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Monday, December 31, 2018

Well Worth the Work ... in 2019

As we come to the end of 2018, I’d like to reshare some thoughts from one of my earliest of these blogs known as The Way WE Work. I chose that title for them as a way of saying that people of faith should approach our work differently than the way people who do not think spiritually about their job. Thus, I finish each of my blogs with a thought or two that would connect work to faith.

Moreover, I was blessed to have the opportunity to address a men’s ministry group earlier this year on the subject of influence. I summarized some of my thoughts in two earlier blogs. So it seems appropriate to reach back and capture my reflections on this topic from a few years back. I hope it bears some fruit for you for the coming year. So here goes…

In the work world, a treasured role is to be a person of influence. Whether or not you agree with all of his conclusions from his research, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell is a person of extraordinary influence. And he’s an exceptional writer.

Gladwell, for those not familiar, is the author of bestselling books titled Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath.

I got connected to Gladwell’s writing at a strategy workshop put on by a former employer. In one of our small group breakouts, we all received a copy of Tipping Point. Each of us in the group was asked to read a different chapter of the book. Then we were to report our summary discoveries from that chapter. I found it to be a great exercise.

It was there I learned how Hush Puppies (the shoes, not the food) regained popularity after almost going out of business. And how markets are developed and shaped in surprising ways. It happens when a significant group of influencers begin purchasing products or services and others soon follow the leaders, so to speak.

From Gladwell’s book, Blink, I learned about thin slicing, and John Gottman—the psychologist and mathematician. Gottman’s seminal work studying more than 2000 married couples has provided us with powerful perspectives on relationships. Through scientific observation and mathematical analysis, Gottman and his associates at the University of Washington could predict—with more than 90 percent accuracy—whether a marriage would succeed or fail.

Gottman defined “four horsemen” that drive relationships apart: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. The most dangerous of those is contempt. By helping couples to see the damage these relational breakers were causing, Gottman significantly enhanced his skill as a marriage therapist.

In Outliers, Gladwell’s research gave us understanding that success is not accidental or by “luck.” Although many of the world’s most successful were talented, it took them hours and hours of work and practice to yield that success. Gladwell’s benchmark was 10,000 hours of commitment and hard work.

I have not read a later book by Gladwell titled David and Goliath. It is a book about “Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.” I learned that while writing this book, Malcolm Gladwell returned to his spiritual roots and regained his faith.

As he notes, he grew up in an evangelical home. But he admitted, “I had drifted away a little bit. This book has brought me back into the fold. I was so incredibly struck in writing these stories by the incredible power faith had in people’s lives, it has made a profound impact on me in my belief.”

Gladwell’s contributions to the world of business have made him an extraordinary influencer. Each of his works are well worth reading. Perhaps Gladwell would agree with this idea: True wisdom and incredible insight into life can be found in another bestselling book: The Bible.

And it won’t even take you 10,000 hours to learn its most valuable lessons.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook. 

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

For more information:

Monday, December 24, 2018

One Solitary Love

The message of “One Solitary Life” is often sent along via Christmas cards. I don’t recall when I first heard or read it. But I’ve always found it a stirring reminder of the impact the Christ child brought.

It seems this famous short essay was adapted from a sermon by Dr. James Allan Francis in The Real Jesus and Other Sermons published in 1926 by the Judson Press of Philadelphia.

Even if you’ve heard or read this before, it’s worth a re-read as we consider the impact of God’s son:

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself...

While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth–His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.

I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.


On an Irish website that shared this wonderful piece by Dr. Francis, there was also a clever re-working of 1 Corinthians 13. I think it is also worth sharing.

1 Corinthians 13 – a Christmas Version

If I decorate my house perfectly with streamers, 
strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, 
I’m just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of mince pies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, sing carols on the Church steps and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I decorate the tree with baubles and fairy lights and attend a myriad of pre-Christmas parties but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child. 
Love sets aside the decorating to listen to loved ones. 
Love is kind, though harried and tired. 
Love doesn’t envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way. 
Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.

Love…
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

Love never fails.
Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust, 
but giving the gift of love will endure.

May the one Solitary Life who came to love and to save lift your heart again this season.

Merry Christmas! 

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook. 

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

For more information:

Monday, December 17, 2018

You’re a Mean One, Missy Grinch!

You’ve likely heard the phrase about the aggressive workplace worker who is willing to do most anything to climb the corporate ladder. These folks are ready to “claw their way to the top.” The McGraw Hill Dictionary of American Idioms explains this means “to climb to the most prestigious level of something ruthlessly.” Giving humor to this out-of-control behavior is the excellent resource by Dave Barry, Claw Your Way to the Top : How to Become the Head of a Major Corporation in Roughly a Week.

Knowing the almost inherent competitive nature of men, we might expect more rough and tumble workplace behavior from the guys. But not so fast. A recent blog from motherhoodmoment.com discusses many young women find a toxic atmosphere when they enter the workplace. “Very often, this atmosphere is created by fellow women.”

