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Monday, June 25, 2018

Acting…on Acton

Last week I was “zoned in” on some of my favorite topics of discussion. I was conducting three days of interviews with some of God’s very bright thinkers in the areas of moral development, liberty, and economic principles. Yes…it was the 2018 event known as "Acton University" held annually in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Acton invites a broad audience to engage in the intense four day “university” of knowledge. Attending are spiritual leaders, business executives, entrepreneurs, university professors, and academic researchers. I guess you’d want to add those who seek to explore material not usually found on today’s college campuses.

Acton University is the highlight event of The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. It is named after the English historian Lord John Acton. Most would associate his name with the famous quote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

In short form, Acton Institute pursues a vision of society that is free and virtuous. When such a principled world exists, the end game is human flourishing. Thus, the Institute holds seminars and publishes books, articles, and periodicals on topics of this genre.

One of the distinctives of Acton University is the spiritual diversity of their presenters and the attendees. There were 1,140 participants this year representing 72 countries. A total of 144 classes were ofered by 88 faculty members. While the development of this event is from Catholic origins, (Catholic faculty are well represented) you’ll find a number of Protestant and Jewish thought leaders as well.

This year, some of my favorite interviews included:
  • Dr. Mihail Neamtu, Author and Public Intellectual from Romania. In a nutshell, he presented the case that, for the sake of preserving individual freedom and safety, nation-states must restore their claim to political sovereignty, over against any globalist or internationalist philosophy.
  • Michael Matheson Miller, Research Fellow with Acton and producer of much of their media. He offered a CORE curriculum course on the Christian vision of the human person in the context of politics and society.
  • Dr. Kevin Schmiesing represents Action Institute as a Research Fellow as well. He spoke on the meanings of the terms "conservative" and "liberal," mainly in the American context. Very insightful.
  • Dr. Charlie Self, Director of City Expansion, Made to Flourish. His talk was on The Theology of Work, looking at the biblical, historical, and theological foundations of human labor. In a paper published at Mission Alliance, Dr. Self offered these points:
  1. God is the first worker, fashioning the original creation (Gen. 1-2), forming each human life in the womb (Ps. 139), and working at every moment to redeem the world (John 5, 8, 10). Human flourishing includes understanding the dignity and meaning of our daily work, from labor to leadership, paid or volunteer, creative or repetitive. 
  2. God rested and so must we. Sabbath is more than a day off. It is built into our created rhythms and is a sign that we trust God to provide through six days of work what we need for seven.
  3. God celebrates extravagantly and we are invited to join in. The Lord that dances and sings over His people invites us to dance and sing, play our instruments, enjoy good food, and share our bounty with others. We need more celebrations in the midst of all the challenges.
  4. God cares about all dimensions of life: Christ ends forever the sacred-secular divide. All positive dimensions of human activity are gifts of God that we are called to steward well.
I’d encourage you to consider attending Acton University in 2019. It’s four days of intense learning. However, you will come away with a renewed perspective on foundations of thought on human flourishing, which gives meaning to our daily lives.

The apostle James teaches “faith apart from works is useless.” (James 2:20, ESV) So I hope all attendees are prepared to take action on lessons from Acton!

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: 
You can hear the lectures online and by ordering a thumb drive of the conference. Information can be found at or at

Monday, June 18, 2018

Why They Get the Big Bucks

Recently another study surfaced of the pay disparity between CEOs and their team members. The writer’s objective, I imagine, is to prick our consciences that this inequality should cause us to rise up and…well, that’s where it gets complicated. In the mind of the Guardian journalist, the inequity needs more balance. (I wonder how many of these writers prance into the executive suites of their highest paid leaders and tell them face-to-face how unfair the pay scale is at their company? Let me guess. Not many.)

I confess that I, too, get startled at some of the remarkable pay and bonus structures of business leaders. But I also get frustrated at watching inefficient government employees take home large sums and then retire in comfort. Let’s face it. Life is not fair.

Now that we’ve cleared THAT up, let’s journey into why high paid CEOs get the big bucks. Actually, for the same reasons that those overpaid athletes get their moolah. Unique talent. They have capabilities the rest of us don’t have.

Like what, you ask? Elena Botelho is a partner at a leadership advisory firm based here in Chicago It’s called ghSmart. She also coauthored the book, The CEO Next Door: The Four Behaviors that Transform Ordinary People into World-Class Leaders.

Elena was one of three sharp experts that Fast Company magazine relied on to capture five essential skills it takes to be a CEO. Along with her partner Kim Powell, Elena connected with more than 2,600 CEOs and C-suite executives to draw conclusions about the traits found in their book.

But as I mentioned, Fast Company compared their notes with two other experts to come up with “the five.” Executive coach Rhett Power was one. The third voice belonged to Halelly Azulay, who founded a Los Angeles-based leadership firm.

And here’s a brief summary of what the three determined were among the most essential skills to be effective—along with my comments.

  1. Risk tolerance. Note these are calculated risks. Not wild-eyed dreams. 
  2. Vision. Well, if this was missing, I would have wondered about the experts' credibility. In my estimation, not to be unkind, but a CEO without vision is a very expensive glorified manager. Vision is what opens the door to the future!
  3. Reliability and Results Orientation. Live by your word and focus on results. If the CEO only has excuses, find another CEO. 
  4. Adaptability. Botelho has the right perspective here: “CEOs must be able to pivot and adjust to change.” Culture and innovation require this asset.
  5. Engaging for Impact. We expect charismatic leaders to do this. Can introverts inspire and transfer vision effectively? Yes...with clear communication, positive body language, among other factors.
So what’s missing? My friend and business coach John Blumberg would say, “core values!” And he’s right. I wonder how often the “three experts” meet with these top level, highly paid, and greatly skilled leaders and ask…“What are your core values?” It would be good to know, eh? Many might fail the test!

I don’t begrudge the highly paid CEO. First off, all the pressure to run a successful enterprise sits on his or her lap. And when they fail, it’s a quick goodbye. Second, the most capable CEOs are difficult to find. They don’t grow on business school trees. Third, they are not easy to replace. Finding a new leader with “the right stuff” can take months. And fourth, competition for talent is what drives the price up.

One final reason not to begrudge these top performers is because envy does not become us. And that’s usually what is going on behind the scenes in our souls.

1 Timothy 6:6-9 reads, “Serving God does make us very rich, if we are satisfied with what we have. We brought nothing into the world, so we can take nothing out. …Those who want to become rich bring temptation to themselves and are caught in a trap. They want many foolish and harmful things that ruin and destroy people.” (NCV)

So lead on, great CEOs! Just remember me with my cup out when you pass by.

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, June 11, 2018

Caring About the Caregiver

I was off work for a few days last week. My peepers needed some help. The medical term for my procedure is ptosis. We simply called it “droopy eyelid syndrome.”

Many people are not fans of hospital visits. Especially me. I am, however, grateful for the medical experts who show up when I need care.

There are exceptions. In 2005, I was escorted into surgery requiring a quintuple bypass procedure. The team at Rush Copley hospital and the Heart Institute next door masterfully kept me alive. So who can complain?

Well, I can. One nurse didn’t get the memo that post heart surgery patients need careful attention. She was on overnight duty and had a nasty habit of bursting into the room while I was asleep, turning on the lights and telling me it was time to check my vitals. Such an abrupt awakening almost ended my vitals!

Wishing to keep future patients from enduring this shock treatment, I made mention of this to the head nurse. She graciously told me she would deal with it. And she did. That triggered a visit by Nurse Ratchet who gave me an earful about how she disagreed with my assessment. This is not good for blood pressure readings. I did escape unharmed.

My most recent hospital visit went as well as anyone could ask. Everyone was super friendly and helpful. The anesthesiologist had a fine sense of humor. And my eye doc was all business. Which is what I want when you’re tinkering with one of my five senses. Hats off to the Dupage Medical Center team.

Now I will say that no matter the hospital, how many times do they have to ask you for your name and birthday? Followed by, “And what procedure are you here for?” To which I want to reply, “Don’t you know?!” Of course they do. They’re doing apt legal protection so that we are all there for the same reason.

But something different happened on this venture to the hospital. It happened in me. I found myself asking more questions about the people who were serving me.

One had worked previously in the cardiac care center and knew the surgeon who had worked on me in 2005. She was originally from the Phillippines. This job, she said, was easier because all her patients in this part of the hospital go home.

Another nurse was excited about a family member getting married this month. But she also revealed pain in discussing another family member who was struggling with some deep personal issues. My wife and I said we would pray for this person.

My revelation on this visit was that care in the hospital can work both ways. Truly, the medical team must have caring souls to do their work properly. But each of them likely comes to work with their own set of difficulties and burdens. Some might be in the home; others in the workplace.

I must assume the same is true for wherever you work. It certainly is for me. All around us are people who go about their jobs, but often with struggles we can’t see. Taking a moment to gently dig deeper into their souls might bring just enough relief for this person to live more encouraged…and valued.

The Good Samaritan story in the Bible offers many lessons. Certainly the most obvious is how we can turn a blind eye to those we pass by who are hurting. How refreshing to encounter the one who stops. To help. To serve. With no expectations of having the favor returned. You can read the story in Luke, Chapter 10.

So to all who serve in any endeavor of life with a spirit of caring, I salute you. And as we ourselves are blessed by good servants, let’s return the favor by caring about them.

With my eyes now opened wider, I hope I can view my neighbor in a new light.

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 4, 2018

Keeping Your Valuables

Last Friday we had some delightful economic news. People have jobs in this country! Seemingly, at record levels.

The president could hardly contain his excitement. So he tweeted about it. Why such happiness? The May jobs report showed the economy added roughly 223,000 net new jobs last month. This put the jobless rate around 3.8 percent, an 18-year low.

The biggest job gainers included groups that historically have suffered from high levels of unemployment. This would include younger workers and minority workers—especially African Americans. And better yet, the category of “marginally attached workers” found employment opportunities. These are the part-time workers who want a full-time job and the people who want to work but have given up looking for a job. Thus, they aren't included in the official count of the labor force.

Who is not happy with these numbers? The Trump opposition. Here’s why. The better the employment picture, the more likely voters are to favor incumbents in an election than when those voters are out of work.

One of the surprising “Help Wanted” fields appears to be truck drivers. The Morning Call put up this headline on their website: “America has a massive truck driver shortage. Here's why few want an $80,000 job.” What’s the deal?

As The Morning Call story reports, “About 51,000 more drivers are needed to meet the demand from companies such as Amazon and Walmart that are shipping more goods across the country, according to the American Trucking Associations. The driver shortage is already leading to delayed deliveries and higher prices for goods that Americans buy. The ATA predicts that it's likely to get worse in the coming years.”

That’s the demand. But where is the supply of drivers when you need them? The answers are readily available from truckers who tell you that the lifestyle is rough. You barely see your family. You rarely shower. And like Rodney Dangerfield, you get no respect—or little—from car drivers, police, or major retailers.

This caused me to wonder, what are the most difficult positions to fill in our economy? CBS News published a list for last year titled, “America's 10 toughest jobs to fill in 2017.” Here’s the list, with average salary:

  • Data scientist: $128,240
  • Financial adviser: $89,160
  • General and operations manager: $97,730
  • Home health aide: $21,920
  • Information security analyst: $90,120
  • Medical services manager: $94,500
  • Physical therapist: $84,020
  • Registered nurse: $67,490
  • Software engineer: $100,690
  • Truck driver: $40,260

Note the truck driver pay. The current shortage has jacked up that pay level quite a bit! Not all of them are making $80 grand a year, but companies are definitely recruiting.

CareerCast also reported that “several of the 2017's hardest-to-fill jobs don't require college degrees. But the jobs that require a bachelor's degree tend to pay higher salaries.” As one might expect.

The improving job picture has another important contribution: the hiring and retention of good people. This has even impacted the fast food industry.

A Chick Fil A manager in Sacramento, California, is raising wages for some positions to $17 per hour! Eric Mason, the owner/operator, is offering this pay for his “hospitality professionals.” He says, "What that does for the business is provide consistency, someone that has relationships with our guests. It’s going to be building a long-term culture.”

It’s also a wise move in other ways. It’s proven that raising wages can reduce turnover. When a worker leaves, there are a number of cost factors in replacing that person that come into play.

Jesus of Nazareth often used parables involving business owners or managers. One of the more difficult ones is often called “The Parable of the Shrewd Manager.” You can read it in Luke 16.

The word “shrewd” carries negative connotation to some. It need not. One good definition explains the adjective as “having or showing sharp powers of judgment; astute.”

In a thriving economy, a “shrewd” manager will be diligent to keep the most hard to replace employees. It just makes life easier.

As for me, I’m asking my wife to beef up on her truck driving skills.

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: