Search This Blog

Monday, May 30, 2016

Lessons from War (Stories)

Today America recognizes Memorial Day. It’s odd and a bit inappropriate to say we “celebrate Memorial Day” as we pay tribute to the valiant men and women who sacrificed their lives for our country and our freedoms.

Recently, I spoke with Jocelyn Green ( about the book she helped cowrite, Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front. It’s a collection of historical pieces that adds texture to the word “sacrifice.” I share with you today some of Jocelyn’s thoughts.

Mark: How did you and Karen Whiting connect to work together on Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front?

Jocelyn: AMG Publishers approached Karen about writing a book for them in this series, and she knew she wanted to focus on the home front throughout the wars, rather than a particular war. She also knew she didn’t want to write it alone. She and I were (and still are) in a couple of author networks together, and we are both former military wives, and I had already coauthored Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan. So when she asked if I wanted to partner with her on this project, I jumped at the opportunity.

Mark: The tragedy of war is inescapable. But in the midst of this tragedy, there is beauty. It is the beauty of character demonstrated during crisis. How, then, do we put these wars in perspective?

Jocelyn: That’s a really big question. An entire sermon series could be preached in response. But I’ll just say this. I have written or cowritten five nonfiction books and two devotional Bibles for the military, and four Civil War novels. I have spent years researching wars, and the people who have been most affected by them. I’ve read countless first-person accounts from Civil War hospitals, for example, and personally interviewed today’s soldiers, veterans, wounded warriors, and Blue Star and Gold Star family members. This is what I’ve seen: that no matter how dark war can be, God’s light shines brighter. Men and women from centuries ago right up until today have proven to me, over and over, that Jesus is bigger than our pain. Hope does not disappoint. The only reason I can spend so much time immersing myself in these stories of war is that I share this same confidence: for the believer, there is always hope. Hope, faith, and courage even in the midst of war is a far greater testimony than faith and hope when there is no strife, no struggle. My own faith has been challenged by reading and hearing the testimonies of others.

Mark: Memorial Day is set aside to honor those who have given their lives for our nation. The Sullivan family in WW2 gave an exceptional sacrifice. What is their story?

Jocelyn: Yes, they did. The five brothers in the Sullivan family from my hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, enlisted in the Navy on one condition: that they’d be allowed to serve on the same ship. Their request was granted, and they served on the USS Juneau. Tragically, all five brothers died when a torpedo sank their ship in the South Pacific in November, 1942. I can’t wrap my mind around that kind of loss for their surviving family members. Their sister joined the Navy WAVES, and their parents spoke to more than a million workers in war-time production plants, urging them to maximize production and end the war sooner.

I love what their sister Genevieve told a reporter: “People ask me and Mother and Father too, ‘How do you manage to keep your chins up and keep going?’ We just do. There’s a job to be done, a big one that means the lives of many. So we must keep working hard.”

Mark: What other example(s) of bravery captivated you in seeing soldiers give up their lives?

Jocelyn: Every story is captivating, but one that stands out in particular is that of SPC James Kiehl. When his parents learned he’d been killed, they didn’t know where he was spending eternity. But before the funeral took place, they learned from a reporter embedded in his unit that ten days before his death, he gave his life to Christ. He wanted to be baptized, but due to a shortage of water in the desert, they had to improvise. Soldiers dug a pit in the sand, lined it with plastic, and donated their own rationed bottles of drinking water to fill it. Right there in the middle of the Muslim world, SPC Kiehl and another soldier were baptized.

Mark: What should be our takeaway about the nature of war?

Jocelyn: I think the takeaway is that war, by nature, is not a Godless place. God can meet you in war as well as, or better than, He can meet you in a stadium full of ten thousand worshippers in the States.

Mark: Did the weight of these burdens carried by many during our wars impact your personal views about these engagements?

Jocelyn: I learned a lot more about the positive things our men and women have done during these engagements, stories that don’t normally circulate in the media. But my views on foreign policy didn’t crystalize because of it. My heart was affected in a much more personal way, thinking about how all these people have done their best to serve their country, and how the families at home have served in critical ways, too. For most of us in America, we have the luxury of choosing which news to pay attention to, and we can ignore the fact that Americans are in harm’s way even now. But the family members are living this reality every day, sometimes moment by moment. They deserve our prayers and support throughout the year.

