“Preach the gospel everywhere…when necessary, use words” – this famous quote, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, is one of my favorite reminders about the efficacy of faith as applied properly.
And I think it applies in a professional setting. I would say that I hear this phrase used frequently when talking about feeding hungry people, or clothing drives, or efforts to help the homeless. But I believe the important lesson here is that it applies 24 x 7.
If one is a follower of Christ Jesus, then preaching that gospel everywhere includes some very clear principles, all of which can be expressed publicly most days at work (without saying a word):
- Fair dealing: “Just wait until you see what this guy tries to pull” — especially in corporate environments, and especially as one scales up position/title, there are more opportunities, and more incentive, to skirt rules, to flout ethical boundaries, to treat customers/vendors/associates/regulators with less than truthful answers. For example, in some industries, it is a commonly accepted practice to “slip in” contract terms in a final version of a deal that were never part of the negotiation or presentation. If we are going to ‘preach the gospel’, our contracts should be transparent to our negotiations. We should be tough and get the best value we can get, but we should achieve that end by being fair and honest.
- Valuing people: in leadership/management roles, there are regular decisions required that have a deep impact on families. Situations like moving a manufacturing location, closing a facility, layoffs due to a change in market, or even letting someone go due to performance, are all opportunities to act with integrity and ‘preach the gospel’. Working with various decision makers to provide as soft a landing as possible, whether that is researching government training programs, providing support services like resume writing and job search, making sure that severance arrangements are both legal and fair – treating those families that are impacted as if they were your own. Some would say, if you make a decision like that “just for profits”, there is no way to maintain that posture, because you can’t value people. While I agree that facility moves/closures/layoffs are made for amoral reasons at times, in many other cases, there are perfectly logical and moral reasons – accountability for a certain level of profitability and/or responding to the realities of differences in demand or cost in the marketplace are simply required of good management. We should value our people all the time, when we have to make very difficult decisions due to those marketplace forces, we should still treat them with empathy, respect and value.
- Critical conversations: I’ve held a number of different leadership positions at multiple companies. It no longer surprises me, but it still saddens me, when I conduct a performance review with an associate and it is either (a) the first performance review (in their career) they’ve actually had in person, or (b) the first performance review (in their career) that has provided critical feedback and guidance for development. While more and more leadership/management programs focus on giving feedback, there still seems to be a dearth of honest, direct, transparent engagement with associates. If I am to ‘preach the gospel’, dealing directly, honestly, but also with personal empathy and care in terms of the tough conversations around performance, is absolutely crucial.
- Acting in optimism: leadership roles can be very lonely, and on some days, you really only see the worst in people when you are a leader. During a recent “take your daughter to work” opportunity, at the end of the day, my daughter remarked, “I would never want your job. People just come in here and complain all day.” If you are a leader, you have had those days. And when that happens, it is very easy to go sour. It’s very easy to cocoon back into your place of power, tell some people what to do, and walk around with a glare on your face. ‘Preach the gospel’ doesn’t look at life that way, because you have your eyes set on bigger things. Your role is to build up and raise up those around you, which can’t happen with a glare.
Whether or not the quote is attributed correctly (and there is some debate over whether or not it is), it still is a sentiment that resonates. We have opportunities every day to lift up those around us.