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Monday, December 29, 2014

I Predict…

Once again, we can look back on 2014 and see if the “soothsayers” of our age were correct in their predictions for the year. Here were some of them:

  • A discovery that diseases can be transmitted or transferred by pure thought from one location to another will be found.
  • Scientists will discover and prove that we live in an identical twin universe that's the mirror opposite of ours.
  • Russia, China, and U.S. will collaborate on an asteroid shield/tracking program due to a potential hazard coming by December.
  • The alternative digital currency, Bitcoin, will crash due to a well placed virus that affects the algorithm.
And my personal favorite…
  • The original 1969 USA moon landing site will be reported as damaged or vandalized by another country that lands on the moon.
Well, guess what? None of those things happened. Surprised? Don’t be. Every year, the tabloids and other media find joy in sharing the latest and greatest predictions for the year ahead.

Here are a few of the predictions for 2015:
  • Major volcanic eruptions will occur in Japan and Hawaii.
  • Strange fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field will be detected.
  • A nuclear submarine will get into serious problems. It could be Russian, though there is also Chinese involvement.
  • There will be a celebrity kidnapping and an attack on a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family.
  • During 2015, Jeb Bush will gain popularity and will win the American election in 2016.
  • Serious family difficulties and illnesses for the Bush family during 2015.
My predictions are much more likely to be accurate:
  • Corruption in government and business will continue.
  • Murderous acts across the globe will be reported.
  • Movies and television will become more graphic in violence and sexuality.
  • Identity theft will continue.
  • Many hearts will be broken.
Now…on the positive side:
  • Great kindnesses will be displayed.
  • Generosity will abound.
  • Acts of service will be seen around the world.
  • Emotional, physical, and mental healing will take place.
  • Stories of forgiveness will be reported.
Prognosticating that both good and evil will coexist in 2015 is not difficult. Which forces will win out? I suppose it begs the question, is humanity moving toward a better world? What can we do to contribute to a better world this coming year?

Regardless of the kind of business you are in, it is always wise to try and keep an eye on the future. What do the trends look like? What is happening in the workforce and the political world? What is seemingly growing obsolete?

Marketplace opportunity exists whenever we can help solve a problem, relieve pain, or find a way to make someone’s life better. If the pursuit of all work was to make the world a better place, it would become one. Our sinful human condition keeps that from happening. But one day that will change.

In Revelation 21, verses 1-4, the Bible tells us, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (ESV)

A foretelling of hope. A promise of a better world. That’s our message.

Happy New Year.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Blessed areThose not Burned Out

There is a true irony that exists in the Christmas season. At least in our country. It exists between the lyrics of O Little Town of Bethlehem and Silver Bells. In the carol, we see the occasion of Jesus's birth marked by the little town’s description, “How still we see thee lie.” In Silver Bells, there are Christmas shoppers rushing home with their presents. 

While we make reference to “the holidays,” many people must work overtime or find added “burdens” of Christmas related activities. One department store opened last Friday at 6 a.m. and will not close until 6 p.m. Christmas Eve. I guess they figure people want to avoid the “stress” of normal shopping hours or are simply latecomers to the party.

So isn’t it odd that we can often associate the word “stress” with Christmastime? It may be one reason Jesus never gave instructions to celebrate His birthday. We, His followers, have done that.

Speaking of stress, I read an article this past week that my daughter in law had passed along via Facebook. It was a Washington Post piece authored by a teacher with the title, “The day I knew for sure I was burned out.” It gave an unexpected but important business lesson for management to help keep employees and create a more satisfying work environment.

The writer, Ellie Herman, worked, and was sussessful for decades, as a writer/producer for several popular television shows such as “Desperate Housewives,” “Chicago Hope” and “Newhart.” Her fiction writing has appeared in several literary journals.

After decades of this work, she became an English teacher at a South Los Angeles charter school. The school is described as “97 percent Latino and where 96 percent of the students lived below the poverty line.” She taught there for six years and then quit. Ellie tells more on her blog, Gatsby in L.A.

Her “tipping point” to quitting came via an outdated and malfunctioning copier. The demands on a teacher working with inner city kids overwhelmed her. Her words, “By the end of each day, I was numb. At night, I’d dream I was suffocating. I could not remember what joy felt like.” And her closing point, “If the United States is serious about attracting and retaining good teachers, the first thing we need to do is give us the conditions we need to get our jobs done right.”

All too often in my life I have encountered people with high demands for performance and deadlines, but under resourced. I have watched and heard stories of employees raising the flag for help, but calls  go unheeded. No wonder people burn out. Deep inside their souls, there rings a familiar tune: No one seems to care.

As we celebrate the birthday of King Jesus this week, two points I would make. First, He is NEVER under resourced. Psalm 24:1 states it clearly, “The earth belongs to God! Everything in all the world is his!” (TLB) Everything.

Second, He DOES care. Here are Jesus's words to the overburdened: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

Jesus is God’s gift to you at Christmas. And the only one that truly keeps on giving.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Put on a Joy-Filled Face

It’s that time of year again, when Ebenezer Scrooge makes his appearance. Or…her appearance. Let me explain that.

When you think of Scrooge, what picture appears in your mind? A blissful happy soul? Or a negative, mean looking person with a nasty disposition? Easy question to answer. Just look at the character in books or films. As one might say, “He needs a mommy!”

As it turns out, he needed some visits from ghost-like characters to woo him into becoming a palatable human; one anyone might like to be around. And I’ll bet he even appeared more joyful.

While entering and navigating my way around a warehouse store this week, I encountered many Scrooge-like scowls on the faces of men and women. And why? No easy places to park. Long checkout lines. The push-and-shove of the warehouse store visitor for free samples. People blocking the aisles. And…more. Bah humbug!

Also this week, I read about a study on how a happy or angry resting face could affect your career. Three researchers were involved: two from Princeton University and one from Carnegie Mellon. They discovered what they termed as “face-ism.” Supposedly, this is a decision we make about someone’s trustworthiness, competency, or even being an extrovert based solely on their facial features. Their evidence is strong.

The study focused on people’s resting faces —when not affected by some emotional influence. More mature looking people were inherently judged as competent; the baby-faced folks...not so much. They also determined that “being really, really, ridiculously good-looking helped create positive impressions.”

But here’s a really important distinction. The resting faces of naturally angry looking people were rated less trustworthy! The happy faces had a much more favorable perception.

The researchers believe that judging people in this way is unhealthy, but it is what it is. We use these perceptions in determining our choice of candidates, who handles our money, and even who we convict for crimes.

Again, I don’t have hard evidence to prove it, but I believe that if joy invades your heart, your face will reflect that. And vice versa. If your heart lacks joy, maybe it explains all those scowls at the warehouse store this Christmas season.

For Christ followers, maybe you should look in the mirror a bit more often to see what kind of resting face you have. Heavenly messengers gave these words at the birth announcement of Jesus: “…but the angel said to them, ‘Don't be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people.’” (Luke 2:10, GNV) That certainly includes us!

From this angelic announcement we get one of the most beloved of our Christmas carols: Joy to the World. In case you need a refresher…

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing. (repeated twice)

Think about it. A smile here. A happy face there. A warm Christmas greeting to everyone might just help some Scrooges come around. Even in the office!

As said by a famous Cratchit…God bless us…every one.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, December 8, 2014

To Give or not to Give that Christmas Bonus

One of the challenges of being a corporate executive or the owner of a business  at Christmastime is whether to take on the role of Santa. This can be done without a red suit, a sleigh, elves, or jolly laughs. All it takes is gifts. Or not.

