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Monday, December 25, 2017

The Grinch Who Restored Christmas

Today, of course, is Christmas. It is the well established Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Many are surprised to learn that the earliest converts to the faith did not have a Christmas celebration. The earliest that we can trace the beginnings of celebrations around the birth of Christ is around 300 AD. A "feast calendar” dated 243 AD indicated that there were some celebrations in the third century and perhaps in the second century.

The actual date of Jesus' birth was certainly not December 25th. With shepherds in their fields watching their flocks by night, it’s more likely that Jesus' earthly arrival was in the fall. We definitely do not have a specific day to which we can point.

While various Protestant groups adapted the Christmas celebrations from their Catholic friends, it certainly wasn’t unanimous. The Puritans, who made their home in Massachusetts, had a law in colonial times against celebrating Christmas. There is another whole set of unusual stories about how various traditions were derived.

Today, the season we call Christmas in America and in other parts of the world has seen the emergence of another figure. He is likely as well known as the Christ child. He’s most often called Santa Claus.

Oddly, the character of Santa has some connection to the Christ child. Again, there are ample resources on the person of St. Nicholas—Sinterklaas as he became known in Dutch lore. We don’t really know much about the real St. Nicholas. It’s believed he was a bishop in Turkey; a generous and kind man who loved God.

The myths surrounding Sinterklaas and St. Nicholas have those figures traveling via a noble, white steed. The early 1800s in America brought a new myth: a Santa that traveled the world on Christmas Eve delivering gifts in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. History records author Washington Irving referring to St. Nicholas as "— riding over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children.” This can be dated to 1812.

Just nine years later, reindeer show up with Santa in a sixteen page booklet titled A New Year's Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve Number III: The Children's Friend, by an anonymous author. And in 1823, the Troy Sentinel published the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas," commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas." Now the reindeer had names.

But Houston, we have a problem. One recent survey revealed that about 20 percent of Britons do not know that Christmas Day is a celebration of Jesus' birth. Almost one in 20 (5 percent) thought the Savior of the world was born over Easter. This information was revealed in a History Channel and survey.

Pew Research adds more disappointing news. Their recent survey found that while most Americans believe Jesus was born of a virgin, that number seems to steadily decline. And especially among millennials. Furthermore, the number of people who see Christmas as a religious holiday is also weak. Just 55% of those polled see it that way.

Bottom line, what had roots as a holiday given to celebrate the birth of Jesus has given way to a fictional hero named Santa. His storyline has increasing presence. (No pun intended.) And Santa has capitalized! Many mall Santas charge a good fee just to sit on the old man’s lap for a photo! Sheesh!

By and large, people who call themselves Christ followers have bought into this game. We hang stockings. We sign gifts from “Santa.” We take our kids to malls or places where faux Santas hang out. We sing the same inane Santa songs.

It makes me wonder. What if people of faith removed all the Santa related products, stories, and gimmicks from our Christmas celebrations. Would it not feel like a true Christmas? Can we survive without watching Elf during the season?

One thing is sure. Fictional Santa has changed over the years. He’s not the same. And his theology is bad. Keeping track of who is good and who is not for rewards.

I’m sticking with the real Jesus for Christmas. His message true. Timeless. Eternal. And consistent.

As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8, NKJV)

Merry Christmas!

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.

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Canning at Christmas

The Urban Dictionary explains that the term “can,” as it relates to a job, means you’ve been fired. When someone says, “I’ve been 'canned',” quite often the employee is claiming that the treatment was unfair or unnecessary. Imagine the reaction when that notice comes at Christmas!

Several articles have been written about whether it’s a wise move to terminate before the holidays. There is no common agreement. Except to advise that it be done as “humanely” as possible.

Last year, Inc Magazine posed the question in the article, "Is It OK to Fire Someone Close to Christmas?" A reader had submitted a real life scenario. An employee who had a record of poor performance issues was on the chopping block several times. Only to be rescued by a soft manager. More recently, that employee made a significant mistake that appeared to result in a lost client. And it happened close to Christmas. Thus the question about when to terminate.

The decision maker raised a valid concern for anyone in this situation. What impact does a pre-Christmas termination (or series of them) have on company morale? And how much of a factor is this? Looming above that question is what possible further damage could result in waiting?

The response offered was wise. If the risk of keeping that employee on past Christmas is too great, be generous with severance. It’s a necessary tradeoff.

The better solution was to wait. Perception matters. Companies can hardly expect to be considered a “great place to work” while showing no compassion. And that morale issue with other team members could impact performance.

An interesting legal concern was presented in delaying the decision. “Imagine if you'd put it off and then he happened to file a claim for medical leave or a disability accommodation (unrelated to the performance issues) just as you were about to act. You could still proceed, of course, but now you'd have a sticky legal minefield to navigate, and your risk factor would go way up.”

Another article on this topic surfaced in recently. This one dealt with "How to Make Firing Someone During the Holidays Less Horrible." I like it when someone offers “best practices” for firing at Christmas. Okay, I don’t.

There was good thinking presented, however. Here are some of the pointers. First, avoid surprises when possible. Often layoffs around Christmas happen for tax reasons. Alert employees well in advance that layoffs are likely by the end of the year if that’s going to be necessary.

Preparing for a meeting with the soon-to-be-terminated person is important. Think of what they will feel, what next steps they must take, and what you can do to offset the pain. Have options available.

A couple of other suggestions include that since bad news is still bad news, keep the meeting short. And don’t say things like, “This isn’t about you. We all love you.” Again, future potential legal problems could result.

