Tag Archive for: work

7 Leadership Principles Guaranteed to Ruin Your Career but Save Your Soul

This week, I shared the story of a friend–a decent, hard-working, upstanding friend of faith–who’s asking the hard questions of vocation.

Why is integrating vocation and faith so difficult? 

How do you ‘maximize profit’ while staying true to the message of scripture? 

How can I give everything to The Company and feel good about the scraps of time I throw to my children, my wife? 

What about time for prayer, for spiritual connection and formation?

The Market, though, refuses to answer these questions (even the “Christian Market,” whatever that is (feel free to read between the lines)). Instead, it pulls a sleight of hand, shirks those questions in favor of others.

How can you be a better leader? 

How can you take your team to the next level?

How can you succeed, succeed, succeed and by that success, prove yourself as a worth [leader, worker, Christian, whatever].

“The sign of success,” they tell my friend, and you, and me, “is leading others with excellence.” They syncretize the message of The Market and The Message of faith until we feel guilty about our inability to leverage everything we have for the economic well-being of… what? The Kingdom?

Leadership principles are all the rage in the Christian faith and have been for several years. But is every follower in Jesus’ way called to be a leader? Is the sign of a successful follower success in the Market?

Let me be clear: your success as a follower of Christ has nothing to do with your ability to lead in the workplace. Your success as a follower of Jesus’s way has nothing to do with market performance, in fact. Instead, the leadership of a Christian is marked by being a good follower. And so, today, let’s look at the 7 Christian Leadership Principles Guaranteed to Ruin Your Career (But Save Your Soul).

1. Don’t Center Yourself. I’m sure Jesus had a good chuckle about the leaders of his day, the ones who imagined themselves as so critical to the plan of God. He shot the hard-chargers straight. “The last will be first and the first will be last,” he said to the people who imagined themselves central characters in society’s pageant.

2. Become A Child. Jesus didn’t take much stock of adults doing important adult things. Instead, he took stock of the children, of those with simple faith who wanted nothing more than to be near him for the sake of being near him. Maximize profit? Maximize leadership potential? Children don’t care about those things. Children want nothing more than a good story, perhaps a laugh or two.

3. Serve The Least. Serving the rich, those with means, the participants in The Market is all fine and good, but success in that service meant very little to Jesus. “When have you visited the prisoner?” he asked. “When have you given the thirsty a cold cup of water or done the unseen thing for the down and out?”

4. Sell Everything. Didn’t Jesus say this to the rich young man? Go ahead. Explain it away; I know I’ll try to.

5. Save Somewhere Else. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” he said, “not in your 401k.”

6. Kill Your Self-Interests For The Sake of Others. Take the fall, the consequences, the death for another. Sure, you’ll lose the whole world, but isn’t it worth it to gain your soul?

7. Believe the Irrational. Jesus told Thomas, “blessed are those who have not seen me and still believe.” And what does it mean to believe but to put his words into action, to live them out in our families, our vocations, our social lives?

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I thought I’d written my last piece on vocation a week ago. Alas, sometimes fortune, fate, or the Spirit comes calling. Feel free to invite others along as we continue this exploration.  I know I’m not alone in my questions on this topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your people are processing your own questions.

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The Only Leadership Principle You Need

Thought leader.

Business leader.

Leadership principles.

Leader, leader, leader.

Leaders—we’re eaten up with them, maybe even obsessed.

This morning I sat in the local coffee shop and spoke with a fella I know to be good-and-decent. He’s smart, competent, a hard worker. He’s a man of faith, too, and as we talked about life, church, and business, he shared his workday struggle.

Why was integrating vocation and faith so difficult?

How could you chase a buck and stay true to the message of scripture (a message to which he gave intellectual assent)?

How could you sell twelve hours to The Company and feel good about the scraps of time you reserved for the girls, the wife?

What about time for prayer, for spiritual connection when you’re always chasing the rent, the mortgage, the next client payment, the next development opportunity, your own tail, whatever?

These were honest questions, questions that The Company, The Men’s Group, The Christian Business Gurus shirked. “These are the wrong questions,” they said (and say ad nauseum). “Instead, ask yourself this: What are you doing to be a more effective workplace leader?”

They were answering questions that were unasked (as tends to be their way).

