. There is a spirit of unrest within the group; An undercurrent of disunity against the leadership or the status quo. In our chapter-a-day journey through the book of Numbers it’s been a theme now among the Hebrew tribes since they left Egypt. God has appointed a system and there is grumbling about the system.

Members of 11 tribes are grumbling that Aaron and the Levites are  the only ones who can serve in the Tabernacle. The Levites are grumbling that they can’t own property like all the other tribes. Certain Levites are grumbling that Moses, Aaron, and Miriam being the only appointed prophets. There’s already been a rebellion. The unrest is growing, and threatening to spill over into division.

In today’s chapter, God prompts Moses to gather a staff from the leader of each of the tribes. They place the walking sticks in the holy place of the traveling temple tent. The next day Aaron’s staff (representing the Levite tribe) had sprouted, bloomed flowers, and produced almonds. God was giving his unquestioned support to his appointed priest and system, and attempting to silence the grumbling.

Last week I found my meditation focused on the qualities of leadership. This morning, at the beginning of a new week, I find myself thinking about the role of being a good follower and member of the team, group, or organization. In a representative system where leaders are elected, I have the opportunity of making a change by supporting an opposition candidate to the incumbent and voting in a new leader at the next regular election. In an organization with appointed leadership I have far more limited options.

Along life’ s journey I’ve come to understand the wisdom of the Teacher of Ecclesiastes: “There is a time to speak, and a time to be silent.” Once complaints are registered with authority and that authority chooses to support the incumbent leader, then I am typically left with three options. I can leave the organization (if that’s  even an option). I can continue to participate in grumbling, complaining and stirring up dissension. I can keep my mouth shut and press on, doing the best I can in the circumstances.

My experience is that leaders come and go in all organizations. Poor leaders will typically implode or move on. To quote REO Speedwagon, sometimes there’s wisdom in simply “riding the storm out.”

If I want what is best for the team or organization as a whole, then being a good follower often means actively choosing not to participate in destructive grumbling despite the self-centric satisfaction derived from doing so.

The Challenge of Leadership Change

Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, and was buried in his town in Gilead.
Judges 12:7 (NRSV)

A leader sometimes needs time to find traction, and a quick succession of leaders creates difficulty for the team, or people, being led. I have observed this in different organizations from athletic teams to business to government and civic groups.

Take a step back and look at the list of Judges and the “year of rest” during their period of leadership so far:

Othniel (40)
Ehud (80)
Shamgar (?)
Deborah & Barak (40)
Gideon (40)
Tola (23)
Jair (22)
Jepthah (6)
Ibzan (7)
Elon (10)
Abdon (8)

The tenures of leadership are getting smaller. Unrest is growing, and it won’t be long before the people are crying out for a new form a government. All the city-states around them had strong central leadership in the form of a monarchy. Israel will be clamoring for that as well. God predicted this (Deut 17:14-15) and it will come to pass.

This morning I’m thinking about leadership and it’s relationship to the people and organizations under their influence. Time is required in developing a successful leadership and organizations. When there are rapid changes in leadership marked by short tenures, the organization struggles to find traction and constancy of purpose. The system learns to function on its own, believing/knowing that new leadership will not last and the chaos of change is futile. Dysfunction grows.

In an age in which changes in technology and culture are happening at a faster rate than any other time in history, I believe we will struggle. We will struggle the time required for the development of strong, capable leadership. We will struggle if/when leadership changes become more rapid.

God, help me to lead well, follow well, and adapt to unprecedented levels of change.

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featured image Create Learning 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.”

Benched

David Robinson of the US Olympic men's basketb...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So Achish called David and said to him, “As surely as the Lord lives, you have been reliable, and I would be pleased to have you serve with me in the army. From the day you came to me until today, I have found no fault in you, but the rulers don’t approve of you. Now turn back and go in peace; do nothing to displease the Philistine rulers.”
1 Samuel 29:6-7 (NIV)

It’s one thing to ride the bench when you know you’re not a star player. It’s another thing to ride the bench when you know you’re one of the best players on the team, or even the league MVP. The other day I used professional athletes in free agency as a word picture for David’s move to serve the rival Philistine king, Achish. The word picture remains apt in today’s chapter. It is a new season, and for the first time David is going to face King Saul and his men. But, in an unexpected move David and his men get benched by their manager, Achish. They don’t even get to suit up and watch from the sidelines. They are sent back to the team’s training facility.

