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Abundant Living Vol. XV, Issue 28

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

  Ecclesiastes 3:1 

Sandy, my longtime friend and former work colleague, had always dreamed of having a swimming pool in her backyard, so eventually she and her husband saved up enough money to put one in. And of all the people I’ve ever known who have had backyard pools, myself included, I’ve never known anyone who enjoyed theirs more or made better use of it than Sandy and her husband. Every weekend during the summer they were either enjoying quiet afternoons alone, or watching their kids play in the water, or entertaining friends and neighbors in their backyard. During the warm months of the year their lives centered around that pool. Then one day Sandy announced that they were filling it in, covering it up. I was shocked at first, that is until she explained that the fun was over; they were done with it and ready to move on to other things.

The swimming pool story is so typical of the way Sandy operated when we worked together. When it came time to make changes, to do things differently such as introducing some type of new more efficient technology Sandy was always the one who would walk in one day and announce to all of us that from now on we’re doing it the new way – period! I loved that about her. She taught me better than anyone I know to realize that for everything there is a season, to enjoy the season while it lasts, understand it had a purpose, then let it go and move on.

My parents lived in the same house from the time I was two years old until several years after I was married with children of my own. My father and grandfather operated the same family business for sixty years. In the community where I grew up there were certain people in my life who could always be counted on to “be there”. There was a comfort in having that kind of stability. But then things changed. The family business was sold, my parents moved away, and some of those wonderful people began to die. Through the years I’ve come to realize those changes and losses did not destroy my world, instead they enriched it; for “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” For everyone of us there comes a time to cover up the pool. When it does, the best thing we can do is be thankful for the season and move on.

Abundant Living Vol. XV, Issue 27

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others . . .” – 1 Peter 4:10 

Two business partners were discussing their goals for the next year. “Let’s try to make more money,” said the first one, to which the other responded, “Why don’t we instead try to serve more people?”

The discussion between the two business partners zeros in on one of life’s most basic dilemmas. What do we do with what we’ve been given – our gifts, talents and resources? Do we use them to pursue our own selfish desires, or do we use them for the benefit of others? Ironically, depending on which we decide does not necessarily exclude the other.

In the preface to his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, renowned psychiatrist, author, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl explains it this way: “Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. . . I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.” 

The bedrock of our financial system and the hope for the future of our prosperity resides in our capacity to create and provide value to other human beings. Work, in other words, must be first and foremost about creating value rather than making money, which is exactly the point the second business partner was making to the first. How about let’s create more value for more people, to rephrase it, and the revenue increase will be sure to follow.

And therein lies the irony in our response to that basic human dilemma of “what do we do with what we’ve been given?” For to pursue selfish gain benefits only ourselves – maybe! – but when we use our gifts toward service to others, in the long run as Frankl says, we too will be rewarded. Therefore, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

Abundant Living Vol. XV, Issue 26

“Go and humble yourself . . .” – Proverbs 6:3 

Country singer Mac Davis once had a hit song you may recall that goes like this: “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble / When your perfect in every way / I can’t wait to look in the mirror / Cause I get better looking each day / To know me is to love me / I must be a h*** of a man / Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble / But I’m doing the best that I can.” 

The humor, of course, is in the singer’s self-perception, which is – well! – anything but humble. Then maybe the song makes us laugh at ourselves a bit as well; for aren’t we all a little like that at times? The song is right about one thing, though, humility is hard, and a bit tricky.

It’s hard because we imagine a humble person as a shrinking violet, weak and lacking confidence and courage. And who likes to think of oneself, much less be thought of by others, that way? But humility is not born of weakness, but comes from strength, confidence and courage; otherwise, it would not be considered one of the great human virtues. For what are we here for if not to step up and do our best at our respective endeavors? And that’s were it gets tricky, when our accomplishments tempt us to toot our own horn or expect accolades from others.

