Shepherds

This verse is generally perfect when discussing accountability at work or as a bridge to a “take care of your people” writing. Given today’s emotional climate, I’d like to simply focus on shepherding. Looking after the flock is an essential function of leadership, no matter what position we’re talking about. The real issue is how you do it; as a herder you can walk behind them as they walk along the path and keep the strays in line or you can walk in front leading the way knowing that you’ll still have them when you turn around as a Shepherd does. We’re seeing various forms of the shepherd concept of leadership in these trying times, crisis leadership is crucial in getting people to follow. Sheep herders use dogs to chase around the edges to keep the herd moving forward; if you see someone using others to “chase around the edges”, check the leadership style of the one you’re following.

We need leaders who are looking after us and our needs and who aren’t sending others or themselves out to chase the edges. In a time of crisis, we are ALL leaders and can shepherd people toward calm by being reassuring, direct, honest and accountable. As a greater society, we owe each other a little bit of personal accountability – stay home if you are sick and commit to helping those in need. When we return to a state of equilibrium, the world around us will look much different. Everyone will need to work together so that we can all rise up from the new normal. You could be the next shepherd; will you lead from the back or boldly from the front?

Ezekiel 34:12 “As a Shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all places where they were scattered…”

We are God’s sheep and it is great to have a Shepherd that cares about us as much as He does. He gave up His son for our salvation and ever lasting life. God is always present in our lives and will come to our rescue, even when we’ve put distance between us. God’s “rescue” does not mean that we will get what we want, it may mean that we get just enough because the real rescue happened on Easter Sunday. We need to do our best and prevent the need for a rescue in the first place. We should be spending time with God, praying, reading the word and spreading the good news.

Today, more than ever, we need a strong leader. God gave us the perfect one, Jesus. He is patient with us as we make mistakes, He’d hold us accountable as He did with the disciples but, in the end, no matter how many mistakes we make, Jesus will rescue us (usually from ourselves) as the Shepherd does with His flock. On Easter, we were given the grace of God in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. While you are focusing on being a good Shepherd in your daily life or in your vocation, focus also on being a good sheep (follower). Rejoice that your Father cares so deeply that He will risk a lot to rescue you from all of the places that you can scatter to or from all the trials that this world can throw at you.

With all your heart

Why does work have to be so hard? The hint in this question is the word “work” and, another word for work is labor. The dictionary defines labor as hard physical work. I can’t speak to it with any level of experience but I’m sure that if you ask any mother whether labor was hard work, she can give you a unique perspective on “labor”. Sometimes what we do, day in and day out, isn’t what we’d like to be doing. It’s not that it’s too hard; it simply isn’t satisfying. When we lose our job satisfaction, we loose sight of our purpose and whom we’re serving.

At times, we struggle to remain positive, to work hard and meet the mission or vision that is before us; complacency takes over and the “I don’t care’s” start to fly. Leaders, no matter what they’re faced with, must keep their focus on the mission or the work before them. Are you are a front line leader whose actions will have a direct impact on your customers or are you a support team leader that works to serve those impacting the customers? Complacency is where customer service starts to break down and in some professions; it can become deadly. Think of the nurse who is treating you in the emergency room for a heart attack, do you want the one who doesn’t care? We all have a responsibility to keep complacency out of our workplace.

“What ever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men… It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23-24

In the times when we’re locked in a battle against complacency, we can be comforted in knowing that when we do our best work, with all of our heart, it is pleasing to God. God is with us all of the time, even when we don’t feel like he’s there. When times get harder you should be focusing more on your relationship with God, not less.

Our human instinct is to focus everything on the work before us and let the rest of our life take the back seat for a while. Nothing can do more harm than putting God in the back seat! Bring God closer; he will help you through the struggles of work or overcoming complacency. You are serving Him, doing his work as a faithful disciple. God cares about the work that you do and how well you do it. When you are feeling down about work, imagine God smiling at you because He knows what is in your heart. Look to him to get you through, He’ll light the way.

 

Directions

Providing direction to our team members is one of the most difficult aspects of being a leader. We’d like to believe that people would see a need, understand what has to be done to meet that need and then execute it without us ever having to say anything to them about it; that would be utopia! We have to provide clear direction to our team so that they can function within set boundaries and then provide them enough freedom to make decisions within those boundaries without the need to “check in” with us on a constant basis.