Jesus the Messiah once said, “The greatest love a person can show is to die for his friends.” (John 15:13, NCV) Thousands of American servicemen and women have given their lives not only for friends and loved ones, but for unknowns.

We pay tribute to that highest form of sacrifice on this Memorial Day.

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

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

Monday, May 23, 2016

Lookin’ Good ...

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell found the political water a little too hot this past week. In attempting to assail Donald Trump and his preference for attractive women, Big Ed said, “There are probably more ugly women in America than attractive women. People take that stuff personally.”

Yes, they do, Ed. Shortly thereafter, Ed realized his boo boo. And he apologized. With gusto.

His words.“What I said was incredibly stupid and insensitive. When I read it in the article, I said, ‘Did I say that?’ It was just dumb, and stupid, and insensitive, and if I offended anyone, I apologize.”

Truth be told, looks matter. Especially in the workplace. Details can be found in this story from the Washington Post this week: The real reason that so many women have to spend so much time getting ready. It’s written by Ana Swanson.

Ana, the Post reporter, chronicles her daily routine of applying makeup and skin care products. She claims that 27 of her female associates apply an average of five products on their face daily. And they keep two extra pair of shoes at the office. And the guys? Not so much.

The impetus for her interest is a recently published paper from two sociologists studying the correlation between good looks and income. Their research concluded the good lookers earn more. And all the make up, styling, and clothing “accounted for nearly all of the salary differences for women of varying attractiveness.”

Ms. Swanson points out that previous studies prove that “hotties” in school get high grades and are more popular. Duh. Shorter prison sentences are given to the more appealing in appearance. And the eye candy among us are more likely to be hired, promoted, and get paid more in the workplace. The research revealed that people rated as more attractive earned about 20 percent more than the average Joe. Or Jane.

Now there is a bit of interesting contrarian behavior in the looks department. Previous studies would indicate that attractiveness was “consistently an advantage for men in the workplace, but was an advantage for women only when they sought a non managerial position. Interpret that for whatever it’s worth.

The two researchers apparently wanted to also determine what constituted being attractive. Beyond those who seem to be born with knock out qualities, can you actually step up your game and change perceptions? They discovered that most of the attractiveness advantage for women came from being well groomed. For men, good grooming only added half the effect on attractiveness.

The conclusions to be drawn from this are that it does pay women to primp and style. It gives them an advantage in the workplace. For men, it seems less important to invest in trying to look suave and debonair. Whatever that is.

I have my own anecdotal perspectives on this. Given the choice between two similarly competent people, the better looking candidate will get the job most often. Similarly, out of shape candidates start the process on the downside. They will have to overcome their condition in other ways.

Is it discrimination? Yup. Was that a surprise? It shouldn’t be. Even the best among us has preferences we don’t care to admit.

Sadly, this is the way many African Americans and other minorities feel when they enter the workplace. If the boss is a caucasian, the candidate must ask, “Am I starting at a disadvantage?” While not wanting to engage a lengthy review of so-called “white privilege,” my 64 years on earth have proven to me there’s some substance to this.

Decades ago, Janis Ian brought the world the disturbing song, At Seventeen. Probably unheard by many millennials. Lyrics were haunting. I’ll share them here:

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired.
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth.


To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball.
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
When dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me.

(excerpted from At Seventeen; Janis Ian Copyright )

Jesus of Nazareth was irresistible to people. It had nothing to do with looks. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2, NIV)

Instead, everyone was welcome in His circle. Regardless of looks. Or status. Or family background. Or race. Or whatever. Because people are who Jesus came to rescue.

Followers of Jesus should seek His style of evaluating others. Basically, it’s learning to love and respect others, the way we would like to be treated.

There’s a lot of gold in that rule.

