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Monday, May 28, 2018

Deep Thoughts

My longtime friend and leadership coach is providing a guest blog today. It’s from his “Leaders Take Action” series and it’s titled: They Set the Right Leadership Balance. Here is Sam’s wisdom for this Memorial Day:

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 air time. 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. You're 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 1970s 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.

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.

For more information:
Sam Deep launched his leadership development career in 1986 after 15 years of teaching and administration at the University of Pittsburgh. Since then, he has spoken in front of more than 200,000 people, his 16 internationally published books have sold well over one million copies in 14 languages. He also served as an adjunct professor of leadership and strategy at the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business from 1998 to 2006.

Check out more about Sam at:

Monday, May 21, 2018

Don’t Ever Quit Working

A few years ago, I helped start a monthly meeting of older men in our church. We call it the 55+ Men’s Group. Last Saturday was our final meeting before a summer break.

The theme of our meeting was on worldview. As a preliminary to the study, I asked the men a couple of questions related to the season of graduation that is upon us. The questions were: “What person most influenced your life in your younger years?” and…"What advice would you give a graduate if they asked for your best wisdom as they headed out into the world?”

On that second question, there were funny lines, of course. One chap said, “Don’t get caught!” Another fellow said, “Plastics.” But most delivered a serious response. A few dealt with keeping your moral conduct a priority. Some dealt with choosing the right friends. A couple offered perspectives on work including, “Make sure you go to a job that you enjoy. I hate the term ‘work.’”

One of my consistent pieces of advice to grads is this: Don’t be afraid to make a change in your career path. Some people don’t discover what they really are best suited for until later in life. I refer to this as discovering your “bullseye” and have blogged on this before.

A second piece of advice I would offer is to avoid committing to a path to “stop working.” I mentioned one of our 55+ men said that he hated the word “work.” It’s not uncommon. And yet, he really didn’t mind going to “work” in the job he enjoyed!

My friend and co-blogger Rick Ezell shared some good thoughts on work recently in his column “Defining Moments.” To the question “Why do I work?” Rick wrote, “Some people work for money. Others work for opportunity. Respect is another reason people work. But what happens when the money dries up? What happens when the opportunities halt? What if people don’t like you? What if there is a downturn or downsizing? What then?” Rick adds, “The key to finding purpose and meaning in your job is connecting what you do all day with what you think God wants you doing.”

How do you know if you’re in the wrong job? An anonymous source said this: “When you wake up at 6 in the morning, you close your eyes for 5 minutes and it's already 6:45. When you're at work and it's 2:30, you close your eyes for 5 minutes and it's 2:31.” You get the message.

I return to a question I asked last week. Why was Steve Jobs working, even long hours, up to his death? Why does Cousin Brucie stay on Sirius XM doing radio shows at the age of 82? Why is Warren Buffett still investing wildly at the age of 87? You know why. They ENJOY their work.

This is why I say don’t ever quit working—IF you can continue to do what you were made to do and still enjoy it. If you’re not working in that way, now would be a good time to make a shift. God has placed you on earth for a purpose.

Pastor and theologian John Piper has said, “Work is a glorious thing. If you are starting to grow lazy, I summon you back to joy. God made us to work. He formed our minds to think and our hands to make. He gave us strength—little or great—to be about the business of altering the way things are.”

Ready to retire? Then retire to the work that gives you the most joy and satisfaction in life. Teach others the life skills needed to make a better world. Invest in souls who will lead us into the future.

While you’re at it, share some wisdom with some graduates about life and work. You might be the person that most influences their future.

Even Confucius was unconfused about work, saying “Choose a work that you love and you won’t have to work another day.” Or was that Jimmy Fallon?

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.

For more information:

Monday, May 14, 2018

Who, Me? Retire?

Occasionally I meet someone or hear from a friend who asks, “Are you still working?” While I’d like to think I don’t LOOK like a retiree, my age is beginning to show. Well, more than beginning.

Ask my wife Rhonda when I should retire and she will answer, “Never.” She’s partially right. That is, if we define retirement as “stop working.”

People who dream of winning the lottery often see themselves as being able to walk in and give the boss a hug goodbye. Or maybe a different farewell message as they skip happily into the future of non-employment. Their dream of freedom has come true.

As has been frequently reported, better watch yourself if the retirement dream comes true. Many have experienced a loss of purpose in life. Their work embodied their meaning. Depression can set in.

Others handle it quite well. I had coffee with a friend of mine in California recently who is comfortably retired. Not wealthy, just comfortable. His mortgage has been paid off. He had income from retirement accounts. Life is good. But like many retirees, he says he’s now “busier than ever!” Go figure.