Weekly team meetings can help bring everyone together and are a great place to review the boundaries that have been set. Each team member should share what they are working on and what they need help with so that other team members can assist them if necessary. Knowing that your team members need help can also provide you with insight as you look to distribute new workloads or it can inform you of team members who may be struggling. If you have several team members struggling, the problem may be in the way you distribute work or in how you give direction. Take a few minutes to find out the answers before you start pushing your team harder, the trouble spot could be you.

Psalm 19:8 – “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

The direction and commands we have received from the Lord our God are pretty clear, yet we try to interpret them to meet our own needs. Many people argue that the Bible can be vague and has room for interpretation. This, of course, is the work of the devil in our minds. We were conceived in sin and carry that burden with us from birth. We are assured that salvation is found in the life of Christ through the grace of God our Father.

There is an old expression that we are born twice but only die once. We are physically born on earth and then again born into the life of Christ through baptism but we will only die once from life on earth to enjoy eternal life with Christ and God our Father. The bible has provided us with these truths, over and over, in radiant words and images – giving light to our eyes. We are able to see eternal life through that light. Following the commands may be difficult and we will fail at keeping them – original sin is to blame for that. Despite those failings, God has given us His grace and we can be assured of eternal life through Christ – that is crystal clear!

His Love Endures Forever

I’m finding it harder these days to be positive about many things. Everywhere I look there is turmoil and chaos; some people are stoking it and others are embracing it. Everyone seems at odds with each other and if you have a different point of view or opinion, you are attacked or outcast. Television shows seem to base their stories around conflict between the characters, even the comedies aren’t funny anymore. In today’s world, no one wants to take responsibility for their actions, so they blame the observer. We’ve lost the “common” part of common sense and now we appear to be on the brink of losing our senses altogether.

Originally, I set out to write about being positive in the workplace as leaders but I found it hard to be positive. The moral of this negative post on positivity is that no matter your leadership position, people look to you for reassurance – always. No one wants to be “gaslighted”, as my mom used to say, but they also don’t want to hear from someone who never has a positive thing to say – a Debbie Downer (SNL) if you will. Leaders have to speak the harsh truths, but they also need to find the sunshine in those cloudy moments to maintain hope. Once we lose hope, we have lost it all. I was in need of few rays of sunshine and where did I find it? The bible of course! In a rare (for me) bible quote from the Old Testament.

30 Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. 31 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’ 32 Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them! 33 Let the trees of the forest sing, let them sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. 34 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. 35 Cry out, ‘Save us, God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise.’ 36 Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Then all the people said ‘Amen’ and ‘Praise the LORD.’” 1 Chronicles 16:30-36

Comedian Tom Papa has a new Netflix special out called, “You’re Doing Great” and he talks about the good old days – bathing once a month and wearing a lot of leather goods. The times of the Old Testament are really the old days! Even my worst day is better than their best day. We are being encouraged here to rejoice in everything because, the “Lord reigns”. Seas, fields, and forests are encouraged to rejoice, why not us? “God’s love endures forever”.

If you break apart all of the troubles of this world, they are nothing that God’s love cannot overcome. In all things, let love abound. We only have each other and we only have today so let’s make the most of them both. There is nothing negative in love, only in the things that keep us from loving one another. Remove the obstacles to love and just as God’s love endures forever, keep love out in front and live your life loving each other.

Seek and Find

Unfortunately, there are times in our work lives that we will be supervised by someone who doesn’t do a good job of showing how much they care about us or worse, they literally just don’t care. The first type of person is far easier to work for that the later and honestly, the ones who don’t know how to show it are more prevalent in the workplace today. As the Baby Boomers are leaving the workplace, Gen Xer’s are now supervising people making today’s workplace a little frustrating. This type of working environment puts the responsibility back on us if we want to make “work” a little more enjoyable.