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

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

ROI Reinterpreted

Betty Liu, Founder and CEO at Radiate, Inc, recently blogged about her attendance at a Berkshire shareholders annual meeting. Her main take away was what she considers “probably one of the most succinct descriptions of great leadership” she has heard. It came from Warren Buffett. And here it is:

“If you're looking for a manager, find somebody that’s intelligent, energetic, and has integrity...if they don’t have the last, be sure they don’t have the first two. If you have somebody who lacks integrity, you want them to be dumb and lazy.”

Let’s get firm on this point: all leaders should understand the importance of integrity.

It’s why my friend John G. Blumberg has just celebrated the release of his newest book, ROI - Return on Integrity. Simply put, John is starting a movement to redefine what first comes to mind when top leaders think of ROI. He is a companion to leaders at the top, who want to pick-up a shovel and start digging to discover their most untapped and impactful resource as a leader.

While living in Pittsburgh in the 90s, a friend suggested I connect with John when I moved to Chicago. John had been a senior human resources leader at Arthur Andersen but had left to pursue his dream of professional public speaking. He’s been at it ever since.

I did not initiate that connection. Frankly, I made a wrong assumption. I convinced myself that John was likely too busy to make time for me. Within a couple of years, another mutual friend made the introduction. John is a remarkably easy to know and likable human being who takes time for others. A great friend.

I’ve asked John some questions about his new book, ROI - Return on Integrity. Here is our conversation.

Q: John, I know integrity ranks high in your message of “core values.” Explain how you define integrity to leaders.

A: Many people are surprised when I say that “integrity” is not a core value – especially when it appears on the list of core values of many organizations. I define integrity as the fabric of every core value. Long ago, leadership author Warren Bennis described integrity as “doing what you say you will do.” In that sense it makes for quite a durable fabric if stated values are to become truly valuable.

Q: Your latest book, ROI, is a focus on integrity. Why does this seem to need such extensive treatment?

A: I was just talking to a reader this week, he said he thought he pretty much understood the topic of core values. Like most of us, he made an assumption. As he continued to read, he said it opened his eyes to a completely deeper understanding. Considering yourself “values-based” or having a “gut-feel” or “intuition” about your values probably would have worked 30 years ago. Today’s world of rapid speed and pace of change, calls for a much deeper understanding and clarity of your core values … both organizationally and individually.

Q: Several polls indicate terrible trust levels of politicians today. And big business often gets criticized for careless acts. Connect the dots on how integrity shapes our views.

A: We have certainly seen examples in every arena of life – government, corporations, sports, spiritual institutions and families. In almost every case you can find evidence of a drift. We need to be clear – all of us are vulnerable to drifting. There is a huge temptation to look out at greater society or leaders at the top of an organization and expend energy into our critique of such … yet, it’s far more valuable to take that same energy to dig deeper into our own experience of defining, refining, and living our own core values. It will definitely shape your views … and our compassion for others when they fail.

Q: What does a loss of integrity cost a leader or an enterprise?

A: Sometimes everything! Usually there is a lot of waste before getting to the point of it costing you everything. Without a day-to-day return on integrity, there is no long term return on investment. It’s an individual and organization’s most important asset. It is easy to lose integrity when you have never identified the core values that define it. It’s a devastating price for a leader to pay … and the shrapnel impact most often places a huge cost on the innocent people around them.

Q: I shared the article with you about the quote from Warren Buffett on integrity. Does he sum up the importance of this issue well?

A: I especially liked his comment “if you have someone who lacks integrity you want them to be dumb and lazy.” I would actually want them to begin to dig deep to find the values at their core. It is there that they will rediscover the integrity within and the desire to live it. It is a journey we all need to make to a much deeper level. I personally think we could all be a little smarter and work a little harder in understanding the value of core values … and the return they provide!

Proverbs 11:3 tells it like it is, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” NIV

Enough said.

Find ROI on Amazon or connect with John at Look for John’s other books as well.

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

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

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Well Insured Employee

In 1984, I left the relative safety of working at a radio station in order to launch a video/marketing firm. It was my vision that I sold with great enthusiasm to others. Several people invested in my plan and off we went.