We know it’s the giving season. But it’s also the “expecting” season for many. It is the expectation of a company Christmas bonus, or gift.

In 2013, I had the privilege to attend one of Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership training programs. The Ramsey organization has developed a reputation over the years for some remarkably creative Christmas parties with wonderful gifts provided. Employees seem truly blessed.

I read an article recently on “The Best Christmas Bonus a Company can Give.” The author brings up some very good points about the risks of company organized Christmas parties. Do you charge, can the company afford to pay, and concern over employees getting out of hand when alcohol is served.

The main arguments raised against Christmas bonuses seem to involve expectations that develop over the years and it’s hard to stop giving them. Also, employees have their own ideas about what should be given. Cited was a Random House bonus a few years ago of $5,000 to each employee! Rare. Really rare.

With these concerns in mind, it is not surprising that a recent survey reveals that 59 percent of companies have stopped the practice of Christmas bonuses. So, why does the author suggest a “best Christmas bonus?” Because he’s not Scrooge, that’s why!

The simple solution offered was to give employees a day off. A surprise day off to do whatever you need to do during a busy Christmas season. It was recommended that when the employee comes in, the surprise is offered. I don’t like that. Who wants to get dressed up and come to work only to be told to go home? But I DO like the idea of the day off.

Maybe it’s not at Christmas time. Maybe it’s some other time when it’s really needed by the person. I’m sure there are plenty of complications for some companies to make this happen, but it is a reward everyone can appreciate.

What did Jesus say about giving? According to a verse in the book of Acts, we’re told this: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35, ESV) Jesus was the master of giving and expecting nothing in return.

That should be the true spirit of any Christmas bonus or gift. St. Nicholas clearly understood this. His generosity to children has built a tradition that even people with no serious spiritual interest still love to celebrate.

Someone has mistakenly given rise to the thought that Santa keeps a list of our rights and wrongs, making our gift receiving PERFORMANCE based. Bad idea. Terribly bad theology. God’s gift to us of his Son has no price tag involved. It’s a free gift…if we accept Jesus as a sacrifice for us.

If I were doing Santa training, I would have a signed agreement with a sentence that Santa must clearly understand that gifts from him come with no strings attached.

I think I would call it my … wait for it … Santa clause. Ho. Ho. Ho.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Has an "Attitude of Gratitude" Become a Platitude?

Yesterday I had the privilege of being the guest speaker for our Sunday worship service at the church we attend. I was asked to keep the focus on the importance of being thankful in the aftermath of our national holiday. No problem.

The title of my message was the same as the title of this blog. As noted previously in a writing, my family spent three years in Dallas, Texas. During that time, I sat in Zig Ziglar’s Sunday School class for a couple of years. I heard his best stories several times, along with those well rehearsed quips like having an “attitude of gratitude.” Zig learned that lesson early in life.

Vicki Hidges, who worked in public relations for Zig for several years, gives this insightful picture of this man: “Zig started out poor. Dirt poor. His father died when he was six, leaving his mother to raise eleven children alone. The family was virtually penniless. Yet despite their poverty, Mrs. Ziglar instilled a strong work ethic in her children and raised them to believe that both she and God loved them.”

She added, “Zig once told me, ‘When we neglect to require our children to say thank you when someone gives them a gift or does something for them, we raise ungrateful children who are highly unlikely to be content. Without gratitude, happiness is rare. With gratitude, the odds for happiness go up dramatically.’”

The man himself said, “Of all the ‘attitudes’ we can acquire, surely the attitude of gratitude is the most important and by far the most life-changing.”

At his corporate headquarters in Dallas, Zig had framed pictures of about 25-30 people. It was called his Wall of Gratitude. There’s a YouTube video of this should you want to see it.

My message pointed out that years before the motivational teacher from Yazoo City, Mississippi, preached on gratitude, King David knew of its importance. Several Psalms reflect that. I chose Psalm 118. Here are a few of the verses:

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:24-29, ESV)

It is my observation that in western cultures—particularly ours in the U.S.—we have turned a bit of a cold shoulder to being grateful. Our blessings have been great. But as Abraham Lincoln stated in one of his Thanksgiving proclamations, “We have forgotten God.” What are some root causes of this ungratefulness?

I suggested several Gratitude Killers:

A sense of entitlement at any level or for any reason.
A sense of being “self made” and, thus, “self provided.”
Seeing oneself as better than others.
A belief that you or I are more deserving than others.
Having a life with too many blessings given to us.
Allowing dark circumstances to blind a person to the silver lining. (When discouragement takes hold in our lives.)
Failure to spend time counting our blessings.
Being steadily in the company of the selfish.
Ignoring God: the Great Provider and Sustainer of all of life.

The workplace is one important area where we fall short. Many do not appreciate their jobs. They feel underpaid and overworked. And perhaps they are! But we also have blessings galore. One of them being a job!

Employers need to learn the spirit of gratefulness as well. It is demonstrated by showing appreciation to employees in words and in pay. Simple stuff.

So do a gut check on this. Is your life displaying gratitude for the great blessings you enjoy? Or do you need a YouTube visit with Zig Ziglar?

Remember, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, determines your altitude.”

I like to end on a high note.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Lifer Needs a New Life

Two stories. The first is extracted from a New York Times article about the impact of military cuts. This goes beyond limiting recruitment efforts. These are “reduction in force” cuts where our career military people (lifers) are losing their jobs!

Military people have a tougher time comprehending such force reductions as they see occurring with their civilian counterparts. Once you reenlist, and you perform admirably, it’s usually an automatic that you can stay in until retirement. But now, select groups of these career folk are being “terminated.”

As the Times reports it, “…for reasons the Army has not explained, the largest group of officers being pushed out — nearly one in five — began as enlisted soldiers.” This is not supposed to happen. And for some, it’s crushing to their post-service time morale!

Here’s the way the Times story opens: “For all the insecurities of war, Captain Elder Saintjuste always figured the one thing he could count on from the Army was job security.” Saintjuste is struggling. He says, “It wasn’t just losing a job. It was like having your wife leave you suddenly and not tell you why. It’s your whole life.”

But it was a later quote from Captain Nathan Allen that particularly caught my attention. Allen was awarded a Bronze Star and served more than 14 years as a linguist and intelligence officer. Now he’s been cast out, too. His reaction? “I’m a mess right now. They took away who I am. I’m a soldier.” Wow.

This coming week marks a full year since my last broadcast on the radio station I had worked at for 14-plus years. My departure was, well, “unscheduled.” At least by me.

While certainly disappointed at my circumstances, I viewed things quite differently than Captain Allen. Many years ago, I yielded my resistance to God in the area of my work assignments. That resistance was towards being in “ministry.” Almost immediately, a door opened to become a talk show host at a Christian radio station. It became…my assignment.

Seven years later, my assignment at that station ended. And I received a call about a new assignment. This one in Chicago. It lasted those 14-plus years. And then it ended.

And immediately…and I mean immediately…I chose to ask God for my next assignment. I would leave without regrets, believing that radio was not my identity. I was trusting that my God-given gifts could be used in many places. In many ways. A blog I wrote on this a year ago received a LOT of feedback.

In what my wife and I consider to be perfect timing, my five months of daily praying brought good news. A Christian radio station in Chicago needed a talk show host. They called. I responded. And that is my new assignment.