The pen, we’ve heard it said, is mightier than the sword. Likewise, it might also be said that humility is mightier than pride. Consider, for example, the lives of Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone, widely believed to have been the two greatest British Prime Ministers of the nineteenth century. Comparing the two, someone once surmised, that if you walked out of Gladstone’s office after meeting with him you would think he was the smartest person in world. Disraeli, however, after meeting with him you would likely walk out feeling like YOU were the smartest person in the world. Two brilliant men, two extraordinary leaders, both with amazing accomplishments, except one was humble, the other proud.

In the theater of life pride steals the spotlight for oneself. But humility lights up the entire stage, selflessly sharing the accolades with others. The better way is to “Go and humble yourself,” the Proverb urges. But, “Oh Lord, it’s hard . . .”, isn’t it?

Abundant Living Vol. XV, Issue 25

“. . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” – Hebrews 12:1 

Of all the great stories attributed to that ancient Greek slave-storyteller known as Aesop, my favorite has always been the about “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The fable begins with the hare making fun of the tortoise for the way he creeps along, in response to which the tortoise challenges the hare to a race. The hare knew, of course, he had the ability to beat the tortoise with time to spare. So, after gaining a comfortable lead the hare decided to pause for a little nap. Meanwhile, the tortoise continued to persevere, plodding along one step at a time. Sometime later the hare awakened from his nap only to discover that while he rested the tortoise had crossed the finish line. And so goes the moral of the story, “slow and steady wins the race.”

Benjamin Franklin once suggested that, “The noblest question in the world is ‘what good may I do in it?’” William J. Bennett in his The Book of Virtues responded to Franklin’s question with this: “Hang in there!” which as he explains, “is more than an expression of encouragement to someone experiencing hardship or difficulty; it is sound advice for anyone intent on doing good in the world. Whether by leading or prodding others, or improving oneself, or contributing in the thick of things to some larger cause, perseverance is crucial to success.”

So, why is the story of the tortoise and the hare one of my favorites? Maybe it’s because I can identify with both. How cool it would be, I’ve often thought, to be the hare, fast and wily and confident. But in fact my life has been more like that of the tortoise. As a younger man I dreamed of being the fastest one out of the starting blocks, the first to climb to the top. But every time I tried to jump out in front something seemed to fail to work out, and there I was back plodding along one step at a time. Then I remembered how the hare got lulled by his overconfidence into taking a nap, and the next thing he knew he had lost the race. Which means all along there must have been some divine rein pulling me back, saving me from a similar fate. Then I realized, what if I had missed out on leading others, improving myself, or contributing to a larger cause?

Slow and steady does win the race, you know. So, hang in there! and “. . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Abundant Living Vol. XV, Issue 24

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . .” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11 

In her bestselling book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, Liz Wiseman distinguishes between two types of leaders. One she labels as “multipliers” – thus the title of her book – the opposite being “diminishers”. Multipliers, she observed, behaved like this: “They applied their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capability of people around them . . . Ideas grew, challenges were surmounted, hard problems solved. When these leaders walked into a room, light bulbs started going off over people’s heads. . . These leaders seemed to make everyone around them better and more capable. . .” In contrast, “diminishers” tended to “drain intelligence and capability out of the people around them. Their focus on their own intelligence and their resolve to be the smartest person in the room had a diminishing effect on everyone.”

Recently I picked up another term compatible with “multipliers”. I learned it from one of my clients, a high-level leader in a large organization – and a multiplier – except he refers to himself as a “sponsor”; that is, he sponsors the people around him to grow and amplify their capabilities. He does this using positive reinforcement, encouragement, and public recognition when appropriate. The results, according to him, are that people become motivated to do anything they can to support the cause of the organization.

Back in my undergraduate days, a lot of attention within academia and corporate circles was being given to Theory X and Theory Y management styles, a concept developed by Douglas McGregor of MIT’s Sloan School of Management in the 1960’s. The two theories suggest this: Theory X, which assumes people are lazy and hate work, requires that managers must rely on threat and coercion in order to motivate employees. Theory Y, on the other hand, assumes people are naturally ambitious and enjoy work, thus respond well to positive motivation.

Which theory is true? According to Wiseman’s research people who work for multipliers / sponsors (Theory Y) are statistically 2.1 times more productive than those who work for diminishers (Theory X) – over twice as productive! Supportive words can make all the difference. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”