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Monday, January 29, 2018

The Power of Flourishing

While still months away, I recommend you consider attending the annual Acton University event in Grand Rapids this June. They descibe it as a “four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society” and “an opportunity to deepen your knowledge and integrate philosophy, theology, business, development––with sound market based, economics.”

That sounds heady and overly academic but I find their sessions powerful and practical. A long time friend, Dr. Paul Bonicelli, serves at the Acton Institute as Director of Programs and Education. He’s involved with a number of events around the country during the year centered around various themes.

An Acton event to be presented March 5th in La Jolla, California, is titled, “Toward a Free and Virtuous Society: Foundations for Flourishing.” The concept expands by asking, “How does our view of the human person, theology, economics, and government affect our approach to poverty?” This has very strong implications for the workplace.

As one example, I’ll cite a historical reference from the blog, “Work and Human Flourishing,” published March 20, 2015, by Ann Heekin. She notes, “Desert fathers and mothers of Christianity of the 4th century take the biblical foundations on work to new spiritual heights. These monastics understood a natural rhythm of work and prayer as compatible ways to entering the presence of God.”

Heekin quotes medieval historian Patricia Ranft who states, “Work in all its numerous forms and types is the means by which humanity maintains its relationship with the world, and, as such, work is the means by which humans fulfill their potential to become one with the sacred.”

This underscores that our work has much greater importance in life than we generally give it. When seeing our work in the larger picture of human flourishing, it brings a powerful challenge to the way we should manage and direct our efforts.

A practical application of this comes from Al Lopus. Al is the president and co-founder of the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. ( A couple of years ago he blogged on “8 Factors of a Flourishing Workplace.”

The list was developed from the BCWI research to help ministry organizations. But it’s obviously practical for any business as well. Here are the eight factors with edited comments:

1. Fantastic Teams. These teams engage in passionate dialogue around issues, resolve conflict, and strive for excellence in what they do. They are competent in their work areas and across department lines.

2. Life-Giving Work. Work is inspirational when staff are devoted to their role, and are able to utilize their skills and spiritual gifts to their fullest.

3. Outstanding Talent. Flourishing organizations recruit and retain high quality talent, promote those who are most capable, and reward their top performers.

4. Uplifting Growth and Development. This element measures supervisory competence and compassion, the quality of performance feedback, recognition, and the opportunity to learn and grow.

5. Rewarding Compensation. This includes fair compensation and employee satisfaction with their medical, retirement, and paid-time-off benefits.

6. Inspirational Leadership. This measures the authenticity of leaders who live with integrity, exhibit humility and compassion, are transparent, and create high levels of trust in the organization.

7. Sustainable Strategy. These organizations have an effective or winning strategy for meeting the needs of those they serve in a high quality way.

8. Healthy Communication. Communication is “real” when staff experience managers listening to their suggestions and acting on them. Where staff feel free to voice their opinions, diversity is evident and they are encouraged to innovate.

Want a flourishing workplace where your team performs with passion and excellence? Apply Al Lopus’ list.

And consider this…“the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God.” (Psalm 92:12-13, NLT).

That is a bonus worth pursuing!

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, January 22, 2018

Integrity at the Core

One of the pleasures of my church ministry experience is a group of age 55+ men who meet monthly for breakfast. It’s a fun fellowship of guys who share a lot in common at this stage of life. As you might guess, our health news updates often need a little extra time.

We have a brief lesson from devotional material I’ve selected. This year, we’ve been tracking with insights from a book called, The Joshua Code by O.S. Hawkins. The lesson for this last Saturday was titled, “Integrity: Don’t Leave Home Without It!”

Hawkins reminds us that we all live in four distinct spheres of life and influence. There is our private world, where no one else goes except us. We also have a personal world, which is shared with a small circle of family or friends who really know us intimately. Our professional world is the third of these spheres. This likely includes scores of people. Finally, there is the public world. These are the people who have never met us personally or professionally but have formed an opinion about us.

So where does the matter of integrity fit?

