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Monday, May 29, 2017


Last Monday, Rhonda and I were returning from a wonderful few days at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with five other couples. The group was comprised of friends with whom I met weekly while in Pittsburgh. We’ve savored several of these reunions over the years, but this one had added meaning; it’s been 25 years since we first gathered.

Fortunately, our spouses get along well, so we had a sweet time and plenty of good food. My long time friend, Sam Deep, and wife Dianne have moved to Myrtle Beach and they made numerous arrangements for us to have fun. Last week, Sam also contributed to my blog by sharing verses from the Bible that have influenced his business leadership thinking.

One of those passages was Mark 10:42-45, which has Jesus telling His disciples to learn the heart of a servant. Of course, Jesus demonstrated this with His entire ministry life. His challenge that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” should cause us each to live with a different mindset.

As Sam noted, today there are plenty of books and workshops on the subject of servant leadership. Human beings are best validated by this approach. The workplace culture led by people who practice serving impacts everyone.

Since this is Memorial Day, I would like to add another “spin” on this topic. Just about everywhere you go where you find past and present military members, people say, “Thank you for your service!” It is recognized that military duty is truly the work of protecting our freedoms.

The best of the military men and women in leadership know that serving their unit is a requirement. This is illustrated in an article titled, “Why the Military Produces Great Leaders,” by Tom Kolditz. Tom is the former chairman of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point and is currently director of the Leadership Development Program at the Yale School of Management.

Tom listed three reasons why the military yields great leaders. His third reason included this: “Perhaps most importantly, military leadership is based on a concept of duty, service, and self-sacrifice; we take an oath to that effect. We view our obligations to followers as a moral responsibility, defining leadership as placing follower needs before those of the leader, and we teach this value priority to junior leaders.”

He notes that military leadership goes well beyond the service member. Caring for their families is part of the mission, especially when those who serve are deployed. I observed this during my short time in the Air Force and in later years.

Here is one of Tom’s keenest observations. “The best leadership—whether in peacetime or war—is borne as a conscientious obligation to serve. In many business environs it is difficult to inculcate a value set that makes leaders servants to their followers. In contrast, leaders who have operated in the crucibles common to military and other dangerous public service occupations tend to hold such values,” states Kolditz.

Of course, not every person of military training acts with noble character. Especially those who are drafted and serve out of obligation. But millions have benefited from the values taught throughout our service branches.

On this Memorial Day, we should be reminded of the many who have died in a true manner of service and selflessness. We have ample stories of heroes who stepped in harm's way to save the life of a team member. Far too many more had their lives on this earth shortened while engaged in the protection of our country and our freedoms.

We show our appreciation by honoring those men and women today. As Jesus of Nazareth said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, ESV)

It’s worthy of a salute.

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Good Book for Leadership

Recently, I put this question to my long time friend and highly successful author and business consultant Sam Deep: What Bible verses have made an impact on the way you think about and do your work? He’s graciously given his answers that make up my blog for this Monday as I travel.

James 1:22-24
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

Sam: The brother of Jesus explains why my approach to leadership development has changed. Experience tells me that many managers get too little out of the excellent training they receive and the insightful blogs they consume. They do learn from the training, and even nod their heads in agreement with it. They devour the articles, and even pass them on to others. But once back on the job they continue in their old ways. They fail to look in the mirror and say, “This is something that I vow to improve in my leadership.” My solution to this natural human tendency toward inaction is found on my website: Every other week robust leadership mandates are sent to managers in an engaging and compact e-newsletter format. Each one is a 3-7 minute read, ending in a plan of attack.

Mark 10:42-45
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Sam: The most influential leader who ever lived spawned a revolutionary philosophy of influence. Books are written about it, workshops are conducted on it, and think tanks exist to further it. The notion of servant leadership causes executives, supervisors, and even parents to reframe the way they wield authority. It’s putting yourself in second place as you put those you lead in first place. On the commute home, servant leaders do not ask, “What did my people do for me today?” but rather, “What did I do for my people?”

Why is this leadership style becoming more popular? After all, the idea of servanthood carries a negative connotation in the liberated world of the 21st Century. Even advocates of the idea seek to euphemize it. One company tried “leadership through service.” But this misses the point that leaders are to sacrifice their needs in favor of the needs of followers.

The outcomes of servant leadership are its best justification. Where it is practiced, followers are validated as human beings. They are inspired, engaged, and won over. They are encouraged to give their best and to feel more accountable for their performance.

Proverbs 29:11
Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.