What if you could make millions of dollars in the next five years? Would you walk away from the work you do? Two New York Times bestselling authors that I know of have done no such thing. One is Pastor Rick Warren. After his book, The Purpose Driven Life became an international bestseller, Rick remains in the ministry and I’m sure his time is in great demand. He also chose to give away a huge portion of the book sales proceeds.

A second author I know personally also amassed a sizable earthly fortune from book sales. But he not only continues his writing, he coaches others. He still works on refining his own skills as well.

Several years ago, I was at the corporate headquarters of Apple. While having lunch with my son, I glanced up to see Steve Jobs speaking with a coworker just a few feet away. Think about it. Did Steve Jobs NEED to work? I’m sure he was focused on developing ideas and future plans.

Whether it was the authors I mentioned, or Steve Jobs, or any number of the wealthy who keep working, why don’t they “retire?” You know, get a cabin and go fishing every day. Or buy a motorhome and travel the country. Or use their private jet to go to every private beach in the world and lie out in the sun like in those beer commercials?

Why? Because retirement usually isn’t all it’s built up to be. A healthy view on aging says that the blessings of growing older should be used for good. Specifically, the good of others.

Make no mistake. I’m not being critical of those who choose to “retire” from their career jobs and move on to something else. I’m just saying that one should not overestimate the value of ending a highly productive work life.

This brings into focus a very important question. Why work at all? Again, if all your bills were paid and you could stop working, would you? This raises some interesting questions about your perceptions of work, your job satisfaction, and to some degree, your calling. I’ll address those issues in my blog next Monday. Lord willing.

After amassing all his wealth through hard work, King Solomon reflected…

“So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:17-19, NIV)

Want to avoid a meaningless end of life? Meet you here next week.

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.

For more information:

Monday, May 7, 2018

Bearing Good Views

Do you like the people with whom you work? Perhaps you have a subconscious rating system. In your workplace, maybe you have grouped certain people into categories. Some you really like, some you don’t, and some for which you have neutral feelings.

A recent article at addressed this issue. Here’s the headline: “Want to be Happier and More Successful? Learn to Like Other People.” The business lesson comes from David Mayer, who serves as associate professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business. He is also a faculty member in the Center for Positive Organizations.

Obviously, he raises a pretty good incentive to change our thinking! Who doesn’t want to be happier and more successful? But are we willing to pay the price?

Mayer quotes some interesting research citing that people who tend to trust others at work score higher than those who don’t. It leads him to ask a powerful question. “How can I start seeing more good in people more often?”

The weak side of our human nature explains why this change of heart needs to happen. As Mayer explains, since childhood we are told not to trust. Especially strangers. I’ve been told in various jobs who you can trust—and who you can’t.

Also, Mayer shares that “people have an unyielding desire to see themselves in a positive light. This can cause us to develop less favorable views of others. Research shows that we tend to think we’re better than average at almost everything, meaning that others are worse—including less trustworthy.”

The mindset shift to assuming the best in others requires some behavioral changes as well. Instead of reacting with suspicion to emails or memos that leave gray areas or doubts, decide first to get the accurate information. Encouraging others and moving toward resolving situations, rather than away from conflict, gives you more emotional leverage.

In a competitive environment, this relational trust is more difficult. When people have pressure to win or prove their worth, viewing others as only having their self interest at stake can be common. When you seem like a cheerleader for others, perhaps there is a sense you’re not as committed. Yes, enemies can be found within your own team.

This can happen in the faith community just as easily as anywhere else. I recently sat with a friend (I’ll call him Sam) who shared that for several years, he simply could not stand working with an associate. While the two were in different departments, they intersected in their work often. Something happened early on in the relationship that caused Sam to set up a relational barrier. And he kept it there.

Then, after many years passed, my friend was obligated to do a joint project with his relational enemy. Sam sought counsel from a spiritual coworker who advised him to lay down HIS burden—one of bitterness. That stung. But it brought home a much needed reality, one that was confirmed when Sam approached the “offending” coworker and confessed his improper attitude. The other person was unaware there was even a problem. Thus, it was easy to forgive.

People of faith are better served by taking the concept of “liking other people” to a higher level. In following Jesus of Nazareth, His command is to take seriously “loving our neighbor as ourselves.” The apostle Paul adds, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3, NIV)

Obviously, these instructions are meant for us to apply in the workplace. Learn to see other people in the light of the Gospel. It will give new life to your relationships.

You can be a true bearer of “good views.”

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.

For more information: