Can You Serve God in Your Work?

Faith & Work, by J. Irving, St. Patrick's in NY

Faith & Work, by Justin A. Irving, purposeinleadership.com; location: St. Patrick’s in NYC

Do you see your work as an opportunity to serve God?

Some workers—such as those in overt ministry roles (e.g., pastors, missionaries) or those in helping professions (e.g., teachers, nurses)—seem to have an easier answer to this question.

But what about other professions? How, for example, may plumbers, engineers, writers, carpenters, accountants, programmers, electricians, lawyers, and call center employees see their work as an opportunity to serve God?

Most of us devote upward of 100,000 hours of our lives to work. The significance and meaning of these hours matters. Is this 100,000-hour investment of our lives disconnected from our life of faith, or do these hours connect meaningfully with who we are as persons of faith? In what way is our work a means to living out a vocational call on our lives—a means to serving God in and through our work?

Celebrating Every Good Endeavor

I just returned from a conference hosted by the Center for Faith & Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. What an encouraging time to see how the people of Redeemer Presbyterian are guiding their congregation and city in reflection on innovation and meaningful faith-work integration.

For those new to this conversation, Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf, both of Redeemer Presbyterian, have written a helpful book on the topic of faith and work entitled Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.

Setting the stage for their discussion in Every Good Endeavor, Tim and Katherine propose a diverse set of convictions and pose the question of whether these convictions are opposed to one another or complementary. They note:

The way to serve God at work is to…

  • Further social justice in the world
  • Be personally honest and evangelize your colleagues
  • Do skillful, excellent work
  • Create beauty
  • Work from a Christian motivation to glorify God, seeking to engage and influence culture to that end
  • Work with a grateful, joyful, gospel-changed heart through all the ups and downs
  • Do whatever gives you the greatest joy and passion
  • Make as much money as you can, so that you can be as generous as you can

Engaging this list, Keller and Leary Alsdorf note that it is problematic if we add the word “main” to any of the above statements (e.g., “The main way to serve God at work is to…”). Each of these serve as a way serve God through our work rather than representing the way to serve God in our work. They additionally emphasize that depending on one’s particular vocational path, cultural context, and historical moment, the way we live these convictions out will look different.

A Means for Joyful Exploration

In light of such observations, connecting our work to God’s work becomes a means for joyful exploration rather than burdensome obligation. Our work does matter to God. Our work is a means to serve God. The opportunity in front of us is to explore how our particular role is an opportunity to serve God in and through our work.

Toward this end, I find that the above list is a helpful prompt.

In what ways is my work an opportunity to …

  • . further social justice
  • be honest
  • share the gospel
  • work with excellence
  • create beauty
  • glorify God
  • work with gratitude and joy
  • be generous?

How will you serve God through your work? How will you invest the 100,000-hour opportunity in your life?

Leader Resiliency … Face Reality, Find Meaning, Forge a New Path

by Arya Aiai, Flickr

Photo Credit: Image by Arya Aiai, Flickr

One of my areas of research is examining the role of resiliency in leadership. Here’s a link to an overview of one of my recent academic articles focused on the role that obstacles and resiliency play in the development of leaders (Management Research Review, Vol. 37, Iss. 5, pp.466 – 478).

In our research, we found that a variety of developmental assignments, relationships, experiences, and training were associated with increased levels of leader resiliency. Often, these developmental variables take the form of personal and professional obstacles that build resiliency in leaders.

What is Resiliency

Resiliency is about the capacity to bounce back after difficulty. Resiliency is about the capacity to persist through and overcome diverse challenges in life and leadership.

In this day and age, resiliency is increasingly important for leaders. Our world abounds with uncertainty, and it is individuals and leaders who are able to bounce back and make the best of difficult circumstances who will thrive in the days and years ahead. This is what resiliency is all about—persisting, or even thriving, in the midst of difficulty.

How Resiliency Works

Engaging the theme of How Resilience Works, Diane Couto argues that resilient people possess three defining characteristics.

  1. Resilient People Face Down Reality: “…coolly accept the harsh realities facing them.”
  2. Resilient People Search for Meaning: “…find meaning in terrible times.”
  3. Resilient People Continually Improvise: “…have an uncanny ability to improvise, making do with whatever’s at hand.”

These characteristics are vital for leaders today. Facing down reality means accepting the harsh realities and facts in front of us, but doing so in a way that finds meaning and purpose in the chaos.

The Stockdale Paradox

Jim Collins referred to this tension between facts and faith as “The Stockdale Paradox.” The Stockdale paradox, named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, is based on the observation that those who survived in the most difficult of circumstances (such as prisoners of war) do so by both confronting the most brutal facts of one’s current reality AND retaining faith that one will prevail in the end. It is not merely choosing optimism OR pessimism—it is the experience of embracing BOTH difficult facts along side optimistic hope.

Brakes Break for a Reason”

My wife took me to a movie last night entitled The Hundred-Foot Journey. It is the story of the Kadam family who left India for a new life in France. As the story unfolds, this new life begins in a French village due to their vehicle breaking down. Overlooking this village, and through the events that follow, the family embraces their reality that “Brakes break for a reason.” Through embracing the reality in front of them, the Kadam family finds meaning in the moment and forges a new and hopeful future for their family.

It was a beautiful movie, and in a simple way depicts this tension between facing down reality and finding meaning in the midst of reality.

Purpose in Leadership

This tension is one of the reasons I’m passionate about “Purpose in Leadership.” Leaders who are able to make sense of the world around them—to find meaning in the face of the mess—often are characterized by a resiliency that allows them and their organizations to thrive in the midst of great difficulty.

Creative Improvisation

This blend of finding meaning in the face of reality sets the stage for Couto’s final observation—the ability to improvise and make do with what is at hand. Resilient leaders face reality from a place of purpose and meaning, and from this place engage the resources around them (human, physical, structural, financial, etc.) to resolutely move forward toward their driving purpose.

Because the future is always being created as we go, leaders learn to improvise along the way. They respond to the needs around them. They collaborate with the people and resources at hand. They find unique and creative pathways forward to accomplish their goals in new ways.

______________

How are these characteristics of resilient people at work in your life? Are you nurturing this capacity to (1) face reality, (2) find meaning, and (3) forge a path forward through creative improvisation?

A Joyful Heart is Good Medicine … it also increases productivity!

Joy, by Alice Popkorn, Flickr

Photo Credit: Joy, by Alice Popkorn, Flickr

“A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

– Proverbs 17:22

In a recent edition of Harvard Business Review, the title of a sidebar mini-article caught my attention … “Start Your Next Meeting with a Joke.”

In the highlighted research, teams with at least one person in a good mood were more than twice as likely to solve a puzzle as teams whose members were all in neutral moods. The article explains, “people in good moods are more likely to share knowledge and seek information from others, which cues the rest of the group to follow suit.”

As noted above, Proverbs 17:22 reads:

“A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Not only is a joyful heart good medicine at the individual level, joy is also contagious. And, according to researcher Kyle Emich, this positive spirit also leads to greater productivity in teams. In other words, joy is not only pleasant, it is also productive.

What are you bringing to your team today? Are you bringing a negative or neutral mood, or are you bringing joy and positivity?

Assessing Leadership — The Purpose in Leadership Inventory

Researching, Steve Hanna, Flickr

Photo Credit: Researching, by Steve Hanna, Flickr

The inaugural edition of the journal Servant Leadership: Theory and Practice came out at the end of August. I’m grateful to have an article included in the August 2014 issue of the journal. My article is focused on the development and initial testing of what I’m calling The Purpose in Leadership Inventory.

In this brief post, I’m providing a link to the full article followed by a brief overview of what leadership variables are measured by the instrument.

The Development and Initial Testing of the Purpose in Leadership Inventory:
A Tool for Assessing Leader Goal-Orientation, Follower-Focus, and Purpose-in-Leadership

Why Was the PLI Created?

The Purpose in Leadership Inventory (PLI) was created for two audiences.

Leadership Researchers: First, the PLI is designed for researchers in the field of leadership studies. Developing new instruments to measure leadership variables is one of the keys to ongoing advancement of the field. As the field of leadership studies has grown throughout the last century, noticeable shifts are occurring. The PLI is designed to capture some of these shifts, and help researchers understand which leadership factors are associated with effectiveness in diverse organizational contexts.

Leadership Practitioners: Second, the PLI is designed for engaged leadership practitioners who desire to study the place of goal-orientation, follower-focus, and purpose-in-leadership within their organizations and leadership practice. Diverse leaders approach leadership differently. The PLI allows leaders to gain insight into how followers perceive their leadership around these vital variables.

What Does the PLI Measure?

As mentioned above, the PLI measure three core leadership variables. These are:

  • Goal Orientation
  • Follower Focus
  • Purpose in Leadership

The first two capture variables highlighted in a previous post: People or Production — Getting Things Done while Caring for People. A focus on accomplishing goals and getting things done is important for leaders. Equally import is a focus on caring for followers. Goal orientation and follower focus are the first two variables measured by the PLI.

The third variable is the significant addition to the leadership research stream. This variable is Purpose in Leadership. Purpose in leadership as a variable is based on the work of individuals such as Paul Wong who focus on meaning-centered approaches to leadership and management. These approaches take seriously the leaders’ sense of meaning and purpose.

Why Does this Matter?

The more I engage in leadership research, the more I’m convinced that purpose matters. Leaders who have a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives as leaders add value to their organizations. Such leaders help the members of the community understand that their work and organizational outcomes actually make a difference in the world.

As leader-centered models of the 20th century have been modified by more recent approaches such as transformational and servant leadership, the opportunity to reflect on the deeper meaning and purpose in leadership has emerged. The PLI is a tool to help leadership practitioners and researchers investigate the priority of these leadership variables.

I’m looking forward to seeing the additional research that will emerge through the Purpose in Leadership Inventory.

Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress

photo

One of the favorite lessons I’ve picked up studying leadership and management from the thinking of Peter Drucker is this:

Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress!

While not necessarily a direct quote from him (at least I don’t know where it is), I picked this particular lesson up from a documentary on his life. Those close with him reported that he often challenging their practice around these themes:

Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress…. Are you being busy, but not productive?

This “Druckerian” insight holds a place in my office physically, and a place in my thinking frequently. In our lives and work it is easy to stay busy. In my American context, life is full, busy, and constantly in motion. If motion is the measure that matters, then things are great here!

More than Motion

But motion really is not what matters most in the flow and practice of leadership.

Organizations do not simply need leaders who look busy. Organizations do not need leaders who are simply constantly in motion. In contrast to this, organizations need leaders that help their communities make progress toward vital organizational goals. Organizations need leaders who are being productive, making progress, and are advancing what matters most to the community they serve.

These are simple questions, but ones that brings significant focus to my life and leadership.

  • Am I confusing motion with progress?”
  • Am I being busy, but not being productive?”

Our communities do not ultimately need busy executives. Our communities need leaders who are are guiding our organizations and making progress toward goals that matter. I encourage you to join me in applying this Druckerian wisdom in your day-to-day work, life, and leadership. Don’t confuse motion with progress!

Where Do You Find Your Identity? — Reflections for Leaders

One Moment in Time: Identity II, Dar'ya Sipyeykina, Flickr

Photo Credit: One Moment in Time: Identity II, Dar’ya Sipyeykina, Flickr

Where do you find your identity as a leader? This is big question.

Does your identity come from what you do? Does it come from the title you possess? Does it come from the position you occupy? Does it come from your relationships? Does it come from present or past accomplishments? Does it come from the reputation of the program or institution you lead? And the list of questions could go on.

Finding a Firm Foundation

One of the books I enjoy coming back to on the topic of leadership is a short book by Henri Nouwen. Entitled In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, Nouwen provides his take on where identity is wisely grounded. This work provides perspective for those aiming to lead from a place of Christian conviction. Nouwen writes:

leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance…. Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject.” (emphasis mine).

When Identity is Too Closely Aligned with our Opinions, Plans, and Performance

This final phrase in the Nouwen quote provides a significant warning for leaders. While it is important to have passion and conviction behind our ideas and opinions, there is also a danger when our “sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject.” When this happens, we become quite difficult for others to work with. When this happens, a critique of our ideas quickly gets translated as a critique of us personally. When this happens, it becomes very difficult to receive insight and perspective from others.

A Positive Alternative for Identity

At this point in Nouwen’s comments, he continues on with a healthy alternative. Rather than having our identities defined by our opinions, or programs, or initiatives, Nouwen calls us to look to God as the most stable source of all to find our grounding and identity. He writes:

But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witness without being manipulative.”

A Community Securely Rooted

These are the type of people with whom I want to work. This is the type of person I want to be. I desire to engage in rigorous discussion of unique perspectives and not have questions of my ideas viewed as personal attacks. When we are a people “securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life,” rich and deep community flourishes in such contexts. Having my identity rooted in this place helps me to serve others without overly personalizing my or their opinions and agendas in the process.

People or Production — Getting Things Done while Caring for People

People, Viewminder, Flickr

Photo Credit: People, Viewminder, Flickr

People or Production

In management studies, there is a rich history of work engaging the importance of focus on people and results.

— A Concern for People is characterized by leaders or managers emphasizing and recognizing the needs of followers, and then working to meet followers in these areas of need.

— A Concern for Production or Results is characterized by leaders emphasizing organizational objectives and what the best pathways are for meeting these goals and objectives.

Engaging Leadership Style

The “Ohio State” studies, and the “University of Michigan” studies on these themes were complemented by what is known as Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid. Based on the categories of concern for people and concern for production or results, Blake and Mouton’s categorizes leaders in the following manner:

  • Impoverished (low results/low people)
  • Authority-Compliance (high results/low people)
  • Country-Club (low results/high people)
  • Middle-of-the-Road (med. results/med. People)
  • Team (high results/high people).

People and Production

As leaders, it is easy to feel this tension between a focus on results or a focus on people. Many times, managers and leaders view it as a mutually exclusive decision. Either the focus will be on results, or the focus will be on people.

Thankfully, contemporary models of leadership are emphasizing the priority of both. Both people and production are valuable, and in fact the two serve each other in a healthy organizational system.

Chicken or Egg

But what comes first. Must a leader prioritize one over the other, even though both are valuable? Generally, transformational models of leadership emphasize change and getting things done. These approaches emphasize results along with individualized consideration as a necessary part of the leadership approach. This commitment to organizational goals is seen as the best way to meet the needs of people.

Servant-oriented models of leadership emphasize a commitment to people. These approaches emphasize a commitment to serving the needs of people as primary. This commitment to people is seen as the best way to accomplish organizational goals and objectives.

A Matter of Emphasis

It really comes down to a matter of emphasis. Both people and production are a priority. Both followers and goals are essential. But which is the best way to meet these aims. For the time being, I land on the side of emphasizing people first, and seeing this as the best way to also get things done.

Thankfully, there is a growing body or research helping us understand this relationship between goal-orientation and follower-focus.

______________________________________

Pursue both. Leaders who value and develop their people will have a solid community ready to meet organizational goals. Leaders who work with their community to get things done will have healthy organizations that provide stability for their people. Both are a priority, so lead well toward both of these ends.