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Monday, November 28, 2016

To Identity … and Beyond!

It’s been three years since I completed my previous “assignment” at Moody Radio. I’ve now completed two and half years in my new talk role at AM1160. I’ve come to view my work life through the “assignment” paradigm after seeing a providential Hand guiding my days.

It happened when I was 40. My radio career took a departure when I became the Director of Operations at a trade show company in Sacramento. It was very stimulating work, often meeting with leaders in business and government.

One afternoon, as I was in the latter part of my work day, I glanced at my watch and thought to myself…“Okay. Just one more hour and it will be time to go home.” And then it struck me. My work had taken on a certain drudgery factor that I had never felt while in radio. It was a wake up call.

Several weeks later, I was in my car listening to a Christian song on my CD player. Certain lyrics generated a wave of emotion through my soul. It was as if a Higher Power was sending me a message. I was ready to listen.

It came out this way: “If I wanted you in full time ministry, you wouldn’t go.” This jolted my spirit. It was true. Even though I had lived my faith and served in various capacities, the idea of being given to a life of “ministry” was a point of resistance.

I determined then to resolve this with The One who seemed to have inscribed that message in my inner being. I yielded my work life with these words: “I will go anywhere…and do anything for the Kingdom of God. But if You want me somewhere else, You will have to get me there.”

At the time I had just completed year one of a three-year business agreement. It seemed like fulfilling that obligation was my only choice. But something changed.

About two weeks later, a long time friend who had become a station manager for Salem Media Group in Pittsburgh called. He needed a Christian talk show host. He wanted me to apply for the job—knowing my situation was quite good. He did not know of what happened in my car just weeks before.

I began discussions with Salem. Two months later, they offered me the job and I was faced with a dilemma. My agreement held me in place. Unless I was released from that agreement, I would stay in Sacramento.

Graciously, my employer understood my heart’s desire and he gave me that release. We moved to Pittsburgh. I served there for seven years, and my “assignment” ended. My wife and I then pursued some of our own business interests. About two months later I was contacted about a morning host job in Chicago on Moody Radio. There were three candidates. I was selected. I had my new “assignment.”

After 14 and a half years, that assignment ended. I had just turned 62 about a month before. Not a good time of life to be job searching. But opportunities were standing by. And I committed myself to walk the path believing there was another assignment waiting.

It came a few months later. I returned to work with Salem Media Group as an afternoon talk host in Chicago. It’s been 2 and half years of doing what I love most—being on air!

When my job at Moody Radio ended, my blog that week was titled, “Radio is not my identity.” And it’s not. A person’s work should not be allowed to define their value or worth. It’s not good for the soul to allow this to happen. I have other skills and I’ve done other jobs successfully. But they do not define my identity either. My worth is determined by the One who created me. He determines who I really am.

I found two other examples of people who share this view.

J.J. Jansen is a former Notre Dame player now with the Carolina Panthers. He keeps it all in perspective. Before the 2016 Super Bowl, he shared this: “One of the interesting things is this has really been a year where God has been teaching me a lot about my identity as a son of God and a child of God. And all of a sudden you’re thrust into this moment where everyone wants to put you on a pedestal. So it’s really cool that in a year where I felt like God was really taking me through what identity means that suddenly you’re now in a moment where you can easily lose a sense of where you are.”

Likewise a book by professional athlete Tim Tebow titled Shaken was recently released. Tim said, “The reason I titled it Shaken was because in life you’re going to have highs and lows. There are going to be great times, and there are going be tough times.” He noted his life has certainly had both.

Then he added, “I’m so thankful because of my relationship with Jesus Christ and being adopted in the family of God that I don’t have to live the highs and the lows and the roller coaster that the rest of the world lives, because I know where my identity lies. My identity lies as a child of God, and that’s something that will never be shaken.”

Way to go, Tim! He’s out there sharing that message.

Our identity is what we are really about. As spiritual beings, we should embrace personhood as defined by God. In 1 John 4, verses 9-11 we read, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.” (NLT)

Now THAT is a great life calling! Now, back to my “assignment.”

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, November 21, 2016

Hopeful Transition

The transition of a government with a new president is a remarkable process to watch. This past weekend, President-elect Trump slipped away to one of his several retreat locations to interview more candidates for jobs. The previous week those interviews were done in Trump Tower in New York.