One vital piece of advice was to be compassionate. People can respond to such a hurtful notice with anger and say or do things out of that frustration. Show grace in the way you respond.

Finally, remember that the remaining team members need attention. They will talk. An environment of fear leads to an unhealthy workplace. Reinforce their value and the importance of pulling together in a difficult time. It won’t solve the issue completely, but it reveals your leadership skill in helping people move forward.

Here is a proverb to remember in handling a termination: “A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up.” (Proverbs 15:1, CEV)

My personal conclusion on whether or not to fire during the holidays is this: in the long run, it probably doesn’t matter. What ALWAYS matters, is how you treat people who are hurting. Help them as best as you can.

It’s God who has His eye on managers who are naughty…or nice.

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.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

It’s a Blue Christmas Without Hope

When you hear those words “blue Christmas,” what comes to mind? Let me guess: Elvis. His classic recording of the song by that title continues to make the holiday season playlists.

What might not be so familiar, is that the term "blue Christmas" has some history in the western Christian tradition. It is worth noting that Blue Christmas is also referred to as the Longest Night. Of course, this usually would fall on or about December 21st, the winter solstice. On that day, churches may decide to hold a service to pay tribute to their loved ones who have passed on earlier in the year. Others hold a service of worship on the longest night of the year. (In my Christian life experience, I’ve not participated in either of these kinds of events.)

I am aware that when anyone is experiencing a loss during the “most wonderful time of the year,” life gets complicated. A recent news story is worth mentioning in this regard.

It involves the tragic suicide of the CEO of a company named Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill on December 2nd. Lowell Hawthorne, a Jamaican immigrant, fatally shot himself after a meeting with two employees. He had run a successful enterprise that began in 1989. Lowell had even been featured in an episode of “Undercover Boss.”

What surprised many in his drastic action was that Hawthorne was a man of faith. In fact, he had recently made a public statement thanking God for his success. His book, The Baker’s Son: My Life in Business, which was published in 2012, made a number of reference about his faith in God. So what drove Lowell Hawthorne to the point of final desperation? A looming tax probe. The feds had been investigating him for evading millions in taxes. He apparently owed city and state taxes as well and was being sued by a former employee.

The story of Hawthorne’s passing was reported by the Christian Post. (see link below) This paragraph pierced a bit of my soul:

“"Being a spiritual man, I have always wanted to have my children in church with me. I believe wholeheartedly in the principles and philosophies that my father shared, and so was determined to pass the same values on to my kids in turn. Words from my father like, 'Follow after me as I follow after Christ' and 'Be of good courage and walk as men' have been close to my heart since I was a boy. I truly believe that creating the same environment for my children that my father did for my siblings and me would lead them to Christ, ultimately transforming their lives and placing Him at the center of their joy,' he added.”

Earlier this year, a man I had known in California ended his life by jumping off a bridge. I have a CD from years back displaying his musical talent. He was an origami artist as well. Very bright. Very talented. And apparently, very depressed.

Bringing comfort to the many lives impacted by a suicide is quite challenging. You simply cannot supply answers. Nor should you try.

The most profound resource for dealing with dark and difficult situations is hope. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13, NLT)

Many in the workplace, who we see every day, have problems unseen. As it is within your ability, try to offer encouragement…and hope. Pray as you can for those who may be hurting in this season. Christmas delivers a message of hope to the world.

It’s much preferred to singing the blues.

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.

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Tastes Like. . .Chicken

It’s been a few months since the 2017 report on restaurant preferences was released by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). According to the report, customers found full-service restaurants less satisfying based on 5,557 customer surveys collected between June 8, 2016, and May 12, 2017. Their satisfaction was down 3.7 percent to a score of 78 out of 100 possible points. This is the lowest score in more than 10 years.

It also marked another first. That being the first time that full-service restaurants scored lower than the fast food category! Not good. As we all know, it’s a whole lot cheaper to buy fast food.

For sit-down fans, Cracker Barrel was tops for the second year in a row, with a score of 84. Texas Roadhouse came in second at 82. In third place, Olive Garden was rated at 81 and tied with Red Lobster. One of my favorites, Red Robin, dropped several points to a 73. That was disappointing.

Now to the fast food leaders. The reigning champion scored another victory! Chick-Fil-A took the honors with 87. (By comparison, KFC had a 78). Panera Bread tied with Papa John’s at 82 for second place. A bit of a shock, Dunkin’ Donuts scored a 79 compared to coffee rival Starbucks at 77. What’s the deal with that?

In the burger wars it was Burger King that became, well, king! The chain scored a 77 compared to Wendy’s 76. McDonald's had an embarrassing score of 69.

Now let me move to another survey. This was reported recently in Christianity Today. (link below) The results are from a group called Morning Consult and it’s their 2017 Community Impact Ratings.
And who is dominator in this category? Once again…Chick-Fil-A! This must really fry a lot of the competition, so to speak. Especially after all the negative press the company has received in recent years over their pro family attitude. Plus the fact they even close their restaurants on Sundays! How dare they!?

The chicken champ remains a family owned business. At last count, Chick-Fil-A had operations in 43 states and Washington, DC. Revenues exceeded $6 billion annually.

According to the results shared by CT, the most positive view of the Atlanta-based company came from evangelicals and fellow Christians. This likely comes as no surprise to many within the fold. I WAS surprised, however, to read of the chain’s popularity among millennials!

