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Monday, June 26, 2017

Land that Helicopter

LaVar Ball should be a very happy man. Last Thursday evening his gifted athlete son, Lonzo Ball, was selected as the second pick in the 2017 NBA draft. The 6-6 point guard averaged 14.6 points per game and 7.6 assists. I’m not sure how that point six stuff works, but that’s today’s math. Anyway, he’s good.

True to his dad’s prediction, Lonzo will now be playing for the L.A. Lakers. LaVar Ball is an aggressive helicopter parent who has stepped on many toes. Supposedly, he compared his son’s basketball skills to Michael Jordan and judged Lonzo as superior. Well, isn’t that special!?

I confess I didn’t know about this draft phenom until I read a New York Times story, “When Helicopter Parents Hover Even at Work.” The Ball family had a limited focus, but a significant one. LaVar appears to have gone over the top. He’s tried putting together a billion dollar marketing and endorsement package for his three sons—all very talented—but apparently no takers as of yet.

The larger point is that many millennial parents are getting into this game. Not basketball, but what some might consider workplace interference. These hovering parents want a return on their college “investments.”

Some of this helicopter activity I found hard to believe. Brandi Britton, a recruiter with the firm OfficeTeam, recalled a father who called her hoping to get his son an accounting job. “The father sent in his son’s résumé, scheduled the interview and, to her surprise, turned up with him in person. ‘He was shepherding that thing,’ she said.”

Office Team decided to survey other employers on this. One shared about a job candidate who had his mother join the interview via Skype. Another mom asked to fill in to interview for her son because of a scheduling conflict. And it doesn’t stop there.

The organization Teach for America claims to be “mystified” by the number of intervening parents. One of their administrators shared about complaints they received from parents regarding their children. Over what? One parent didn’t appreciate their child’s being disciplined by a principal. Mind you, this "child" is not a student, but a teacher! Another called to complain about their adult child having a conflict with a coworker.

This helicopter effect seemed to take hold in the last 15-20 years as millennials started seeking jobs. One survey reported that nearly one fourth of the employers they surveyed noted “parental involvement in the hiring process and the early stages of workers’ careers.”

And from that group, almost a third reported parents having submitted a résumé for their children. Other employers told of getting complaints from parents when the child wasn’t hired. Thirdly, “nearly 10 percent said parents had insinuated themselves into salary and benefit negotiations.”

As the Times reported, several companies have decided to become proactive and accept more parental involvement. LinkedIn will host its fifth annual Bring in Your Parents Day in November. Other groups are trying to be creative on this as well.

The Bible has many verses dealing with parenting. None about helicopter parenting. However, the Bible does address giving godly wisdom and warning of the dangerous problem of pride, where we push the greatness of ourselves and our children. As the Proverbs teach, “Pride leads only to shame; it is wise to be humble.” (Proverbs 11:2, NCV)

As for our new NBA player, the ball is now in Lonzo’s court. It’s up to him to prove he’s worth it. And Daddy hopes he won’t have to pick himself up off the floor.

A crushed ego can bruise the soul in many ways.

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, June 19, 2017

2 Soon 2 Be 4gotten

Here’s a quick question for you. What were the most memorable moments from your high school or college graduation speeches? What lasting advice or gem of a thought has stayed with you? I dare guess the longer it’s been, the less likely you remember anything.

Yet the tradition goes on. We invite people in leadership roles or who have become high achievers or who have become quite successful to tell graduates what’s most important. Some can have a lasting imprint because the media highlights them. In 2015, Katie Couric got press for these commencement words of wisdom, "If you're too big for a small job, you're too small for a big job." Nice.

NPR posted a blog on the most used words spoken to graduates. They raise an interesting point by drawing a comparison to hit pop songs. The most effective speeches are simple, emotional, and pack a universal message into just a few words. Very good.

Now get this. The blogger, Anya Kamenetz, used a database of commencement speeches from between 1771 and 2013 to determine the five most frequent words used by speakers, excluding prepositions and other super common words.