Deep within my soul, I believe God designs us with purpose. Captain Allen has much to offer this world, but he needs to see his purpose may be much greater than military service. He must not let that define him. Nor should you. Instead, ask God to fulfill His purpose for you.

The book of Psalms is a wonderful resource during transition. I latched on to this verse: “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” (Psalm 138:8, ESV)

One of the exciting challenges in taking on new “assignments” is to look for how God uses these to benefit others and advance our growth as well. For those in transition, don’t give up. Ask for God’s help in finding the new assignment. Don’t be afraid of where it takes you. And for sure, don’t let your work life define you as a person. You were made for more.

Do I sound like Zig Ziglar?

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dress Code

As much as we may try to avoid judging by appearances, we do. Many days on my drive to work, there are men dressed shabbily at intersections asking for money. Maybe that's part of the gig. I mean, if you were dressed in a sharp looking suit or any kind of business apparel, who would give you money?

Because of appearance (and perhaps the appeal for funds) most people simply look away. I often do. It makes me wonder if the mayor of Chicago got scruffy, dressed down and looked like life had taken the best of him, would I even recognize him as he asked for money on a street corner? I doubt it.

This week, a friend reminded me of a classic story about the gifted violinist, Joshua Bell. The Washington Post set him up in a Metro station in DC with his violin, playing Bach. His violin case was open to collect people’s spare change. No one recognized the virtuoso. He earned $32 for his playing. People paid $100 per seat to hear him play just days before! But he wasn’t in his tuxedo.

My most influential radio mentor, Chuck Gratner, helped me understand this perception of dress code. Early in my radio career, Chuck bought several copies of John T. Malloy’s bestseller, Dress for Success. Malloy had spent years collecting research on the perceptions of people based on how they dressed. Those who knew and understand enough about what clothing ro wear received more attention and respect. I heard Malloy speak at a seminar and it was powerful. It impacted me a lot.

Styles change. Attitudes change. We’re certainly a more casual society today. But even among the business casual crowd, a “dress code” shows up. Only, instead of wanting business respect, it becomes the need to dress “cool.”

Here’s an illustration of how a clothing choice gets attention. Very recently, an article surfaced answering the all-important question, why does Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder) wear the same  gray tee shirt every day? His answer is quite surprising.

Steve Jobs had his dress code as well. A black mock turtleneck shirt was his preference, along with jeans and New Balance sneakers. Not that we noticed. Or were influenced by it. (There’s even a book that develops the significance of this choice of uniform as part of personal branding! Ditch. Dare. Do.)

All in the workforce should learn this important lesson. To establish, build, or maintain credibility in your role, your clothing needs to fit the part you are playing. A blog I read earlier this year makes the case well, titled “One Simple Dress Code Rule to Boost Your Career.”

I recommend the entire article but, for the time crunched, here’s the vital tip: slightly overdress for your position. This requires you to be alert to your workplace culture. See how the boss dresses. Pay attention.

That’s how we dress for business. But it’s NOT how we should determine a person’s value. And in the big picture, worrying about our clothing gets this instruction from Jesus of Nazareth, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33, ESV)

And now, time to go put on my green mock turtleneck. And some Walmart stretchy pants. I’m creating my own personal brand.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Serve Well, My Friend

Getting a business on the success track and keeping it there takes a lot of effort and insight. There are very challenging variables such as maturing markets, hiring the right people, learning to cut unnecessary costs, and improving productivity. But one very simple step to increase sales and keep people coming back can be summed up in two words: customer service.

I saw it fail AGAIN this weekend at a local Walmart. Stepping up to the pharmacy drop off window, I came face to face with a pharmacy worker. During my first 2-3 minutes at the window, another pharmacy teammate came to another dropoff window immediately to my left. Both managed to score a big fat zero on giving ANY kind of greeting.

The woman in front of me was completing paperwork for a customer down the line. I understand. I was only looking for a smile. A welcome. An indication a real human was at her window. And perhaps a comment asking for patience. That’s all. But that was too much for either of two window dressings.

I am not anti-Walmart. I like them. In fact, I also shop at a Sam’s Club where they have an excellent pharmacist who gives some of the BEST customer service I’ve seen in that kind of work. No, this isn’t about some bone to pick with Walmart. It is strictly about lousy customer service.

Let’s pretend a rumor circulated that Brad Pitt was in the store. And suppose he had a pharmacy question. I have a strong suspicion my two pharmacy workers would have dropped everything for the honor of helping Brad. In fact, the woman who was too busy to greet me might have told the other customer to get lost! IF…it was Brad Pitt. Alas, it was little ol’ me.

So this weekend, I read this marvelous article in the New York Times about, get this, GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE. Not for a single company, mind you, but for an entire town in Colorado! It happened in Steamboat Springs.

Faced with declining numbers in a survey about a willingness to recommend the town to others, the chief executive of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association encouraged the community leaders to bring in a specialist to help improve customer service. You can read the whole story in the Times.

My friend, this is not rocket science. Well, it SHOULDN’T be. It is so shockingly easy that even children can learn it. And I hope they do.

Greet people. Take an interest in them. Walk them to where they need to find an item they want. Thank them. Ask for their patience with a smile if you must ask them to wait a moment. Be courteous. Carry stuff to their car.

And why? Because it’s the right thing to do. It makes YOU feel better. You get better tips. More repeat business. You might even keep your job!

Imagine. A consultant is needed to ‘splain this stuff. Hey…SHOW ME THE MONEY! But I offer this freely.

Who’s listening? 

Jesus of Nazareth had a message regarding how we apply wisdom in our lives. In defending his associations with “sinners” and confounding his enemies, he stated, “Well, the proof of wisdom is in the actions it produces.” (CJB)

No single thing in building a healthy business costs less to implement than basic, excellent customer service.

I’m confident event Brad Pitt knows that!

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, November 3, 2014

I’m Not Buying What You’re Begging

Some who live on the planet today remember a publication titled Grit. It defined itself as “America’s Greatest Family Newspaper.” During a good part of the 20th century, children and teenagers around the country made money by selling Grit subscriptions. With newspapers struggling these days, all the marketing changed. Now, I believe Grit is only sold in magazine format on a bimonthly basis.

These same children and teens also grew up helping raise money for groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. They still do. Overpriced popcorn and cookies generate a fair amount of revenue for these groups. And the young ones learn a valuable lesson in approaching people and asking for a sale. Unless, of course, parents simply put out signup forms or do the work for their kids.

I read a blog recently by Trey Tompkins from the healthcare field titled, “Thanks for not buying popcorn from my son.” The boy’s Cub Scout pack was doing their annual fundraising outside a home improvement store. Many customers politely declined the purchase. There’s always a group that simply wants to avoid all eye contact.

Trey’s son discovered that selling is a tough business. Persistence is the key. And as he told his father, “you have to let so many people tell you ‘No’ before you ever get someone to tell you ‘Yes.’”

Whether it’s a young person coming to our door, or that encounter at a retail store, I frequently buy what they’re selling. It depends on the kid and the product, but I admire the effort. Of course, I have to believe in the cause as well.

Something has changed in more recent years. Now I frequently find young folks outside of stores with their parents alongside asking for money — but not selling anything. Oh sure, they say the money is for the baseball team or cheerleading group or some choir trip. But frankly, I don’t see much difference between panhandlers in downtown Chicago trying to get me to pay for a meal.

I purposely included the word begging in the title of my blog for a bit of effect. Why should I be giving money for kids in my neighborhood to play baseball or go on a trip? When I was that age, my parents were expected to pay for my expenses. In high school, we had a soft drink machine for our speech club to earn money. Club members had to do all the ordering, stocking of drinks, etc. Other times we sold ad space in programs, ran a concession stand at games, or a bunch of other creative money making ideas.

What lesson for our children is there when they simply stand outside a store and ask for money? Teach them how to MAKE money. This is particularly true when it is an expense the parents should be covering.

A business may want to donate to organizations for goodwill or a tax deduction. So be it. That’s different. And certain truly charitable efforts deserve our consideration.

The verses from the Bible I am about to quote can be interpreted differently. I think The Message treats 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 perfectly for this lesson. “Stay calm; mind your own business; do your own job. You’ve heard all this from us before, but a reminder never hurts. We want you living in a way that will command the respect of outsiders, not lying around sponging off your friends.”

Put those kids to work to help pay for their extracurricular interests. You’ll wind up with better kids.

And, yes, I WILL have another peanut butter pattie. Or two.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Spirit of Nickle & Dime-ing

I'm sure I'm not the first person to blog on this topic.

I’ve just had my introductory experience with Spirit Airlines. My sister had warned me: Expect an upcharge for everything. No complimentary beverages. Even water costs money. Unless you can sneak a drink from the faucet water in the bathroom (I do NOT recommend this). More on that later.

An inexperienced Spirit traveler can quickly be depressed in spirit unless you know the game. For example, ticket and baggage fees. If you don't print your boarding pass ahead of time, you pay ten bucks at the ticket counter. If you wait until you arrive at the ticket counter to check baggage, you really missed it. You see, you had two earlier chances. You could have paid a baggage fee when you purchased your ticket. Or when you printed your boarding pass. You poor sucker. Now you pay the super premium baggage fee. But wait...another surprise could be in store. You might be used to the well established 50-pound weight limit for luggage. Nope. Spirit has you down to 40 pounds.

Now there's the carry on fees. You think you’ll save money by just bringing a small piece of luggage for the overhead bin? Think again! A child size backpack or medium briefcase qualifies as a personal item, but anything larger is a carry on surcharge … $100 at the gate! Whee! Are we having fun yet? Surprise!

How strict are they? Depends. (Yes, I’m sure they would charge you for Depends as well.) One guy who brought a large overhead bag and a personal item paid nothing by sneaking past the boarding agent. He was sweating, though, since he didn't know the rules.

Seeing the innovative ways Spirit finds to make added revenue, I have a few recommended upcharges for them. I suggest add-on fees for any access to the overhead bin during the flight. A charge for the flotation device, seat belt, and oxygen mask, if used. Fees for lowering the tray table, using the overhead light, or the fan. And, of course, the air sickness bag. (By the way, there was NO air sickness bag in the seat pouch on either of the flights we took, so perhaps they really do charge for them.)

Use the toilet? Maybe charge for the bathroom light, flushing, toilet paper, water to wash your hands, and those paper towels. A supercharge if you leave the seat up.

During the flight, Spirit recommends you get their credit card. Let's see...possible up charges for using the card: receiving paper statements, paying by check....hmmm....what else? Maybe if you call to register the card when it arrives there’s a fee.

All chiding aside, Spirit Airlines got us to our destination and back for the lowest price we could find. And if you know of all the fees upfront, you can maximize your savings. I found their on board menu to be quite reasonable. But there was no magazine to read while munching on the snacks.

In the spiritual life, many believe that our eternity requires we pay a price for all of our wrongdoings. Some believe we can offset these sins ourselves in the afterlife. I am convinced God is the rescuer. Completely.

Here is what the Bible teaches. “I mean that you have been saved by grace through believing. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. It was not the result of your own efforts, so you cannot brag about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NCV)

We do not pay the price. We accept the gift. A great and wonderful gift we receive by faith.

But when it comes to airline travel…that’s a different story. And knowing what I now know — as often as possible — when traveling any direction, I'm flying Southwest. Gotta love those free Lorna Doon cookies.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Blessings of The Silver Tsunami

Times must be changing. During my teenage years, I remember all of my aging bosses and co-workers plugging away toward retirement. That is IF they could afford retirement! I often sensed a feeling of drudgery among the older crown of fifty-plus in age.

In my Air Force days, I believe the same sentiment existed. The “lifers” were looking forward to paychecks for a lifetime after twenty or more years of service. This is not to say that they did not serve their country out of a true sense of duty or commitment.

What they may have missed was an appreciation for the wisdom and experience that had been gained over their years of service. And beyond that, enjoying the opportunity to mentor and bring added value to the job.

Maybe I’m thinking about this right now for a couple of reasons. First, I am coming up on age 63 this week. Secondly, in a more practical sense, I have found a great amount of satisfaction in my work in this decade of my 60s.

For one thing, I’ve settled any performance questions. I’m not trying to “prove my worth” or value to an organization. My skills are what they are. I still work on getting better, but only because the pursuit of excellence is never ending.

When I arrived at age 50, I was told by several friends and associates that “your best years are in front of you.” At the time, I thought this was said by those who simply wanted to feel good about themselves at this point in life. But now I realize ... it is true. And it makes me wonder why all those people I knew decades ago couldn’t wait for retirement.

About a year ago, I read an article that supported my awareness of this. It came from a study by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. It started out by saying, “Not happy with your job? Just wait.” It had that kind of Back to the Future sense.

The significant claim from this research found that 9 in 10 workers, age 50 or older, were somewhat or very satisfied with their job. This held true regardless of gender, race, educational level, political ideology, or income level. Younger workers did not fare so well.

It wasn’t all a bed of roses. Significant numbers reported unwelcome comments about their age and being passed over for raises or promotions. But far more comments addressed the positive impact of age. On the plus side, these Baby Boomers (often categorized as the Silver Tsunami) reported that colleagues often turned to them for advice. Increased respect was also noted.

Of course, some stay on the job for economic necessity. Others genuinely like their work. Many claim it gives them a sense of fulfillment.

I’m a blend of those reasons. The income is still a necessity. I really DO like my work. And I definitely feel fulfilled. 

The Bible has much to say about wisdom. In Job chapter 12, we read “Wisdom is with the aged and understanding in length of days.” (Job 12:12, ESV)

I’m particularly grateful that my employer, Salem Communications, felt that my experience and capabilities were of value. Age was not a barrier. The welcoming banner for my radio program still appears on our web page. 

Thank you, Jeff Reisman!

As the song goes, “There’s no business like show business!” Ain’t it the truth!

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pants on Fire

My Monday business centered blog is not all about business. It is an effort to connect a recent story or article from the work world and apply a faith perspective. So when I find a blog headline like, “Why You Must Lie on Job Interviews and What You Must Lie About,” I’m ready for game time.

By title, this article would be seemingly easy to judge. Encouragement to lie? Oh, please.

The author, Mark Stevens, is CEO of a marketing firm known as MSCO, Inc. He is a bestselling author. And an insightful thinker.

Stevens cites two specific HR questions that commonly arise in a job interview:
  • Do you work well with others?
  • Why do you want to work for our company?
The problem with question #1 is that many very skilled and qualified people DON’T work well with others. They work best by themselves. There needs to be an HR category for those folks without turning them away as trouble makers.

