Parse the Paradoxes – Become a Better Boss

ParadoxIn Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback’s book, Being the Boss, they explain that leadership is so difficult because there isn’t one way that is always right. Rather, great leaders need to be able to see the truth in both sides of a number of paradoxes. For example:

Paradox: You are Responsible for What Others Do
As the leader you are ultimately responsible for your team’s outcomes, but you cannot control others -you can only influence them. To be successful you must learn to work and include others rather than simply issue directives.

Paradox: To Focus on the Work, You Must Focus on People Doing the Work
Managers are responsible for the work, but manage people. Peter Drucker pointed out, “when you hire a hand it comes with a head and heart attached”. In order to engage your staff to produce quality results, you must take the time to support, develop and encourage them.

Paradox: You Must Both Develop Your People and Evaluate Them
Although assessment is necessary for growth, there comes a point where a boss must abandon the development of an individual who just cannot do the work and act in the best interest of the group by releasing that person from their role. Although it is tempting to focus on just one of these two roles, a good leader will embrace both.

Paradox: You Must Make Your Group a Cohesive Team Without Losing Sight of the Individuals in It
How do you make a group a team – people who do collective work in committed pursuit of a common goal? Part of the answer is leaving room for individuals to thrive by using their unique talents and perspective while all working towards a shared vision. As a leader you facilitate the balance between diversity and cohesion.

Paradox: To Manage Your Group, You Must Manage the Larger Context Beyond Your Group
Although it is easiest to simply focus on your own group, in order to properly provide for your group and best accomplish your goals, you must invest some of your time and energy in understanding the bigger picture of your organization as a whole and even the market in which you are operating.

Paradox: You Must Focus on Today and Tomorrow
Today has demands that must be met, but if you neglect planning for tomorrow, you will be shortchanged. As a leader you must steward your limited resources to best meet the often conflicting demands of Today and Tomorrow.

Paradox: You Must Execute and Innovate
Your group needs to stay the same in some ways and change in others in order to succeed and it is your task to discern when each applies.

Paradox: You Must Sometimes Do Harm in Order to Do a Greater Good
This burden of being the boss is not one to be taken lightly. Your decisions to lay off employees or promote one person over another have real impact on people’s lives. There will be competing considerations that you must sort through and these ethical dilemmas are an important part of your job that you need to prepare for rather than be caught off guard when faced with. You will need both emotional competence and a set of personal values.

You will surely encounter paradoxes every day as a leader, so it’s important that you come to terms with them and grow in wisdom as to how to apply them in specific situations.

This aspect of wisdom that requires discernment for each situation rather than cut and dry rules is exactly the picture painted in the Bible’s primary book about wisdom – Proverbs. Although individual proverbs sound so straightforward when read alone, if you read through the whole book you will find that there are many seemingly conflicting proverbs. The reason for this is wisdom must account for the paradox. For example, sometimes it is best not to answer a fool because you will only stoop to their level, but other times, you must answer them in order to set them right (Proverbs 26:4-5).

As Christian leaders then, you have an aid in “parsing the paradoxes” because true wisdom is from God and begins with the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10).

The Millenials – A Chosen Generation

The material in this blog post is derived from Thom and Jess Rainer’s book
The Millenials: Connection to America’s Largest Generation

The Millenials

The title of this article needs some explanation. By Millenials, I am referring to the generation born between the years 1980 and 2000. Although only a small percentage (around 10%) of this generation are evangelical Christians, they are still “a chosen generation” for two reasons. First, of the remnant that God has called out for Himself, their faith is as genuine as any other generation, and maybe more so because they have to be able to defend their faith before their peers. Secondly, they have many wonderful characteristics that make them a great asset to the kingdom – and therefore your Christian workplace.

Just to keep things straight, here is a list of the modern generations:

• The Greatest Generation 1900-1927
• The Silent Generation 1928-1945
• The Baby Boomers 1946-1964
• Generation X 1965-1979
• The Millenials 1980-2000

Like the Baby Boomers, the Millenials are a huge generation (78 million strong!), and as such will certainly have a great impact upon the world. But there are other reasons that this generation will be hard to miss.

The Millenials believe in themselves. They were raise to believe that they can do anything and that education is the key to success. They are on track to be the most educated generation to date. Although they value a healthy work/life balance, they aren’t afraid to work hard. And they want to make a difference in the world. In fact, the Millenials aren’t focused on themselves, but rather live to help others. They are a hopeful generation, confident that they can be great. But they don’t define greatness in the same way previous generations did. For the Millennials greatness is a means to a greater good, not fame or power in and of itself. They have a deep respect for their elders and look to them for guidance. They are teachable. Relationships are made a priority, with face to face interaction a must despite their proficiency with technology.

For all of these reasons, Christian organizations should be seeking out the Millennial generation, which is just now entering the workplace in full force.

So, what does the Millennial Generation think about work? Here are the top 5 factors when it comes to job selection and satisfaction for this generation:

1) Proper work/life balance.
2) A fair salary and benefits.
3) A fun environment.
4) Some flexibility in their schedule.
5) Structure and feedback.