Be more of a leader. Lead by example. Set the goals. Set the course. Stay the course. Ask others to follow you on the course. Achieve, achieve, achieve.

“Aside from it being unhelpful in answering any of my questions,” my friend said. “What does any of it mean? I’ve pondered my friend’s quandary, and here’s what I think. Leadership principles are easier to teach than principles of integrating faith, career, and family. But becoming a better leader in the workplace cannot help him (or you or me or any of us) solve our disintegrated compartmentalization. Perhaps increasing your leadership capacity can help you feel important, maybe even indispensable. It’s a good ego drug, one that helps numb the conscious when burning the midnight oil. Being a leader can help you earn an extra buck, can pad the retirement account or help you buy the extra toy for your daughter, your wife, yourself. Leadership (as defined by the current business milieu (even the current Christian business milieu)) is good for some things, but it cannot teach you the way of Christ, unless, of course, leadership is redefined as this:

Asking others to follow you on a mad mission of certain death for the sake of others.

This, I think, is the Key Leadership Principle, the model embodied by Christ himself. This, I think, is the only leadership principle the person of faith needs.

Don’t get me wrong, we need good leaders. Some are born leaders; others are made. But as painful as this may be to read, know this: not everyone can be a leader. (Those peddling these models are selling snake oil; trust me.) Here’s where the life is: everyone can die for the sake of another.

This week, I’d like to kill the leadership model of vocation. It’s overdone, outmoded. In its place, I’d like to build a model that keeps us connected to the larger purpose. What is that purpose?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

If this was our filter, would it help us better integrate our faith into all aspects of our lives, vocation and family included?

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I thought I’d written my last piece on vocation a week ago. Alas, sometimes fortune, fate, or the Spirit comes calling. Feel free to invite others along as we continue this exploration.  I know I’m not alone in my questions on this topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your people are processing your own questions.

***TINY MEMBERSHIP DRIVE***

The content here takes hours (and no small amount of spare change) to produce. If you enjoy reading my content, whether here, in the bi-monthly Tiny Letter, or in any of my free email campaigns, would you consider SUPPORTING THE WORK? (It’ll only set you back a cup of coffee a month.) And, if you enjoy this website and haven’t yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, sign up to receive it straight to your inbox.

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Tiny Ovens and Vintage Presence

Last summer Amber and I bought a tiny place just off Arkansas Highway 16. And although tiny is a relative term, allow me to expound–the little green-brick house boasts just enough square footage for our whole family, so long as we don’t all inhale at the same time. We’re always running into one another around here.

The size of the home was no selling point, let me assure you. Nor were we over-joyed by the lack of a dishwasher or the under-sized refrigerator hole in the kitchen. Everything in the house is smaller, vintage, or sparse, and I do not mean this in an ironic hipster kind of way. I mean this in the we-can’t-fit-an-entire-Thanksgiving-turkey-in-our-1960s-oven kind of way. Living life here is a marathon of adjustments.

Oven

Praise the Good Lord and all that He hath created, Spring has come! The new season allows us to leak out of these cramped quarters and into the joys of outdoor living. The boys climb trees and dig holes deep enough to bury bodies, while Amber and I tend to a new garden.

Our garden space was a blank slate at the beginning of the season, though the previous owner had treated the soil well. Hoping to create a more formal garden plot, I found and reclaimed some old railroad crossties, laid them in a 32 x 64 rectangle. A layer of home-grown compost, a dump truck of mulch, and a few straw bales later, and we were officially ready to grow.

Garden Layout

Amber chose the seeds, ordered them from an heirloom shop run by old-timy Mennonites somewhere in the Kansas. They arrived without ceremony, the brown box delivered by a UPS man on an average Wednesday. Amber smiled like a toothless six year old at Christmas when she opened the package. Broccoli, beets, carrots, tomatoes, kale, chard, lettuce, basil, peppers, rosemary, thyme–all her favorites were there, and she spread the packets across the bed as if the harvest had come in. I scanned the packets, said, “what about radishes?” She pulled her chin back, wrinkled her nose, and said, “who likes radishes?”