Having watched sports my whole life, I’ve come to realize that coaches and managers bench players for different reasons. Sometimes a player needs a day off. Other times a player may be benched as a precaution against debilitating injury. In some cases, a player needs to be benched when they’ve forgotten that there is no “i” in team. Talented competitors may have a hard time seeing the big picture of career or season when they find themselves in the heat of a single rivalry game.

We have seen that David has spent years being groomed for leadership through difficult circumstances. Being benched by Achish is just another lesson in time that will profit him as king, but it doesn’t make it easy for the talented warrior in the moment. My experience is that there is an ebb and flow to God’s work through us as we progress through our life journey. We don’t set records every game, nor are we in a position to win with a dramatic hail mary every week. Sometimes God puts the ball in our hands because we’re uniquely suited for a particular play or circumstance. Other times we’re asked to play a supporting role on the field. Sometimes we’re told to ride the bench for a game, or for a season.

Today, I am reminded that embracing God’s timing includes an acceptance that there are times we may be a critical part of a particular play in life, and there are times we are asked to ride the bench. Being on God’s team requires acceptance of the fact that it’s not about me.

David Becomes a Free Agent

1913 Chicago Cubs, baseball card portrait
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But David thought to himself, “One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.” 1 Samuel 27:1 (NIV)

Professional sports can be a funny thing. When you’re a long suffering fan of a perennial loser (in our case that would be the Cubs or the Vikings) you face the annual dilemma of who you are going to cheer for in the playoffs. All season long you’ve hated the other teams in your division for beating up on your boys of summer/winter. But, now it’s the playoffs and you know the other team well. Do you stay loyal to your division or league? Or, do you take alliance with some strange team from the other side of the country whom you’ve never watched with the hope that they will beat up on your local rivals?

I find it equally fascinating to watch players move from team to team and all of the machinations that go along with such moves. Financial considerations are, of course, the most common reasons I see for player moves. Nevertheless, there are loyalty considerations, political considerations, and personal considerations that all play into the decisions of coaches, managers, owners and players.

In David’s day, the region around Israel was made up of small towns who acted much like independent city states but were loosely tied to a larger national confederacy. It’s much like a league of teams that are part of larger divisions. David, the rabidly loyal star player and league MVP for team Israel, got cut by his headstrong coach, even though the team owner didn’t approve of the move. David is now a free agent and, in today’s chapter, he chooses to switch divisions. He negotiates a contract with the rival league to be a player/manager for team Ziklag which puts him in the Philistine division, but the remaining season schedule means he will only face teams from the Amalekite division. David doesn’t have to face his former team who is in a bitter pennant race with the other teams in his new division.

It was a shrewd move. David spends the rest of the season wiping up the new competition while biding his time. He’s guessing that his former team will lose big under it’s current manager and coach, Saul. David knows he’s a favorite of the team owner and the owner had once promised David that he would someday run the team. Nevertheless, Saul has been a fan favorite, a star in his own right, and he’s still under contract. David realizes he has to bide his time. If and when Saul goes down to defeat, David knows that the phone is going to ring and the owner will name him the new player/manager for his hometown team.

Chapter-a-Day Esther 2

source: corcarpemei via Flickr

Esther was the daughter of Abihail, who was Mordecai’s uncle. (Mordecai had adopted his younger cousin Esther.) When it was Esther’s turn to go to the king, she accepted the advice of Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the harem. She asked for nothing except what he suggested, and she was admired by everyone who saw her. Esther 2:15 (NLT)

About a year ago I found myself on a committee. I had been asked to assist a team as they prepared a series of creative presentations. I was initially excited to be a part of the team. After a couple of meetings, however, it became clear that the chairman of this committee was not looking for wise counsel as much as he was looking for a group of rubber stamp lemmings to do what he wanted, when he wanted it, the way he wanted it done. After making one suggestion for how something could have been better communicated, I was called behind closed doors and asked to leave the team.

Sadly, I watched as the team fell apart. The series of presentations failed to deliver as promised, but the committee chairman continued to live in the delusion that they were a rousing success under his leadership.

The willingness to receive and follow wise counsel is not something we talk much about. Yet, I’ve come to realize what a key part it plays in successful people. It is likely that Esther would never have been queen if she had not willingly followed Hegai’s advice. Her ability to accept her own ignorance and accept Hegai’s wisdom led to her ultimate success.

We all have individual strengths and we all have individual weaknesses. When we listen to and follow the advice of those whose strengths are our weaknesses we shore up where we are lacking and set the stage for our ultimate success.