The top five were: Life, Make, People, World, Yourself.

Then she did the same with the most quoted people from commencement speeches of 2014-2015. The top five words they used were: Make, Success, Generation, Define, Human. She mentioned two other notables were "text" and "technology."

Anya’s generalized observation was that millennials process the world differently. Speakers were "slightly more likely to address a ‘generation’ than the solitary ‘yourself.'" (FYI, NPR also has a selection of commencement addresses going back to 1774. You can search more than 350 speeches by name, school, date, or theme.

I’ve made a couple of high school commencement speeches in my time. The last was in 2007 at a Christian high school. I was seeking to communicate to these students that technology and social media have changed the game of influence.

What I said then, I believe holds true today. The world that our graduates will proceed into is preoccupied with themselves. To penetrate that mindset in this age, you must find ways to be in the world, but not of it. And use language that transcends the cultural norms.

My observations included…

  1. As you engage in the new and multiple forms of messaging, does what you’re saying have any lasting value?
  2. How does your communication affect the self worth of others?
  3. Technology is an asset. It has a huge liability. It sucks time and attention from your life. Can you step back?
  4. Your spiritual challenge is the same today as it was in Jesus' time. "His words were…be in the world, but not of it." You have to figure out how. 
  5. Your unique challenge is how to put controls in your life to avoid the traps of a high tech world…and especially the trap of the message that without fame or recognition, you do not exist.

In summary, blogs, videos--anything that gets on the web--must have a different face. A different purpose. A different approach. You will have to find ways to communicate to the world that there is one icon that has more power behind it than all the rest. The icon of the cross.

The redeeming love of God, expressed through the cross, is what will enable anyone to "graduate" to their eternal home. (John 3:16 is the reference point.)

Interestingly, the word “cross” didn’t show up on either list of “money words” from past commencement speeches.

No wonder most of these talks are so easily forgotten.

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, June 12, 2017

"Work Ethic"?

“Wish we could turn back time to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep, but now we're stressed out.”
Lyrics from Stressed Out, by TWENTY ØNE PILØTS

My very young grandchildren know the lyrics to this song. Thanks to Papa. These kids now ask me to play this song when in my car. I admit to being fond of hit tunes even in my 60s. Must be my hard-wired radio life.

Speaking of “wired”—or more appropriately, WIRED the magazine, I just read a disturbing online post of theirs titled, “The Gospel of Hard Work, According to Silicon Valley.” Really…you should read this.

In a nutshell, the storyline explains a Tweet firestorm that erupted over the subject of work-life balance in the tech world. One very experienced tech investor with major company credentials tweeted his thoughts on killing yourself by work habits. He believes that putting in time on holidays or weekends is a “recipe for disaster.” He advocates working smarter—not harder.

This generated some major feedback from some of his fellow venture capitalists and others. One VC-er, Keith Rabois, retorted by Tweet: “Totally false. Read a bio of Elon [Musk]. Or about Amazon. Or about the first 4 years of FB. Or PayPal. Or Bill Bellichick [sic]. It is pure arrogance to believe you can outsmart other talented people.”

The feud was underway. The Elon Musk stories are legendary. If true, he works incessantly. Supposedly, he’s even brought sleeping bags to his offices to increase his time on mission. Oh my.

But the story took a spiritual turn that caused me to growl. A former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler, concerned over this work-life imbalance, interjected Max Weber into the discussion. Specifically, his book The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism.

Note what Fowler tells Wired magazine: “There’s this concept of the ‘Protestant work ethic’ that’s intrinsically related to capitalism, the idea being that, to the Protestant, ‘hard work’ is a religious duty, a profession of faith and devotion. The harder you work, the better a Christian you are, the better chance you have of salvation.”

Wait a minute here! That is not a good summation of Weber’s thinking. Max certainly links the capitalistic mindset and the making of profit to Protestant thinkers like John Calvin. But Susan understates a deeper theological issue and, for Protestants, working hard is never connected to earning salvation. That’s nonsense.