Adrenna Alkhas was interviewed for this blog article titled, “Women in the Workplace—Preventing a Toxic Work Environment.” Adrenna is the author of the new book, EmPOWher and is a strong advocate for inspiring young girls toward leadership in their communities. By day, she is a marketing and communication director and she lectures at her local community college. Her marketing strategies and tactics have been widely noted. Recently, she was named "Publicist of the Year" by PR News.

Adrenna describes several of the more troubling attitudes and behaviors some women act out in the workplace. This includes gossiping about each other, playing into their insecurities, and allowing jealousy to take hold. She believes women tend to “over think things” and jump to conclusions quicker.

A few years ago, the USA Today ran a story titled, “At Work: Beware of the Mean Girls in the Workplace.” This writer echoes the sentiment that “You would think that most women want to help their female colleagues succeed. After all, they know better than anyone how hard it is to get where they've gotten. But that's not necessarily the case.”

This article cites the findings of Katherine Crowly and Kathi Elster in their book, Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional when Things Get Personal. They call out several types of “mean girl behaviors” saying, at their worst, mean girls and women can often be vicious, cruel, and vengeful. This shows up when “they act like workplace bullies, say cruel things that make other women cry or become jealous of anyone else's success.”

From the authors' perspective, woman-to-woman relationships are naturally intense. They write, “The biological imperative that compels women to 'tend and befriend' can generate amazing friendships and incredibly productive work teams. But women are complicated. They want to be kind and nurturing but "we struggle with our darker side—feelings of jealousy, envy, and competition."

It is their perception that men tend to jockey for position more overtly while women compete more covertly. The passively mean girl thinks in terms of “being nice.” Instead, her competitive drive brings out passive-aggressive behavior.

Adding one more symptomatic warning, the authors write, “If you're dealing with a woman who ‘accidentally’ forgets to invite you to important meetings, is friendly one day and cold the next, praises you in public then puts you down in private, you may have a mean girl situation on your hands.”

Harvard Business Review added to this discussion as well. Their 2009 article is titled, “How to Stop 'Mean Girls' in the Workplace.” Concerns raised here about workplace bullying are how it affects the bottom line, including “affecting productivity, wellness (with subsequent rise in employer benefit costs), attrition, attraction and retention.” They spell out specific dangers from woman-on-woman bullying.

From personal experience, I’ve heard women comment about the “cattiness” of other women in the workplace. I do believe women take this offensive behavior quite personally. And it’s disruptive.

Often, people of faith refer to the “godly woman” described in Proverbs 31. Of particular note, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” (Proverbs 31:26, ESV)

This Christmas, let’s ask Mr. Claus to send more of that spirit of wisdom and kindness. And a whole lot less of Missy Grinch.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook. 
Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

For more information:


Monday, December 10, 2018

Candy Canes All Around!

Many moons ago, I “represented” Santa in our small community in California. The job was as you would expect—be large, welcome the little ones, listen to their requests, try to encourage the fearful, and be sure to hand out candy canes. One of the more apprehensive toddlers to sit on my lap was my own son. I’m grateful he chose not to yank on my beard.

Back then, the visit with Santa did not include an expensive photography package. You could even take your own pictures with the now-outdated Kodak camera. Smart phones make these photo ops simpler these days, but the mall Santas won’t allow you to do that. You have to buy THEIR photos. Makes you wonder if The Grinch is underneath that red outfit.

These are tough days for mall Santas. That’s because they are even tougher days for malls. Major name retailers are disappearing and as they go, the customers go, too.

The second factor for the diminishing mall Santa is online shopping. There is a stunning increase this year over last in the amount spent online over the Thanksgiving shopping weekend. Sorry, Santa.

So what’s a skilled Mr. Claus to do? Innovate! Last year, the Chicago Tribune shared, “Santas are finding ways to adapt, often trading in one steady mall gig for a series of hourly appearances. Some are taking up residence at stores like Bass Pro Shop and American Girl or booking more private parties. Others are finding work at outdoor shopping centers, which come with the added challenge of inclement weather.” (link below)

And then there’s Ed Taylor. This creative Los Angeles-based Santa finds himself increasingly going where the children are. Ed makes video calls to kids' iPhones and iPads. He’s been doing this for 15 years. He also runs an online school for aspiring Santas.

As the Tribune reported, “Taylor has outfitted his home office to look like Santa's workshop. He uses a web cam stationed nearby to talk with his young clients, some of whom like to give him tours of their homes or show him their Christmas trees.” I love this creativity.

Even the US Postal Service has recognized that Santa needs to be reachable on line. Postal rates are now 50 cents for a first class stamp. Why would a kid pay that when he can connect through the USPS for free?

This year, seven cities are participating in a digital version of Operation Santa. For 106 years, a gaggle of folks have offered to write response letters to those who reached out to Santa via mail during the holidays. The Christmas Good Samaritans are found in New York City; San Diego; Phoenix; Washington, D.C.; Indianapolis; Austin, Texas; and Pittsburgh.

But it isn’t just letters being answered. Some of Santa’s pen pals receive gifts from the responders. They may choose to adopt letter requests as an individual or as a team.

