Can You Bring Jesus to Work?

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Photo: Faith & Work, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, by J. Irving

In the increasingly post-Christian and pluralistic contexts of North America and Europe, the question “Can you bring Jesus to work?” has the potential of raising diverse and intense emotional responses.

Corporate Chaplaincy on the Rise

One expression of bringing Jesus (or faith in general) to work is the emerging trend of corporate chaplaincy. To the joy of some and perplexity of others, corporate chaplaincy is on the rise. Illustrating this trend, one of the largest providers of corporate chaplains, Marketplace Ministries, saw more new companies added to their roster in 2015 than any year since their founding in the 1980s.

Marketplace Ministries notes that, “almost everyone said developing a business model of corporate chaplains caring for workers, as well as their families, in the secular workplace was impossible.” Trends in the industry suggest otherwise. For example, Tyson Foods employs around 115 chaplains in their company; this translates into roughly one chaplain for every 1,000 employees in the company.

Finding Jesus at Work

Emma Green draws attention to these trends in her recent article in the Atlantic entitled “Finding Jesus at Work: Why are more and more companies offering access to chaplains as an employee benefit?

My thoughts in this post are influenced both by Green’s article as well as two occasions I had to hear from David Miller over the past year. David Miller, cited frequently in Green’s article, is the author of God at Work and director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative.

Here is some of what I’m learning about why corporate chaplaincy is on the rise and the benefits corporate chaplaincy offers.

Why is Corporate Chaplaincy & Faith at Work on the Rise?

I see two reasons behind the rise of corporate chaplaincy and faith at work emphases in the realm of business.

1 – Considering the Whole Person

The first reason is the move toward holistic thinking. Both within society in general, and the corporate world in particular, new emphasis is placed on viewing employees as whole persons. Consider the following examples in some corporate environments:

  • Attention to ergonomically sensitive work conditions
  • Increased consideration of work-life balance
  • Focus on physical and mental wellbeing
  • Provision of nap rooms, yoga classes, and onsite workout facilities

While not all work environments give attention to such considerations, an increasing number of companies are doing so. This represents a shift toward seeing employees less through a mechanistic lens and more through a whole-person lens.

Mike Tarvin of Tyson Foods’ chaplaincy program notes that “[John Tyson] wanted people to be able to bring their whole selves to work.” For Tyson Foods this means that they want to provide team members “an opportunity to bring that whole self, including that spiritual side, and not [feel] like that they have to check that at the door.”

2 – Finding Community for Whole-Person Challenges

David Miller notes that “Human beings still have problems in life—we get cancer, we get divorced, we have workplace accidents.” People seek out diverse avenues of support for such problems. To name a few of these avenues, this support sometimes comes from friends and family, sometimes comes from medical professionals, and sometimes comes from religious communities.

While many find external support independent of their work environment, the challenge arises when many workers find themselves separated from such needed support systems. When this happens, employees, and employers, feel the negative impact on employee health, wellbeing, and productivity.

In light of such realities, David Miller points to the following: “Due to people not having sufficient social support networks, whether at church, in the family, or community, it has become necessary for the work of organization to become the new community.” Or, put it another way, Emma Green notes, “Workplace chaplaincies are another attempt to make workers more productive by catering to their ‘whole’ selves.”

Alongside other employee-assistance programs (EAPs), the provision of workplace chaplaincies provides another accessible pathway to help employees as they engage the difficulty realities of both the workplace and life. Emma Green notes that because work, and life, can be painful, “These chaplains may be able to provide much-needed comfort to people who need it and can’t find it elsewhere.”

What Benefits do Corporate Chaplaincy & Faith at Work Offer?

In the section above I argue that corporate chaplaincy is on the rise due to rising consideration of the whole person paired with the decline in workers finding whole-person support outside the work environment. These realities, whether helpful or not, provide a key incentive for businesses and employers working to be part of the solution.

1 – Benefits to Companies

On this point David Miller notes, “Everyone now gets it that if your employees are healthy—physically, psychologically, and now we can maybe argue spiritually—they’re better employees.” Miller notes that this adds real value to companies due to variables such as lower turnover rates, increased focus on the job, and reduced stress-related illnesses. Further, Doug Fagerstrom (CEO of Marketplace Ministries) points to his clients reports of increased worker productivity due to corporate chaplaincy programs.

2 – Benefits to Employees

Employee health—physically, psychologically, spiritually—not only benefits the bottom line for companies, but it also provides deeply meaningful benefit to employees as well. On this point, Mike Tarvin (of Tyson Foods) notes that chaplains try to “find out where they’re coming from, so that we can help determine on their own what they see as their meaning in life or purpose in life.

The theme of purpose is something that is vitally important to me both personally and professionally.

