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Monday, February 27, 2017

Gray Matters

Working with teenagers can be quite enlightening. And occasionally startling. I learned this in my 20s when I served in various roles as a youth director. On one occasion, we were traveling with some teens to an amusement park. The teen boy sitting next to me was telling us he was glad to be on the trip since there was a senior citizen family member spending time at his house. Suddenly he blurted, “I hate old people!”

My wife and I were momentarily stunned but actually found it a bit humorous in the moment. Who would say such a thing? Obviously, someone who had not considered that someday he would BE such a person.

Be assured that story came to mind when I saw this business headline recently: “Why I Miss Old People in the Workplace.” It’s a piece from Tom Goodwin, vice president and head of innovation with Zenith Media. It was one of my recommended reading articles from LinkedIn. I have no comment on why they would send ME that item.

To summarize, Tom works in the advertising field in New York. He observes, “As an industry we're obsessed with youth, we’re endlessly trying to get “upwardly mobile Millennials” or “hard to reach youthful influencers” or some nonsensical and largely broke crowd who can’t afford the premium SUV we have on offer.”
Yet as Tom looks around at the places where money is spent, it is the older crowd that seems to have it. And spend it.

Furthermore, Tom misses the wisdom in the workplace that the aging population can offer. As he correctly states, “It takes wisdom to realize how important wisdom is, so we don't notice it.” Younger leaders would not realize this if they have not worked with these folks.

Mr. Goodwin claims it’s noticeable. “We have incredible levels of vision, an abundance of precociousness, brilliant creativity, but as an industry we pretty much have no wisdom at all,” says Tom. I would add, there is a state of overconfidence that often misses the mark because it is unchecked. This is often true with millennials.

I recommend reading Tom Goodwin’s article for his more detailed perspective on these key observations on what’s missing in today’s marketing field:

  • We lack gravitas and business sense.
  • We think everything is new.
  • We don’t see change in context.

Tom Goodwin astutely recognizes that young minds and voices bring fresh ideas and approaches. They adapt quickly to new technologies. But his vital assessment is that discernment is needed. “We need to establish what aspects are changing,” says Goodwin, “and what aspects are fundamental. We need to understand what is a fad and what is a cultural shift.” He believes a wise person who understands change could help.

My conclusion is that employers would do well by finding avenues of mentorship and active participation in discussion involving significant change. Getting an older set of ears involved may detect some unforeseen challenges and opportunities. And it can avoid the more dangerous, “I told you so!”

The wisdom of Solomon says, “The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.” (Proverbs 20:29, NLT)

One challenge the older crowd does have: memory tends to slip a bit. As a friend recently said, “I may not be that funny or athletic or good looking or smart or talented. . .Excuse me. . .I forgot where I was going with this.”

Just call it a little problem with “gray matter.”

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, February 20, 2017

The Hardest Job in the World

Today is a Presidents Day holiday. We honor the men who have served our nation over its history. Of course, we used to celebrate the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington in February. But now we have a day to celebrate all of them. Right? Wrong.

Today there will be “rallies” in several cities across these not-so United States dishonoring our current President. NBC News carried the story about “Not My President’s Day” and the gatherings planned in places like Los Angeles, New York, Sarasota, Dallas, Washington D.C, Chicago, and Grand Rapids. What?? Grand Rapids??

Yes, of course. This would likely be in response to the president selecting Betsy Devos as the Education Secretary. The powerful (and often dictatorial) teachers unions are not pleased with Betsy. And other groups don’t like some of the other Cabinet selections. This goes with the job of the president. As if we would support ALL the selections made by any president.

The NBC story tells us that the “Not My President's Day” rally in Chicago will be different from a few of the other rallies. Folks in our city will supposedly be focused on just one message: unity. Laura Hartman, the Chicago rally coordinator, explained it this way: “We want to fight the entirety of the administration,” she said. Now that’s “unity” for you!

Laura should remember that enough Americans voted for the man in the Oval Office today to make him president. As was pointed out in a talk show segment recently, the great divide in politics today didn’t start in the last election. This has been a pretty strong trademark of voting results all throughout my lifetime. And I’m sure before that.

All that to say that being the president truly seems to be one of the most complex and difficult jobs on the planet. I’m not sure if there is a tougher one. Look how our presidents age during their time in office.

The various roles a president must serve are dizzying. He (or she when we elect a woman to serve) is a true “chief.” This includes:
  • Commander in Chief of the military 
  • Chief Diplomat over foreign affairs
  • Chief Executive, heading up all agencies in Washington
  • Counselor/Pastor in Chief, to bring hope to a hurting country
  • Chief Visionary, to take us forward to new heights

Along with these roles, the president sets any new policies in motion, through directives, and impacts legislation he wants passed. Our leader must also represent his political party well. As I said, it makes for a tough job description!

Critics have the easy job. They always do, compared to the one in the White House. Protestors can walk away from the real challenges.

Jesus of Nazareth came to earth with the toughest assignment of all! He arrived with a winning message, with a job description to sacrifice Himself! Did He make a difference?

This is what He told the disciples of John the Baptist, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. (Luke 7:22, NLT)

Despite that, He was despised by the leaders of His day. And the crowds shouted, “Crucify Him!” Which they did. There has been no other life like His. But He stayed on mission.

I’d like to see the protests and rallies over the new administration cease. Instead, preach a true message of unity. Perhaps a renewed commitment to President John F. Kennedy’s admonition: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Amen. And happy Presidents Day.

