Monday, September 7, 2009

Trust me, trust me not

I've been thinking about work this Labor Day. I've worked at very different businesses over the years. Some bosses are utterly trustworthy. No matter what the circumstances or the fallout for themselves, they protect and mentor their employees. They act in the best interests of others and pull in those unlike themselves to build beyond their own potential. They release people to think large, to dream widely, and give underlings permission to fail without penalty as part of the route to success and promotion.

I grew up trusting those in my immediate circle. As a child I believed that all adults acted wisely and "did the right thing." Everyone brought their experiences and talents to the mix. I read in scripture that the Church flourished because of each member's spiritual gifts.

It is delightful to watch how others see the world. Top architects design leaning and twisting towers. A mother plans her child's theme party with a twist. Innovative technology is snatched up with, "Why didn't someone think of this before?"

One of my favorite books is a French children's volume about the exotic gifts a lover would buy for his true love's birthday - a lock of hair from Rapunzel's head, exquisitely created artwork, and items found off the beaten path during travels. The imagination of the author/illustrator always makes me laugh aloud at the extraordinary possibilities, exquisitely presented. It stirs vague remembrances of childish ideas snuffed out when someone said they were stupid or couldn't grasp their promise.

Most people try to avoid those who act in their own interests, belittle colleagues, and squelch the ideas of associates to make themselves look good. Venturing out into the workplace over the years, I have met fellow employees who boldly proclaim themselves experts and say aloud that they are bored if they aren't controlling a meeting. I've been surprised when people shut down ideas that aren't their own. I've had coworkers who consistently refuse possibilities they have not dreamed up.

One of the saddest parts of growing up has been meeting people who would be outstanding team contributors with encouragement. Instead, they have stayed safe and very small after being told their ideas were uninteresting or irrelevant. They've heard they were acting too large for their position or stepping out of line. ("Get back in your box!") Their gifts are not welcome at the table with their "betters" so they buy the lie that God puts people in authority to control others and determine their size and value.

How many church members leave their energy and contributions at home, sitting in a pew while others serve? Employees punch a clock to work their routines, saving their best ideas for personal life. So the artist quietly shakes his head at poorly arranged public spaces, but carefully hangs his paintings in his home gallery. The mechanical genius mows lawns and cleans gutters on the job, but builds motorcycles and restores old cars in a well-equipped home garage. The gardener works in a barren office but lives in a home surrounded by lush flowerbeds. The writer produces dry reports on public time, but nurtures a secret audience with books and articles written under a pen name.

As we head back to work, let's remember that it is not our name or power base we are building or protecting. We can be trusted when we are working for God's interests. And his creative will may be waiting for life in the words or ideas of a fellow employee, waiting for permission to be heard.

Three questions as we head back to work after Labor Day:
1. Where can we be our true self this week? Whom can we trust with fresh ideas that could transform culture or enhance a work situation?

2. Does someone working for us hold back their best ideas and resources because it is not safe to share their full potential? Why has God placed them in our area? How can we provide the space and protection for what God wants to do through them?

3. Who blocks others in our area of authority? Do we have the power to break the bottleneck where ideas clog in our organization?

Col. 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


  1. A hearty "Amen" to that. Lots to think about.

  2. I like a lot of what you have written here. For another perspective, checkout (a list for success often attributed to Bill Gates).

    I'm trying to live somewhere in the tension between these two perspectives ;-)