Friday, November 15, 2013

Work and Spirituality

I read a post today on Catholic Spiritual Direction, a wonderful blog, listed on my blogroll in the right sidebar, to which I would refer anyone interested in very insightful posts on living a godly life in today's world. The question a reader had posed was "how do I deal with issues of advancement and self-promotion at work?" The answer was splendid, and I suggest you wander over there to read it.

I have often commented on work issues on 100th Lamb, and its predecessor blog, Blest Atheist. As with anything else, if one lets go and lets God, as the saying goes, work goes better. One does not need to tout one's accomplishments. God will ensure that they become known and noticed when that is important, and otherwise it is not important. Among the things that I have noticed when it comes to inviting God to take over my work life are the following (far from a full litany of benefits and blessings):

(1) Servant leaders become powerful leaders even though that is not their intention. Jesus showed us the way to be good servant leaders when he washed the feet of his disciples. I ask of those managers who work for me that they think constantly of when the feet of their employees need washing and to tend to that task with alacrity. Recently, a would-be leader who had run into some complications with his team members asked me as someone he considers his mentor how to handle the situation, and I told him he needed more humility, to throw his inflated ego in the trash because it was doing him no good, and forgive those who were creating problems for him. Oh, he found that hard, but he tried all of it. He even sent me a self-learning plan for developing humility, at which point I called him to my office to explain that one does not achieve humility; humility simply comes as a result of something that is so easy that is almost impossible for some people: always put others first. Others can say whether or not our actions are examples of our humility; we cannot begin to measure our own level of humility without being arrogant about it. A strange characteristic this humility! But so desirable!

(2) Power grows the more you give it away. This fact is one of the most counter-intuitive realities with which immature managers must cope. Most new managers want to hang onto power. They want their employees to defer to them, even sometimes to call them "sir" and "ma'am." They want overt respect. As a result, they get the titles, the overt behavior, and the public respect. What they don't get is the implicit respect that is not demanded but freely given, the love and support that comes with it, and the willingness to go the extra nine or ninety yards, as needed. I am tickled pink with employees who point out some shortcoming or inconsistency in my behavior. It means that we are working as a team, and teams are more powerful than individuals. I also notice that when both responsibility and authority are delegated to them, employees are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the tasking. In turn, if the manager asks them to do something that they would prefer not to do, they do it anyway, without grumbling, because of the bond between them. That is real power. The power that comes with position is multiplied a thousandfold when it is bestowed upon a manager not by his/her superiors but by his/her subordinates.

(3) Dealing with difficult people becomes easy, fun, and rewarding. I have said it often, and I truly mean it. I love difficult people. They are my greatest reward for being a manager. Watching a disaffected employee become a contributing team member produces one of the warmest fuzzies that any manager could ever want. I have very few difficult people among the 400 or so who work for me although four years ago when I began this position the division was considered riddled with difficult people. Now the division is called the "black hole" of our organization by the EEO office and by the Union because even people who used to practically live in those places, complaining about their supervisors and work conditions, no longer visit. They are happy contributors to their teams' work. Once a senior manager, who no longer works for me, asked how to deal with difficult people. I told him that the key was so simple that most managers won't use it: genuinely love them. He told me sorrowfully that he could not do that and not long after resigned. I replaced him with someone who could do that, and the 30 or more chronic complainers in that particular subdivision now appear in the corridors and at group meetings with big smiles. When the new manager first appeared, many stopped me in the hallway to thank me for the change in leadership. Now when they are unhappy about work conditions, they do not run to the Union or the EEO officials for help; they come to their supervisor.

(4) The workplace becomes a place of worship as well, a place where people are inexorably drawn and from which they do not wish to depart. Many a night I have chased people home with the words, "we work to live; we don't live to work." Actually, it is not the living to work that compels people to stay in the office after hours. It is the palpable presence of God in our workplace. Who would want to leave that? Once I had a manpower team from headquarters visit for a week for the purpose of determining staffing needs -- were we understaffed (yep), overstaffed (nope), or staffed just right (not that, either). After spending a week of visiting and talking to employees, during which the visitors had open access to everyone, thanks to a building schematic and names/titles of employees that I gave them with the invitation to go wherever they wanted whenever they wanted and talk to whomever they wanted. They did. The head of the visiting team came to my office at the end of the week, ostensibly, I thought, to talk to me about staffing levels. Instead, she told me that she wanted to talk about the atmosphere in the work place. "I have read about places like this," she said, "but I have never actually seen one -- where people love to come to work, support each other, and willingly remain to make sure that all tasks are completed and everything is ready for the next day. I wish I could work here." There is nothing to my credit in what she found. Rather, that is what happens when one lets God into the workplace.

(5) Moreover, once God is in the workplace, God does what God does best. Miracles happen. Chestnuts get pulled out of the fire by unseen hands. Cutting-edge and seemingly-impossible-because-no-one-has-ever-done-it-before work gets done with amazing ease. Where task and mission require, 48 hours of work finishes itself in eight hours. Pride in the accomplishment of the division and not in the accomplishments of individuals appears; employees give credit to each other, supervisors to employees, and employees to supervisors. People talk about God and even pray together -- in an institution where separation of Church and State is the norm, the expected, the required. The most amazing, though, are the real miracles. We have had several people literally on the brink of death who have reappeared in our midst. I have blogged before about some of them, among these being Jackie, who ended up with a blog clot in her lung and comatose after surgery but survived and will be returning to work, and Tareq, an Iraqi immigrant to the United States who suffered from cancer and heart failure and did eventually die but not before a miraculous post-surgery recovery that gave him an additional year at work and at home, a year he desperately needed to put his family matters straight and save the life of his son who had to be rescued from Iraq when he was personally targeted by insurgents. For all these people, we have had employees of several faiths praying together, our own little ecumenical world, where religious flavor and fervor come second and God and each other come first.
Well, this is not at all the post I had planned to write today, but the writing of it took on a life of its own, inspired by my reading of Fr. Todd's response to the questioner on Catholic Spiritual Direction, and here it now is. So, I shall post it. Tomorrow I will post what I had planned to put up today.

(Note: I know that the image is not entirely appropriate, but it is also not entirely inappropriate. I found it on the web and could not resist including it!)


  1. I am glad that the spirit guided you to post this. It hit home in many ways. God bless and thank you.

  2. Great post! And I love the image you used! :)

    Hugs and blessings,

  3. Good advice and the cartoon was very funny. :-)

  4. It may not be the post you planned but I really enjoyed reading it. And I loved the picture--will show that to the sons.

  5. This is a great post. It reminds me of many of the leadership books I have read. Point #3 is still a definite work in progress for me. However, I recognize that difficult people are crying out for love and/or keeping a wall "up" because of a probable past hurt or avoidance of a possible future hurt.

  6. DG, Cheri, OG, Sheila -- glad you liked the post and found something useful or to smile about. Misslynda, indeed, difficult people usually are very hurt within and have built a protective wall that seems like a briar patch to others.

  7. Why do I always feel like an over 30 on Friday?

    God bless.