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Monday, January 27, 2014

Greedy Wolves & You

I have not seen The Wolf of Wall Street. Probably won’t. I do admit to being fascinated by the intensity of the lifestyle of traders and financial players.

The film features Leonardo DiCaprio playing the role of one bad and out of control banker, Jordan Belfort. It’s a true story, replete with the trappings that come from incredible wealth. We get a picture of the very ugly side of Belfort and his eventual fall involving crime and corruption. The feds took him down.

Early in my time in Chicago, a friend arranged a lunch for me with a trader after he gave us a tour of the Chicago Board of Trade. It was surprising how in that array of activity someone could focus and maintain sanity. Apparently the burn or burnout rate comes at a fairly young age.

Two recent New York Times stories gave me reasons to think about the passions and lessons learned from financial power brokers. Cliff Oxford wrote the article, “Entrepreneurial Lessons from the Wolf of Wall Street." Quoting, “Two of them were: You can’t build a culture in a comfort zone, and there is a dark side in the drive to be first. He added that the film shows “how you can take ordinary people and make them maniacs for the mission.” You can read the article for more insights on this.

The second article gave quite a bit more depth to another wolf who has left the pack. It’s powerful. It’s titled “For the Love of Money” and is written by Sam Polk.

Polk had an upbringing in a middle class home with a salesman father who dreamed of being rich. Sam did more than dream. After his time at Columbia University, which included significant drug use and suspension, he got himself a trading floor job. It started his rather meteoric rise to wealth. He next went to Bank of America and, four years later, he was offered a Citibank job at $1.75 million per year. Perks galore.

But his self-written story is about how there was never enough. He came to learn about envy. Greed. Power. The kinds of things that take a man down. Like Jordan Belfort.

But Sam Polk had an epiphany. And it came from his superior’s reaction to hedge fund regulations being implemented. As he challenged the assumption that these regulations were not necessarily bad, the responses he received showed almost unbelievable self interest. Almost.

Polk’s epiphany led him to serious self examination. And he acted on the dark sides of his life. He left the company. He experienced withdrawal symptoms of greed. His world today is vastly different as his testimony tells.

Sam Polk does not make a clear connection to any specific spiritual driving force. But reading his story, it reminded me of Jesus telling his audience that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) Folks in Jesus’s time believed wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. How possibly could wealth be a barrier to God? We know better.

Here’s our challenge. Forget the amount of wealth involved. Our souls need to be constantly on guard against the destructive forces of envy, greed, the love of power, and pride. There are a few more as well, categorized over the years as “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Google that if you need help.

To avoid becoming a big bad wolf, discipline yourself to fight those sins as a camel would fight to get through the eye of a needle. You’ll likely need a lot of prayer ... to get over the hump.

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

Monday, January 20, 2014

Somebody’s Watchin’ You

Somebody’s Watchin’ You

Certainly you’ve heard the song, and you might even know the lyrics by heart:  “Somebody’s Watching Me.”  The song is by Rockwell:
I'm just an average man
With an average life
I work from nine to five
Hey, ****, I pay the price
All I want is to be left alone
In my average home
But why do I always feel
Like I'm in the twilight zone
And (I always feel like)
(Somebody's watching me)
And I have no privacy
Are the neighbors watching me
Well, is the mailman watching me
And I don't feel safe anymore
Oh, what a mess
I wonder who's watching me now
The IRS?

The lyrics also ask, “Am I just paranoid?” No, I don’t think so. Witness the recent story in Fast Company magazine titled, "Can Performance Be Quantified? Wearable Tech In The Office." (see:

Notes the article, “Companies from Hitachi to Walt Disney World resort are using wearable tech to track staff and improve collaboration and customer service, according to a report by management researcher H. James Wilson.” Apparently companies such as The Container Store like these devices to help track sales people’s performance in the areas of communications with other staff and shoppers. Promoters of these devices also claim they help improve innovation by getting more team inclusion in what’s happening around the company.

Then there’s the argument that a workplace personality who is said to be uncooperative or consistently unpleasant can be monitored and adjustments made to save his or her job. So it’s a new tool to observe “personality metrics.” Since participation would be voluntary, the candidates for wearable tech must be convinced the devices are to help and not punish them for bad performance.

Thinking back on the work zones in which I’ve been employed, there are MANY conversations between coworkers that one would NOT want recorded. Then there are comments made by sales people when not in the presence of the customer. Oh boy. And how about a little reverse fun? Can the employees get a dose of those private management conversations, or is this likely just a one way street of accountability? I’m guessing here.

Most people are unaware how much of their lives is under observation. Those little cameras are everywhere. My wife and I enjoy watching the show Person of Interest (on CBS). That’ll make you paranoid! And it’s now no secret that government has a TON more eyes on you than we’ve been told.

Now here’s the question: what does this say about our human condition if our behavior improves ONLY to make ourselves look good in front of others? Truth is you really ARE being watched in everything you say and do. Everything.