The problem with the second question is that the employee does not answer truthfully. Most people are seeking a job with lots of benefits. But they won’t say that. Instead, they spew words of praise on the company, the reputed culture and/or the quality leadership.

Before I move on to another HR issue, let me comment on the ethical issue of lying in job interviews. Let’s do our best to avoid doing that. As to the first question, a reply that might be more effective is, “In my work history, people have always commented on the quality of my work as a contribution to the team.” As to the second question, one SHOULD be able answer truthfully, “The most meaningful kind of work is one you can put your heart into and be compensated for it. I will commit to being an excellent worker and I would hope that a good compensation package would follow.” No lies. Just the facts. Assuming this is the truth.

Another problematic HR type question is, “What qualifies you for this job?” Quite frankly, some of the best people out there are “unqualified” for jobs by a false standard. I’ll explain.

In my last job, I found a superior candidate in terms of the kinds of skills needed for a radio producer. He had no real background in this. When a job opening for a producer came up with our organization, HR sent him a rejection letter. He wasn’t “qualified.” And in the strictest HR sense, he wasn’t. But in the truest sense of what was needed, he was.

Shortly thereafter, I needed a person with his skills. The short story is that we were able to get HR to let us take the rap if this was a bad decision, and we hired him. It was a great decision. He thrived. He’s moved up. He’s considered one of the best talents in that role.

Often, we look at the “outer” distinctives of a person and their career, rather than the heart of the person and their giftedness. And so it is with God. King David was not considered worthy material for a number of reasons. But this is how he was assessed by God: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t look at how handsome Eliab is or how tall he is, because I have not chosen him. God does not see the same way people see. People look at the outside of a person, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NCV)

So David was the truly hot prospect. AND he could play the lyre. Ok…I can’t resist it…the end of my story goes….lyre, lyre, pants on fire.

I know…it takes a sick mind.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Be Well Advised

A fellow blogger has shared a transparent request for business advice. I salute him for it. He also revealed a personal quest to find significant meaning and meaning in his work. The piece recently ran as part of the “You’re the Boss” series in the New York Times.

The blog is titled, “My Quest to Create Pride and Joy in Work Runs Into Reality.” That is what caught my attention. The author is Fred Warmbier, who owns Finishing Technology Inc., based outside Cincinnati.

Fred openly admits that he is still on his search for deeper meaning in his work. He acknowledges a “constant need for reinvention” of his business in an ever changing world. A key to his growth as a business leader lies in his commitment to avoid a business mindset that being the business “hero” means always having to figure out solutions himself.

So what was the challenge that interrupted his joy-at-work quest? Fred’s company has a significant client who is having financial problems. Orders placed with Finishing Technology, Inc. have been filled. But payments have stopped. And there is more product waiting to be shipped. So…does Fred ship the goods and trust the customer will recover and pay? Or does he cut his losses now and stop additional shipments? Fred says he fears what most men fear: “I don’t want to look like a fool.” I’m with you, Fred.

This story, and true to life business challenge, puts a couple of things before us. First, it raises a moral/ethical dilemma of caring about others while being a good steward. But it also raises the flag of Help!—a cry most often spoken internally by executives under pressure.

In Chicago, as in many other cities, there are a number of CEO and executive support groups. I can’t imagine being in a high pressure or high demand role in business and NOT seeking out of these groups. So three cheers for the men and women who do, and for Fred’s wisdom in seeking counsel.

Another point to be revealed is that those on the outside can often see things much clearer than those in the midst of a struggle. External perspective is objective and does not have the emotional connection. I’ve seen it happen quite often that when a problem is explained to a peer, that peer is often able to quickly resolve the issue and it can make the problem owner say, “Yes. Of course! What was I thinking???”

As to the solution to Fred’s dilemma, my advice would be twofold. First, neither course is necessarily the bad way to go. If Fred ships product out of kindness and the payment never comes, he can feel deep satisfaction in his desire to help. And he can likely write off the loss in taxes. If he chooses NOT to ship, because it is wise stewardship not to send good money after bad, he acts shrewdly and can likely still write off the loss. Part of the solution would be best handled by a direct phone call with Fred and the other business owner. Maybe even a personal visit. Problems viewed firsthand have a different way of impacting us. As in…do unto others.

But I close with repeating my praise for Fred’s pursuit of outside wisdom. The Bible says, “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” Prov 15:22 (NLT) Who's on your team?

And why is it I feel like Ann Landers right now?

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, September 29, 2014

No Cellphone Zone

Most people are familiar with the phrase “falling on deaf ears.” The term “deaf ears” surfaced around the 15th century. The “falling on deaf ears” became cliche during the 19th century. It is used today as it was then…that those for whom a message is intended never quite get it.

With that in mind, I recommend reading “Why Successful People Never Bring Smartphones into Meetings.” It contains some of the latest research from USC’s Marshall School of Business. Really smart people probably don’t need to read it.

The two authors of the blog on this subject have excellent business credentials. I mention this because any time we are told to curb behavior that impacts us personally, the advice is often reduced to “Well, that’s YOUR opinion.” In this case, it’s not.

Here were some of the findings reported from more than 550 working professionals. All made above 30 thousand dollars and were in companies with 50-plus employees.

• 86% think it’s inappropriate to answer phone calls during meetings
• 84% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails during meetings
• 66% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails even during lunches offsite
• The more money people make the less they approve of smartphone use

Furthermore, we learned that millennials find the practice okay. Dr. Travis Bradberry, coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, is the cofounder of TalentSmart. He notes in the article referenced that “Millennials have the lowest self-awareness in the workplace.” His concern? This valuable research will be “falling on deaf ears.”

I see this smartphone problem everywhere. It happens in meetings to be sure. But it also happens at business lunches, employees taking breaks and ignoring others while engaged in smartphone stuff, and walking around buildings while texting or checking email. I see it at family gatherings as well.

Let me repeat the message. Successful people never bring smartphones into meetings. BECAUSE…as the article points out, it shows a lack of respect, attention, listening, power, self-awareness, and social awareness. All pretty powerful reasons to take this to heart.

Since leaders are generally the “success driven people,” it make sense that they should lead the way in helping others develop the discipline of the resting smartphone. Having meetings with clear instructions of limits on electronic devices is step one. Educating team members on this research is another. Then you really can determine what falls on deaf ears and plan another approach.

Apparently deaf-leaning ears have been around for a while. Here is what the writer of Psalm 58 had to say: “From birth, evil people turn away from God; they wander off and tell lies as soon as they are born. They are like poisonous snakes, like deaf cobras that stop up their ears so they cannot hear the music of the snake charmer no matter how well he plays.” (Psalm 58:3-5, NCV)

Jesus himself said on more than one occasion, “Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!” (Matthew 13:9, NLT) In the audience of today, that kind of teaching would be the rage on Twitter. #Earswideopen

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

Listen each weekday, from 4-6 pm Central Time, to Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand. AM1160 in Chicagoland, AM1160 app, or online/podcast at

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mad about You

One of the dearest friendships developed during my Pittsburgh tour (1991-1998) was with Sam Deep. During my most recent season “between assignments” my wife and I were taking certification instruction from Sam in his evolving Sam Deep Leadership Academy. Here is a man who has spent a good part of his life coaching people and companies in leadership. Now he is training others to do the same.

Sam has excellent credentials. You can check them out at Just look for the tab about Sam Deep.

Our time together in Pittsburgh had us engaged in numerous endeavors. We started a small group fellowship, a radio show, a prayer breakfast event, and a business advice column. We named the column, “Dear Workplace Counselor.” It ran for a couple of years in a health-related periodical.