Personally, I want to engage my work in a manner that connects with a deeper sense of spiritual purpose in life. I want to know that what I do on the job has meaning—that it matters to me, to others, and to God. Whether someone is a factory worker, school teacher, or serving in another role altogether, most people want to know that what they do matters—that it is meaningful and infused with purpose.

Professionally, studying the role that purpose plays in the lives of leaders is an active path of research I continue to explore. It is also a line of research that is providing significant affirmation on why purpose is important to leaders (see some of my reflections here). I would certainly argue, though, that this importance is not limited to leaders. All workers, leaders and followers alike, benefit from connecting their work with what is meaningful.

As Tarvin notes, corporate chaplains have played an important role for many workers desiring to think through their meaning and purpose in life. Corporate chaplains and faith at work help workers to bring their whole selves to their workplace. Corporate chaplains and faith at work also provide a platform on which workers may tap into a deeper sense of their meaning and purpose in life.


What’s your experience with corporate chaplains and/or intentional efforts to bring your whole-self to the work environment? Take a moment to share your thoughts below.

Authentic Collaboration — Avoiding Collaboration Overload

 

collaboration_Jennifer-Leonard

Photo Credit: collaboration, by Jennifer Leonard, Flickr

I’m a fan of teamwork. Team leadership was an area of focus for me in my Ph.D. dissertation research entitled Servant Leadership and Team Effectiveness. See some of my positive affirmations of teams in the following posts:

While teams have many benefits, there are challenges associated with teams as well. See a previous post in which I highlight and discuss the following 6 Challenges of Teams (subtitle…Removing the “I’s” from Your Team):

  • Ingrown
  • Indecision
  • Inaction
  • Inefficiency
  • Inequity
  • Inconsideration

Collaborative Overload

In a recent HBR article, Cross, Rebele, and Grant take up another important challenge in an article entitled “Collaborative Overload: Too Much Teamwork Exhausts Employees and Saps Productivity.”

In their article they provide several important cautions surrounding team member exhaustion, and in so doing remind us to not overload on a good thing. The core of the identified problem in the article is expressed in the following manner:

Although the benefits of collaboration are well documented, the costs often go unrecognized. When demands for collaboration run too high or aren’t spread evenly through the organization, workflow bottlenecks and employee burnout result.”

Cross, Rebele, and Grant go on to recommend solutions to this problem that are focused on better managing collaboration through efficient organizational and team practices. This is good advice.

Authentic Collaboration

As I engaged their work, I also began to think of another solution that I’ll label “Authentic Collaboration.”

From my experience with teams, groups, and committees, the problem is not too much collaboration, but rather too much of the wrong type of collaboration.  Let me explain.

When participants in a collaborative process are playing a role on the team, group, or committee that is authentic and meaningful, this type of collaboration tends to be energizing. When participation is inauthentic and merely procedural, this type of collaboration tends to be energy draining and feel like wasted time.

Meaningful Participation

Often from positive motivations, leaders and administrators tend to draw people into a collaborative experience because these leaders and administrators need a representative from diverse divisions or interests in their organizations.

When this practice is about wanting to authentically hear voices from these unique perspectives, this can lead to meaningful and authentic collaboration. However, when this practice is simply about wanting to placate an organizational perspective or voice, and the voice at the table is not authentically desired by leadership, this can lead to unproductive and inauthentic collaboration.

Again, I would argue collaboration is not the problem, but rather the wrong type of collaboration. When people are invited to the table of collaboration, the invitation needs to be authentic. Help people to be good stewards of their time by facilitating meaningful participation for all involved on the team, group, or committee.

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What has been your experience with collaboration? What problems and challenges have you faced? How have you engaged these problems and found meaningful solutions? Take a moment to share your experience below.

The Web of Work: Serving and Being Served through Work

Web, david reid, Flickr

Web, david reid, Flickr

Have you paused recently to reflect on how interdependent we are in our work and within an economy? For those with independent streaks, this question might be received as insulting. But I mean this in the best sense of interdependence. No-one truly is independent. We rely upon countless others throughout our day, and others rely upon us.

Work, at its core, is the means by which we serve one another in a society and an economy. Through my work I contribute to society and make myself useful to others. And through the work of others, I am served countless times throughout my day. And lest we miss this, work has both paid and unpaid expressions. From a parent working at home to care for children, to those serving in paid positions, our work—paid and unpaid—is most often the primary way we serve others.

Work becomes a beautiful web or network of service.

My Work of Serving Others Today

My work today happens to involve traveling to a conference. Because of this, my work for the day is fairly straightforward. First, I’m using time on the plane to (hopefully) serve you the reader of this blog through my work of reflecting on the meaning of work. Second, I’m going to a conference that will allow me to gain insights for my role as an academic administrator so that I may better understand how I to serve the students enrolled in the doctoral program I lead.