In explanation of these values, you should know that the one thing that Millenials value most is relationships. They aren’t averse to working hard, but they want to work someplace where they will be supported in their efforts to dedicate the time necessary to family and friends. They care about a good salary and opportunities for advancement because they want to be able to provide for those they care about, pay for the technology that keeps them connected, and travel to visit those who don’t live close by. Likewise, a flexible schedule is desired so that occasional trips to visit family are possible. Their expectations of a fun work environment don’t mean going over the top and thus hurting productivity, but rather they know that this is important to foster healthy relationships with the people they interact with at the office.

With these insights into what the Millenials are looking for in a job, here are some strategies you can use to attract them and retain them at your workplace:

1) Treat them fairly (they will know if you don’t).
2) Provide clear expectations.
3) Respect their personal and social relationships.
4) Make your office fun.
5) Be a transparent leader.
6) Listen to them.

There are also some things that you may be surprised to learn about this generation’s attitudes about work.

They don’t feel compelled to work for a company that is making the world a better place. This means that you are going to have to compete with secular organizations even for Christian employees. Meaningful work, although appreciated, won’t make up for lower wages and poor benefits.

Although the Millenials prefer casual work attire, this really isn’t a big deal to them. It is important, however, to communicate to them why they are expected to dress as they do. They will listen.

Most have no desire to work from home. Rather they value the accountability, structure, and mentoring opportunities offered from an office environment.

That leads me to my final point. 3 out of 4 Millenials would like to have a mentor. They are looking to learn from your wisdom and would be delighted if you offered to take them under your wing. Why wait?

Servant Leadership: Speaking Truth and Grace

One of the hardest things about being a leader is correcting employees in a loving way.  Greenleaf makes this comment: “Servant leadership always empathizes, always accepts the person but sometimes refuses to accept some of the person’s effort or performance as good enough” (Servant Leadership pg 33).  How does a servant leader effectively correct and encourage an employee toward better work? 

The two key components to this aspect of servant leadership are truth and grace.  Both are dependent on the other for effective management.  Truth without grace is harsh and can often do more damage than good.  Grace without truth enables bad behavior and won’t demand excellence.  Both are necessary to continue to develop a trust-filled working relationship with employees.

Too Much Truth?

Bill Robinson, former President of Whitworth University, speaks of his personal experience with being confronted with only truth and a lack of grace in his book Incarnate Leadership.  He was new to his youth ministry job when he was confronted by someone higher up in the staff.  After being blasted by this leader, he quit.  From this experience, he developed four key principles for confrontations:

  • “First, I will have a hard time hearing truth if I am busy defending myself.
  • Second, I will have a hard time identifying truth if the assault feels like it’s more for your good than for mine.
  • Third, I am not capable of accepting truth from you if the attack feels personal.
  • Fourth, I will stop thinking about truth if you make claims about my motives.  Only I know my motives – and I would rather you ask me what they are than tell me what you think they are” (80).

It is crucial when confronting an employee to come at the meeting with a mollified tone and thoughtful word choice.  If the employee feels threatened, then they will raise defenses and be closed to hearing what you say, even if it is the truth.  The way truth is said is just as important as the truth itself because otherwise it won’t be absorbed and will offend the employee.

What is Grace?

Speaking with grace can be difficult to fully explain.  Grace is part tone and word choice, part attitude, and part the spirit of God.  Richard Biery, in his lecture on Micah 6:8 at the 2009 CLA Conference, describes grace to us with a story about a Portland Trail Blazers basketball game.  Before the game, the 13 year-old girl who was chosen to sing the national anthem forgot the words half way through in front of 20,000 people.  The coach of the Trail Blazers jumped up immediately to help this girl sing the anthem.  He cannot sing worth anything but he knew the words and gets the audience to sing with them.  He transformed an embarrassing situation for this girl into an experience that gave the whole stadium energy and a positive start to the game.  Grace is a transformative power and energy that changes people’s lives, yet takes tremendous courage.  Transforming grace is the power of the gospel in our daily lives.  It is the power that can reach the depths of our souls to bring us healing, hope and promise for the future. 

Grace is also an attitude.  Having grace means that you give people the benefit of the doubt and are slow to make snap judgments about their behavior.  Having grace for others means that you believe that they have good intentions and good motives.  This doesn’t mean betting the farm on the perceived good intentions of someone you don’t know, but it does mean being positive and letting people prove themselves.  Having grace also doesn’t mean that you are a push-over when it is combined with truth.  Truth is the foundation on which grace can be gracious.