This year, the San Diego contingency is making a special effort to help those in northern California displaced by the tragic (Camp) fire. The letters that come from this part of the state are marked by a special heart on the envelope. Those letter adopters who choose to send gifts to northern California must pay the required Priority Mail postage.

There are disputes over whether we should perpetuate a fictional tale about this Christmas character with our children. My take is that connecting with Santa provides kids with a hope that a good-hearted servant cares about them. And wants to hear what they desire.

Jesus of Nazareth loved children. He welcomed them. And He told the adults: “I promise you this. If you don't change and become like a child, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3, CEV)

The Heavenly Father is the giver of all good gifts. We should ask Him for more of those good gifts. He’s willing to listen. To share. To give us hope. And that’s why the real St. Nick put his faith in Jesus.

I’ll take that candy cane now.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.
Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

For more information:

Monday, December 3, 2018

Famous Pride

We live in an age where building an image for yourself has never been easier. Social media platforms turn people into overnight stars. Facebook “shares” put you in a spotlight around the world.

But the biggest personal fame maker of all may be YouTube, which was created in 2005. The first video was Me at the Zoo. From that point, well over a billion people have set up YouTube accounts. This year alone people watch nearly five billion videos each day. YouTube reports people upload 300 hours of video to their site every minute. Every MINUTE!

Admittedly, a lot of the most popular videos wind up being recording artists or clips from well known personalities. I have found historic television moments fun to re-watch. But it’s often the creative and sometimes bizarre acts of ordinary people that generate YouTube renown.

Athletes, entertainers, politicians, and very successful business people also achieve the status of fame. So do criminals. Heads of non-profits. Doctors, scientists…etc, etc. And once fame is achieved, it is usually very hard to release the desire for it. Public interest in you, and adulation from fans, gives the impression that you are not only important, but a person of value!

And that is one of the great misconceptions of fame. It is centered around what you do or have done that determines your worth. As we have likely all heard, fame is fleeting.

It was General George Patton who famously said, “For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments…A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

Fame almost always has a price…one most people don’t like. The famous soon discover that people’s interest in them is surface. And often for self interest. Notice “selfies” are taken with the famous. Praise often follows. When the lights dim and the fame decreases, interest in the person fades as quickly.

This is why having a deeper appreciation of your identity is so important. Tim Tebow understands this. From his book, Shaken, Tim writes: “Being cut hurt. No doubt, being told I couldn’t do something that I loved doing and was so passionate about—playing quarterback—left me shaken.” He then correctly postulates, “Identity comes not necessarily from who we are, but from whose we are. I am a child of God. My foundation for who I am is grounded in my faith. In a God who loves me. In a God who gives me purpose.”

Another young budding football star has learned this lesson early. Trevor Lawrence. He’s the 6-foot-5 true freshman quarterback for the Clemson Tigers. Here is what he told Sports Spectrum: “Football’s important to me, but it’s not my life. It’s not the biggest thing in my life. I would say my faith is. That just comes from knowing who I am outside of that. No matter how big the situation is, it’s not going to define me.” And he added, “I put my identity in what Christ says, who He thinks I am and who I know that He says I am.” Trevor is 19 years old.

If you are grounded in the knowledge of “whose” you are and God’s delight in you, then you are able to withstand the perils of fame. And the loss of it.

Paul advises us in the book of Romans, “Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don't think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.” (Romans 12:3, NLT)

A strong faith and a realistic perception of yourself are like guard dogs against another human weakness: pride. Something fame seems to breed.

I wonder if that will preach on YouTube?

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

For more information:

Monday, November 26, 2018

To Check or Not to Check ... that is the Question

One business advice columnist for the New York Times was recently approached on the question of unequal pay. The short version of this story is that the complainant was frustrated that a former supervisor was demoted to her job level, but then paid more money. He’s male. She’s female. She writes to ask whether she should ask for a salary adjustment.

The Times columnist wisely responded by suggesting other factors may be involved. Seniority, experience, and possessing very important skills may be contributing factors. Of course, the company may be trying to offset a significant amount of disappointment and does not want to lose a valuable person who may have advanced to a job over their head. Whatever the reason, it likely would not satisfy the woman who feels shortchanged.

The trouble here is deeper than logic may answer. Employees can easily develop a form of bitterness when they believe that fairness is at stake. Unfortunately, we all have our ideas about what fairness is, and those beliefs are not the same.

This employee's options are limited. Speaking with Human Resources (assuming the company had such a department) could get some understanding. If she still feels wronged, she must learn to accept this or, for the benefit of everyone, seek out another job where she believes she’s treated fairly.

A few years ago, someone submitted a similar complaint to the “Employee X” column in Entrepreneur magazine. This column was for people who needed to “vent” anonymously about a job situation. Pay is pretty personal.

The contributor for this story makes an honest admission in the form of questions. “Why is it that I often find myself obsessing over my salary? Why am I dying to know how much money my co-workers make? I'd like to think it has less to do with my greediness and more to do with my sense of fairness.”