So this particular day, I hope that the recipients of my work are you and my doctoral students. Through my work (some of it paid and some of it unpaid), I am serving others today.

The Work of Others Serving Me Today

But the web of work does not end there by a long shot. It is barely lunchtime as I write this, and I have been served by innumerable individuals who have served me through their work.  Though I will certainly miss countless categories, consider with me the multitude of individuals who have already served me today through their work before I have even reached the lunch hour.

Waking Up

  • The furniture makers who made the bed I slept in
  • The home builders who made the home in which I live and woke up
  • The inventors and manufacturers who developed the alarm clock used to wake me

Preparing for the Day

  • The workers who made the modern conveniences of a shower, toilet, and sink
  • The product developers and distributors who make simple toiletries available so I may shave and brush my teeth
  • The clothing designers, manufactures, and laborers involved in the creation and distribution of the clothing I am wearing today

Traveling to, from, within, and in between Airports

  • The countless individuals from Henry Ford on involved in providing a reliable Ford vehicle for me to drive to the airport this morning
  • The massive number of individuals who participated in the planning, construction, and maintenance of the roadway and traffic network facilitating a smooth drive to the airport
  • The countless number of engineers, builders, and beyond involved with constructing and maintaining the parking ramp, elevator, trams, escalator, restaurants, concourses, restrooms, jet ways, tarmacs, runways, and airplanes I have encountered and relied upon today
  • The technology experts involved in bringing smartphones, computers, monitors, and avionics involved in my work and transportation today
  • The many airport and airline employees who helped with scheduling, checking in, loading bags, fueling planes, boarding, serving passengers on the plane, flying, navigating, and those attending to safety through air traffic control

Brightening the Day — Back to the Individual

And while I’m missing an endless number of categories and individuals who have served me today through products and services provided and used—even though I have never met most of them—sometimes we have the chance to get to see the person serving us and greet them by name.

One of those individuals was Gwen. Gwen served me through her work today by brewing and handing me my coffee this morning at the airport. Though a small act, Gwen brightened the early morning at the start of my travel with kindness and caffeine. While she is just one individual, Gwen reminds me that the countless number of others who served me today through their work also have names and faces.

Work and Economy is about People

At the end of the day, economy and work are not just about money, labor, and exchange. Economy and work are ultimately about people and how these people contribute to the well-being and flourishing of others. In a modest way, I’m serving people through my particular work today. In exchange for this modest commitment to serve others, in return I have been served by thousands, if not millions, through the products and services that have facilitated my work and travel today.

In light of this, I am grateful. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve others through my work. I’m grateful for other people who likewise serve me through their work. Work provides a network of service. Work, in a very real way, becomes the glue that holds us together as a society.

An Invitation to Recognize and Value People in Their Work

So, I invite you to pause in the midst of your day.

Pause and recognize how you are serving others in your work today, both the paid or unpaid dimensions of your work. Pause and recognize how others are serving you through their work (again, paid or unpaid). Be grateful for these observations. Be grateful for these people. And, allow this thankfulness to spill over into expressions of grace and gratitude as you interact with others in your day. We live in a delightful Web of Work.

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.

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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?

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.

3 Reasons God Cares about Your Work

Work, Wacky Toyo Boy Borj, Flickr

Photo Credit: Work, Wacky Toyo Boy Borj, Flickr

Adding Value to the Lives of Others

Work takes many forms. At its core, work is anything that we do to add value to the lives of others. In contrast to this, play and recreation tend to be things focused on adding value to our own lives.

Sometimes we add value to the lives of others on the job when we are compensated in one form or another for our work. Other times, we add value to the lives of others through volunteer service or through the work we do for our family and friends.

Practicing the Presence of God in Our Work

As I was engaged in this last type of work (cleaning up dishes at home this weekend), my mind was draw to Brother Lawrence and his focus on “practicing the presence of God” in all of life and work. Here’s a link to some of his reflections (The Practice of the Presence of God: The Best Rule of Holy Life).

One of the prayers attributed to Brother Lawrence emphasizes 3 reasons that God cares about your work. Here’s my summary of these 3 reasons:

1.  God Wants to Mold You in Your Work

First, God cares about your work because God wants to mold you and shape you through your work. He wants to form and change you through serving others and adding value to their lives. On this point, Brother Lawrence prayed,

“Lord of all pots and pans and things…
make me a saint by getting meals,
and washing up the plates.”

Through our work, God molds our character and values. Through our work, we are developed not only professionally but also personally. God uses work for our professional, personal, and spiritual formation. He uses work to change us for the better.