I was reminded of that recently while reading a similar kind of approach. ( One of the questions posed had to do with what seems like unreasonable behavior from a boss. The man apparently has anger outbursts when he feels the communication from this employee is failing.

Apparently, the problem was such a concern that the frustrated employee took it to Human Resources. No help. Thus the letter to this advice columnist. The return response suggested documenting the situations as they arose and then discussing them with the boss. Hopefully, in a calm atmosphere, a reasonable solution can be reached—even in small steps.

Maybe. But unlikely. Only because most bosses don’t like being corrected by employees. Unfortunate. Workplace excellence slips when a boss is unapproachable.

Having made that observation, I’m more interested in addressing the anger issue. Anger responses can be overt. Or they can be subtle. I’ve watched coworkers get angry without yelling or being rude. But the hair on their neck gives them away.

In many contract and other legal disputes these days, people are considering having some form of mediation they agree to use. Human Resources would be a natural place for this to occur. In smaller firms, it should be possible for an employee to ask for the assistance of a mediator to help resolve a work related issue.

In the case of the angry boss in the story I mentioned, HR really should have stepped up to help. And employees should be careful about advancing a complaint without due process with the boss. Deal with the offending party first.

Anger is such a powerful human emotion with great potential for harm. The Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26) Opening the window to the soul to confront anger issues will not only help you, but it may make your workplace a lot safer and more productive.

Being mad about you is a whole lot better than being mad at you.

That’s The Way WE Work. To connect via Facebook, click the link to the right.

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, September 15, 2014

All Work and No Play

The Fast Company article I’ve chosen to link to today is timed badly for me. It’s titled, “Why You Need to Stop Bragging about How Busy You Are.” It is a story telling of journalist Brigid Schulte’s journey to writing a book on being overwhelmed…and learning how to deal with it. (See this for more information:

Frankly, after reading about her life and the myriad of performance challenges she faced, I’m still trying to figure out how she had time to write a book! It seems the busy people get more busy. Until the consequences set in.

I mentioned the timing of this article was bad for me because this week is “one of those weeks.” It starts early today with a meeting at 7:30. It will end this evening when I return home around 7:30 p.m. after the 40 mile commute. It is a week filled with the normal work schedule—plus some—that takes me into Thursday night when I have a monthly church leadership meeting. Friday morning, I have an early flight to Pittsburgh and speak to a men’s group four times before returning home on go back to work on Monday.

My good news is found in this being unusual. For some, this is the norm. And this is the reason Brigid writes about being overwhelmed.

She admits to having bought into a “culture of busy.” A status symbol has emerged from this kind of work environment. With it comes complaining about not having enough hours in the day. The work day hours keep getting longer in this culture.

Ms. Schulte has a case study from a Florida psychologist who researched what it took to be best at something. This pschologist traveled to Berlin where he studied time logs of successful musicians. He discovered the virtuosos practiced the hardest for no more than 90 minutes. They also took more naps than their less successful peers.

An important principle presented is that leisure time is when our brain works to solve important issues. I like leisure time. My brain is generally fond of it as well.

But the bigger point is to answer the question of how to change the culture of busyness. Ms. Schulte reports that Menlo Innovations has a most unusual policy in corporate America. Simply stated, “if you cannot figure out how to do your job in 40 hours, we will fire you.” Works for me!

Will the boss put the brakes on? That’s what creates the pressure for others to stay the long hours. But if leadership leads in giving people balance back in their lives, it can work.

The overwhelmed and overburdened worker has an almost impossible task to regenerate. In part, it’s because sleep does not come easy. The Preacher wrote, “All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 2:23 (NIV)

Did you get that? Meaningless. Let’s say it again. Meaningless. All that time, effort, and stress. And in the end…meaningless.

And there’s the classic maxim we learned from James Howell in his 1659 book Proverbs in English, Italian, French and Spanish, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Not only dull, but burned out.

If you find you’re overwhelmed, it’s time to punch something out. Like a time clock.

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

Listen each weekday, from 4-6 pm Central Time, to Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand. AM1160 in Chicagoland, AM1160 app, or online/podcast at

Monday, September 8, 2014

Because I’m Happy

I had lunch with a friend last week with whom I used to work. It’s been over a decade since we connected. He’s been in his latest work assignment for three years, long enough to know an answer to this question: Are you content? I received an unequivocal, “Yes.” But we both agreed that for many the answer would be “no.”

A recent blog posting that I liked was written by someone who only identified himself as Edward E. He is in transition, retiring from active duty in the U.S. Army. His blog theme was titled, “Finding Happiness at Work, All by Yourself.”

Edward begins with a story of a bike race gone bad for him. He started well, but could not finish. Even though he trained for this, he fell short. His attitude turned bitter. He summarizes, “My happiness and eagerness from early in the day began to turn to anger and frustration.” In the end, he finished dead last.

The lesson from this is about comparisons. Obviously, in a race or any competitive effort, we are forced to deal with competitive strengths and weaknesses. But another kind of comparison is dangerous to the soul. It involves making inner judgments about ourselves in comparison to how others are doing.

As Edward suggests, this becomes unhealthy when we look at peers and coworkers' successes or accomplishments. We compare where we are in the mix. If others have received what we perceive as undue promotions or recognition, it gets worse. I like the way Edward draws this conclusion: “Whenever I have staked my happiness to the successes or failures of other people, I have found that I am always disappointed. What’s worse is that I gave away freely my own determination to control my mood and happiness.”

I think God fearing people should have a totally different approach to their work. We should appreciate our giftedness first. Gaining an honest assessment of what you do best enables us to pursue endeavors that do not feel like work.

Once engaged, we ought to consistently pursue excellence. Taking pride in a job well done adds another level of pleasure in our work. It does not require comparison or even approval if we know what excellence requires.

An added blessing comes when we are recognized for our work. While I agree this is often fuel for more inspired production, I don’t believe we should rely on awards or outside praise for inner joy in our work. Contentment comes from knowing my giftedness is being used, excellence is being pursued, and outcomes are of value in our society.

The Bible offers a good view of this in Psalm 16, verse 11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

You are a blessed person if you can find contentment in your work. You are more blessed if you avoid useless comparisons that rob you of joy. But it is a discipline of the soul to be cultivated.

Aristotle once said, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” I believe he was on a coffee break when he said that.

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

Listen each weekday, from 4-6 pm Central Time, to Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand. AM1160 in Chicagoland, AM1160 app, or online/podcast at

Monday, September 1, 2014

It’s Labor Day. Take the Day Off. [An Encore Blog]

The Way WE Work is a Monday morning audio blog from yours truly that offers an encouraging look at the world of work. On this particular Monday, I’m taking a day off.

Another Monday holiday. Oddly, this one we call Labor Day. Need a history lesson to remember why we’re off today?

Time Magazine for kids gives us a good summary. And I quote: “More than a century ago, workers were forced to deal with harsh conditions. They were paid very little and they often worked 10- to 12-hour days. Men, women, and even small children were forced to work even when they were sick. Tired of long hours and dangerous conditions, workers began organizing themselves into labor unions. On top of fighting for higher pay and shorter workdays, they also fought for the rights of children. The workers wanted employers to place limits on the age of their workers so that small children were not overworked or hurt in factories.”

Peter McGuire is often called the “father” of Labor Day, coming up with the idea for the holiday in 1882. Thanks, Pete.