Despite the rejection by colleges to even allow Chick-Fil-A to exist on their campuses, students see past it. “More than half of adults ages 18-34 and 35-44 rated Chick-Fil-A as having a positive impact.” Oddly, the older age brackets seem less enthusiastic.

More good news. When stacked up against their similar competitors, Chick-Fil-A customers believe the stores offer higher-quality food, better customer service, and happier employees. This has been their winning formula.

There is a seeming contradiction of values with evangelical preferences, however. As the CT story points out, a majority of evangelicals have Target almost matching Chick-Fil-A for positive impact. Target scored 60 percent favorable rating; Chick-Fil-A, 62 percent. This seems odd in light of the ongoing boycott of Target by some groups.

Truett Cathy, who founded Chick-Fil-A, had a clear set of core values. His mission statement, dating back to 1967, reads “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-Fil-A.”

Such a mission statement certainly does not guarantee financial success in business. It does, however, reflect a bold commitment. Ask a workplace leader to use that same standard for their company. Many will simply…chicken out.

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.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Buckets of Blessings

We certainly live in a culture of more. The National Retail Federation estimates nearly 164 million people (or roughly 70 percent of us) had plans to shop sometime over the Thanksgiving weekend. That began with the pre-Black Friday openings on Thanksgiving Day and conclude today on Cyber Monday. Some 48 percent of people were set to shop online for deals today.

Newspaper ads tell me Black Friday shopping now begins sometime in October. I also read that until recently, you could actually find lower prices on line for tech products on Cyber Monday than on Black Friday. From the retail numbers reported in past years, we should actually just rename this Monday “Amazon Day” as they get the bulk of the business.

In the culture of more, it’s proven that a rising number of shoppers are using Black Friday and Cyber Monday as an opportunity for “self-gifting.” Buying for friends and family usually occurs in December. Simply stated, early Christmas shopping has developed into more for ME! Like most of us NEED more.

In light of this craze for more, I found a refreshing Fast Company article this past week titled, How Making a “Reverse” Bucket List Can Make You Happier. Most of us are familiar with the “bucket list” concept. It gained renown in a 2007 comedy-drama movie that featured Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. It grossed over $175 million dollars.

The film’s plot follows two terminally ill men (portrayed by Nicholson and Freeman) on a road trip with a wish list of things to do before they "kick the bucket." Their adventures included skydiving together, flying over the North Pole and checking out the beauty and history of Taj Mahal, India, among many other pursuits. Thank goodness Nicholson had money!

Most of us would not have quite the extravagance on our bucket lists. Perhaps a trip to the Grand Canyon. Run a marathon. Learn to play an instrument. Maybe do that skydiving thing. Maybe.

In the professional life, “more” is about achievement and recognition. Making more money. Getting bigger promotions. Receiving grand awards for performance.

As the Fast Company article states, “The reverse bucket list is pretty straightforward: Rather than writing down all of the things you hope to one day achieve, you instead write down a list of all the things you’ve already accomplished, things that make you feel proud. It’s the exact opposite of a regular bucket list–and it’s an encouraging exercise.”

What I most liked about this concept was the specific tie-in to gratitude. Cited was a 2015 study found in the Journal of Positive Psychology. It reviewed how “grateful recounting” actually enhances a person’s overall well being. Participants in the study recalled three good things from the previous 48 hours. They briefly wrote about them every day for a week. Doing this increased the recall of positive memories. And by routinely recalling these positive experiences, it sparked an increase in their subjective well-being.

I’ve done a variation on this theme for a while that I would recommend to you also. It involves keeping track of God’s unexpected blessings in your life. They come in a variety of ways. Something as simple as thanking God for getting you safely back and forth to work all of 2017. Or contact that surfaced with a long-lost friend. A surprise financial blessing, perhaps. I assure you…there is an abundance for which to be thankful.

In the world of more, I think we could use a lot more of these kinds of reflections. The reverse bucket list. And the buckets of blessings.

For starters, read Psalm 23! In The Passion Translation it starts out this way, “The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd. I always have more than enough.” (Ps. 23:1, TPT) The rest of that psalm adds colorful reminders upon which to reflect.

And the best part? These are the blessings that money can’t buy.

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.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

What Does It Mean?

The Chicago Tribune has been featuring articles relating to the top workplaces in our community. Results were determined through a study by Energage (formerly WorkplaceDynamics) on behalf of the Tribune. Rankings were based on employee surveys “assessing everything from work-life balance to confidence in company leadership.”

The 2017 list of champions included Baird & Warner, Impact Networking, and Holiday Inn/ ChicagoMart Plaza. They win in the large, midsize, and small Chicagoland workplaces respectively. Let’s give them three cheers!

Following up on this announcement, the Tribune gave us a window into meaningfulness at work. The article was titled, “Employees want their job to matter, but meaning at work can be hard to find.” It’s worth reading.

This concept of meaningfulness is noted as having been “consistently and overwhelmingly ranked by employees as one of the most important factors in driving satisfaction.” It impacts motivation, job performance, and the desire to stay in the game. Can you say "priority one"?

Thankfully, people can find meaning in virtually any kind of work. Chicagoans score higher than the national average on nearly all measures of employee satisfaction. But the area of meaningfulness seems ripe for improvement by employers. This is derived from the responses of 67,000 local employees from 219 companies.

The question we must ask is, what constitutes meaningful work to an employee? Jaclyn Jensen, associate professor in the department of management and entrepreneurship at DePaul University, has studied this. She claims that no particular kind of work has to connect to a calling to be perceived as meaningful.