On Saturday morning, Amber walked the rows and poked seeds into tiny mounds while I tended to other yard work. Without headphones, a smart-phone, or any other device tethering her to the world-wide-information-super-distraction, she was present in the moment. Dirtying the quick of her fingernails, this was her rhythm: stoop, pinch, drop, cover. Smiling. Humming. Laughing to herself. This is the human enterprise of joy.

BellPepper

I suppose by suburban metes and bounds, it’s a large garden. That said, it’s not like we’re running combines or spitting pesticides from the tail-end of a Cessna. And for what it’s worth, that’s just fine by me, because I’m not skilled in the ways of combine navigation or Cessna spitting. So, we’ll tend to the metes and bounds we’ve been given by hand; we’ll use hand-trowells and sweat-of-the-brow. Come Summer, maybe we’ll have a few tomatoes, some broccoli, and a bushel of beans for the picking. It isn’t grandiose, but it’s ours.

There’s a thing this world does. Maybe you’ve heard about it. It says that the small things aren’t worth a whole-heckuva lot. It demands bigger houses, newer appliances, and faster production. It rewards connectivity, platform, power, and consumption. It pretends the market’s quotas are life-giving, and asks asinine questions, like, “why would you plant a garden when you could work a few more hours, make a little more money, and buy all your vegetables?” Bigger, faster, more, more, more. Pay to hire the laborers outside your door.

This logic is hogwash.

We can’t all be Hillary Clinton, waging a campaign war for the chance to bring world peace. We can’t all be Tyrese Gibson, taking over Hollywood with Mercedes vans and the power of positive thinking. We can’t all be power-brokers, or small business owners, or even middle-management company men. Heck, we can’t even all be the next internet sensation, the break-out viral video/writer/Facebook post of the month. I suppose we can all be vintage, though. And by that I do not mean vintage in the hipster want-to-check-out-my-vinyl-collection sort of way. I mean it more in the tiny way, in the way that tends to its own patch of dirt.

Make no mistake about it–vintage ain’t all that inspirational, but it sure is fun.

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Recovery Room:Hiding Fear of Failure (by Ed Cyzewski)

Throughout 2015, I’ll be hosting various writers, pastors, and counselors as they step into the Recovery Room. It’s not all about alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, or workaholism. It’s more about the thing–whatever it is–that supplants inner sobriety, and connectedness to an abiding God. Couldn’t we all use a little recovery from something?

Today, welcome Ed Cyzewski, friend and author. Ed’s upcoming book, Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. It’s available for pre-order for only $.99 on Kindle (regular price as of March 11 is $3.99)! Read his piece here, then jump straight to the Kindle store and nab a copy!

Without further adieu, welcome Ed to the Recovery Room.

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The coffee from the local diner didn’t have to be good when I gathered there each week with my high school friends. It just needed to be unlimited and paired with a mountain of waffles or hash browns. These were simpler times before everything was local, organic, and humanely raised.

One friend, who had been missing quite a few of these meet ups, said he had something to confess.

We waited, hushed and nervous. This had to be about pornography, right? Or maybe just run of the mill lust. I mean, high school… right?

“Work has been like a drug for me,” he said.

“Huh!” was about all I could muster back then. I didn’t see that coming.

Nearly 20 years later, some things have changed. Our coffee is organically grown by farmers who are paid a fair wage. Our meat is raised humanely without growth hormones. The local, slow food, direct-from-farmer network is growing as fast as designers can slap together new badges. There’s been one other notable change: I finally get what my friend meant about work becoming a drug of sorts.

Mind you, this is a loose connection to the struggles one may face with a chemical addiction to drugs or alcohol. I’ve seen the latter up close with someone I know, and I don’t make such connections without some huge caveats. The thing itself is quite different, but the motivations and the habits are strikingly similar.

Working hard or even working long hours isn’t a bad thing. Aspiring for success or a promotion isn’t necessarily a risky matter. The problem is that I used work to hide from my greatest fear—or one of them at least. Working longer hours was the only way to escape my fear of being a FAILURE.

I can’t say that my fear was limited to not making enough money. While every freelance writer has to face that fear regularly, I threw myself into my work for a season of my life in order to avoid facing my fear of being a person who has failed—which means a lot more than what’s in your bank account. I didn’t want to appear as a failure in front of colleagues, friends, and family.

My reliance on work finally came to the surface two years ago.

