Weekly Thoughts

A bit more forgiveness…

By Rick James

‘It may sound odd for a professor of business to say this, but I reckon that our organisations could do with a deal more loving, a bit more forgiveness and a lot more faith in other people’.

It’s one of my favourite quotes from Charles Handy, a leading management writers over the last 50 years.

But forgiveness is really tough. Bishop Isaiah Dau’s inspiring story ‘But what about my brother’s killers?’ made this abundantly clear in the May bulletin. I was encouraged when Isaiah said forgiveness for him was an on-going process, “a daily struggle” that “keeps coming back”. I can relate to this. Perhaps when Jesus said we had to forgive seventy times seven times, he might also have meant that we had to forgive the same offence over and over again.

How do people in your organisation respond when things go wrong; when people let them down? How do you react? Mistrust and resentment may be reasonable, but ultimately destructive, responses. The only real antidote is facing the situation with both truth and grace (John 1:14). It may be unappealing and a huge struggle, but it is only forgiveness that can really transform difficult workplace relationships.

What could you do this week to make ‘truth and grace’ more part of your office culture?

Keeping communication lines open

By Alice Wainaina

What do you do when the powers that be block sensible, well-intended change?

I was assisting a children’s charity with a launch of their programme for secondary school children. Although the TOR was focused on the launch, I felt it was imperative to discuss it in the context of the institution’s sustainability. The director was relieved at being able to voice some long-standing fears about sustainability. We considered various scenarios. He eventually decided they had to shift their approach from institutional care to a family-centred approach.

I met later with a team of the charity’s donors who were visiting. While pleased with the plans for the launch, they were clearly uncomfortable with the proposed change of approach. Their fundraising was based on an orphanage-type model. Despite my efforts to explain globally-accepted good practice, they were obviously unconvinced – as after they met with the director, I found myself locked out of any further discussions.

It was hard not to take it personally. I felt upset. I wanted to judge the leader for his lack of leadership. But despite the silence from him and the donor team I had met, I forced myself to keep communicating. I tried to do this with humility and gentleness, but without wavering in my conviction. One section of the donors kept up the communication. These had realised that institutional care was not the best option for the organisation in the long term, nor even for the children. Others, however, still put their own fundraising interests first. Eventually the director of the orphanage also called. He updated me on the children’s progress but did not bring up the issue of sustainability and shift in approach. After his long silence I did not think it prudent to force it on him. I do not know what will happen. The future of the charity is at stake. Sometimes all you can do is watch and pray.

This week, who should we keep communicating with, despite their silence or opposition?
Which situations of power do we need to respond to with humility, gentleness and conviction?

Accepting the mantle of mentoring

By Lorentz Forsberg

“Read this… and then we can talk”. Those were the very first words my new colleague said on my first day at work. He placed a pile of papers from a South African organization on my desk. Of course I did as he asked. I realized as I read that I could not have had a better introduction to the exciting, yet chaotic and frustrating story of human and organizational change. It was so personal that it smelled of mother’s cooking and father’s shaving. It touched my heart. I also realized that I had found a soul mate in my new colleague. He became my mentor.

Almost 20 years on, I now see how much that mentoring relationship profoundly shaped who I am at work today. Many of my flaws and vulnerabilities are still there – and I might even have added a few – but the core belief in the deep meaning of development has been nurtured and become embedded into my being. That is the greatest gift I received from my mentor.

Now, in my early 40´s I’m slowly realizing that I am in a position to mentor others. And as I look around, I see many others who should be mentoring our energetic recruits. We may think we have nothing to offer, but we do. Remember, the beginning of a beautiful mentorship can be as simple as: “Read this”.

What would be the first thing you put in the hands of a new employee? (but please not your annual report!)
Who could you be mentoring? How might you make it happen?

Sacred Trust

By Rick James

It is a privilege and responsibility to intervene in an organisation – whether as leader, as Organisational Development consultant or as a funder. When we step in we are treading on people’s lives – their identity, their sense of self. What we do and say can have a profound and personal impact on them. It can influence their relationships with those around them and even their relationship with God. We have the potential to do good, but we also have the potential to do harm. To intervene in any organisation involves a sacred trust.

Every now and then I wonder, do I really have any inkling of the responsibility I carry? If so, would I not do my work with more effort, more diligence, perhaps even with ‘fear and trembling’? It makes me ask myself lots of questions:

This week:
Do I really try to bring the very best of myself to my work each day ?
Do I ensure I am mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared when I intervene in an organisation’s life?
Am I being a steward of grace in my relationship with this organisation?

Holy days and holidays

By Rick James

It’s strange that the Sabbath is the only commandment we feel it is OK to break. We are just too busy. But as Corrie ten Boom warned: ‘Busy is not just a disordered schedule, it is a disordered heart’.

The Sabbath is key to cultivate a spirit of rest. Rest is not an optional extra. It is built into the way we are made. Sabbath rest is like the law of gravity. We cannot ignore it. Depending on how we respond, it will either come as disappointment (through stress, broken relationships, burn-out) or delight.

It’s not surprise then that God commands us to set aside one day a week as holy. This is not about merely swapping domestic chores for office chores. Keeping the Sabbath is about making space to do the things that restore our souls; that bring us delight – not just going to church, but also having fun with family and friends. To help him decide how to use his time on the Sabbath, church leader John Mark Comer asks himself two questions: “Is this worship? Is this rest?”

For some in North America and Europe, the ‘holiday’ season is approaching, but wherever we are, let’s create a healthy habits of keeping Holy days.