From her research of 40 years, Jensen has determined five factors that determine a job’s meaningfulness. Here are the three most important: 1) It allows you to use a variety of skills, 2) It has an impact on other people’s lives, and 3) You are able see the product of your work through from beginning to end. The remaining two are “having autonomy to do your best work and receiving feedback about your performance.”

The Tribune article goes on to explain how companies can kill a sense of meaningfulness. One clear example is to overload employees so that they work under stress or cannot achieve a level of performance that they feel is needed. This makes perfect sense. 

I would like to add the spiritual dimension to the conversation. It involves the deeper question of why we work at all. It’s one of my “big three” concepts in getting a healthy perspective on how to think about work.

The answer is found in a call to serve. Every job, at every level and in every field…involves service. However, not every person in every job comes with a heart to serve. But if they did, the workplace would become an entirely different environment. I’ll say that again. If every employee showed up every day with a heart to serve, the workplace would become an entirely different environment.

I could wax on about the myriad of ways this would play out. One way in particular that would be impacted hugely: meaningfulness. Something apparently most every employee desires.

It was C.S. Lewis who said, “Never, in peace or war, commit the virtue of your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’”

If you learn to approach your work with a heart of service—as to the Lord—you will never lack for meaning at your job. An important truth to gobble up.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

The Scrooge Effect

For a couple of years, I co-wrote a business advice column with my long time friend Sam Deep. We called it “Dear Workplace Counselor.” The basis of our column was to take common issues that arise in the workplace and offer solutions.

Sam had most of the credentials for this. He had taught at the University of Pittsburgh for many years. Later, he served as an adjunct professor of leadership and strategy at the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business.

Me? Well I had experience in various aspects of radio management and had launched a marketing firm a few years before. I had also worked in the trade show field for a season.

I reflected on this fun endeavor of ours when I read about advice offered by a Forbes contributor in a similar kind of business advice column. Her name is Liz Ryan. She is the CEO/founder of Human Workplace.

The person writing for advice had made a poor career path decision. In hoping to move up the business success ladder more quickly, he had chosen to work for a manager who lacked good people skills. He had passed up working for someone he described as “a fantastic person.”

His complaints ranged from his boss’s poor mentorship, keeping him from engaging with high-level managers and often ignoring him as a report. This “bad manager” also has a temper. The employee feels the manager is insecure. And…she is intimidating.

His question to Liz Ryan is twofold: “What should I do? Is it normal to be afraid of your own boss?”
Interestingly, Liz responded by suggesting that the troubled employee has “power in the equation,” as well. There was sufficient evidence to show that the bad manager would lose if this employee left. And Liz then recommended the boundaries be pushed for the employee to get what he wanted.

Sounds easy enough. In reality, it’s probably a total loser of a situation. A power-driven bad manager with a temper is not likely to allow his or her boundaries pushed. Furthermore, she may be the type to believe you can just plug in another person to the job who will take the abuse. There are plenty of people who seem to fit that.

Here’s the unrecognized problem: This is a bad manager. She apparently doesn’t own the company. Somebody hired her. Somebody goofed. Somebody better recognize this or the company will lose good people. Millennials in particular don’t put up with this garbage. Truly talented people don’t either.

A wise and discerning employer knows that good managers must be tough when decisions require it. But they must also place value on the important contributions of the humans who make the machine run. That thinking is reflected in creating an environment where people feel appreciated and that they are contributing to the success of the organization.

The instruction given to church leaders by the apostle Peter fits well with advising managers in the workplace: “take care of the group of people you are responsible for. They are God’s flock. Watch over that flock because you want to, not because you are forced to do it. That is how God wants it. Do it because you are happy to serve, not because you want money. Don’t be like a ruler over those you are responsible for. But be good examples to them.” (1 Peter 5:2-3, ERV)

The use of intimidation creates an environment of fear. We can get a reminder of this unhealthy behavior this coming holiday season in considering the life of Ebenezer Scrooge. He needed a wake up call!

And if the bad manager noted in this week’s blog doesn’t wake up soon, she might not stand a ghost of a chance either.

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.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Master Timekeepers

In past endeavors I’ve been privileged to work with a number of upper level management people and C-suite types. Often my connection to them was through participation in some type of board or advisory group. A few have been part of my small group meetings over the years.

One thing I have often questioned is how they became available for these meetings. With demanding jobs and time-pressed schedules, how were these people able to arrange to get involved in their outside interests? Is there a mastery to this?

For a time, I pondered doing a series of interviews on this question. Perhaps many others would like to know how the work day really works at the top of an organization. I no longer need to pursue this. It’s been done.

A number of professors from Harvard Business School, the London School of Economics, Columbia University, and the University of Oxford have delivered an insightful study for us on CEOs and time usage. It involved more than 1200 participants in six countries. The research results were published in the Harvard Business Review. (Link below)

One preliminary and important finding was that leaders who stay more “high-level” in focus are more effective than managerial CEOs. This was determined using a sophisticated algorithm that included “every activity a CEO undertakes in a week, as well as whether it was planned ahead of time and who else was involved.” The study offers a well defined explanation of “manager types” and “leader types.”

I’m sure many at the employee level wonder, “What does this CEO person do all day?” Might you be curious? Here’s a summary: “On average, about one-quarter of CEOs’ days are spent alone, including sending emails. Another 10% is spent on personal matters, and 8% is spent traveling. The remainder (56%) is spent with at least one other person, which mostly involves meetings, most of which are planned ahead of time. About one-third of the time CEOs spend with others is one-on-one; two-thirds is with more than one other person. (This data includes a CEO’s entire workday, not just time in the office.)”

