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Monday, September 26, 2016

The Souls Sully Couldn’t Save

The movie Sully, starring Tom Hanks, just completed its third weekend in theaters. My wife would not go see it. She’s uncomfortable with flying in the first place. But I went and found the film very inspiring.

A few days later, I could not help but think of a bit of irony in the timing of the release of that film. And it wasn’t because of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The September 9th release date was twenty-two years and one day after another US Airways incident. That one did not end well.

I was driving home from my talk show in Pittsburgh on that September evening in 1994. Conditions were warm, mostly sunny, and relatively still. On the radio I was hearing about an airline disaster just a few miles away.

Two years ago, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette took readers through the incident and the subsequent forming of an organization by the families of the survivors. It’s painful to read of how difficult it was to get accurate information about what happened. And for family members to recover their loved ones’ personal effects. (

Here’s a brief retelling of that September tragedy from the article:

“On a beautifully clear and warm evening in Western Pennsylvania, USAir Flight 427 began its approach to Pittsburgh International Airport. The Boeing 737, carrying 127 passengers and a crew of five, was making a routine trip from Chicago and was due to land in Pittsburgh around 7:15 p.m. It never got there.

At about 7 p.m., First Officer Charles Emmett and Capt. Peter Germano chatted in the cockpit about the bright sun they’d have to deal with and grumbled about the heavy air traffic around Pittsburgh International that invariably caused delays.

The banter gave way quickly to exclamations of surprise and then horror, as their jetliner suddenly and inexplicably yawed to the left, rolled over and began to spiral downward. In 23 terrifying seconds, the 737 plummeted 6,000 feet and struck the ground at 300 mph into a ravine near the Green Garden Plaza in Hopewell, a few miles away from the airport.

The plane disintegrated on impact. In a flash, 132 lives were snuffed out.”

It was a bizarre incident since it appeared like the plane simply fell out of the sky. It didn’t, but it would take over four years to determine it was a rudder based problem. Initially, Boeing denied this. Later, they did retro work on 737 rudders and earlier complaints on these issues went away.

It’s still haunting to read this news account of USAir Flight 427. I had a few friends who actually worked the crash site. People had to go in shifts as they could hardly handle the experience.

Yes, those lives were “snuffed out.” But what happened to their souls? More on that in a moment.

I guess it’s why I was so inspired by the movie Sully. Seeing the actual faces during the movie credits of the people who appreciated the life-saving skill of their captain was touching. They were all so grateful—as they should be!

Journalist Katie Couric and others have questioned Captain Sullenberger about whether he prayed during this crisis. Apparently, he did not. Instead, he claimed he left that to others on board. I’m sure many prayers were uttered by passengers.

In the news reports about “The Miracle on the Hudson,” it was said more than once that “Captain Sullenberger saved all 155 souls on board.” In reality, Captain Sullenberger only saved the earthly lives of the 155 on board. Sully has no say over what happens to the souls of those people for eternity.

This, of course, makes me wonder how many on that plane have considered their fate in light of their proximity to eternity? It was closer than perhaps any had experienced before. All on board Flight 1549 relied on one man to land them safely back to the ground—or water in this case.

Similarly, our passage to our safe eternity rests squarely with one man—Jesus of Nazareth. The Messiah. In a conversation with Martha, a devoted follower, Jesus told her plainly, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.” (John 11:25, NLT)

People aboard the doomed USAir Flight 427 had only moments to make that final decision on the promise of Jesus. Passengers on US Airways Flight 1549 have been given a reprieve to make that decision. But make it they must. As we all must do.

A song performed by Christian recording artist Steve Green titled, As We Sail to Heaven’s Shore, found connection in a memorial service of one of the victims of the downed Pittsburgh flight. A portion of those lyrics go…

Lord, we trust Your Father's care
Will convey us safely there
Open or seal off every door
As we sail to heaven's shore.

May God put the winds of grace and mercy behind you as you sail toward eternity.