The higher up the “ladder” a supervisor goes, the less they pay attention to the things that their people need, and we need to remind them what we’d like to accomplish. Author John Maxwell describes 360º Leadership in his book with the same title; we can use this as a tool to help us achieve goals that we have set for ourselves. Being forward with our own supervisor is not something that feels natural but when we are dealing with our own future and needs, sometimes we need to push a little. If you are a leader, don’t forget to take care of your own needs but don’t do it at the expense of your people. God put you in this place and at this time for a reason, ask questions and seek opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Luke 11:9 – “So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

We are taught here to ask the Lord for what we need. We need to learn to put our trust in God so that He can deliver us what we need. The real truth of the matter is that what God delivers is not always what we want or plan for but it is what we need. Sometimes God gives us pain or suffering for our growth, other times he gives us joy and peace. Despite our belief in our own greatness, God knows what we need.

Another thing that frustrates us is that God will not do it on our timeline but on His. Today, with the microwave we cook faster, with streaming services, we get tv shows when we want them, and the Internet gives us information in an instant. This verse reminds us to ask, seek and knock on the doors that God provides. Behind some doors are scary opportunities in which we feel alone in our thoughts and in our decision. God has promised not to leave you. He gave us His only Son in order to keep us close and we should never forget that. Pray and have patience, He will open the door for you.

Reflections of the Heart

There is an old management saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” What is in your heart will reflect on your leadership style. If you are caring for your people, deflecting stress from all angles, sincerely working with them so they can: achieve more, learn more and, reach their goals; then your heart is in the right place. Do you say, “I want to develop my team so that they can take my place” but you find that you are too busy to spend time with them in one on one career coaching?

I’ve been studying the subject of performance management for years. There has been a recent push to eliminate the annual performance review and replace it with regularly scheduled coaching sessions so that employees know how they are doing on a more frequent basis. As the workforce changes, so do the supervisors and leaders. The challenge this puts on a leader is that if they are required to interact with their people more frequently, it might just expose what is truly on their heart. If a leader really only cares about his numbers, his department’s goals or his promotion, it will all be revealed in these regular interactions. So, if you genuinely want people to be successful, you must ensure that your words and actions match. It takes far more time to recruit, train and develop new employees than it does to coach them and help them be successful. In the end, these efforts will reflect positively on everyone.

“As water reflects our face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.” Proverbs 27:19

This verse is about our hearts as Christians. What is on your heart? Do you attend church weekly and sing the songs but go out on Monday and terrorize your workplace by showing no compassion for others or “steal time” by putting in less than a full day so that you can “get what is coming to you”? God knows what is your heart! Putting God in His rightful place on your heart may take time and it won’t be easy, but God is understanding and has compassion as you work toward it.

For many of us, putting God first is a hard transition. As humans, tend to be so self-centered or consumed by the needs of this world that we often consider God’s word as an afterthought. Perhaps it is one of those things that you’ll squeeze in if there is time. Try to introduce God into your decision-making at work or when you reflect on a decision that you made. It may feel uncomfortable at first but that will go away. Remember the love that God has shown us and be extra forgiving when someone really disappoints you. Daily devotional reading will help you understand the depth of God’s grace and love for you. As God fills your heart, that will be reflected outward in how you treat others. You’ll be more understanding, have compassion and show forgiveness. Think about what your reflection looks like today and ask, is this what I really want to show to others?

Patience

I find that as I get older, I am becoming less patient with more things than I ever have in the past. I was never a terribly patient person but there are things that I am very patient about. I have a huge tolerance for people making genuine mistakes. I believe that its one thing to make a mistake because of inexperience or lack of understanding but it is another thing to make a mistake because of carelessness or the simple lack of caring. If some is really trying their best but just not being successful, I have great compassion and empathy for them. A well timed smile and a reassuring “it’s really not a problem, take your time” goes a long way to help the person work through their moment. I’ve traveled quite a bit this year and I have witnessed A LOT of people who lose their patience.

For me, my impatience seems to be with people trying to “snow” their way through circumstances. I’ve seen reports, presentations and reactions that have lacked balance in their information and been slanted to persuade the audience. I’ve witnessed people reacting to reports with their “full bias armor” on with no regard for the truth or what was actually being said. This is where I have no patience. In my mind this is when people are trying to mislead the facts or are simply choosing not to have an open mind. Often times, a blunt example or statement works to break down the bias – at times it doesn’t. How is your patience these days? Are you growing frustrated with things or people in your life but haven’t stopped to ask why? I would suggest knowing your own triggers and then look for them to come up so you can temper your response. Regardless of your place in the situation, we all must make every attempt to remain collected. As it was said – patience is a virtue.