Obviously, the ability to find the right people for the right job is the challenge. As president, you get to choose them. But they also have to want to work for you. The success of his presidency will be measured by the effectiveness of his team to fulfill the Trump agenda.

Over the weekend, Mr. Trump met with Mitt Romney. As a former governor and presidential candidate himself, I’m sure he had much to offer. In preparing for his possible presidency four years ago, Mr. Romney created the Romney Readiness Project. Many people think that plan was one of the best-run transition efforts even though it went unused.

So how big is the task at hand to transition a government? The New York Times described it this way: “Mr. Trump…is under immense pressure to find 4,100 qualified people to lead it. In an ideal scenario, his White House staff should be in place, and the 100 highest-ranking government agency officials—the cabinet, plus a range of defense, homeland security, disaster and pandemic response officials—should be ready to start work the moment Mr. Trump puts his hand on the Bible, to guard the nation from vulnerability during the transfer of power. That means their vetting and security clearances should be done and the nominees lined up for Senate confirmation.” Talk about a start up challenge!

Stanford University’s Public Policy Program has developed a thesis on what makes a successful president. The overview claims that the paper offers “three systematic and rigorous dimensions” for measurement. External factors are considered. What challenges does a president face when he comes into office and how did he handle these situations? How did the public perceive his abilities as rated in opinion polls during his or her time in office? And this would be critical: what kind of legislative success did the president achieve in implementing campaign promises?

Let’s face it. The Donald is starting with a real challenge in public perception. It is a problem aided by relentless pounding of various media that didn’t like him from the start. So as for poll results, it will take some truly measurable success to move the needle upward.

Steve Tobak is a management consultant and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur. Just over a year ago on the website he shared “11 Qualities Our Next President Must Have.” In quick form, his list included:

  • Serious leadership chops. The ability to bring other leaders together.
  • Serious management chops. Basically, financial and organizational knowledge.
  • Goal- and achievement-oriented. Leaders set aggressive goals and achieve them.
  • Real life experience...outside of politics. Not Beltway life experience.
  • Advocate for meritocracy, not bureaucracy. Avoid unholy alliances that lead to unethical behavior. 
  • Master negotiator. Don’t be giving away what we don’t have or should not yield.
  • Plain spoken and direct. Call things as they are.
  • Competitive spirit and driven to win. A competitive world requires a competitive mindset.
  • In it for the long term. Govern for the future of our country, not simply your constituencies.
  • Makes the right calls. Take risks. Be decisive...but get it right. (Sounds easy.)
  • Holds himself and others accountable. Integrity up and down is part of the package for leaders.

While all of those personal skills and character traits are valuable, I would add to this list. And what I would add feeds off a premise that departs from hardcore business. It’s the human side of the equation.

Government leadership requires people skills to build consensus. The ability to lead with both a firm hand and an understanding heart will go a long way to both healing our country and building key international alliances. No doubt President-elect Trump has been told this. It isn’t like running your own show as many CEOs are prone to do. Learning to yield on non-essentials is vital.

Those people skills require discernment. The mere size of government activity requires good counselors. Some of those should be held in a much tighter inner circle than others.

We often describe our president as the “leader of the free world.” To that end, he or she should clearly understand and appreciate American exceptionalism. In 2012, the Republican platform included seven sections around this idea. The party proclaimed its embrace for “American exceptionalism—the conviction that our country holds a unique place in human history.”

Donald Trump was questioned about being an advocate for this in 2015. He said “it is not a nice term.” It also appeared he didn’t understand it. Perhaps he will come to understand it.

Finally, the president should learn to be a champion of hope. The biblical prophet Jeremiah was used by God for that purpose. His hope message was to carry God’s people through the time of the Babylonian captivity and beyond. Jeremiah explained how God would bring a remnant back to Judah to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. He used these words, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)

God has not assured us as a nation of the same promise. But leaders who turn to Him for guidance and wisdom can expect to be heard by the Sovereign. And a country that seeks His ways can expect God’s blessings. And hope will arise!

Too bad they don’t teach that in our top management schools.

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, November 14, 2016

Imitation Franchise

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” So says the famed expression best traced back to the early 19th century. Some paraphrased versions of that thought go back years before that.

A biography of Marcus Aurelius titled Emperor Marcus Antoninus: His Conversation with Himself from 1708 reads, “You should consider that Imitation is the most acceptable part of Worship, and that the Gods had much rather Mankind should Resemble, than Flatter them.” English writer Eustace Budgell in the newspaper was quoted in 1714 as saying, “Imitation is a kind of artless Flattery.”