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, September 19, 2016

Pressure Cooker Banking

Many people are familiar with the story of the exodus from Egypt. Even if people doubt some of the miraculous activity involved, they are aware that intolerable conditions for the Israelites set the stage for the mass departure from Pharaoh. The Egyptian leader was not keen on letting his slave workforce go, for obvious reasons.

But to set the stage properly, we find Moses and his brother Aaron in front of Pharaoh requesting permission for the Israelites to go into the desert to worship their God. Apparently, this really ticked off the Egyptian leader. In Exodus Chapter 5, we read this account:

“But the king of Egypt said, ‘Why on earth, Moses and Aaron, would you suggest the people be given a holiday? Back to work!’ Pharaoh went on, ‘Look, I’ve got all these people bumming around, and now you want to reward them with time off?’

Pharaoh took immediate action. He sent down orders to the slave-drivers and their underlings: ‘Don’t provide straw for the people for making bricks as you have been doing. Make them get their own straw. And make them produce the same number of bricks—no reduction in their daily quotas! They’re getting lazy.’” (Exodus 5:4-8, MSG)

And that leads me to the recent stories surrounding the departure of some 5,300 Wells Fargo employees involved in a nasty case of unlawful banking. Along with the terminations, the bank also agreed to pay $185 million in fines and refund $5 million to customers.

But the bank’s problems may just be beginning. The Department of Justice has opened an investigation, issuing subpoenas to the bank. Add to that the first lawsuit by Well Fargo customers now filed following revelations that the bank collected fees for millions of unauthorized accounts. The charges filed in court last Friday include invasion of privacy, fraud, negligence, and breach of contract. Plaintiffs are reportedly asking to be compensated for damages related to identity theft, anxiety and emotional distress, and legal fees.

Now that you know the pending punishment, let’s go back over the crime. While the recent firings created a national stir, we could see this coming from a story in the LA Times in December of 2013. I’ll do my best to summarize and share a few excerpts.

Wells Fargo was bold in sharing their “prowess in cross-selling” various financial products. These included fee generating services such as checking and savings accounts, credit cards, mortgages, and services under “wealth management.” The more services a customer has with a bank, the greater the loyalty trend.

According to the LA Times report, “The relentless pressure to sell has battered employee morale and led to ethical breaches, customer complaints, and labor lawsuits.” Again, this report is from 2013.

It became so intense that hourly conferences were mandatory in some Florida branches. The branch managers had to report on quotas for opening accounts and selling customer “extras.” Lagging performers had to stay late or work weekends.

Here’s a bit more on the graphic ways employees went beyond the boundaries.“To meet quotas, employees have opened unneeded accounts for customers, ordered credit cards without customers’ permission, and forged client signatures on paperwork. Some employees begged family members to open ghost accounts.”

A former Wells Fargo personal banker, Erick Estrada, gave his own dramatic examples of the actions taken because of sales pressure. “Employees opened duplicate accounts, sometimes without customers’ knowledge,” he said. “Workers also used a bank database to identify customers who had been pre-approved for credit cards—then ordered the plastic without asking them,” Estrada said. He admitted to opening unneeded accounts, though never without a customer’s knowledge.

What happened when customers complained about these unwanted cards? It was blamed on a computer glitch. Or maybe someone with a similar name had requested the card.

A former branch manager in the Pacific Northwest talked a homeless woman into opening six different accounts with fees amounting to $39 a month. One former Minnesota based bank employee talked about an environment that was “cutthroat.” Employees feared for their jobs and the result was “bad ethical choices.”

The New York Times pointed out interesting facts about the firings. The 5,300 who left were employees and managers—but NOT the executive in charge. She’s retiring, “taking with her millions in stock and options.” And her boss called her a “role model for responsible leadership” and “a standard-bearer of our culture.”

Every day, there must be a few million men and women who are employed in sales. There is a way to make this a winning environment, meeting customers’ needs and wants with people who present well and are not manipulative. I’ve seen it done. I’ve encouraged it in situations where I had influence.

To send people home each night in fear and hating their jobs is wrong. It’s abusive. And in the end, a lot of these poor souls lost their jobs anyway.