That word indicates a completeness or a life of wholeness. The person we seek to make ourselves out to be on the outside should come close to matching who we truly are on the inside. This is the life of integrity.

Hawkins goes on to make these statements:
  1. Integrity is rooted in one’s private life.
  2. Integrity is reflected in one’s personal life.
  3. Integrity is reinforced in one’s professional life.
  4. Integrity is revealed in one’s public life. 
The significant and underlying message is that integrity is among the most important traits of an individual. It supersedes intellect, intensity, and insight. In the workplace, it will make or break a leader.

Another friend of mine, Rick Ezell, recently posted a question for his readers. It asks, “Do you pass the integrity test?” He references the life of the young man Daniel after whom a book in the Bible is named. His highest loyalty was to honor God in his behavior—whatever the cost.

Ezell shares one of his favorite stories of how integrity played out in a famous movie. I’m re-sharing it for you here. As Rick writes:

“One of my favorite movies is To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, an Alabama lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white girl in the early 1930s. Upon taking the case, Finch immediately comes under the abuse and the scorn of the people in the town. The man was innocent, and Atticus Finch capably defended him; but when the jury came in, nobody was surprised that its verdict was guilty.

The lawyer’s two children were at the courthouse. Unable to find seats downstairs, they had gone into the segregated balcony and had sat next to the town’s black preacher. As the judge retired and the spectators filed out of the courtroom, Jean, Atticus’s daughter, was engrossed in watching her father. He stood alone in the room, transferring papers from the table into his briefcase. Then he put on his coat and walked down the middle aisle toward the exit—a beaten man but with soul intact. Jean felt someone touch her shoulder. She turned around and noticed that everyone in the balcony was standing. The black preacher nudged her again and said, ‘Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’ by.’”

Atticus Finch had core values that would not be shaken. Circumstance would not rob him of his convictions. Integrity was his invaluable asset.

And so it should be with us. In the book of Proverbs, our path is laid out: “He who walks with integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will become known.” (Proverbs 10:9, NASB)

Are you such a person? One who can be trusted as a soul with integrity? A life of success will be measured by that vital character trait.

Here’s lookin’ at you.

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, January 15, 2018

Leaders Take Action

I am enjoying time away with my wife Rhonda this week. My long time friend, leadership trainer and consultant Sam Deep, has graciously provided a special guest blog. It has more good wisdom for the year ahead.

Leaders Set the Right Leadership Balance

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. 
~Ecclesiastes 3:1

You continually make choices on how to lead. And rarely are they clean-cut alternatives. More often they are ratios of how much to focus on A vs. B. Twelve critical leadership ratios follow. What relative emphasis do you attach within each? At any given time your team, peers, boss, customers, and market conditions will contribute to your decision.