In this case, the writer was working in a great job and environment. All was well until he/she did some research. Observe how quickly job satisfaction changed. The contributor writes, “My excitement quickly began to fade after checking a salary comparison website. I realized that workers in my position and location were making twice as much as I was…Soon, a couple of co-workers left the company and reported back that they were earning tens of thousands of dollars more to do the same work. I knew then that as comfortable as I was at that job, I really was getting played for a fool.”

Needless to say, no one likes to be played for a fool. No one likes to feel used. People want to feel valued and compensation is the main ticket. Note this, however. Our writer has a pattern of discontent over this saying, “At each job I've quit, my salary has left me feeling cheated to some extent.” So add one more frustration: feeling cheated. Ouch!

In my last blog I wrote about how gratitude can change a workplace. Employers can make the world better for everyone with this spirit. But is doesn’t remove perceived unfair business practices.

What to do? On the employer side, be willing to openly discuss questions about pay decisions either directly or through human resources. Transparency can help mitigate the problem without sharing personal information. Discourage sharing of pay and benefit information between employees as most employers do. And the hard-nosed truth, don’t be a weasel.

On the employee side, take step one: be grateful if you have a job that you love and gives you purpose. Be willing to acknowledge there are factors to which you may not be privy about the pay of others. If you still find yourself living with frustration, make the tough decision and go to a place where you feel you’re paid what you’re worth.

One particular proverb is worth the discipline to learn. “It's healthy to be content, but envy can eat you up.” (Proverbs 14:30, CEV)

And you might want to stay away from those salary comparison websites.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

For more information:

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Thanksgiving Proclamation

Hear ye! Hear ye! A Thanksgiving holiday will be celebrated this Thursday, November 22nd. Hopefully, workplaces across America will use this opportunity to give employees extra time off to spend with family and friends; time to recognize the bounty of goodness that we enjoy in this land. Then we can quickly get on to the purchasing of a massive amount of goods with Black Friday sales. I’m sure Abe Lincoln would give that two thumbs up.

Here’s another important proclamation. This one applies to corporate leaders, managers, and business owners. Use this Thanksgiving time to show appreciation for your employees! It’s becoming more of an “in” thing—and not just around Thanksgiving.

I reference to you an article from September of last year by Kira M. Newman. Kira is the managing editor of Greater Good Magazine where this was published. She also created The Year of Happy, a year-long course in the science of happiness, and CafĂ©Happy, a Toronto-based meetup. The article she wrote is titled, “How Gratitude Can Transform Your Workplace.”

I will cite this important paragraph to get your attention. “The practice of gratitude—and its close sibling, appreciation—has started to infiltrate workplaces, from new software companies to older institutions like Campbell Soup, whose former CEO wrote 30,000 thank you notes to his employees. Though research on gratitude has exploded over the past two decades, studies of gratitude at work are still somewhat limited; results so far link it to more positive emotions, less stress and fewer health complaints, a greater sense that we can achieve our goals, fewer sick days, and higher satisfaction with our jobs and our coworkers." Pretty good payoff!

And did you catch that Campbell Soup item? The guy wrote 30,000 thank you notes! I’m not even sure that this is possible to accomplish and still keep your job!

Then there’s Southwest Airlines, where appreciation is a cultural cornerstone. It helped earn the distinction as America’s #13 Best Employer of 2018 by Forbes. One of their practices is to pay attention to special events in employees’ personal lives. Flowers and cards are used to recognize such events as kids’ graduations to marriages to family illnesses.

Serious effort has been made in researching how to show appreciation within an organization. Results yield some key strategies for the development of a more grateful workplace. Here’s a summary of four best practices from the article:

  1. Gratitude is about the whole person. Consultant Mike Robbins warns some gratitude initiatives fail when they simply repurpose long standing recognition programs. “Recognition rewards performance and achievement…whereas appreciation acknowledges your inherent worth as a person.”
  2. Gratitude isn’t one-size-fits-all. Not everyone wants to be appreciated in the same way. Kind of like knowing a person’s “love language.” Learn these differences or risk miscommunication by assuming everyone likes to receive a card, a coffee, or public praise. One leader has compiled dozens of different gratitude practices varying from “surprise care packages to appreciation badges to a celebration calendar.”
  3. Gratitude must be embraced by leaders. It isn’t something you can force. The recommendation is to communicate the value of gratitude and follow up by offering a variety of opportunities and options for practicing it.
  4. Finally, gratitude has to be part of the culture. Suggestions include adding a short gratitude practice to staff meetings or infusing internal communications with gratitude to keep it top-of-mind. 

There’s much more to be found in this excellent article including appreciation retreats!

How significant is the impact of gratitude and appreciation? One business exec said it this way: “When I’ve seen it work, it’s just life-changing.”

Thanksgiving might be a very good time to start this practice at your organization. It can even work from the bottom up! Everybody can do it.

And while you’re at it, remember this: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 106:1, NLT)

Happy Thanksgiving!

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

For more information:

Monday, November 12, 2018

Thank You for Your Service!

Today is the Monday holiday version of Veterans Day. November 11th is the real deal and it always includes some “real deals” for vets and active duty military. I’m amazed and impressed with the number of companies that want to honor military service with free meals and other kinds of goodies.

Like with any form of employment, how one “serves” can be open to question. We call our government employees “civil servants.” Our military members are honored for “serving their country.” A common greeting to vets these days is “thank you for your service.”

I always feel a bit awkward when those with military background are asked to stand and be honored. Truth be told, I did not volunteer for my military service. In fact, I tried to avoid it. My father died while I was in high school. In receiving a draft notice a couple of years later, moving out of the apartment I shared with my mother would have created a significant hardship on her. At the time, I was paying my share of expenses.

There was another reason to seek a deferment. The Vietnam War was fully engaged. While my patriotism is very strong, most of us do not look forward to combat. I didn’t. So after my appeal was denied for undue hardship reasons, I chose to enlist in the Air Force. Frankly, they seemed to offer the best option for avoiding combat.

And so it was. My duty stations were Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for basic training; Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi for technical training; and then my first true assignment—as “personnel specialist”at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, California. Later, I would cross-train into broadcasting and head to a Naval base in Keflavik, Iceland, where I would be seen on the news each evening reporting sports on American Forces Radio and Television (AFRTS). Tough duty, huh?

Overall, serving the military was the best possible thing for my life at that time. The government took very good care of me. I met some of the most wonderful people on earth. And I took away a trade skill that serves me even to this day. Thank you, Uncle Sam.

In no way would I want to diminish the importance of the support services that the military requires. Even our radio and television operations with AFRTS provided a source of information, entertainment, and a sense of “home” to thousands who are separated from families and the land they love. Non-combat types of service are critical to mission support in many ways.

Now a reality check. Many with whom I served hated being in the military. Some even hated the military itself. The work they put in was not “service.” Their heart was not there to serve. They were there to put in their time and get out as fast as possible, doing as little damage along the way.

Even though there is no draft today, I trust there are many thousands who have bought into a recruiter's pitch and joined for benefits to be received. Instead of “thank you for your service,” perhaps what should really be said by those paying their way is, “You’re welcome for your job!”

Discerning people will understand what I am saying—because it’s true. For those who have sacrificed and served our country honorably, I salute you. For those like me who have served out of duty or obligation, thank you for honoring that service request to America. Our national safety would be in peril without these patriots.

For anyone in a job defined as “public service,” be sure you check your motives. You are indeed there to serve. It’s your priority. Your mission.

People of faith know this vital truth. Our leader, our Savior, directed it to be so. As Jesus said, “But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.” (Mark 10:43-43, NLT)

So to all with a heart like that, I say, “Thank you for your service!”

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.
(Created by my wife, who I would not have met were it not for the Air Force!)

Monday, November 5, 2018

Under the Influence

“When leaders steward the small amount of influence they have in a God-honoring, life-giving way, it is no surprise when they are handed more influence and more opportunities to bring hope to others. Everyone has influence over someone. Great leadership involves stewarding or managing that influence over others to the best of our ability.” ~Tyler Reagin, The Life Giving Leader

That quote I found in preparing for a recent radio interview with Tyler Reagin. I’d recommend this book as one of the better releases of 2018. And it sets the stage for my third blog on the subject of influence.

Today, I want to work off of five points.

1) You have had, and you continue to have, a level of influence. This is true no matter your age, job situation, or place in life. Your influence could be positive…or negative.

Most of us are unaware of the influence we have on others. We assume that our words and actions don’t carry much weight in impacting others if we don’t hold a position of authority or high respect. Not true. Our self image is often shaped by the stated perceptions of others around us. Words carry power. How we treat others makes a difference. We either pay attention to people or we don’t. We can encourage and build up or tear down. We can be difference makers in helping others succeed or giving the impression they are of minimal value. Never underestimate the power you hold for influence.
2) If you have a spiritual faith, you only have that because of the influence of other believers, and the personal influence of God.
I find it’s easy for “religious” people to denigrate the atheist or agnostic person. It’s like the unbelieving soul doesn’t “get it” and they should wise up. Without knowing it, this develops a sense of superiority within the person of faith. Instead, there must be a humble appreciation that were it not for the influence of others and the Almighty, the faith we hold so dearly would not exist. We can take no credit. Likewise, sharing of faith in any form might well be the door that opens the soul of a life of renewal. Spiritual influence is a game changer.
3) The Bible has been given to you, along with the inner working of the Holy Spirit, to influence your beliefs and behavior related to a loving God.
According to Lifeway research, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible. That same research reveals 37% say it is helpful, 35% call it life-changing, and 52% say the Bible is a good source for morals. Yet even among people of faith, the Bible is often left unopened and unread. In America, it’s easy to find a Bible, and many people have multiple copies. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, if you give it a chance. 
4) Your legacy will be measured in large part by your commitment to the kind of influence you sought…and the influence you exercised.

There are a lot of articles, books, and seminars on legacy. For some, financial legacy is their objective. For others, having a monument in their name is what’s important. I would maintain the most lasting legacy is a faith legacy. Of the funerals I’ve attended, the ones that have greatest numbers of responders are due to lives that have been changed spiritually by the deceased. There may be no tributes in stone, but there are living monuments to a life well lived. 
5) Unless you learn to “guard your heart,” you will find yourself at peril for worldly influencers. (Proverbs 4:23, NIV)

Percentage wise, there are very few monks in the world. The rest of us have to learn to walk and work amidst the greatest of temptations. There is no easy way out. The wisdom of Solomon must prevail if we are to navigate life in wholeness. And that wisdom tell us to watch what we take in to the soul lest the darkness prevail.

I’d like to return to this subject in the days ahead. It’s so important to our lives to realize we are under the influence. Make that…the right influence.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook. 

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

No More Stinkin' Thinkin'

“You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life.” Zig Ziglar

My blog this week continues the journey on the subject of influence. One of the voices that had influence on my life was Zig Ziglar. He was a man of impact.

I remember first hearing Zig speak at a seminar in San Francisco. His unusual speaking style was his trademark. His presentation content was absolutely inspiring. He was among the very best in motivational speakers. No one could leave the room without feeling a lot better about life and their future.

Little was I to know that within a few years, my radio work would take me to Texas. We attended a “megachurch” in downtown Dallas with a legendary preacher, W.A. Criswell. Before the church service, there was very large adult education class taught by…Zig Ziglar! I jumped in. Why not? A lot of his motivational material was used to draw in his audience, which averaged around 1,000 souls per week.

A good portion of Zig’s influence was his personal touch. Once a month, he would invite class newcomers to his home in Plano. Zig and his wife Jean would host an evening gathering where Zig would go a little deeper into his faith story. Before leaving, everyone attending received a copy of his book, Confessions of a Happy Christian.

His adult education class, his personal invitation to his home, his gifting a book, and his willingness to connect were all aimed at having influence. Not just positive thinking influence. Positive LIFE influence.

Last week, I focused my blog on two key thoughts on this topic of influence. First, you and I are not as original as we might think. Each of us is a composite of many sources of influence.

My second point posits the reality that much of what shaped who we are came from sources over which we had no control. The critical aspect of life growth is to make influence choices over what we DO have control. Those decisions affect our overall health, our impact on others, and our legacy.

We usually think of the people who influence us. But we forget how much all forms of media impact us. Making wise choices here requires discipline.

Part of my daily routine includes a 30-minute stationary bike ride—while listening to music. That is followed by approximately 30 minutes of “devotional time”—reading my Bible and praying. What I listen to and what I read helps shape my day. I choose that influence. It impacts my life.

Transparently, I’ve made and continue to make a lot of choices that are not working for my good. Those choices may also impact others. But I’m responsible for those choices and the consequences that follow.

You would be well served to take a closer examination of what most influences your life today. If you want to have more influence and impact, decide to modify your intake of the negatives. Choose to move in a new direction.

As Zig said, “You can make positive deposits in your own economy every day by reading and listening to positive, life-changing content, and by associating with encouraging and hope-building people.”

The Bible is a repository of help on life change and becoming a person of influence. The Apostle Paul wrote, “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” (from The Message, referring to Galatians 5:22-23)

We’ll continue our influence journey next week. Meanwhile, let Zig impact your life today by avoiding any “stinkin’ thinkin.”

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Not Quite an Original

Today is my 67th birthday. As the old saying goes, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” Birthdays are good for you. It’s been proven that those who have the most live the longest.

I’d like to claim that I’m an “original.” But that’s a stretch. And you are not that original either. I’ll explain.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to a men’s group on the topic of influence. My preparation took me in a direction I did not expect. It led me on a journey to ask two questions: Who really am I? And…how did I become “Mark Elfstrand?”

The answers to those questions brought me to the broader realization of the many influences that have shaped my life. The person I am today has knowledge, an emotional and mental makeup, core values,  and beliefs that have relied greatly on the input of others. Some of those sources I chose. Others were chosen for me.

For example, I am the product of my two parents—Arthur and Alyce Elfstrand. Their families emigrated from Sweden and Norway. So I’m three fourths Swedish and one fourth Norwegian. I had no say in this DNA history. In fact, my design framework was from a greater source. King David understood this well. In Psalm 139, he wrote, “For you (God) created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139:13 (NIV)

My parents contributed a LOT to who I would become. Their influence echoes today. I also have two sisters. They influenced my growing up years. As did extended family, teachers, playmates, and others with whom I came in contact.

But wait! There’s more. I was influenced unsuspectingly by the many sources of media I consumed. All those top 40 songs on the radio made an impact on me. Television shows, too. Plus the plethora of reading material and pictures I consumed.

Without being fully aware, my internal guidance on morality and values took shape. And this brings me to my first enlightened reality. Who I am today is really a composite of a huge number of influences.

My opening seminar presentation on influence began with the premise that each of us is really a composite. As Merriam Webster would define the word, “made up of distinct parts or elements.” That’s a reality to grapple with in those two questions as to who I am and how I became “me.”

The followup premise is also important. Many of those influences in our lives we do not choose. Their input may be based on truth. Or not. They may have hurt us and left us as damaged goods. Or they may be the ticket of hope to drive us forward to a bright future.

Somewhere along the way, you and I have picked up ideas about right and wrong. Hopefully, we’ve been guided to healthy moral choices. We call that character development. My beliefs about morality were and are shaped by 66 books we call the Bible. I can thank my parents and many others for introducing me to the Scriptures.

A few select people were highly influential in my career and spiritual growth. My radio mentor would be Chuck Gratner. Spiritual mentor: Glenn Murray. A few teachers gave significant inspiration as well.

Just as I am not an “original” in the purest sense, I am also not my own. This is a shocking truth for some, although it is a spiritual reality. An abbreviated reading of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV) reveals, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” Study the larger passage for a deeper understanding.

I will be devoting a few more blogs to this subject of influence. My hope is to give you insight and awareness of how to be a more influential person in life. Others in your world will be grateful for your wisdom even if they don’t always thank you.

Now, back to the birthday cake.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Eeyore Theory

Question: What’s the definition of a pessimist? Answer: A pessimist is a well-informed optimist. Or as James Branch Cabell said, “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.”

A couple of years ago, the research firm statista.com surveyed people on the question, “Do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist?” Surprisingly, only 4% of respondents lined up with pessimists. Some 50% went with optimist. And 43% claimed to be somewhere in between.

Another way to consider your life outlook is to think of whether your glass is half full or half empty. The first traceable use of that phrase is found in a 1933 LA Times article. “Two men were looking at a bottle of milk. Said one with a groan, ‘The bottle is half empty.’ Said the other with a grin, ‘The bottle is half full.’ The first belonged to the courters of disasters, forever bemoaning their losses; the second to the invincibles who win by counting their blessings.”

Then there is the way Justice Brett Kavanaugh described his life perspective in his opening statement in the recent confirmation hearing. “I am an optimistic guy. I always try to be on the sunrise side of the mountain, to be optimistic about the day that is coming, but today, I have to say that I fear for the future.” I’m sure he had many days where pessimism was trying to take hold.

What about Eeyore—the friend of Winnie-the-Pooh? The old, grey, stuffed donkey definitely has an attitude problem. He is the poster critter for pessimism.

I mostly fall in the camp of the optimists. When I take on a project, I expect it to succeed. I wake up anticipating my 401K will improve. I’m usually up before sunrise so I can anticipate that side of the mountain.

But that may change. A 2013 Psychology Today article indicates that age can impact how we view the future. Young adults are usually overly optimistic—especially about the future. Research shows older adults usually become more realistic. As we age, we tend to become less optimistic about the future. Increasing fears of declining health or reduced economic opportunities can turn to pessimism.

In the workplace, are optimists or pessimists more productive? Note these study results quoted by hubspot.com: “Research from New York University’s Gabriele Oettingen discovered that a little pessimism can improve productivity. Oettingen, who spent 20 years researching and testing her theory, found that optimism…didn’t help people reach their goals but instead got in the way.”

This was supported in an article from Fast Company titled, “This is how to harness your pessimism as a force for good.” The author is Art Markman, PhD, a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas. He writes that research on goal achievement advocates that specific plans are needed if you want to succeed. The pessimist might immediately be thinking of the things that could go wrong. Good! Use this thinking in helping to determine what steps are needed to deal with these negative possibilities. But don’t use the problems as an excuse. And don’t give up too quickly.

The Apostle Paul can give each of us a lesson in looking to the sunrise side of the mountain in spite of life’s difficulties. He wrote, “Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea…I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers…I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” (2 Corinthians 11:25-27, NLT)

And yet, this bold evangelist would later write, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13–14, ESV)

If today you find yourself in the rut of pessimism, claw your way back out. Work on solutions. Seek advice. Build on short term successes.

And stay away from Eeyores.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

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Monday, October 8, 2018

Alexa, We're not a Thing!

As I wrote the other day on a Facebook post, Alexa doesn’t know me. We’ve never had any kind of relationship. I’ve witnessed Alexa communicating with friends and family, but aside from that, we’re not connected in any way. Why? Alexa is way too personally invasive.

The latest from Amazon tell us that Alexa will somehow be involved in my microwave and even a wall clock. And before year’s end, Alexa will be able to confer in whispers—in case someone is sleeping nearby. Oh there’s more. And much more to come.

I don’t pretend to understand the technology involved here. As Wired magazine states, “Alexa evolved out of advances in an approach to artificial intelligence called machine learning, which Amazon used to train algorithms to recognize speech from across the room with surprising accuracy.” Earlier editions of the technology had some problems in the nuances of language. The more recent audio algorithms are getting better at tracking the subtleties of speech.

As noted, I’ve not jumped on this technology. No doubt it’s cool. Speak—and Alexa makes it happen. Again, from the Wired story, “There’s also evidence that some consumers are wary of advances in the ability of devices like the Echo to listen to them.” According to Werner Goertz, a research director at analyst Gartner, “The industry’s efforts have not been sufficient to remove this misapprehension.”