Now comes a really important question. Which type of CEO is more effective for a company? A leader…or manager? All factors considered, the CEO whose style was more leader than manager ran more a productive and more profitable company.

Next. Is it the company itself or the leader who drives the success? Research of the before and after performance of appointing a new CEO showed higher productivity with a leader put in place. It took three years for this to be measured.

One more qualifier should be noted. Manager type CEOs tended to run smaller and simpler organizations. Plenty of them were successful at their companies. Leaders were found more often in larger firms where different and more complex skills were needed.

Elena Botelhos is founder of the leadership research firm CEO Genome Project. She coauthored The CEO Next Door: The 4 Behaviors That Transform Ordinary People into World-Class Leaders. Here is her observation:

“Our research shows that the best CEOs are highly decisive in how they allocate their time—focusing on priorities that truly move the needle on the success of their business. Often, when CEOs conduct calendar reviews and look at how their time is actually spent, they’re surprised to find that top priorities are regularly trumped by urgent fires.”

I’ve never forgotten the advice explaining that most people tend to work on what they enjoy doing, rather than what is most needed. The need for priority thinking is a constant. It’s a lesson for all of us.

To my knowledge, Jesus of Nazareth carried no appointment book. Nor was He ever in a rush. He knew His mission and stayed on task. He prioritized His team. He prayed for them. He challenged them. He loved them. And the impact of Jesus' work on earth remains today. A true leader.

May God give you wisdom to lead, serve, and manage time. . . like the Master.

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

Made in the Image

Two weeks ago, I decided to blog about the awkward and ugly subject of a predatory Hollywood type: Harvey Weinstein. At that time, I mentioned that we should not be shocked at these revelations. Intelligent and observant people know this goes on all the time where money and power converge. With that blog, I was going to drop the subject.

But this week new information has surfaced that I feel compelled to address. Along with the increasing number of actresses stepping forward to share their painful stories of abusive bosses, we have media types who are in the news for the very same kind of thing. And what is revealed should clearly illustrate why much more aggressive response to these predatory types must be taken.

First, a simple definition. predatory: seeking to exploit or oppress others. Add three synonyms to this to get a clearer picture. Wolfish. Rapacious. Vulturous.

The latest names to get the media buzz on this subject are media men themselves. Along with the Bill Cosby trial over his wolfish behavior, add to that Bill O’Reilly’s forced resignation for his behavior earlier this year. Roger Ailes, who ruled Fox News, bit the dust for nibbling where he shouldn’t. Then another Fox newsman fell—Eric Bolling.

Should we be surprised there is more to be revealed? Big time media type Mark Halperin is now on the hot seat. His idea of fun was to intimidate one of the young research assistants at ABC News to sit on his lap. This happened multiple times. Another author and political correspondent said she was “sexually assaulted” by Halperin. She did not report this because “I thought I was the only one, and I blamed myself, and I was embarrassed and I was scared of him.” Vulturous men in action.

Now to the bigger problem. Getting men to “get it” on what sexual harassment involves.

Before giving you these numbers, it should be noted that these are survey results from an online sample of men. Instamotor surveyed 750 men across the United States to hear their experiences with sexual harassment or assault. Check out these responses:

• 1 in 3 respondents don’t think catcalling is sexual harassment.
• 2 in 3 don’t think repeated unwanted invitations to drinks, dinner, or dates is sexual harassment.
• Nearly 1 in 5 don’t think sexual harassment is a fireable offense.

Many guys were also confused about what actions constitute "sexual harassment or assault.”

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll reveals 64 percent of Americans say that sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious problem. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say men who sexually harass female coworkers usually get away with it.

Thus, I draw this conclusion. Companies across America better beware. And become proactive. They should beware that this harassment activity may be happening under their noses. Women—and some men—have had enough. And they are coming out of the abuse closet.

Leadership should be proactive. Better get those clear messages out repeatedly that this behavior will not be tolerated. Create safe zones for women and men who feel the vulturous types are after them so that they can report this. Get the legal team involved now, lest the cost of ignorance and failure to act leave misery to all.

If it were me, my staff meeting would start with a basic message from Genesis 1, verses 27: “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NLT) People are not “things.” They are highly prized creations made in God’s image. Better get on board with the idea of treating people like that.

In closing, if you’ve been a victim of a predatory type, now is the time to speak up.

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.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Take a Chill Pill!

What stresses you out on the job? People can’t always define this answer precisely. But they know it when they feel it.

I was reading about stress and micromanaging this week. Fear of mistakes and loss of control are often the reasons cited for managers stepping over workplace boundaries. Work-related stress often causes managers to tighten the grip on everything.

The concerns raised in the article, “Stress is Making You Micromanage, which is Making Everything Worse” were fourfold. This out-of-balance managerial style can kill a team’s creativity. It can result in reduced performance or cause people to leave. Fellow team members' health can be harmed. There is also the obvious problem of not allowing people to do what they were hired to do.

The third of those items especially caught my eye. A study was mentioned from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. It involved the lack of autonomy at work and the potential health-related consequences. Here’s an important summary finding:

“Examining workers over a seven-year period, the researchers found that people in demanding jobs who had little control over their work were 15.4% more likely to die compared with those in less demanding jobs. Meanwhile, people in demanding roles who did have a high degree of control over their work saw a 34% decrease in the likelihood of death.”