2.  God Wants to Meet You in Your Work

Second, God cares about your work because God cares about you. For many Christians, there is a tendency to separate our lives of weekend worship from weekday work. But God is not interested in just meeting you on Sunday morning (or whenever you gather for worship). God wants to meet you on Monday morning as well. He wants to meet with you and have you recognize His presence with you in your work. On this point, Brother Lawrence prayed,

Warm all the kitchen with Thy Love,
and light it with Thy peace;
forgive me all my worrying,
and make my grumbling cease
.”

You can join Brother Lawrence in asking God to Warm all the kitchen / office / garage / home / school / shop / etc. with His Love, and light it with His peace. Ask God for wisdom on the job (James 1:5). Talk with him about the opportunities and challenges you face. When worried or anxious about something you are facing, offer this emotion up to the Lord and invite Him to replace this with His peace (Philippians 4:6-7). Look for God to meet you in your work.

3.  God Wants to Minister through You in Your Work

Finally, God cares about your work because God wants to minister through you to others. Work is one of the main pathways we add value to the lives of those around us. On this point, Brother Lawrence prayed,

Thou who didst love to give men food,
in room, or by the sea,
accept the service that I do,
I do it unto Thee. Amen.”

As Brother Lawrence notes, Jesus not only met people’s spiritual needs, but He also met physical needs for food. We serve similar needs for one another through our work. God not only cares about you as a worker, He cares about the work you do. And, the work we do for others, particularly those with the greatest need, Christ views as service to Him also (Mathew 25:40).

God not only cares about chefs, He cares about the food we eat. He not only cares about dentists, but He cares about dentistry and the care of our teeth. He not only cares about plumbers, but also cares about access to water and a sanitary environment in which we can live. God uses your work to add value to the lives of others and to meet the needs of others. In our service to others, we are also serving Christ.

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Your work matters to God. Through it he wants to mold you, meet you, and minister through you. Are you keeping your eyes, ears, and spirit open to God in the midst of your work?

Why I Blog: Fostering Healthy Leadership

Be the Change, Feggy Art, Flickr

Photo Credit: Be the Change, Feggy Art, Flickr

“Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.”
– James MacGregor Burns

James MacGregor Burns’ quote resonates with most of our experiences. We see leadership occurring all around us, but rarely take time to reflect in a systematic way on what makes this leadership helpful or unhelpful—effective or ineffective. Further complicating our observations, at times we see people leading well who have no formal positions of leadership within our organizations, and at other times we see people in positions of leadership who really are not providing the necessary leadership direction for our organizations as we move into the future.

Lingering Questions

And so we come back to Burns’ comments: Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth. But must it be this way? Is leadership simply a mysterious reality? Is it something that we simply know when it is going well or poorly, but will never really understand what makes it work? Or might we be able to provide some basic descriptions of the form and shape of good, helpful, and effective leadership? Might we be able to get at some minimum factors that characterize both what helpful leaders and leadership look like?

Leadership Can Be Learned

Part of my vocational calling is providing thoughtful responses to such questions. I believe leadership can be described and studied. I believe it can be learned. Not every person is wired to be a capital “L” Leader. However, just about everyone embedded in an organization, group, or family can grow in and learn how to positively influence and guide the people around them.

This is the heart behind why I’ve started blogging at purposeinleadership.com. Although I’ve been observing leaders in action most of my life, I’ve spent the last 15 years in focused study on the topic through various degree programs, organizational roles, research agendas, and teaching opportunities. I want to start sharing some of these lessons learned with a wider audience.

A Passion for Ridding the World of Bad Leadership

Harvard Business Review’s editorial mission is “to rid the world of bad management.” I have a similar passion in the area of leadership. Though I won’t be able to personally rid the world of bad leadership, I’d love to make a dent in this ambitious agenda. I want to spread a message…

  • …that leadership is more about serving others than being served,
  • …that people are the priority even in profit-driven sectors,
  • …that leaders need to create organizations and societies that are not only productive, but also are fit for human beings,
  • …that purpose in leadership is of central importance,
  • …that leadership is vital in organizations that create value for those they serve,
  • …that people will endure great hardship and sacrifice when they believe in what they are doing and feel their work and leadership has meaning and purpose,
  • …that leaders have a God-given responsibility to care for the people they lead,
  • …that core leadership characteristics and behaviors can be described,
  • …that leadership is vital in working toward human flourishing in organizations and societies.

Thanks for Joining Me in this Pursuit

Although I don’t believe that everything rises or falls on leadership, I do believe that the pursuit of effective and healthy models of leadership is a first-order priority in our day.

Thanks for joining me on this journey toward good, helpful, and effective leadership. Our organizations and the people we serve as leaders deserve our very best!