Some of my favorite quotes on work include this one from Edgar Bergen: Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?

Jerome K. Jerome, who needs help on that name, once said, “I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”

And someone who wished to remain anonymous creatively admitted, “Getting paid to sleep ... that's my dream job.” I think a lot of people are there.

Truth be told…people should take more time off.

God loves the idea of a labor-free day. In fact, He would have us take one every week! God is a big fan of time off. In His thinking, you work six, you rest one. God was so convinced of this plan, He made it one of the Big Ten. Not the football conference, the Ten Commandments.

Now here’s the weird part. Many people don’t take His “work 6, goof-off-one” plan! They keep right on working that seventh day.

Despite the natural love of commerce that keeps doors open on Sunday, there are some great American companies that honor God’s thinking on this matter. You may have heard of them. 

Companies like Chick Fil A and Hobby Lobby.

Other firms such as Interstate Batteries, Herman Miller, and Forever 21 think strategically on putting labor into perspective. God’s perspective. They make an effort to treat people the way they should be treated. Now THAT is something you can take to the bank.

Today, on Labor Day, keep in mind that our work is important for society. It’s vital to our well being in so many ways. Just keep it in balance.

King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes this statement: People come into this world with nothing, and when they die they leave with nothing.

In spite of all their hard work, they leave just as they came. (Ecclesiastes 5:15 New Century Version)

Yep. That about says it. Now, back to my lounge chair.

Mark will be back on AM1160 tomorrow, from 4-6 PM Central time. You can listen live on radio in Chicagoland, or online via, or on the AM1160 app. If you miss a program, you can download the podcast on the following day.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Micro Becomes Macro

As a followup to my previous blog on the Global Leadership Summit, I want to key in on a difficult area for some leaders. Micromanagement. It’s one of those crippling organizational weaknesses that causes people to leave jobs. As was noted at the Summit, people don’t leave good companies. They leave bad managers. (Or bad leaders!)

This is exactly the way Jessica Marie said it in her recent Linked In article, “Micromanagers: Flushing Companies down the Toilet, One Detail at a Time.” (

Jessica describes herself as a storyteller, marketer, and business designer. She certainly seems to be a clear thinker on this topic.

Here is her descriptive overview of the problem: “Micromanaging is a method of management in which an individual closely observes or controls the work of an employee. In comparison to simply giving general direction, the micromanager monitors and evaluates every stage in a process, from beginning to end. This behavior negatively affects efficiency, creativity, trust, communication, problem-solving, and the company’s ability to reach its goals.” One might sarcastically add, “Apart from this, it’s not a problem.” But, of course, it IS!

I was assigned a leadership role in a company several years ago reporting to only the head of the company. He was very gifted. Highly creative, seasoned well by some earlier difficulties in business, and insightful in many areas. Except one. He loved stepping into a role where it appeared that if he did not constantly look after the details, things would go bust.

Employees felt this, of course. Most of these competent people were not trusted to do their work well. They were not given their clear assignment and then left alone to succeed at it. Read Jessica’s article. Micromanagers cannot expect trust to be developed with an employee because they don’t show it! People prefer to be left alone to do the work after they understand what the job requires.

There is an ugly twin to this issue. It’s doing the other person’s job FOR them. I’ve seen this as well. It occurs when a job title is given, but the employee never gets the real authority to do the job. The boss basically does the job, except for the details, which require less aptitude or decision making ability. This most frustrates employees who are quite capable and feel like they are living in a charade.

Let’s turn to a Master Manager and world renowned leader for how to do this right. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. After assembling his team and giving them several coaching sessions, they were given field representative roles to take His message and His methods to the people. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 10, we read His empowering words to launch them into action:

“Jesus called twelve of his followers and sent them into the ripe fields. He gave them power to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives. Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge: ‘Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.’” (The Message)

Read the entire chapter. It’s a gem. Jesus gives them clear instruction. Authorizes power to act. And leaves them alone to go and do the job. Away goes micromanagement. It’s been the way of The Way ever since…if done right.

If God can entrust the world’s most important message to misfits, well, figure it out. The right people…empowered to do the right thing…led by you. What a concept! (P.S. Don’t try this with cats.)

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

Listen each weekday, from 4-6 pm Central Time, to Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand. AM1160 in Chicagoland, AM1160 app, or online/podcast at 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Going Global on Leadership

One of the blessings of living in a city the size of Chicago is the range of opportunity to see excellence at work. Our museums, professional sports franchises, and theatre productions are top notch. Maybe the Cubs could use a little help.

This past week, I attended several sessions at the Global Leadership Summit brilliantly crafted by, of all places, a church! Well, not just any church, Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington northwest of downtown Chicago. The incredible facility they operate for ministry of many kinds is a spectacle unto itself. You can best get a glimpse of the Willow world at their website,

Leadership topics, of course, are the Summit’s theme. The cast of presenters is made up of premiere leaders in both business and the nonprofit world. This year, that group included the likes of Jeffrey Immelt of GE, Patrick Lencioni (founder of The Table Group), Carly Fiorina (former CEO of Hewlett-Packard), among many others.

In the nonprofit world, leadership development should be as prized as it is in the for-profit sector. Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek and the creative developer of the Global Leadership Summit, understands this very well. His opening presentation revealed his passion and pursuit of this topic. Another Chicago pastor, Wilfredo De Jesus, was given a standing ovation for his passionate commitment to lead an energized charge into the dark side of prostitution, gangs, homelessness, and poverty that plague our city and most other mega-communities.

An important lesson from all helps paint a clear picture that management — even good management — is not the same as leadership. I know this to be true. I probably have about 200 books on some aspect of leadership. The message that seems most effective in any presentation format is to hear 
revelations from leaders who discover their own weaknesses and challenge themselves to find ways to strengthen the weak spots. One presenter, Erica Ariel Fox, positioned four dimensions of human 
development and gave examples of how to overcome weaknesses in each.

One of the sessions I most enjoyed focused on “Crucial Conversations.” Of course, there is a book on this very subject by the presenter, Joseph Grenny. This man is a cofounder of the company VitalSmarts that works with hundreds of companies in developing leaders. And smart he is.

Crucial conversations are those conversations that occur when the stakes are high, emotions run strong, and opinions vary. Grenny explained that when those conversations are needed, people will either talk them out or act them out. Both approaches have consequences. Talking them out is always best, though often very difficult. (Audio of this and all the sessions are available from Willow Creek’s website.)

If there was one person in human history who faced the most crucial conversations that I’ve read about, it is Jesus of Nazareth. People loved challenging his wisdom on matters, mostly with the intent of trapping him. Jesus never shied away from any question. 

Take the one about whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus asks for a coin. Then He asks whose image was on the coin. That would be Caesar’s. So, Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 12) Brilliant. And with a crucial point. As Bill Hybels might say, “Figure it out.”
Jesus got plenty of attention at the Global Leadership Summit. He is not simply a leader. He is THE Leader. Interestingly, one of His most common messages was simple: Follow me.

Maybe one year, Willow Creek will hold the Global Followers Summit. Hmmm.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for 
WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Making Work Fun

Over the years, I’ve taken several of those personality tests that are aimed at telling you what work style works best for you. Whether it’s Myers-Briggs, DISC, the Jung Personality Test or one of the other 2500 personality tests on the market, the effort is to help both you and your company develop the best way to function at high productivity. Of course, there is no pass or fail. Well, really there is.