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote about abusive employers saying, “All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You’ve looted the earth and lived it up. But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse.” (James 5:4-5, MSG)

When it’s all said and done, a bunch of Wells Fargo employees may want to take the next stage out of town. Maybe it’s already happening.

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, September 12, 2016

What So Proudly We [Once] Hailed

Okay. Colin Kaepernick interrupted the work flow in several places this past week. He earned himself the topic of conversation on talk shows and office spaces. He had some fans. He made some enemies. When you decide to take a stand, you pay.

As it turns out, the anniversary of 9/11 became a call to something bigger than Kaepernick to remind us of how unity is supposed to work. And patriotism. The Seattle Seahawks made their show of it — all players standing during the National Anthem and locked arm in arm. The way the brotherhood of man should work together.

Colin Kaepernick has left his calling card as a rebel. He may find himself a rebel without a true cause. The majority of Americans are not looking for a football QB to diss our national anthem as a way to protest. Regardless of the meaning behind his protest. He became instead a major distraction to the game of football and to the work for which he is paid.

This is an odd workplace issue for me to discuss. But it is a workplace issue nonetheless, as I will explain.

But first, let me share of few of my personal convictions about what’s wrong in America. First, I am totally convinced that the so-called medical “procedure” of abortion is nothing short of the taking of human life. Yet the running calculator of how many babies have died in this cruel manner indicates that already more than 750,000 babies’ lives have been taken in our nation so far this year.

While protestors wish to speak to the ongoing social ill of racism, Mr. Kaperneick and those who support his protest offer no public resistance to the ongoing killing of innocent, sweet little babies. And there is a great irony here in how abortion plays out regarding African Americans.

The informative website provides great insight. “Minority women constitute only about 13% of the female population (age 15-44) in the United States, but they underwent approximately 36% of the abortions. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, black women are more than five times as likely as white women to have an abortion On average, 1876 black babies are aborted every day in the United States.”

Erma Clardy Craven, now deceased, was a social worker and civil rights leader. She once observed, “Several years ago, when 17,000 aborted babies were found in a dumpster outside a pathology laboratory in Los Angeles, California, some 12-15,000 were observed to be black.” Hispanics also face a high rate of abortion. This is a blight on America and on our world.

How absolutely contrary to American values of freedom and rights can you get than to deprive the unborn a voice … or life?

A second example of the embarrassing injustice in our country is the plight of women who face sexual harassment. Gretchen Carlson, former Fox News personality, was just awarded $20 million in a lawsuit against her former employer—specifically Roger Ailes. Now a number of women have come forward with similar allegations against the man.

But wait…one of America’s best loved comedians, Bill Cosby, is facing felony charges of aggravated indecent assault by three women, and many more complaints as well. Hollywood is filled with starlet hopefuls who succumb to the sexual whims of power brokers in order to get roles in television and movies. Our former chief statesman, William Jefferson Clinton, left a terrible legacy of sexual harassment. How do we have national pride in light of this?

Thirdly, then there’s the murderous city of Chicago. Chicago. Black on black crime that exceeds our moral rationality as we watch even children get caught in the crossfire of gang warfare. Come help us fight that, Colin!

Each of the examples I shared are things that make me embarrassed about life in our nation. They feed anger because of our corporate insensitivities. They deserve the response of many voices of concern. Just like racism.

My causes do not give me privilege to negatively impact my employer. Or I pay the consequences. If I’m embarrassed by our nation, then I should step forward and speak in the arenas where my personal life can be a witness. But I will not lessen the sacrifice made by so many in our nation’s history by refusing to stand with pride for our national anthem. It diminishes the great things that our country has done and is doing.

Moreover, I believe any employer has the right to set reasonable boundaries to show respect for our national emblems and the anthem of our freedom. Celebrity status does not give special privilege to ignore a proper form of patriotic courtesy. Keep your protests out of the workplace. You have every right as an American to use your voice and influence to help fix a problem. Don’t create another one.