On a whim I started practicing the Examen each evening through an iPhone app called The Examen [sic]. The app asks a series of questions about your day. The first round is Consonance: What energized you? What relationships are you grateful for? The second round is Dissonance: What is keeping you awake at night? What discouraged you?

After two or three months of dutifully answering my Examen questions every evening, I started to notice a few troubling patterns. First of all, I was most certainly struggling to trust God with providing for our family through my work. Secondly, almost every good aspect of my day was connected to my work.

Praise for my work, progress on a project, or an exciting new opportunity all qualified as positive aspects of my day. While there’s no doubt that my work, when it goes well, can be energizing or can lead to encouraging interactions, you would have thought that I didn’t have a family based on my Examine answers.

While pushing to build a successful career that could help support our family, I completely lost sight of my family. Along the way my fear of failure prompted me to keep working longer hours and measuring my progress in the tiniest of increments.

As my life swung out of balance, anxiety in the evenings about work became normal. I won’t even get into the dissonance questions in my Examen answers. Needless to say, it was all related to my work, too!

The steady discipline of the Examen drove home the ways my work habits shielded me from truly facing my fears about failure. Once I owned up to the fact that I may fail—at least in one sense, I started to let up on my work obsession.

If failing was possible and life could still go on despite failing, then I could stop working at 5 pm every night and focus on spending time with my family. Dinner is complete chaos with two children: a two-year-old and a 6-month-old, but it’s also a really important pivot-point in my day when I physically leave my projects and aspirations behind. My wife and I chat while I do the dishes, and bath time is complete pandemonium with two sopping wet kids. These moments are also among the first things I list during my Consonance answers in my evening Examen.

While a hefty project may intrude into our evenings during a busy season, I generally try to disengage from my work for the evening. At the very least, I tell my internal sense of urgency that working all evening won’t make much of a difference. If I fail, I fail.

Since that revelation about my work habits, I’ve had to let go of some long-held goals. It hurt to let go of them, to raise the white flag, and to admit that I at least won’t meet them at any point in the near future. I’ve watched many other colleagues reach these goals and maintain a level of success that I’ve worked hard to attain. I had to let go to at least part of my future plans and admit failure.

I failed. There I said it.

However, it’s more painful to hide from the fear of failure. Constant anxiety robbed me of the joy present each day with my wife and kids. Working constantly sent my spirit completely off-balance. I forgot how to rest in God’s presence, let alone how to be present for other people.

I’m not the most perfectly balanced person, but my wife and I chose our respective careers in the first place because we wanted a bit of autonomy with our work/life decisions. We don’t mind working hard or occasionally working long hours, but we wanted to have the freedom to choose how to structure our work days around our kids and each other.

The fear of failure removed that freedom from my life. Work became the only cure I used to treat it. I never thought that simply surrendering to my greatest fears could lead me to the greatest freedom.

 

Postscript: I write at length about the Examen and how it impacts my prayer life and work as a writer in my new eBook: Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. It’s available for pre-order at $.99 on Kindle (regular price as of March 11 is $3.99).

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EdC-400Ed Cyzewski is the author of A Christian Survival Guide and Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life. He’s a part time freelance writer and work from home/local café dad. He writes at www.edcyzewski.com and is on Twitter as @edcyzewski.

 

 

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In last month’s Tiny Letter (my monthly newsletter), I’m discussing the idea of resting  within church practices. There, I write candidly about some recent changes in the Haines’ household, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Sign up to read along!

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Best Books for Business: Wendell Berry’s Collected Poems

The following is an excerpt from my most recent piece of The High Calling:

In the real world, the market functions to maximize profit, and sometimes operational principles affect real people. In the real world, dollars and cents are often the measure of greatness, not the integrity of the process. In the real world, all of those business books offering the keys to success fall just a little short in one regard—they tend to focus on monetary success without regard to neighbors, nature, and quality of life.

It’s true: each of those books prepared me a little more for my life as an American businessman—they taught me to consider costs, to identify bottlenecks, and to effectively communicate organizational goals. For that I’m grateful. But where these books fell short, I found a supplement: Wendell Berry’s Collected Poems: 1957-1982.

You can read the piece in its entirety by following the link. Won’t you join me?

 

Featured image by Adam Wilson. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.

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