The Lord is…. patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

All I can think of when I read this verse is THANK YOU! If God became impatient at the things that make me impatient; I would have been cast aside years ago. God was impatient in the beginning, sending Adam and Eve out of the Garden because of one mistake – albeit intentional. Granted, it was a big mistake but nonetheless, it was one mistake. As time went on, God decided to start over and flooded the earth saving one man and his family. Still, mankind couldn’t follow a few simple rules and God grew impatient again.

I must point out that God’s actions took hundreds of years; if this timeframe doesn’t speak to His perspective of time, I don’t know what does. God didn’t give up on us after all of this. While He may have been impatient, He still loved us. God’s answer to our disobedience was His Son. God sent the world Jesus to do what we couldn’t; keep His commandments. Jesus’ ability to live a perfect life serves as an example for us in our lives – 2000 years later. Jesus took all of our failings, all of our mistakes and all of our sins with Him on the cross. He took them to hell and left them where they belonged. When He rose, He took us with Him to heaven so that we would have eternal life and not perish. God IS patient with you and me. He wants us close Him and we will not perish through our faith in Jesus Christ. Stop worrying about your life and start being thankful for all that God has done for you because God is patient.

 

In the Storm

Where do you turn in times of trouble? For most people, it’s a good friend or relative. Someone who’s shared your tears and joys over the years. These are usually the same people who you turn to when you have exciting news or something great to share. These are often the people who become our best friends. When you work in a field like the fire service, this is what forms “the brotherhood”. “Brothers” turn to each other for support and become almost closer with each other than they do with their families. Highly threatening team activities or in-extremist teams (FF, police, military, bomb squads, etc) rely on their team mates to keep them alive. For those not in life/death situations, we need to find these people in our lives.

At work, these special people become either mentors or confidants. A mentor is someone who helps you excel and grow in your career by providing advice, opportunities and guidance. A confidant is someone who you can share things with but they don’t provide a direct source of career growth. If you are lucky, you will find someone who can be both. Sometimes we just need someone to tell us the bold truth and other times we need someone to be sympathetic to our emotions; rational or not. My daughter will call and ask for “reality check” dad when she needs to know what mom will never tell her. I’m lucky that I get to be both a confidant and a mentor to her; I can read her pretty well and know when to hold the bold truth until she’s ready. We all need these people in our lives. My wife has a huge cheering section of friends and a few close friends that she can talk to about everything else. I guess my point is to make sure that you have these types of people in your life and don’t forget that they are there. Life is so busy that we often forget that we don’t have to carry all of the burdens alone.

“You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.” Isaiah 25:4

I’ve often said “now that I say this out loud …” We need to say things to others to make sure that we really feel that way. We also have a need to get our feelings out in the open. The challenge is getting them filtered before we say something hurtful. We all know people who are in various stages of suffrage. Cancer seems to strike every family we know, financial stress is still present and family pressures will always be present. If you are raising kids, have siblings or are dealing with aging parents, suffrage seems constant. We all find different ways of dealing with it – some healthy and some not so healthy. Last week we talked about our ability to go to God freely and with confidence. This week we see why.

God is all of the things in this verse – a refuge for the poor and the needy, a shelter in the storm and a shade in the heat. When things go bad in our lives, God is there for us. It is human nature to ask “why me?” but the truth is that God is there with us in these times of trouble. He’s there when things are good too! God will not abandon any of us, no matter what you’ve done. We are given the promise of God to have eternal life with Him through our faith in Jesus Christ. There is no “reality check” dad with our Father in heaven. He knows what is on our hearts and in our minds and Jesus is sitting right next to Him saying, “all is forgiven”. I’d like to think that God inspires the advice that we get from our mentors and confidants. If we feel alone, this verse reminds us that God is always there; while St. Paul reminded us to go freely and with confidence.

 

Open Door Policy

Its been a while since I’ve written a straight-up leadership post, so this week I thought I’d address the “open door policy”. As I’ve studied leadership over the years, it has been interesting to see how this phrase even emerged into leadership. The autocratic management style (do as I say) was very strong in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Workers didn’t ask questions, offer their opinions or make suggestions for process improvements and heaven forbid they sought advice from their leaders. I’m sure this was the period that created the phrase “the daily grind”, for good reason. As the workforce became more disgruntled, someone had the idea that asking the workers what they needed might make a difference. Tom Peters became an office name since everyone was reading his groundbreaking books about new age leadership and creating employee involvement.