Sam: Leadership has its highs and lows. The highs are magnificent, but the lows can be downright disheartening. It is inevitable that people or results will disappoint you. You most certainly need to insist upon the best that your people can give, but when they fall short, you must not place blame in anger. Losing it achieves nothing. Instead, learn to ask three questions: (1) “What happened?” (2) “Why did it happen?” and (3) “What are we doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again?” Remain as unruffled as you remain uncompromising.

Psalm 121 has been a favorite of mine ever since I wrote a paper on it in a sophomore English class. (I don’t imagine that would be an acceptable topic these days.) It begins with the direction, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains.” And then describes the protection that God provides.

Sam: It does not direct us to look down or behind. Yet, too many business leaders are doing that these days. The DNA, or default condition, of every organization should be a laser focus on insuring success. When the focus is instead on preventing failure, corporate culture won’t support a brighter future. Success insurers strive to make things better; failure preventers are determined to keep them from getting worse. All of this said, even the most progressive organizations adopt some failure-prevention strategies. In bad economic times, increased reliance on them may even be a mandate. But, when an organization goes too deep or stays too long in that condition, the opportunities presented by better times are difficult to exploit. A failure prevention culture, taken root, is hard to eradicate.
Thanks to Sam Deep for his loyalty and friendship over many years. You can connect with Sam through his website:

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Whatever It Takes

Yesterday we celebrated another Mother’s Day. Since everyone has a mother, it’s a valuable proposition to honor them. Biblical, too. You know, “honor your father and mother” is one of the Big Ten.

Not everyone has a mom to write home about. But for the vast majority of people, Mom was the one who was willing to sacrifice and go overboard to look after her family. In many different ways, a mom is willing to do “whatever it takes.”

One classic example was published in the Washington Post a few years ago just after Mother’s Day. The story featured Stacie Jones who had twin third-grade boys. Both had learning disabilities. Reading and math were particularly difficult for them. The school district was ready to promote her boys to fourth grade but Stacie knew they weren't ready.

Stacie checked around and discovered an excellent school outside of the district to which her family was assigned. There was a steep learning curve on how to proceed and request admission to this school. There was no money for lawyers. But she persisted and her own school district eventually paid for her boys to get this specialized care. She was willing to do “whatever it takes.” (You can read the complete story at:

I have witnessed employees who want to impress their bosses with this same attitude. Often, to the detriment of their health and well being.

I had my own brush with this problem many years ago. My boss at the time was not overbearing, but extra assignments were inside his comfort zone. I had told him when I was hired that I was ready to do the job as needed. On one occasion, a conflict came up with a job assignment and a family commitment. I explained I was obligated to my family. And the feedback was, “I thought you were willing to do whatever it takes!” I replied, “Well, not if it takes my family!”

Entrepreneur posted a story on their website about this high commitment level in January of 2016. The headline read, “Whatever It Takes Attitude Always Works.” To be fair, there were several good points illustrated. A summary paragraph illustrates the good:

“‘Whatever it takes’ mind set is an amalgam, which differs from person to person. Passion, hunger for winning, belief, attitude, perseverance, knowledge, mentorship and positive expectations come together to create the magical concoction that generally elevates normal humans to legends.”

I love the drama this presents. But the article does not address that if job demands get way out of balance and you begin to suffer, what then? This places, as a false god, that success in the workplace is the most important aspect of life. An example of this can be found in a recent story, “No—I Won't Work Until Midnight and Then Come in at 8 a.m.” You get the picture.

Jesus of Nazareth saw it differently. The Bible paraphrase called The Message puts it this way: “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” (Mark 8:36-37, MSG)

Good, healthy thinking about our work life should engender commitment to be diligent in all we do, pursue excellence, champion teamwork, and be respectful of leadership. It may require occasional stretches of extra effort. But no job is worth the loss of your well being…or your soul.

Don’t take my word for it. Take Jesus’. The One who most clearly understood “Whatever it takes.”

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

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

What’s the Score?

Several voices have been weighing in on the reasons for ESPN’s significant financial troubles. Like…We have new specialized sports channels on cable. ...The Internet gives us games on demand and sports results as we need them. ...Costly contracts that ESPN made with pro sports for game coverage have not paid off.

The once mighty and proud “go to” channel for all things sports is becoming a fading star. Ratings are down 16% this year compared to last. So in late April, ESPN terminated more than 100 employees. Many of these folks had a lot of talent. Some had been with the network a long time.