Speaking Grace and Truth at Employee Reviews

Southland Christian Church uses an effective way to review their employees.  In the podcast of their interview with Al Lopus; Kurt Braun, Charlotte Ewing, and Gordon Walls (the leadership team) talked about how they speak truth with grace to their employees about their performance. They created a formal process that included an evaluation form where employees could answer questions in a very narrative format.  Coming out of this, they realized that some employees needed truth spoken to them but their supervisors where not equipped to do so.  So they created a review process that included three people: the employee, the employee’s supervisor, and the supervisor of the supervisor.  That way if the supervisor couldn’t say what needed to be said, his or her supervisor could say it for them.  This system wasn’t flawless but it has been very effective in having the truth be spoken.  The third person in the room also keeps everyone accountable, it eliminates any problems with ‘he said, she said.’  The staff members have appreciated this system and have requested to keep the third person in the room, what started as a temporary fix has turned into an established practice because it works.

Southland Christian Church does formal reviews twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring.  The meetings have taken a tone of collaboration; employees get to create their own goals with the input of their supervisor.  This time is also a time for self reflection and gives the staff member a space to be able to ask for additional training if needed.

The staff at Southland Christian Church have responded well to the review process because it fosters an environment of trust rooted in speaking truth with grace.  Both truth and grace are responsible for creating this kind of growth, it encourages employees to be better and excel at their work.  Truth and grace fosters creativity and innovation.  Robinson talks about the culture of grace in the workplace, comparing it to a climate of fear (Incarnate Leadership pg 84).  The climate of grace promotes risk, self direction, service of mission, spontaneity, and boldness.  On the other hand, the climate of fear promotes caution, obedience, service of leaders, secretive behavior, and tentatively.  In order to achieve your productivity potential, there needs to be a climate of grace in your workplace. 

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if there is a climate of truth and grace in your workplace:

  • Have your employees voiced their disagreement or hesitation about an idea recently (this week)?
  • Are your meetings filled with equally balanced discussion?
  • Is there discussion or silence after presentations from the management or leadership?
  • Do your employees quickly and genuinely apologize to one another when they say or do something inappropriate or possibly damaging?
  • Your employees openly admit their weakness and mistakes?

For more information about building and leading teams in truth and grace, read Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Working from Home: A Christian Perspective

As my husband and I prepared to move to Jackson, Mississippi a year ago so that he could finish his degree at Reformed Theological Seminary, I was sad to bid farewell to my coworkers and friends at BCWI. I worked hard to finish projects and prepare notes to aid whoever would take my place, but somewhere during that process we realized that much of my work is done on the computer and thus could be done remotely. We quickly made the necessary arrangements and when I finally set out for my nearly 3000 mile drive to my new home my work computer and a few files were safely stowed away in the trunk of my car.

In the year since that transition I’ve had a lot of time to think about this phenomenon of working at home and particularly how it pertains to my faith. There are ways in which it has clearly been a blessing both to me and the company, but there are also things that one misses out on – spiritually speaking – when working from home.

With all the changes of moving to a new place (let me tell you, Seattle and Jackson are culturally worlds apart!) and adjusting to a new phase of life (as my husband and I both transitioned from working to taking classes), it was a relief for me not to have to learn a whole new job. Similarly, it was a huge blessing not to have to look for a new job, but instead focus all that energy into the job I already had. On a spiritual level, this was a huge blessing financially as my husband and I pursued training for future full-time ministry.

This was also a blessing to BCWI in that they didn’t have to go through the hiring process and train someone new – a costly and time consuming process. This was particularly helpful because during my time at BCWI we had begun utilizing a few new technologies and I was the one most familiar with them making training a new hire all the more difficult. Of course secular businesses benefit from this as well, but particularly for an organization like BCWI, that is doing kingdom work, being good stewards of all God has given the organization is of even greater importance.

My husband and I found that our lives continued to change as we had our first baby and working from home became even more of a blessing as I could work during the time our baby was sleeping and still be available to care for him when he was awake. This flexibility and level of comfort is something I never would have had at the office and as I believe God has called me, among other things, to be a good mother, I’m thrilled that it has worked out this way.

View from my desk of RTS Jackson campus.

Just as I’m able to make efficient use of my time, I think BCWI is getting the most efficient use of their time. That is, when I was expected to be in the office 8 hours a day, I know there were times I was less efficient due to fatigue or distractions. Now that I have more flexibility in my work schedule, when I sit down to work, I am really able to focus on the task at hand.

Yet, the most surprising thing that I discovered this past year about working remotely and its impact on my spiritual state is how much I miss the fellowship I had in the office. People always joke that working for Best Christian Workplaces Institute must be the best place to work and I can’t deny that I thank God for such a wonderful job with such great people! Now that I work remotely I still have the joy of doing kingdom work and I know that I am compensated fairly and cared for by my employer. But the day-to-day conversations, the sharing of prayer requests, the laughter and commiseration over frustrating days, that is all much harder now. I still care a great deal for my coworkers, but I no longer know what to specifically pray for them. Nor do I have the joy of knowing when those prayers are answered.

In the end, I am thankful for the opportunity to continue working remotely for BCWI, but I miss the depth of relationship that came from being in the office. As a Christian, I know that God created us to be in fellowship with one another and so I encourage Christian business owners to carefully weigh the pros and cons of each individual situation before signing off on having an employee work from home. There’s no simple answer – it’s a matter of wisdom.