This stood out for me because several years ago I took my fourth work personality test. It revealed an important truth about my approach to work. In essence, if a matter is being discussed or a decision is being made that affects my job, I want to be involved. It comes back to a concern over no control over what impacts me most.

Looking beyond this article, I found a study that was done in the United Kingdom a few years back involving employee work-related stress. Here were the major “stressors” identified by a study completed by University of Plymouth.

First up was overload. Easy to see how this happens. Unrealistic deadlines and expectations. Technology overload. Being short on staff.

Second was control. Like the Indiana University study, this revealed that a lack of control over aspects of the job (including decision making) stressed workers. Add to that the lack of influence over performance targets.

Work relationships played a role. Dealing with overly aggressive managers, or not getting support from others, stands out. Harassment and isolation were frustration builders. As was others taking or getting credit for the personal achievements of a good employee.

Job security and work-life balance issues were also noted in the study. Workplace stress occurred when resources or communication issues came up. Like when information about what is going on in the organization is missing. Or you don’t have the right equipment to do the job. Or the right training.

Looking over the list, I was stressing out just thinking about the ways workplace stress can build up! The reality is our work will always have “thorns and thistles.” It comes with life. Jesus of Nazareth warned His disciples of life’s downsides, but then explained…“I have told you all this so that you may find your peace in me. You will find trouble in the world—but, never lose heart, I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, PHILLIPS)

Want help reducing workplace-related stress? Practice counting your blessings. And bring your heaviest burdens to the Source of Peace. You already have His attention.

Consider this your spiritual chill-pill!

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.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Catch a Falling Star

Harvey Weinstein. I’m guessing more Google searches have been done on that name than anyone else in recent memory. Harvey might live in infamy in the category of Hollywood exploitation of power.

A number of lessons can be learned here. One is how quickly your “friends” become your critics. The slowest to come around with concern were those who benefited from the many favors Mr. Weinstein could provide. Like money. Access. Jobs. You know, the basics of life.

Even the former First Lady had to fess up. Bill’s wife, the nearly-elected president Hillary Clinton, says she was “shocked and appalled” by the revelations! One might be concerned this response was a bit feigned in light of similar language missing from her mouth following public revelations about her husband.

If shock is to be expressed, we should be shocked that we’re shocked to read this has happened! Actually, the workplace is full of this stuff. Women, and to some degree men, are fully aware this “grab for the sexual goodies” goes on wherever money and power coincide. They are like two sides of the personal greed coin.

Another lesson is how willing we are to sacrifice our supposed values. Many women refused to give in to Mr. Weinstein. How many more in Hollywood and throughout the world feel obligated to serve their power masters out of fear or selfish ambition? A sacrifice at the altar of false gods.

And then there’s the companion “hush up” problem. What did you know? And when did you know it? Some of the earlier and obvious known acts by Harvey suddenly disappeared from the legal books. Probably hundreds—maybe thousands—of folks knew what was happening behind the curtain. But they refused to speak. Oz might take them down. Or refuse to build them up.

Temptation is a vicious thing. Personal battles with it plague us all. When it moves into the workplace, it can quickly kill careers.

Witness the recent resignation of a congressman from Pennsylvania. This one was more personal for me since we were friends from my days in Pittsburgh. A known and respected psychologist—and man of supposed faith—Tim rose from state political office to the U.S. Congress. He’s a family man.

Somewhere amidst his several terms as a congressman, Tim became enamored with a female psychologist. And she with him. The two of them conceived a child.

For as long as I’ve known him, Tim was a strong pro-life voice. It most certainly aligned with his faith tradition. But now, faced with the unwanted pregnancy, his value system faced a crisis. He encouraged his new relational partner to get an abortion. The news covered it as hypocrisy. There goes a defeat for “family values.”

Of course there are other ways we lose our moorings at the workplace. Maybe the boss asks for other favors. A business adjustment of numbers. Deceit on shipping information. Outright lying for where the boss might be at a given time.

Small things perhaps. But moral cavings nonetheless. Often done out of fear. Or that same selfish ambition.

The attraction for power and what it brings is not new. It started with a woman and man believing a lie that they could be like God. Just eat the forbidden fruit. The story in Genesis 3 offers this revelation in verse 7: “Then, it was as if their eyes were opened.”

We, of course, believe Harvey Weinstein to be a sick man. He is. And so am I. And so are you. We need healing. We need new life. We need a spiritual makeover. We need…Jesus.

The workplace is not a safe place. Power and money can corrupt so easily. May godly wisdom give us the strength to live by our convictions.

As for Harvey, he’s not beyond redemption. Perhaps God will step in and somehow catch this falling star.

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, October 9, 2017

Critical Care

Some jobs in life are much more difficult than others. They may require boldness extraordinaire, like washing windows on skyscrapers or changing lightbulbs on thousand-foot radio towers. Perhaps great strength or endurance is needed, as you might see on construction sites or the logging industry. Remarkable brainpower is demanded in many different fields of work.

There is, however, another category of difficult jobs. It envelopes the various services provided when life is on the line, or has ended. I’m sure God must have a certain kind of gifting for people who do this work.

The Las Vegas rescue workers are a good example. The police and SWAT teams who rush to face life threatening danger are remarkably courageous. Add to those folks the great number of fire and rescue team members who helped save many lives at the scene while bullets were still in the air. And, of course, the hospital staff—some of whom worked while standing in a pool of blood to help desperate victims survive. Wow.