A while back I wrote about the significant increase of robots and how they will supplant some of the workforce in the days ahead. It seems Alexa is on the march to do some of that as well. This was documented in a recent New York Times story, “Hotel Workers Fret Over a New Rival: Alexa at the Front Desk.” Their fretting has turned into action. 

Check in at a Marriott hotel in China and you might well find no front desk person at check in. Ms. Te’o-Gibney, a 53-year-old grandmother of seven, worries, “It seems they know they will be eliminating our jobs.” This has inspired thousands of Marriott workers to authorize a strike, along with demands for higher wages and workplace safety. The union has asked for “procedures to protect workers affected by new technologies and the innovations they spur.”

Is Alexa now a workplace enemy? One concierge at the San Jose Marriott, raises the concern over an agreement with Amazon that would deploy Echo devices in Marriott hotel rooms that could make her position pointless. As she says, “Alexa might do my job in the future.” Other hotel chains are moving on this as well.

Plus, other new trends and technologies are impacting the hotel workplace. As the Times article illustrates “There are automatic dishwashers on the market; machines to flip burgers and mix cocktails; robots to deliver room service or help guests book a restaurant reservation."

As the saying goes, “But wait! There’s more!!” Uber and Lyft usage has reduced the tips of hotel doormen. A food-delivery app has done the same to the tips bellhops previously received. And let’s be honest…a lot of customers likely enjoy the savings.

How does the hotel business justify an increasingly non-human service environment? A statement from a Marriott spokeswoman defended the move as “personalizing the guest experience and enhancing the stay.” And frankly, Alexa can be so sweet when she wants to.

If all our website transactions are recorded somewhere—somehow, could the same happen with Alexa conversations? What about recording only what Alexa hears? Could it be used in legal action against users?

The Bible says, “The gossip of bad people gets them in trouble; the conversation of good people keeps them out of it. Well-spoken words bring satisfaction; well-done work has its own reward.” (Proverbs 12:13-14, The Message)

That is a good reminder.

Meanwhile, I already have a female voice who listens and checks my speech. My wife.

Alexa gets way too close for my taste. Like I said, we're not a thing.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

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Monday, October 1, 2018

Take It Easy

My guess is that all of your work weeks are not alike. Mine aren’t. Some have more demands on my time. Others have more important decisions. And occasionally there are more stress-filled weeks where a weekend cannot arrive fast enough.

I had a few more stress-filled days last week. I could hardly take my eyes off the television coverage of the Kavanaugh/Ford testimonies on Thursday. It was almost impossible to get other work done. The follow up on Friday kept my attention focused as this issue as well.

It’s better for us not to get too close to engaging in that which causes our blood pressure to rise or stress to take hold. For me, that can happen watching my favorite football teams. Or while watching or engaging in hot political discussion. Like I said, I was ready for the weekend.

It’s long been a practice of mine to do my best at avoiding “work” on Sundays. This is not an absolute, but close. Those overly driven folk who tell us they work “seven days a week” misstate the obvious. They work ALL the time. I think it’s a dangerous way to live.

Having one day set aside for rest is a spiritual discipline. My conviction comes from an interpretation of the Ten Commandments. Specifically, the fourth commandment found in Exodus 20:8-11. The instruction was to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Verse 11 adds, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (NIV)

I’m sure the people of Israel originally loved this idea. Their slavery conditions under the Egyptians placed enormous burdens on them. Who knows if they got much of a break.

Obviously, God knew that a commandment was needed because, at some point, the love of work would steal that rest God intended. It’s clear that is true today.

Shedding light on this issue is a well written piece in aeon.co titled, “Let’s bring back the Sabbath as a radical act against the always-on economy.” The author, William R. Black, is a historian of American religion and culture. As he notes, being an advocate for acting on this commandment “smacks of obsolete puritanism.” It seems like a noble idea, but unrealistic.

Dr. Black, who now teaches at Western Kentucky University, surmises: “When taken seriously, the Sabbath has the power to restructure not only the calendar but also the entire political economy. In place of an economy built upon the profit motive–the ever-present need for more, in fact the need for there to never be enough–the Sabbath puts forward an economy built upon the belief that there is enough.”

Those two sentences reinforce my topic from last week’s blog. We need a mindset shift in appreciating a Sabbath. Otherwise, we keep focused on a steady treadmill to keep up or get further ahead.

As Dr. Black correctly asserts, “The Sabbath was desacralised into the weekend, and this desacralisation paved the way for the disappearance of the weekend altogether. The decline of good full-time work and the rise of the gig economy mean that we must relentlessly hustle and never rest. Why haven’t you answered that email? Couldn’t you be doing something more productive with your time? Bring your phone with you to the bathroom so you can at least keep busy.”

The lesson to be learned today is to accept the premise offered by Dr. Black. Observing a day of rest should be viewed in the spiritual light that God is our provider. Push back on the need for more that drives us out of rest. Find one day a week to put work aside…and take it easy.

P.S.  I wish I could get that Eagles song out of my head.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to www.1160hope.com for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

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