No matter. You get the point. Is it really that way in business—repackaging someone else’s profitable product or service as your own—or it it ripping off someone else’s success? It poses an interesting question.

One of the latest examples of how this is being played out in the fast food marketplace is with a new company called Tasty Made. Business Insider reporter Kate Taylor writes about the first of these new burger joints that opened recently in Lancaster, Ohio.

Chipotle is behind the newly developed chain concept, which looks suspiciously (or otherwise) like two other well known burger places. Thus, the article title: “People are Saying Chipotle's New Burger Joint is a Rip-Off of In-N-Out and Five Guys.” One Yelp review said “Everything from the menu to the color palette and decor screams imitation” of these two successful businesses.

But what do customers say about the actual food? Early reviews are very mixed. Wrote the one 5-star satisfied customer on Yelp “My burger was as close to In-N-Out as you can get without becoming embroiled in some kind of litigation over taste and presentation. It is comforting to know that I don't have to hop a nonstop to LA to get an In-N-Out fix whenever I feel the urge.”

But check out this very biting Yelp critic, who said: “Dear Chipotle, you poisoned me twice with your burritos. I forgave you. But for you to take clothes from In-And-Out and resell Wendy’s cheeseburgers for 3x the price...well, I have to wonder: Don't you guys care about your fellow man anymore?”

Oooh, doggies. It must have been the election season that flavors such rhetoric. So let’s just say that the jury is still out.

I remember the first time we walked into a Sam’s Club. It appeared remarkably like a place we previously shopped known first as Price Club, now Costco. A chap by the name of Sol Price and his son, Robert, founded Price Club in 1976. Costco opened in 1983;  Sam’s Club also arrived in 1983, looking strikingly similar in many ways. Ripoff? Some might think so. But let’s face it…dozens of franchised businesses are built on the very successful organizational strategies of predecessors.

The smartphone and tablet market is another classic example of “technology ripoffs.” Apple employees went nearly into shock upon seeing early announcements of Samsung’s first smartphone. Steve Jobs took the seething a bit higher, saying ”I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this.” The late CEO, of course, has not destroyed Android.

When does “imitation” become useful and legitimate? Well, since “there are no new ideas under the sun” (supposedly), then obviously we are always building off the success of others. And the line between what’s legal and what isn’t is well beyond what we can cover here.

There are, of course, significant legal cases for thievery in the marketplace. That is why we have copyright and trademark laws. It is also why we have music licensing protection. Stealing intellectual property winds up in litigation as well.

Writing on the “imitation theme,” business blogger Sarah Pavey considers how this plays out positively in the business world. “Imagine a person joining a new team or organization. She’ll copy what her mentor says and does, at least at first…and her mentor will be happy for her to do this,” she writes. And adds, “Encourage it, even. On the flipside, though, she’ll also be expected to come up with innovative new ideas, develop effective processes, and show that she can think for herself. So, innovation is important…but so is imitation, when it’s encouraged.”

The lawful and not-so-lawful taking of ideas and material happens in the church as well. Successful churches begat others modeling their style and techniques. Pastors may try to model their ministry after their faith heroes. And then there are the very legal services like Sermon Search and worship resources where you pay to use others creativity.

For a season in time, evangelism was shaped by look-a-likes. There were tracts titled The Four Spiritual Laws, Do You Know the Steps to Peace with God and The ABC’s of Salvation, among others. All essentially had the same message.

We may be able to effectively crank out doubles in mass producing products. And formula training for customer service and sales can be useful. Deeply embedded lifestyle influence, however, needs more.

This is why authentic friendships take time. Learning to truly love another person cannot be reduced to a few steps. Helping humans change their behavior takes real insight and counsel.

The Master teacher from Nazareth—Jesus—keenly knew this. He chose a small group of people to influence. Those disciples, in turn, took the message and spread it to the world. It thrives still today. The instructions to those disciples remain intact today: “So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19, NCV)

There is no franchise of the faith. Just one beggar helping another beggar find bread.

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, November 7, 2016

My Kind of President

Tomorrow is election day. We have a unique privilege. Within most organizations—business and otherwise—you don’t get to vote on your leadership. At least the employees are not choosing the top brass.