Jesus made it clear: God’s eye really IS on the sparrow. Read Matthew, chapter 10. Here’s an excerpt: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Ideally, our knowledge that “somebody’s watching me” ought to remind us to live as we should. The knowledge that God is watching should challenge us to an even higher standard.  His metrics are the ones by which we are measured most for eternity.

As for all those other "watchers," well, I hope my mailman has better things to do.  And, by the way, where IS my mail?

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

Monday, January 13, 2014

Seasons of a Job

As best as I can summarize, I’ve had about 20 different jobs in my lifetime. While some of them are similar kinds of work, every work environment has a uniqueness. But there is also a consistency in adapting and growing on the job, and we might call this the seasons of a job.

As I’ve welcomed people into new positions, for which I’ve been in a supervisorial or management role, I try to encourage new hires to see these seasons and accept them. It also helps management lower expectations a bit as an employee fits into their new job.
I think there are four of these seasons: Familiarity. Efficiency. Mastery. Creativity.

  • Familiarity. While there is no particular length of time that must be associated with these seasons of work, familiarity usually takes about a year in most jobs. It is when all the basic details of the work environment must be learned, paperwork completed, nuances appreciated and relationships developed and interpreted. Many companies have particular issues that arise during certain times of the year and one can only absorb the dynamics of these issues after a full cycle of twelve months.
  • Efficiency. During that first season, there will be a "growing into the job."  As this occurs, a person gains the experience needed to become efficient and proficient on the job. Decisions come quicker. Performance moves up. The needed relationships are cultivated and expertise enhanced. An employee who reaches this stage quickly and maintains a good work ethic is valuable.
  • Mastery. Longer term players in the workplace become the best contributors. They know and understand the culture. They clearly have established themselves as productive. Usually, a loyalty and commitment to the cause and the firm exist.  Assuming productivity remains high, these workers are among the most trusted associates of an organization.
  • Creativity. An exceptional “value added” contribution by an employee is to have ideas for improvement, or visionary thoughts on expanded business opportunities.  These are easily the coveted “keepers” because they energize the group and foster growth. Often, they are the hardest to keep because of their entrepreneurial nature.  But they are worth their salt and investment.
Entry level jobs generally do not go beyond familiarity and efficiency. That’s okay. People should grow and then move on, unless there is due cause to grow within the company.

These seasons are not perfectly linear over time. A person can show early signs of creativity from the start. Allowing for the maturation of an employee, along with good coaching, will contribute to a very strong workplace and will reward those who stay on.
Life has its seasons as well. Especially our spiritual lives. The gifted pastor and Bible teacher Chuck Swindoll gave us a wonderful resource in one of his early writings. His devotional book, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, has 144 offerings to navigate these seasons.
Spring is a time of renewal and certainly a season our soul finds beautiful. Summer can be a season of warmth and rest. Fall is a season of change and perhaps reflection. And winter can be a time of discouragement with those cold winds chilling the soul.

Learning and adapting to the seasons can provide a great deal of maturity as well. The end result is a healthy soul and a great sense of God’s working. Swindoll’s book is a good read … for those in need.

Maybe there’s a rhyme and reason to every season. Eh?

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

Monday, January 6, 2014

Security Check

Target Corporation made the news over the Christmas holidays in a way they were certainly hoping to avoid. A breach of their customers' credit card information was the culprit. It is estimated that as many as 40 million Target customers' credit and debit card data was hacked.
The USA Today reported that the “real problem is that so many breaches occur in the first place. Credit and debit card fraud has nearly quadrupled in past decade.” Staying a step ahead of thieves is hard work.
Security breaches in our modern age put our finances, medical history, and loads of personal information up for grabs. A recent story in the New York Times offered an eerie glimpse into new ways of enhancing personal security. A bank in Britain now provides voice analyzation for added security to high net worth individuals. In Japan, some ATMs scan vein patterns in a person’s palm before money is released. Fingerprint sensors on computers and smartphones are becoming more common.
As we know, pets are now commonly sold and adopted with microchips to give them identity in the event they are lost or stolen. Radio Frequency Identification tags are being encouraged in various parts of the globe for humans. Proponents say these devices embedded under people’s skin could help curb identity theft, improve medical care, and even help identify disaster victims.

It would seem obvious to most of us that more people are willing to sacrifice personal privacy for this sense of personal security. Cameras, for example, are everywhere. We are monitored at every turn. 

So what is a person to do? Tough decisions may be ahead. How far will people go to give themselves these earthly personal protections?

Many also believe that all of this activity is connected to events leading to what are called “the end times.” One of the most difficult instructions Jesus gave his followers had to do with reading the signs of the times. Note these words of his … “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:24-26) So … are you ready?

Oddly, it seems the vast majority of people on our planet are more concerned with personal security than eternal security.  We’re more worried about a Target breach than a spiritual breach in our own lives. The kind that could rob us of eternal reward.
As we start a new year, I suggest you take the best precaution possible regarding your greatest asset: YOU! Protect yourself with a “living trust.”  Make a day by day decision to abide in Him. Put your faith in Jesus.

There is no more sound investment strategy. And it never needs an upgrade.

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