Depending on the personality assessment, you may or may not be a good match for the job you thought you wanted. I’ve seen this applied when hiring sales people. Certain “types” are turned away because they don’t match the profile needed. That is probably a good move most of the time. But not always.

In her 2006 book, The Cult of Personality, author Annie Murphy Paul raised some questions. She claims many personality tests lead us to miseducate our children, mismanage our companies, and misunderstand ourselves. As with many things, she may be right. Keep in mind that at one point, 89 of the Fortune 100 companies used the Myers-Briggs test. Impressive.

One of these “tests” I found of particular value I discovered in a video from the wonderful series on manhood by Dr. Robert Lewis. The assessment was called Your Unique Design. ( It costs just $35 to complete.

From their Q&A on who I am, it was discovered that I have a foundation to my “personality condominium” that requires fun. That’s me. If the job can’t be fun, I move on. That’s why I love radio.

So this week, I found an excellent article on making work fun. It’s by Cliff Oxford, the founder of the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. His blog article is titled, “Making Work Fun Is not about Table Tennis and Paintball.” Of course, I have nothing against either.

His piece challenges readers to take any job and find a way to make it fun. Why? Happier employees. Higher performance. Less turnover. Win-Win.

Oxford relates a classic story from his childhood about a neighbor. The man was a farmer and had a problem with rats. He tried offering financial rewards to find rat killers. No one showed up for the job.

Then he got creative. Mr. Harris, the farmer, applied three powerful things to attract a Rat Pack destruction team. All were designed to create a festival that was fun. First he built a huge bonfire to attract hunters. Hunters love big bonfires. (This alone probably scared the living daylights out of the rats.)

Next, he gave the hunters a unique tool…a spear dressed up in feathers for the kill. Oh how cool. Finally, a prize: A Zebco One fishing reel with a graphite rod. What self respecting rat hunter could pass THAT up? NONE! Farmer Harris had people lined up and down the country roads for the mission! I love a good success story.

King Solomon came up with this perspective: “There is nothing better for people than to eat and drink, and to find enjoyment in their work. I also perceived that this ability to find enjoyment comes from God.” Ecclesiastes 2:24. (NET)

Want productivity up at your place of work? Make the job more fun. And a Zebco One fishing reel with a graphite rod for a prize wouldn’t hurt either. I’m confident you’ll wind up with a good supporting cast.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Good Job. Good Church.

Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has recently completed a rather unusual study. A random sample of full time employees was surveyed on their attendance at their place of worship and whether a faith integrated message on work was emphasized. Key to this question was how that faith integration made a difference.

Is there a noticeable impact of faith on work? As Jerry Z. Park, Ph.D who led the project, claims, “It turns out it does make some difference in their attitudes at work. That means it has a potential ‘payoff’ not only for employers, but for employees themselves.”

The study by Baylor involved three areas: job satisfaction, job commitment, and entrepreneurship. I found it quite interesting that it was determined to be an interesting contrast with entrepreneurs. These business builders in particular enjoy this faith/work integration. BUT…church impeded their work. Check it out in the link above.

As the article states, “Workplace attitudes such as job commitment also were evaluated by a variety of items that asked how much participants felt like ‘part of the family’ at their organization, how efficiently they get proposed actions through ‘bureaucratic red tape’ and whether they ‘went to bat’ for good ideas of coworkers.”

A few years ago, I began developing my own thoughts on the importance of connecting our faith with our work. It was wonderful to discover that this is being researched by many. A book from the 1980s that still gets good traction today is Your Work Matters To God, by Bill Hendricks and Doug Sherman.

I just spoke with Bill a while ago on my radio talk show in Chicago. He’s still at it…helping others determine their true giftedness and getting them to align that with their work. His organization is called The Giftedness Center. He has two levels of engagement: The Giftedness Portrait and The Giftedness Snapshot. For more information, see Bill’s website.

That being said, the best more recent book I’ve come across on this topic is from the gifted pastor Tim Keller from New York City. His excellent teaching found in the book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work would be required reading if I were to teach a course on this subject. Andy Crouch provides worthwhile reading in a Christianity Today interview with Keller that summarizes the book.

The Baylor study, however, was significant to me because it documents something we often miss. Where we choose to worship can make a big difference in our attitude toward work AND our performance. Once a person clearly understands how God blesses us with gifts and calls us to serve Him with those gifts, things change. We work differently than others. More passionately. Mondays can be a day of rejoicing! Ok…maybe that’s a LITTLE stretch.

Jesus gives us this most interesting model as recorded in Luke 22:27. He says, “Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.” (NLT) I recommend we go and do likewise.

If this has helped you, just leave a nice tip.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Back to the Future

Alvin Toffler’s bestselling book, Future Shock, arrived in bookstores in 1970 and sold more than five million copies. In it we learned that our culture was changing rapidly. Concern was raised that change was coming at such a speed that it would overwhelm us. Do you believe that has happened and continues? Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Alvin Toffler’s wife, Heidi, once made this statement: “Anybody who tells you they know what’s going to happen, don’t believe a word they say!” This from the woman who predicted women would buy and throw away paper dresses (that did happen in the 1960s). Alvin and Heidi did see the day of the Internet and YouTube, cloning, and the growth of home schooling. But they missed on the idea of underwater cities and the doubling of the earth’s population by the 1980s.

Future thinkers have a tough job. The future doesn’t always agree with them. Kind of like what we find with weather forecasters. I wish one would just say, “There’s a 50% chance I’ll be right today.”

A recent business article posted for fellow Linked In members gives an important perspective to thinking ahead. Daniel Burris is apparently one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and innovation experts. He has authored six books including The New York Times bestseller Flash Foresight. His challenge to business leaders today is to be “anticipatory” — in the right way.

What IS the right way? To learn to distinguish between hard trends and soft trends. Hard trends are those areas that WILL happen. Soft trends MIGHT happen. I’ll let him explain:

“Understanding the difference between hard and soft trends allows us to know which parts of the future we can be right about. When you learn how to analyze trends in this way, you can accurately predict future disruptions, identify and solve problems before they happen, and practice what I call ‘everyday innovation.’ This enables you to solve challenges and problems faster and see opportunities that were impossible just a few years before. In other words, you become anticipatory rather than reactionary.”

Okay. Got it. Uh…how do you DO that? I think this is how he makes his money.

I’m in an industry (radio) that has a LOT of people trying to figure out these trends. What does the future look like for “terrestrial radio” — those AM/FM stations that have been around for decades. Decisions made now, preparing for what is to come, have enormous considerations financially, as well as their impact on people’s lives. Certainly, these weighty matters are worthy of time devoted to research.

The Bible had one stringent requirement for futurists—or as they were known, prophets. You had to be right EVERY time. Here is the way it reads in Deuteronomy 18:22: “You may be wondering among yourselves, ‘How can we tell the difference, whether it was God who spoke or not?’ Here’s how: If what the prophet spoke in God’s name doesn’t happen, then obviously God wasn’t behind it; the prophet made it up. Forget about him.” (The Message)

But get this. It’s said that 353 prophecies made about one person were fulfilled in the life of one man: Jesus of Nazareth. That amazing truth is why Jesus is called Messiah by millions of people…still today. Jesus….the Savior of mankind. You have to admit, it’s hard to beat those odds.

As for futurists, here’s what I don’t recommend. Psychic hotlines. Or if you do call one, try this: “When will the Cubs win their next World Series?” Stumps them every time.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.