For those who did not survive, there is a another group who have difficult assignments. Morticians, grief counselors, pastors who conduct funerals, and anyone who makes valiant effort in helping bring sense to tragedy. It must take a unique sense of calling and commitment to this work.

This is particularly fresh to me in light of both the Las Vegas news coverage and something much closer to home. We attend a church of around 250. I just came off the church council. The new council president is a fine man. He and his beloved have been raising four great boys.

Earlier last week, the third of those boys was with a friend coming home from a golf tournament. A head-on car crash occurred. The two drivers survived with “non-life-threatening injuries.” The son of our council president…did not. He was 16.

The accident required what the rescue people term “extrication.” Simply defined, it means to free or release from entanglement. It is messy and time consuming. And it must be emotionally draining when these workers know life is truly on the line.

We tend to think these emergency connected workers must be able to somehow put their heroic efforts behind them. Truth is, many lose sleep and find themselves needing counseling from the frequent contact with grim situations. Especially when the rescue efforts involve children.

Then there’s the funeral directors. Who signs up for this kind of job? I reviewed an article on this topic for perspective. It’s titled, “What Personal Qualities Do You Have to Have to Become a Mortician?”

In brief, “Morticians must be effective communicators as well as excellent listeners to deal with people of diverse ages, ethnicities, and beliefs. While it's important to be sympathetic, morticians need to remain emotionally calm in the face of this emotional turmoil, so the family can rely on your emotional strength.” (article link below.)

Some of these critical care jobs require a truly compassionate person. But others require a more dispassionate person—someone “not influenced by strong emotion, and so able to be rational and impartial.”

There were times Jesus of Nazareth appeared to demonstrate both sides of this coin. He wept over his friend Lazarus and grieved deeply. The Bible often says Jesus showed “compassion.” In other cases, he showed restraint and did not act in ways others thought he should. He appeared…dispassionate.

In your world, whatever your job, you might well find situations requiring you to engage with compassion, or to step back and be rational and impartial.

It’s critical we discern how to care properly.

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.

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Monday, October 2, 2017

Faith, the Flag, & the Workplace

A friend of mine and former player for the New York Jets sent me a powerful video a few days ago. It’s from Brandon Tatum, a police officer from Tucson, Arizona. As an African American, he has made a powerful case for whether NFL players are making a smart decision with protests around the national anthem. (Video link below.)

As Tatum wisely states, there is a role for social activism. But the flag or the national anthem is neither the cause nor the cure for the ills that affect our land. Both the problem and solution are found in the hearts of people working together on constructive solutions.

The protest sensation all started, of course, with a single player—former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. I say former because he’s having a hard time finding another QB job after choosing to kneel rather than stand for the national anthem. Most everyone knows what has happened since.

Jim Brown, the Hall of Fame running back and legend of the game, said it this way: “Colin has to make up his mind whether he’s truly an activist or he’s a football player.” And why is that? Brown added, “If you’re trying to be both—football is commercial. You have owners. You have fans. And you want to honor that, if you’re making that kind of money.”

Jim goes on to comment about his love of country. He knows there are problems. He’s determined to work those out. As he says, “in an intelligent manner.”

The divided spirit within our country is impacting the workplace in other ways as well. Last month, the New York Times ran a feature story titled, "When Colleagues Won’t Stop Talking Politics." These conversations have raised the frustration level for many.

According to the Times report, “More than a quarter of workers surveyed by the American Psychological Association earlier this year reported that workplace political chatter was having some negative impact on them, from increased stress to decreased productivity.” Another survey found a third of American workers have decided to avoid any political conversations to avoid arguments or discomfort.

The recommendation to those who are frustrated by this is to get people to change the subject. Suggestions like “I get enough of that in the news. Can we talk about something else?” That might help. If people don’t get the hint, discuss it with Human Resources.

So there’s another factor in this workplace discomfort. Injecting your “religious beliefs” into discussions on the job. Religion talk is also a concern in the NFL. A recent news item about another quarterback—Carson Wentz—related his desire to openly share his faith but avoid being “preachy.”

In 2015, we learned of the African American female Marine who was convicted at a court-martial in a real stretch of faith sharing. Lance Corporal Monica Sterling refused to remove a Bible verse on her computer! Her military leaders concluded this verse of Scripture “could easily be seen as contrary to good order and discipline.” Oh my.

Now I must tell you that I find the “politics and faith in the office” discussion a bit humorous. You see, in my workplace political talk and advocacy for faith IS our work. We choose to engage in these vital topics that most impact our lives.

The Bible does offer some good instruction in handling discussions of both faith and politics with those who don’t share your point of view. “Be wise in the way you act with people who are not believers, making the most of every opportunity. When you talk, you should always be kind and pleasant so you will be able to answer everyone in the way you should.” (Colossians 4:5-6, NCV)

Keeping our emotions in check while sharing our deeply held values may allow for conversations that otherwise might prove difficult. And, of course, learning to listen and value others' input regardless of viewpoint will also help greatly.

These are tough days in American life. Let’s not make the workplace a war zone.

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.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

The Early Bird Wakes the Firm

It was Ben Franklin who advised us, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” I’m not sure my paper delivery person has bought into that yet, but I wish he would. We seem to get our paper much later than when I recall delivering the Chicago Tribune for several months as a teenager.

Perhaps it’s because he’s not a “morning person.” Too bad. Since he’s delivering a MORNING newspaper. But I digress.