Leaders started telling employees that their office doors were open and that they could come in anytime with ideas and complaints. Over time, leaders slid back into being managers as bottom line pressures increased and soon the open doors became metaphorically closed. No one dared to go into an office and when they did, managers were not interested in hearing what they had to say. Workforce satisfaction has since fallen and it wasn’t until the workplace disruption of a company called Google and all of their “crazy philosophies” that it changed. Unfortunately, managers claim to have “open door policies” and they still don’t see employees coming in. “I have an open door policy. I don’t know why we have all of these problems”, is commonly cried. I’d suggest that while the door is open, the mind is closed. If you manage or lead people, evaluate your effectiveness in regard to employee engagement. Old dogs can learn new tricks, its called evolution. Are you evolving or just existing?

“Through faith in Jesus we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3:12

The famous Catholic confessional starts with “Forgive me father for I have sinned…”. Depending on what Christian denomination you were raised in or taught in, the father in this confession is the Catholic Priest. I’m not going to engage in a theological discussion about the biblical origin of this belief, but I do want to discuss our ability to approach God at any time and for any reason. St. Paul writes in this letter to the Ephesians that our faith in Jesus allows us to approach God – freely and confidently. God has an open door policy – literally and metaphorically.

We do not need a mediator to speak for us to God. The punishment, death and resurrection of Jesus was all of the intervention that we needed with God. Jesus did for us what we could never do, live a life that keeps all of God’s commands. Quite simply, we sin constantly. We can go to God and confidently know that our sins are forgiven because of what Jesus did for us. We can’t pray sin away, we can’t perform works or pay for forgiveness; we are already forgiven. Go confidently and with freedom into your life knowing that you can turn to God for help and forgiveness at any time.

Sharpening Iron

“We are only as strong as our weakest link” goes the old saying. As a team, you cannot be strong if one of the team members is weak. When I started in the fire service, my first training officer established a great foundation for me to always learn – never stop. I’ve spent the past 37 years living by that advice. I’ve studied learning organizations, failure tolerant organizations, employee development, training and education, building up others but most importantly; I’ve learned to be adaptive. A person whom I have great respect for told me that he appreciated my “modern and progressive thinking”. I found this funny because I have always believed that I was more of an “old dog” or pretty traditional in my thinking. For those of you that now me, I bet I’m not far off.

I’ve worked with people in my consulting career that put me face to face with some true “old dogs”. People who haven’t adapted to the changing work force nor the advancements being made in managing municipal government. It’s easy to see how this happened to them given their self-imposed isolation. I’ve always believed that if we’ve trained and educated our people to take over for us, that we’ve done the right thing. There are leadership teams who feel that if the workforce is smarter than they are, chaos will breakout. They live the mantra “knowledge is power”. Individually, this might work in the short-term but organizationally; it is the direct path to failure. I challenge every reader to reflect on how you treat co-workers, subordinates and industry peers in terms of knowledge sharing. Are you sharpening your iron using the backs of others as your grinding stone or are you sharpening your iron in conjunction with others?

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

Stated in a more simpler fashion – when you share your learning of the Word with another; both of you increase in wisdom. Bible verses speak to each of us differently or they invoke different emotional responses from each person reading it. I guess that is what I hope to share with these weekly devotions. Maybe you read these and can relate to something in your own life or maybe I actually write something that opens a new point of view for you. I grow every time I write and I hope you grow in reading it.

God never wanted His word kept private or used by “only a few chosen ones”. Jesus didn’t seek disciples from the Elders, he chose simple “every day” men to follow Him and learn God’s teachings. God used Saul, a persecutor, to teach the Word. Saul was spoken to by God, given wisdom and then shared it with everyone. We read his letters today as St. Paul. He sharpened generations of believers by sharing his learning of the Word. What ripple can you start by simply sharing your learning of the Word? Knowledge is power, when it comes to learning and understanding the Word of God is not power at all. The Pharisees believed this and Jesus called them hypocrites. In the end, they really knew little about God’s grace and our place with Him in eternity through Jesus Christ as our Savior.