1 Internal vs. External. You act as an internal leader when you engage closely with your team. As an external leader you act as a buffer between your unit and higher levels of corporate leadership, colleagues, customers, suppliers, investors, the community, and the media. Too often, leaders choose their internal/external split based solely on their comfort level rather than what is best for the talent they have, the demands of their mission, and the idiosyncrasies of their industry. 
2 Control vs. Trust. You manage “close to the vest” when employees can do little without checking back for further guidance or permission to proceed. Alternatively, you can delegate the authority for all but decisions that must be made at the highest levels. Consider the analogy of hotel front desk staffs. Some have to check with their manager before agreeing to redact a $10 misapplied honor bar charge from your bill. In one well-known hotel chain, checkout clerks have the authority to forgive guests up to $2000 on their statement. 
3 Process vs. Product. Process-minded leaders ask questions like these: What do we need to do to serve our customers better? Do we provide our employees with a culture where they feel like they’re growing? Are we visibly and sufficiently committed to continuous improvement? Product-minded leaders ask these kinds of questions: How does our first quarter profit stand in relation to plan? Are we operating at the lowest possible cost structure? How many new contracts did we close last week? 
4 Strong vs. Facilitative. As a strong leader you remain starkly visible with your hand in many tactical pots. You are active and authoritative. You powerfully declare your positions. In staff meetings it’s not unusual for you to consume 80% of the airtime. As a facilitative leader you aim at getting the best from the people around you. You slip into the background when you sense that will encourage others to come to the fore. You withhold opinions that might intimidate reports from stating theirs. Your team exudes great energy at meetings.
5 Failure Focus (FF) vs. Success Spotlight (SS). Every leader worth his or her salt has both of these leanings, yet tilts closer to the latter. The FF in you activates when you’re feeling pessimistic, hoping things don’t get worse. Your FF grows in bad economic times and chaotic emotional times. You can’t take much more bad news. By contrast, SS is your possibility thinking side. It grows when you’re bent on achieving an exciting and ambitious vision. Your excited about the prospects of growth, advancement, and profit. You’re eager to achieve unrealized potential.
6 Talent vs. Character. Chuck Noll, the highly successful head coach of the 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers was asked about his philosophy of picking college prospects. He said, “We draft the best available athlete.” Following their sixth Super Bowl win in 2009, Steelers General Manager Art Rooney, II hinted at a revised recruiting philosophy when he said, “We draft for character.” Had the approach to draft selection changed that much in 40 years? Not necessarily, but the contrast between the two statements may cause you to think about your own hiring practices. Do you hire more for talent or character?
7 Critical vs. Supportive. The members of your team have strengths to be leveraged and weaknesses to be overcome. Are you a critical leader who believes that employees are only as good as their weakest quality and that they must eradicate that shortcoming? Or are you more of a supportive leader who believe that employees are as good as their most terrific qualities. You look to strengthen those qualities and build on strengths as a strategy to overwhelm their limitations.
8 Doing vs. Leading. How much does your position call for you to serve customers, make product, and shape process--the doing part of your job? When leading, you connect with your people and build relationships with them in order to increase their engagement with the goals and priorities of your unit.
9  Achievable vs. Improbable. “Stretch” goals are good, but they do need to be achievable. Can your people reach the goals that have been set for them, or are they frustrated by their unrealistic nature? Give your folks an opportunity to experience success and gain satisfaction by reaching a desired outcome and perhaps even going beyond it. The philosophy behind the setting of improbable goals is that standards that are too easy to realize breed complacency rather than energy and creativity.
10  Results vs. Visionary. You’re wearing your results uniform when pressured to get as much good product out the door in as short a time as possible. By contrast, the visionary you is the leader willing to downplay short-term results in order to realize a long-term vision. Even if you’re not going to be around to see that big idea materialize, you focus on that outcome.
11  Competence vs. Compliance. This ratio relates to the Human Resources function. When HR is active in recruiting and selecting the best and brightest, in employee training and development, and in winning employee engagement, it is building competence. When it is concerned with complying with employment laws and ensuring that the performance management system protects the company legally, the spotlight is on compliance.
12  Permission vs. Forgiveness. Sometimes you seek permission from higher ups before proceeding with a new idea not yet approved or making a decision for which guidance has not been received. That’s often the way to go. Other times, there’s no opportunity to get such authorization. There are even times when you believe that because of misunderstanding or weak leadership, approval for the right thing to do will not be forthcoming. In this case, you may resign to going for forgiveness after you act.

Balance Yourself: For which of the twelve leadership ratios do you choose to alter your balance?

(Thanks, Sam! I will have a new blog for readers next Monday. 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, January 8, 2018

Making a Difference

With the new year just underway, now is a good time to consider two questions:
  • What will you do differently in 2018? And…
  • What difference will you make?
I’m finding no shortage of articles dealing with Near Year’s resolutions. Most are directed toward helping people live them out. A few even attempt to tell you what your resolutions ought to be!

Why make resolutions at all? I think the better approach is to do an annual gut check that asks tough questions about yourself. Questions like…what is my life really about? Is it only comprised of work and daily routines that produce an “ordinary existence?” Or do I see a bigger picture and a significant role that I can play?

Then there’s the job related questions. Am I truly contributing value to others with my work? Do I find true satisfaction in my endeavors? Am I advancing my knowledge and skills to create more value?