I had a few employees, but I was, in the board of director’s eyes, the “key man.” And in one of our early board meetings it was brought up that the company needed to buy “key man” insurance should something happen to me. It’s not uncommon to do that. In a small business, this kind of policy is taken out on the person or persons whose absence would likely sink the company.

This makes sense, right?

Apparently, there is another life insurance program on employees gaining in popularity. But in this case, it is not focused on key man thinking. This program is finding a way to capitalize off the passing of an employee.

The story came to light in the recent New York Times article, “An Employee Dies, and the Company Collects the Insurance.” Employees at a southern California newspaper received emails indicating the company wished to purchase life insurance on them. The employer, The Orange County Register, would pay the premiums. And they would become beneficiaries!

I’d not heard of this. It’s reported, however, that this is “a common but little-known practice in corporate America.” From a company perspective, it does make sense!

Company held life insurance policies bring generous tax breaks. It’s one reason why hundreds of corporations do it. Banks in particular. The Times reports that “JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo hold billions of dollars of life insurance on their books, and count it as a measure of their ability to withstand financial shocks.”

Aside from tax breaks, companies believe this is shrewd financial management. Earnings are often used to cover the costs of long term health care and deferred compensation. Investment returns on the policies and the death benefits, once received, are also tax free!

The real payoff, however, may be in recouping pension expenses.Aaron Kushner is the CEO of Freedom Communications, the parent company of the Orange County newspaper. His spin on the legitimacy of these policies is very positive. “Life insurance is one of the ways of strengthening the long-term health of the pension plan and ensuring its ability to pay benefits,” claims Kushner. And what self respecting employee wants to see his or her pension go bust?

It’s noted that in many cases, companies can use the tax free gains for any purpose. There’s no restriction on this. You can see why companies are sold on the idea.

How big is this business? Here is what the Times reports: “Hundreds of billions of dollars of such policies are in place, providing companies with a steady stream of income as current and former employees die, even decades after they have retired or left the company. Aon Hewitt estimates that new policies worth at least $1 billion are being put in place annually, and that about one-third of the 1,000 largest companies in the country have such policies.”

So everyone wins, right? Of course not. Many skeptics feel the practice is somewhat immoral— profiting from the death of employees. Freedom Communications had to modify their plan and do a sales job to get employees on board.

There’s a particularly disturbing side to this for me. Many of these policies pay off years after an employee has left the company. You can see where tight financial conditions might make top executives “looking forward” to the days when these folks go to their eternal reward!

I’ve been told a similar situation happens in organizations that assist elderly people with estate planning. If said organizations benefit from the deaths of these seasoned citizens, well, you can see where human nature might take its course here. The longer one lives, the longer the wait for those resources.

Since this corporate life insurance program has been growing in popularity, so has the number of class action lawsuits. Walmart settled in one of those cases, “paying millions to low-ranking employees who had been covered.” Some companies, including Winn-Dixie and Camelot Music, went to court with the IRS nipping at their heels for “using policies as tax avoidance schemes.”

New laws have come into place regulating this activity. But even with the protection piece, there remains that uncomfortable idea of your employer profiting from your demise. No law resolves that.

Truth be told, many people die without personal life insurance! One estimate I saw claims around 6850 people die every day in our country. One chap did calculations showing that more than 1100 of those people who made between $50k and $250k died without life insurance. Zippo.

Why is this? It’s uncomfortable to make wills. Buy life insurance. Discuss burial and cremation. It makes us seem so…fragile.

The Bible says we ARE fragile! James 4:14 reads, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (NIV)

The best life assurance plan is the eternal one. John 3:16 states it clearly. God gave us His son. Whoever believes in him will have eternal life.

You invest the faith. God takes care of the rest. And you, my friend, are the beneficiary. It’s God’s “whole life plan.” Don’t ya love it?

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

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

Monday, May 2, 2016

Seasons of a Job (Encore)

*I’m traveling today. So I’m sharing a previous blog that you might find helpful. Most of my AM1160 friends have not seen this.

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 specific 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.

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