But another dreadful storyline has been developing at ESPN. Unfortunately, it’s being picked up in other sports coverage. I’m talking about the left wing political shift that has emerged from commentators.

This isn’t a view that I express in a vacuum. Clay Travis, with another sports reporting group called Outkick, has been on the case of ESPN’s unwise business practices for a while. He does not blame their downfall on the politics, but it’s a significant factor.

In a recent post, Travis wrote: “Middle America wants to pop a beer and listen to sports talk, they don’t want to be lectured about why Caitlyn Jenner is a hero, Michael Sam is the new Jackie Robinson of sports, and Colin Kaepernick is the Rosa Parks of football. ESPN made the mistake of trying to make liberal social media losers happy and as a result lost millions of viewers.”

Millions? Yes, millions. According to Travis, ESPN will have lost more than 15 million subscribers since 2011. Since January, more than 10,000 people have left ESPN every single day. The loss of those subscribers amounts to over $1.3 billion a year. Of course, if they can’t get them back, those losses keep growing.

To be fair, ESPN isn’t the only sports voice to make a big left turn in politics. I had to mute comments primarily made by Charles Barkley during the NCAA games for the same reason. Sports fans want game and player performance analysis—not mumbo jumbo on bathroom bills from a former hot shot NBA star.

Unfortunately, it’s taken an even worse turn on late night television. Stephen Colbert relishes his role in evening mockery of President Trump. Some claim his ratings jump has been because of this. Other late night hosts, who apparently are Trump haters, are pushing the limits as well.

Colbert got so out of control this past week that some wanted him axed. He made a rude and crude sexual reference about President Trump and Russian President Putin. CBS censors ignored the hugely offensive remark. Colbert made no apology.

It isn’t just that these comments are political. There is no other side. Just one.

Will this cost these networks in the long run? Good question. I no longer watch any late night television.

In His famed Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44, ESV)

A teaching to live by. However, Jesus didn’t say to keep tuning in for their trash talk.

And as for ESPN, I guess you don’t really know the score.

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

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

No Rhapsody in Blue at O'Hare

Most of us are familiar with the blue background and white globe logo on United planes. And we easily recognize their choice of a theme song, Rhapsody in Blue. In recent weeks, however, United has been singing the blues with negative publicity over several incidents.

First, the relatively mild issue—in my opinion—of telling two passengers they could not wear leggings on a flight. Those passengers were using employee passes and the dress code for use of those passes specifies no leggings. But the web response would have made you think Kim Jung Un had lost ALL of his marbles.

Next it was the uncooperative passenger who refused to disembark when told the airline needed his seat for United’s personnel to travel. That request did not end well. The man was dragged essentially kicking, screaming, and bleeding off the plane by security personnel. This time, the interweb responded like it was World War III. And for United, it must have felt like it.

This past week another bizarre incident occurred with United. A “much loved” giant rabbit turned up DOA in Chicago after his plane ride. The bunny, named Simon, was a special hare. He was a Continental Giant rabbit and an offspring of Darius, who holds the Guinness World Record for longest rabbit. According to news reports, Simon already measured 3 feet 5 inches long at just ten months old. It was thought that he may have been on track to break his father's record.

It might not come as a surprise then to learn that United was rated lowest in customer satisfaction of any “legacy airline”: in a new annual survey. Painful as that is, the survey was taken BEFORE the three notorious incidents I’ve mentioned. Obviously time for a PR overhaul! Now we know what United plans to do.

When your public relations chips are down, you offer up to $10,000 for a passenger to give up a seat on a flight. That was one of ten policy changes United recently announced. Some of them had been previously shared. You can find all them in the article “United vows to reduce overbooking, will offer up to $10,000 to bumped passengers.”

Worth noting from where I sit, “Starting in August, United will give all employees who interact with customers annual training on handling ‘the most difficult of situations.’”  United said it doesn't currently provide training on handling situations in which customers are denied boarding. You’re kidding.

Hmmm. Why wait until August? I know people who could conduct that course starting tomorrow! United might also start their improvements by looking at the business practices of Jet Blue, Southwest, or Alaska Airlines. Those were the top three finishers in the latest survey.

If you’ll excuse this somewhat altitude related reference, good public relations is not rocket science. Jesus of Nazareth offered up the supreme customer business practice we often refer to as “The Golden Rule.” We should all know this by heart: “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31, ESV)

I’m truly sorry to hear what happened to Simon the Rabbit. Although I would admit that a four foot bunny would scare the bejeebers out of me. And it seems totally ironic that this sad loss happened on the way to…O’Hare.

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.