Giving a healthier view on all this was David Hainemeier Hanson, a bestselling author and creator of the programming language Ruby on Rails. In a blog, he “rails” against tech financiers preaching work overload to young talent. Why? Because the money guys are only interested in…money. As Hanson states, “Of course they’re going to desire fairytale sacrifices. There’s little to no consequence to them if the many fall by the wayside, spent to completion trying to hit that home run. Make me rich or die tryin’.”

In the tech world, pressure to overwork is often loaded up two ways. One is by management dictate: “You WILL work long hours if you want to belong.” The other way is to withhold promotions or being labeled a misfit for not putting in the hours.

One particularly disturbing quote came at the end of the article. Apparently, Super Bowl winning coach Bill Walsh wrote in one of his books, “that you know you’re doing your job right if you’re up at 3 AM and ‘have a knot in your stomach, a rash on your skin, are losing sleep and losing touch with your wife and kids.’”

Jesus of Nazareth gave us a different message, saying, “Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NCV) 

God didn’t give us a gospel of hard work. He wants our work to reflect our worship. And part of that worship is healthy periods of rest.

So don’t attribute workaholism to the Protestant work ethic. Try labeling it what it really is. Selfish ambition.

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, June 5, 2017

Are You Elmer Gantry?

Enthusiasm sells. It can’t overcome a bad product or weak customer service but it might get you in the door. I’m alway impressed to meet the sales-minded types who strike with enthusiasm.

Christian evangelists are known for their enthusiasm. Some are seemingly “on fire for the Lord!” When a message can change hearts, renew minds, and bring healing of many kinds to life, one ought to bear that message with conviction and excitement!

In a few days, Chicago will be the host region for a conference that will focus on evangelism. It’s happening June 27-29 and will feature dynamic speakers such as Luis Palau, Trip Lee, and Will Graham—a relative of Billy Graham. The event will be held at Highpoint Church in Naperville, Illinois, and it’s sponsored by the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, in partnership with Mission America Coalition. (

History has revealed some who have preached passionately but left a dark past in the wake of their message. Their personal lives reveal less than faithful convictions in their behavior. I won’t name names.

In 1927, author Sinclair Lewis had a bestselling novel built around a traveling evangelist: Elmer Gantry. Later, Lewis went on to win the Nobel Prize. And his Gantry story later became a well known movie starring Burt Lancaster, who received an Oscar for his role.

Elmer Gantry’s problems included a love for whiskey, women, and wealth. While he was a terrific showman with his “religious pitch,” it was simply a show. He was selling something he didn’t believe in.

This past week, I read an article titled, “I Hated Growing up Evangelical in Sweden, But It Made Me a Better Entrepreneur.” It was written by Andreas Hassellöf, CEO and founder of Ombori Group. As a young lad, Andreas was forced to learn a Christian evangelical pitch and deliver the message on doorsteps.

Fear overtook him in this mission. He got sick to his stomach before his first presentation. He would be sweating before people answered the door. Shock would set in and he’d forget what he was supposed to say. Worse yet, apparently, he didn’t believe the message. Yet he became very good at delivering it. In his words, “I learned to listen for the conversational keywords that could give me a way in, and I gradually figured out how to tune the message to each person I spoke with.”

His “redemptive” advice to readers was that despite how difficult this was for him, it helped develop his skills in presentations as an entrepreneur. Andreas is now an advocate for “product evangelism.” This is way he describes it: “You need to show the same passion and belief that drives religious evangelists. You can’t inspire people with a simple recitation of why your product is amazing, even if your product really is amazing. You need to be convinced deep down that what you’re selling will change your customers’ lives if they accept what you’re offering.”

It is most unfortunate that the message of Good News about Jesus did not ring true for Andreas Hassellöf. Yet his business advice has substance. Those who do not believe in what they are selling should find a cause in which they can believe. I mean…who wants to go to work each day feeling like a fraud?

Maybe there are more Elmer Gantrys out there than we realize.

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.