The NFL stands as a model in many ways for demonstrating how people of different races and backgrounds can play together on the same team. Professional sports has opened the door wide for people of color to succeed greatly. Many former athletes are featured in our halls of fame. Our sports television shows include many people of color as well. Opportunity exists in this nation like never before for people of all backgrounds.

For Colin Kaepernick, who was raised with an understanding of the Christian faith, he should know this world is fallen and always will be. Until…the return of Jesus and a new Kingdom is established. In the book of Revelation, we get a glimpse of what’s to come:

“I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: ‘Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.’” (Revelation 21:1-4, MSG)

No more tears. No more death. No more pain. No more racism. Just the celebration of a perfected new world every day by people of every color.

That’s our God. And the future for those who believe. Let the Kingdom anthem be raised!

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, September 5, 2016

Well Tuned Work

Today’s Labor Day blog features an interview with my friend Jeff Carroll. In general, Jeff defines himself as a Career Strategist, speaker, and radio host. Recently, he became Vice President, Client Partnerships, at Success Wise Consulting. Previously, he served as the Director of Leadership Development in the College of Business at Northern Illinois University.

A few years back, Jeff hosted a very creative talk radio program built around hit music that featured work themes in some fashion. Today’s conversation focuses on that interesting radio concept.

Mark Elfstrand: Jeff, explain how you developed a radio program around popular music and work?

Jeff: The original idea was “hatched” when I was in transition in 2002. I was sitting in a conference room meeting with a good friend who was also in a job search and I said, “If we rocked n' rolled through adolescence let’s rock ‘n roll through middlescence”! That began my journey of taking rock music/lyrics and coming up with career principles that could help people rethink their careers for the 21st century. Specifically, I went back through the 25-30 books I read on careers and took the best of the best and created a 5-Stop Career Transformation Model. Once I developed the model, I aligned music/lyrics from Tom Petty, Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, and other rock artists with each of the “stops” in the model. For example, the first stop is called “Get Real” and I choose Tom Petty's song called Runnin' Down a Dream because of the chorus. . .runnin' down a dream, that never would come to me, working on a mystery, going wherever it leads.

ME: What were some of the songs you used and what was the significance of the message in these?

Jeff: A partial list would include…

Already Gone, Eagles
Land of Hope and Dreams, Bruce Springsteen
Refugee, Tom Petty
Runnin' On Empty, Jackson Browne
Peace of Mind, Boston

Contained in each of these songs are lyrics that provide a relevant career principle that can help people think differently about their careers and help them better navigate this uncertain and chaotic marketplace.

ME: What is your thinking on whether music reflects our attitudes about work or whether music influences those attitudes?

Jeff: I think it’s both. No doubt all these songs were written out of personal experiences and therefore reflect a certain view of life. On the other side, music lyrics can definitely influence our attitudes toward many aspects of life. . .relationships, work, innovation, commitment, feelings of doubt, love, and courage.

ME: Have you seen any shifting in the mindset about work between older workers and millennials? If so, what’s different?

Jeff: No doubt, the millennials are bringing a very different view of work to the marketplace. Probably the most popular seminar in corporate America today is called Managing Across Generations in the Workplace. I think this reflects the need for each generation to try to understand each other’s needs and perspectives. The phrases I used to best reflect the difference between the boomers and the millennials asks the question, “Are you working to live or living to work?” In addition, the millennials are really attracted to work or companies that they perceive to have meaning, purpose, and significance, as well as aligned with their value system.

ME: Do you have any plans to develop more radio themes in the future?

Jeff: Absolutely. As I become aware of more songs that people recommend, I continue to write articles, develop content, and create new radio themes. Although, I must confess that classic rock provides a limitless supply of themes that resonate with most of the listeners.

Thanks, Jeff!

The Biblical book of Psalms were actually written as songs. Here’s one work lyric to remember… “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90:17, NIV)

Nice. A work lyric featuring the Rock of Ages.

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. 

PS: Jeff Carroll has had some discussions about reviving a radio show. I’ll let you know if that happens.