Those who live in Chicago and other major metro areas often have to adjust their lifestyle to earlier start times. Some studies have shown that only about ten percent of the global population are the morning types. Twenty percent are the night owls. I guess the rest fit in the middle.

But get this. The late nighters are shown to be more prone to depression. More likely to smoke and drink. Their academic abilities tend to fall short of the early risers. In 2013, the British Psychological Society released a study that night owls are more likely to have a cluster of personality traits known as the “Dark Triad” – narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. The morning folk tended to be more moral!

In February of 2016, Business Insider reported that your genes may have something to say about this. The study cited included nearly 90,000 people who had their genomes sequenced by a consumer genetics company, 23andMe. Researchers were able to identify “15 versions of genes that are linked to reports of being an early or a late riser.”

The same study showed that “people who self-identified as night owls (while not a truly objective measure) were almost twice as likely to suffer from insomnia and about two-thirds as likely to have been diagnosed with sleep apnea." Obviously, not a pretty picture.

What turned my attention to this subject was a recent article titled, “This is Why Being a Morning Person Will Make You Better at Your Job.” Four “science-backed” reasons are offered up as to why people do their best work in the morning.

Read the article for complete insights. But here are the four basic reasons you do better earlier.
  1. You have more energy.
  2. You have fewer decisions to make.
  3. You can stop fighting distractions.
  4. You can take advantage of the calm.
I think that last one is of particular significance. Josh Davis, who has written a book on the benefits of early risers, states “Noise makes it harder to do the deep cognitive work most knowledge workers need to do. In the morning you’re free to work from anywhere, and you can find a quiet, beautiful spot. A quiet workspace helps you be more productive because it’s like working with tailwinds.”

For many years in my radio life, I have been a morning show guy. Several of my jobs had me on the air by 6 a.m. My previous assignment required me to rise by 2:45 a.m. and be on site by 4:30 a.m.! When people asked how I could manage that, I would ask them how they felt when they got up later. They would reply "groggy." "Out of sorts." And I retorted, “Well, that’s how I feel. Only it’s 2:45!”

Your circadian rhythm may not be excited about you changing your wake up time, but there is a payoff. Early rising enables me to get some serious request time in with the Almighty. I’m not alone. As David wrote in the Psalms, “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3, NIV) This alone can be a powerful productivity tool!

Seeing these benefits to rising early, I hope today’s blog serves as a “wake-up call.”

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.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Fundamentals of a Godly Enterprise

Recently, I had the privilege of giving a workplace chapel presentation at Crossway Books in Wheaton, IL. It had added meaning to me as I have several personal relationships at that company. I was recommended by one of those friends.

When these opportunities occur, it’s my natural instinct to ask God what I might say to represent Him well. Minutes after I accepted the request, thoughts flowed naturally to a short list of of what I called, "Fundamentals of a Godly Enterprise." I’ll be sharing these today.

The context for my words was a verse in the Bible that is often quoted: Ephesians 2:10. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (ESV) My question for us to consider was simply, how does a person of faith live out good works—in the workplace? How can we set our minds and hearts on performing “God-honoring acts of obedience”—as theologian R.C. Sproul refers to them?

From this, there were actually two messages I wanted to communicate. The first was to relate how my first work in Christian radio in 1986 was simply another job. The same held true in two later employment roles in Christian radio. A breakthrough in my soul came while working in another type of job. I yielded heart and soul to go wherever God would lead me, including “the ministry”— something I had resisted in my life.

Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by a friend who worked for a Christian radio station in Pittsburgh. He asked me to consider joining his team, which I eventually did. I work for that same company today—but in Chicago. And once I was back in my Christian radio role, I embraced a new mindset of ministry.

My point to the audience was, no doubt, quite clear. It’s easier than one thinks to be involved in a “service” oriented work, but not truly have the heart toward service. It’s even more serious an issue when this work is related to advancing the message of the Kingdom of God. That is an important assignment!

My second message was those seven fundamentals. I’ll give an overview of these today. You may see a series of blogs in the future with greater definition on each. These fundamentals apply to both for-profit and non-profit organizations.

Fundamentals of a Godly Enterprise

  1. A mission statement that transcends earthly gain. If our endeavors are only pointed at worldly achievements and have no lasting value, it seems we come to the end of our time feeling little true accomplishment. 
  2. Leadership that clearly communicates values that mean something. My friend John Blumberg is a specialist at coaching companies on core values—those that are lived out beyond just words. 
  3. A recognition that people are the functional priority of God. If there is no nurturing of healthy relationships, one can expect an unhealthy work environment.
  4. An open transparency that allows for weakness—but not as an excuse for poor performance. All of us use poor judgment or make mistakes occasionally at work. A healthy workplace is forgiving. But corrective coaching must result in positive improvement. 
  5. Frequent celebrations of success and the people who helped make it happen. I’ve seen it many times. A big push for a goal ultimately reached. But, rather than enjoy and celebrate, new pressure is immediately applied for what’s next. Hey…enjoy the moment and celebrate!
  6. A generous employer who wisely supports his team, community, and stakeholders. This goes beyond compensation. It is a heart attitude. 
  7. Establishing an enterprise. Not an institution. People have very different perspectives on what those two terms imply. Better be always thinking forward as an enterprise—using God’s great gift of creativity.

Applying a good heart to our work. Living by principles of a godly enterprise. Do this and you will see the fruit of good works…in the workplace.

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.