In terms of overall well being, is my health improving, stable, or declining? Are there broken relationships that need healing? Am I managing time well? Do I have friendships in which I invest and find of mutual benefit? Or have I become more withdrawn and isolated?

As for money, is it driving my purpose in life or not? Have I become a better steward of the resources with which God has blessed me? Would others consider me a generous person?

Spending time each year on these questions sets up the opportunity to create a better life game-plan. It need not be a list of heavy demands for change, but rather desirable objectives toward a better life. Or dare I say…an abundant life.

Why this phrase? Jesus of Nazareth was sharing with His closest associates about His priority of serving others. In life, we find many who are willing to take advantage of us by stealing our time, going after our money, or lessening our quality of life some other way. Not Jesus. He said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Another translation of that verse describes it as life “to the fullest.”

The person who is the primary spiritual influence in my life frequently asks people whether they are living the abundant life. Can you guess how most people respond? Many aren’t sure what it means. Most cannot say that they are living such a life.

Evangelist Greg Laurie shares the story of an artist who sculpted a beautiful angel and wanted the master artist, Michelangelo, to inspect it and offer his opinion. So Michelangelo was called in. The master artist carefully looked at the sculpture from every angle.

Finally, he said, "Well, it lacks only one thing." Then he turned around and walked out.

The artist didn't know what it lacked, and he was embarrassed to go and ask Michelangelo. So he sent a friend to Michelangelo's studio to try and find out what his statue lacked.

The great artist replied, "It lacks only life.”

This year, perhaps you can make it your objective to move closer to living the abundant life. Consider my opening two questions about making a difference. Set a course that leads your life in the direction of a Jesus follower. Every aspect of your world will take on new meaning.

The wealth of contentment is worth the investment.

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, January 1, 2018

Wisdom to Begin a New Year

Welcome to the New Year! Change those calendars. Practice writing "2018"! Make that list of hopes, dreams, and promised efforts we call goals. Yup. It’s that time of year.

To begin this year, I’m presenting to you a gift of wisdom and encouragement via a few of my favorite quotes.

First off, if you are one of those people who are determined to get healthy by working out, here’s the best advice I’ve seen: “World's greatest exercise: the one you will do.” (Wish I knew who first said that!)

And now…plenty of wonderful truths on which to chew:

“To comprehend a man’s life, it is necessary to know not merely what he does, but also what he purposely leaves undone. There is a limit to the work that can be got out of a human body or a human brain, and he is a wise man who wastes no energy on pursuits for which he is not fitted; and he is still wiser who, from among the things that he can do well, chooses and resolutely follows the best." ~William E. Gladstone

“If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm is over us, His ear open to our prayer, His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.” ~John Newton

Naveen Jain's motto: "Success is not defined by the size of your bank account but by the number of lives you make a positive difference in.” (Jain is co-founder of Moon Express, a Mountain View, CA, company. He also founded Internet companies Infospace and Intelius)

“All men are created equal. At birth and at death all men are the same, all are equal. It is life that is not equal. Life is the time given each one of us from our first breath to the last. To live life all we have to do is to decide what to do with the time given us. Will you live life or let life live you?” ~unknown source

“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry our their dream.” ~ Les Brown, motivational speaker

An excellent resource to read to help you complete your 2018 goals is from bestselling author, Jon Acuff. Jon was a guest on my talk show recently discussing his latest book, Finish! Here’s one of many quotables: “The harder you try to be perfect, the less likely you'll accomplish your goals. This is the first lie that perfectionism tells you about goals: ‘Quit if it isn't perfect.’”

Henry Crowell was the founder of Quaker Oats. His remarkable life is told in a biography titled, Cereal Tycoon. I love his story. And the note that summarized what he valued most: “If my life can always be lived so as to please Him, then I shall be supremely happy.”

In closing, let me share a prayer of blessing for 2018. Often I will post birthday greetings to friends with a favorite Bible verse of mine. “May he grant you your heart's desire and fulfill all your plans!” Ps. 20:4 (ESV)

Happy New Year!

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.