In elections, however, voters actually choose who will be the next “leader of the free world.” It may seem like a dream job for those who aspire to take it. Once the weight of the position takes hold, the heavy burdens of leading a divided land and worldly unrest begin to take their toll.

I don’t recall this, but apparently Al Gore commented while campaigning in 2000 that running for the presidency was like interviewing for a job. Dr. Jim Thrasher, coordinator of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, ponders that in saying, “Suppose our current candidates were put through their paces in an extensive job interview conducted by corporate America. How would they do?”

That caused me to think about how this election would have been different if we had an executive search firm involved. Executive search firms specialize in recruitment services to find top-level candidates for senior, executive, or other highly specialized positions for clients. They conduct detailed interviews and then selectively present candidates to their clients.

In our local church’s current search for a new pastor, we have now employed a retired pastor in this role. He’s doing the interviews and the screening of candidates. You don’t get past him if you want the job.

And make no mistake on this, a pastor has to understand and be effective at leadership. Think about it. As one fellow noted, church leaders do not have the authority of military leaders. There are no “financial incentives” of the corporate world. Most of the workforce they lead are volunteers! And one thing is for sure, that pastor or paid church leader better show up as a person of character.

Dr. Thrasher, in his recent posting titled, “Donald or Hillary: You're Hired?” explains how it works with job recruiters that come to his campus. He notes, “These recruiters try to discern the vocational calling of the interviewees by comparing the aptitude and characteristics of each candidate with the core competencies and qualities which that company needs in a successful employee. The qualities that companies look for in potential employees are the same foundational ones that voters should look for in presidential candidates.” Interesting.

And what exactly are the most significant qualities? Dr Thrasher lists the 12 “must-have” character traits of deserving job candidates.

  1.  Strong moral character and integrity
  2.  Leadership by example
  3.  Trustworthiness
  4.  Committed work ethic
  5.  Articulate communication skills
  6.  Humility and accountability
  7.  Truthfulness
  8.  Teachable spirit
  9.  Willingness to learn
  10.  Relational
  11.  Courage to do the right thing
  12.  Self-control and self-discipline 

He challenges us by asking, “Isn’t it reasonable that our presidential candidates likewise should be expected to possess (these qualifications)?” Good readers will have been processing this list with our two currently leading presidential candidates in mind. How did they fare in your mind?

One of the most significant challenges of an American leader is maintaining our position of strength in the world. This is often captured in the phrase “peace through strength.” It is said that the Roman Emperor Hadrian (AD 76-138) was quoted saying it this way, “peace through strength or, failing that, peace through threat.” He does have a point.

The Bible says it somewhat differently. Proverbs 14:28 reads, “Rulers of powerful nations are held in honor; rulers of weak nations are nothing at all.”(CEV) Keeping our people safe is one of the most legitimate assignments of our government. My kind of president understands that.

A healthy minded leader of the free world also quickly realizes he is overmatched to solve all problems. He needs excellent team members, wise and discerning for good counsel. Proverbs 15:22 claims, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (NIV) My kind of president only brings in counselors who have a passion for integrity.

The Message, a Bible paraphrase, points out two more very significant mindset models for leaders. First, from Proverbs 16:10: “A good leader motivates, doesn’t mislead, doesn’t exploit.” Two verses later, we find “Good leaders abhor wrongdoing of all kinds; sound leadership has a moral foundation.” (Proverbs 16:12, MSG) My kind of president isn’t a manipulator. There is a sense of straight forward communication at all times. And that moral foundation is a must.

Evil will always be seeking a way to rob our nation of health. Being firm with lawbreakers is a biblical premise. “A wise king sorts out the evil people, and he punishes them as they deserve.” (Proverbs 20:26, NCV) My kind of president wants righteousness to prevail.

Finally, any good leader needs encouragement. He or she must find the words that most nurture the spirit. It is in these quiet times that hope is regenerated. My kind of president knows where to find those words. A good place to turn would be the Psalms, many of which were written by Israel’s King David who saw many a difficult day.

It is King David who reminds us still today,
“The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living.
Reverence for the Lord is pure, lasting forever.
The laws of the Lord are true; each one is fair.
They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb.
They are a warning to your servant, a great reward for those who obey them. 
 (Psalm 19:7-11, NLT)

King David put aside the love of power for the love of the All Powerful.
That’s my kind of president. Where is that person?

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.