People of peace

By Dorothy Grace Stewart

Like many of you my work has taken me away from home for varying amounts of time – a privilege but not without challenge. A close friend began to pray for ‘people of peace to cross my path.’ I have followed this example and been overwhelmed by the way this prayer has been answered time and again.

Have you ever looked back on a piece of work and thought, “That person made all the difference?” So often, I have found that there are one or two individuals I meet during a consultancy that seemingly have been put in that organisation for such a time as this. They are courageous individuals who continue to allow themselves to be affected by the Holy Spirit for communal good; men and women who often have quiet ministries to their teams; people who are committed to the nudging of the Holy Spirit more than vision statements, strategic goals or expert consultants.

Jesus encouraged his followers to faithfully look for the individuals who were already partnering with the Holy Spirit in their own communities and directed them to pay attention (Luke 10).

This week:
Pray for ‘people of peace’ to cross your path?
Pray for them to have discernment in listening to God for their organisations, courage in acting when necessary and influence in the larger life of the organisation.

Motivating others

By Elaine Vitikainen

I was facilitating a workshop on implementing a strategic plan. We spent
 a lot of time discussing staff engagement. It seemed to be a major issue. I asked the eight participants from different projects the question: ‘How do you motivate staff to get more engaged in their work?’ I was shocked. Together they came up with 89 ideas! They were overflowing with creative ways to motivate and inspire staff.

We limit our thinking when we assume that staff are simply motivated by external rewards. We are misguided if we think motivation is all about salaries and benefits. Research reveals 
a different reality. The top motivator for staff performance is not salary, but it is being recognised for a job well done. People usually respond well to positive, truthful feedback from others. Genuine and encouraging words cost nothing. Yet somehow, despite their positive impact on performance, they are still surprisingly rare.

This week:
Who do you need to motivate?
What really makes them tick and how could you motivate them?

The speed of trust

By Rick James

One of the great things about being able to give and receive honest feedback is that it builds trust. Trust is one of the most valuable organisational commodities. It is not an optional extra, nor a soft, airy fairy ideal. Trust is at the core of how well any organisation functions. As Steven MR Covey clearly outlines in his book of the same name, we operate only at the ‘speed of trust’ (2006).

Low trust slows everything down. If there is no trust, words and decision are negatively interpreted. There is suspicion, between people and organisations, not synergy. It leads to increasing bureaucracy, duplication of effort, political manoeuvring and disengagement.

Do you trust your boss? – the answer to this one question apparently is more predictive of team and organisational performance than any other question.

As we go to work, (as leader, consultant, NGO staff) our top responsibility is to build trust. Trust is one of the most powerful forms of motivation and inspiration. People want to be trusted. They respond to trust. Covey defines leadership as “getting results in a way that inspires trust”.

So what can we do to build trust as leaders? The fastest way to build trust is to make and keep commitments. We judge ourselves by our intentions, we judge other people by their behaviour. Good words have their place, but what you do has far greater impact than what you say.

Do not be naïve or gullible – combine high propensity to trust with rigorous analysis. Look at your systems. Are they set up for the 3% who can’t be trusted or the 97% who can? Leaders have to go first in the game of trust. The onus is on you to make the first move.

This week, what can you do at work to build trust and thereby increase the speed of your organisation?

Collaborating with a tentative and open mind

By Doreen Kwarimpa-Atim

I regularly facilitate an exercise called “Creative conversations”. This involves two people holding a conversation using colour and form without prior planning or verbal communication.

Individuals who go into the exercise with a fixed mind-set of a complete picture that they want to draw get very frustrated when their partners do not follow their lead. They are usually dissatisfied with the outcome. In contrast, participants who start without any pre-set idea, who are more open and tentative find it easier to collaborate together. They also tend to describe the exercise as fun and enjoyable and are more satisfied with the outcome.

I’ve learned that if we go into any collaboration with an open mind, even tentatively, this can be both more fulfilling and productive. It results in better relationships and genuinely shared ownership of outcomes.

It reminds me of two senior consultants I work with. When we are planning something together they suggest tentatively, using phrases like; “It seems…” “Perhaps we could…” Their open approach makes me feel my contributions are welcome and whatever we come up with is ‘ours’. But is also makes me wonder, how often am I stressed when working with others, simply because I am so set in the way I see things or want them to be…

This week, how can you be more open to working with what others bring on the table?
What do you need to do more of or less of to be more flexible when working with others?

Partnership with God through work

By Angelina M. Twinomujuni

Do you ever feel that your work is not significant? You are not alone. I feel like that sometimes. I am encouraged by others who have walked before me when I feel this way. Moses did not think that tending sheep was significant until he was asked to lead a people out of bondage. The skills that he mastered tending his sheep became important in his journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. God is in the habit of partnering with people to address societal issues. He is able to use whatever you do or have to influence your family, community, organisation and even nation. Moses had a staff in his hand. That staff became a powerful tool, used to demonstrate God’s power leading to the deliverance of a people who had been in bondage for over 400 Years.

It is so easy to look at your work as an ordinary task. I am only crunching numbers you may say, or just walking the baby to the park, reviewing and analysing reports, or even monitoring progress markers for project implementation. However, work is more than a task. Work is a calling. Work is worship. Work is mission. Your work can be a strategic frontier for the advancement of the gospel. The next time you think that you are just going to work, remember that your work is more than your job description. Your work can transcend your tasks when it is surrendered to God.

This week, are there steps you need to take to improve on the way you look at your work?