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

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

Management by Walking About

The concept of MBWA became high profile as good management in the 1985 book, A Passion for Excellence: The Leadership Difference by Tom Peters and Nancy Austin. Don’t recognize it? The letters represent the phrase “Management by Walking About” or “wandering around.” You get the picture.

A simple concept, really. But one not practiced very much from my experience. In my business life, the man who came closest was a former vice president of broadcasting at Moody Radio, Wayne Pederson. He would later head up a ministry in Colorado.

Many leaders with offices make them home away from home. It’s like they are on a lock-in. Attached to the desk, if you will.

MBWA is somewhat akin to an “open door policy,” except that the open door policy requires a gently bold assumption that whenever you drop by is a good time for the boss to talk. Frequently, that is not the case. It also means the employee is the “initiator.”

MBWA is different because the manager or business leader makes a point of connecting. The conversations can be simple, such as: “How are things going in your department today?” “Any particular challenges with which I could help?” “Any thoughts on how to make our company better or work more smoothly?”

Most likely, employees will be brief with those answers. Or seem to give only positive responses, perhaps out of fear. Over time, however, repeated efforts at checking in can yield some pretty powerful results.

A good, short article on MBWA was published by the Economist a few years ago. It contained a quote from W. Edwards Deming, the gifted engineer and management consultant. He observed, “If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.”

Another benefit of MBWA is the possibility of “on the spot” creative solutions discussions. Say a manager walks back into the sales or production area where there are cubicles. An employee raises an issue that needs attention. The manager/leader grabs two or three others in the area and has a short session discussing the situation and how to best deal with it. Imagine if the manager/leader now promises to solve it! Without MBWA, neither the problem nor the solution may have surfaced.

As the article illustrated, “MBWA has been found to be particularly helpful when an organization is under exceptional stress; for instance, after a significant corporate reorganization has been announced or when a takeover is about to take place.” But don’t start MBWA then. Do this as a practice first to build trust.

The origination of MBWA is often credited to The HP Way by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, founders of the famed computer company. They “pioneered” this open style of management. The HP Way became widely copied by major firms throughout the US in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The greatest Master of MBWA was Jesus of Nazareth. He traveled with His disciples on foot everywhere, teaching as He went. He answered His followers’ questions, showed them the right way to live as well as serve others, and build a Kingdom understanding. Many of His followers today use the same approach.

So consider the call to more MBWA. It’s remarkable how the state of things improves wth a personal touch and a show of interest.

It might even help win a few “Best Boss” awards.

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, February 6, 2017

The House Always Wins

“Life is a gamble. You can get hurt, but people die in plane crashes, lose their arms and legs in car accidents; people die every day. Same with fighters: some die, some get hurt, some go on. You just don’t let yourself believe it will happen to you.” ~ Muhammad Ali

Life is a gamble. There is a certain amount of truth in “them-thar words.” However, a more realistic view comes from the word properly defined:

Gambling: the act or practice of risking the loss of something important by taking a chance or acting recklessly. -

For several years, my family lived in a northern California town located about 90 minutes from the Lake Tahoe/Reno area. Until more recently, that is where many fellow residents migrated on weekends to visit casinos and lose their money. Admittedly, I spent many evenings enjoying the discounted buffets and a few of the “games.”

I assure you I am no high stakes gambler. My wife Rhonda and I used to mostly play the nickel slot machines. A few times I sat at a blackjack table. And a few more times I played the craps table.

I tell you honestly that I can’t recall ever coming home a winner. Well, maybe once. It was in Iceland at an afternoon bingo game where I won $500. Sort of. I had agreed with the person playing next to me that if either of us won, we’d split the prize. I honored my word.

One thing I learned from those days. The house always wins. They don’t build those casinos on the house’s bad luck. They’re built on your misfortune.

One time, a friend of mine and I drove up to Reno on a lark. He played three rounds of roulette with a $100 bet on black each time. All three times, the ball stopped on red. End of the fun.

Some people consider Wall Street a bad bet. Actor Jeremy Renner is quoted as saying, “I will never be in the stock market. It’s just gambling. I’m a gambler, but I’ll gamble on the practicality of things.”

These days, California has their own casinos. And most states have their own gambling operations disguised as lotteries. The house still wins. Big.

I thought about how addictive the gambling bug can be when I read some of the bizarre ways people placed bets around the Super Bowl. According to People magazine, some of their favorites were:
  • How long would Luke Bryan’s rendition of the national anthem last? (2:15 was the over/under)
  • What color would Lady Gaga’s hair be? 
  • What color Gatorade would the winning coach get doused with? (Lime/green “liquid” vs yellow or orange were the leading contenders) 
  • How many Trump tweets would there be from kickoff to finish. 
  • How many times will Gisele be on TV—Tom Brady’s supermodel wife?

Sounds silly, but gambling addicts will find just about anything that will satisfy their craving. Best advice, try investing in something worthwhile.

Some people take absolutely perilous chances. In the Bible, we read the story of several foolish people who decided to oppose Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership. The result? “And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, and their houses, and all the men that belonged to Korah, and all their goods. And they and all that belonged to them went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed on them, and they perished from among the assembly.” (Numbers 16:32-33, MEV)

The wise decision is to take God at His word. Accept his free gift of eternal life. Failure to do so is deadly. It makes no sense to gamble with your eternity.

The Kingdom of God is a sure bet. And the house…always wins.

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.