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Monday, May 18, 2015

Aretha Delivered the Message

Today’s blog is a sequel to my blog of two weeks ago. I find that traditional labels of “blue collar” and “white collar” in the workplace often create misperceptions. The current season of the popular television show Survivor helps prove this point. (See my earlier blog for details.)

In any working environment, relationship success is built on a true sense of respect. Blue collar types who resent management for perks or privileged conditions have a respect issue. White collars who see their blue collar counterparts as less educated, talented, or essential to an operation have a respect problem. When authentic respect is shown and rewarded, true teamwork is built and motivation moves up. That is a seminar in itself.

Few leaders have found a more effective way to overcome this than did Wayne Alderson. His story was widely known when I arrived in Pittsburgh in the fall of 1991. Through the middle of the twentieth century, Pittsburgh was truly a Steel City, as a significant majority of jobs in the region were all connected in some way to the manufacturing of steel.

The separation of blue collar and white collar came to heads in the labor/management fights over renewed contracts. Those battles were as intense as any on the Steeler football field. Bitterness often ruled. Shutting down a mill was costly to all parties.

And then comes Wayne Alderson and the Pittron Steel story. As he described it, “Working conditions were bad, productivity was at an all time low and employee morale was very bad.” Worse yet, the company was losing millions.

Wayne understood blue collar. He was a coal miner's son. But now his white collar corporate executive role could easily put him at odds. Wayne applied what became known as Theory R Leadership principles, later to be incorporated into his Value of the Person training.

Theory R and Value of the Person workshops teach how to build relationships. Out of healthy relationships comes trust. To make the process work, it takes respect. Aretha Franklin to the rescue.

Wayne Alderson became a peacemaker. His Christian faith was the underpinning to treating others the way he would want to be treated. Lives were changed. Profits returned. He continued this legacy of work until his passing in 2013. Dr. R.C. Sproul wrote this story years ago in a book titled, Stronger than Steel.

Within all true achievers, there is a tendency to lose sight of the value of certain team members. Success has a spoil factor. The achiever wants the recognition but often fails to praise the team that made it possible.

One of the many ways that Jesus of Nazareth was so remarkable in his day, was his treatment of people. His disciples considered children an annoyance. Jesus saw them as prized creations willing to accept truth by faith.

In Jesus’s time, women were often considered second class. Jesus showed them respect. Lepers were to be avoided. Jesus reached out and touched them. Sinners were condemned and ridiculed. Jesus gave them time and attention.

When challenged on his associations with those of the “lesser class,” Jesus had this interesting exchange: “But when some of the Jewish religious leaders saw him eating with these men of ill repute, they said to his disciples, ‘How can he stand it, to eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard what they were saying, he told them, ‘Sick people need the doctor, not healthy ones! I haven’t come to tell good people to repent, but the bad ones.’” (Mark 2:16-17 / TLB)

I have many friends today who are in the professional “peacemaking” business. Their work transcends the typical boundaries that keep people apart. They move into cultures and among political leaders who are often at odds. Sometimes bitter enemies. And these friends do this because of Jesus.

There is no professional religious “collar” needed to embrace the value of a person. Respect must be shown to all collars and all stripes if one hopes for a positive working relationship.

So one more time, Aretha, sing it loud and proud: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

(For more information, read here

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Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

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