Memos from the Middle

Smack-Dab in the Middle of Living

Character in the Workplace and the Christian Perspective

Ephesians 6: 7-8  (NIV) “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.”

I watched as she flitted about the office space remaking coffee, filing papers, and setting up the conference room. People from all over popped in and out getting a request filled here or a question answered there. No matter how much she was interrupted, no matter how many tasked she had to do already, no matter how often her name was called in that sing-songy way people use when they want something from you, she smiled. She never complained. She never showed any frustration. She never seemed to tire.

I remember stuffing envelopes with letters I didn’t understand. She floated over to me, realizing my gross inefficiency, and showed me how to fold several at a time, all the while quarterbacking the office. I watched the ease at which she folded, separated, and slid papers into envelopes in what was robotic precision as I fiddled with the rubber finger thingy that was supposed to make the job easier for me. She directed the caterer and fussed at some hire up in the most nurturing but firm way about leaving an invoice on her chair instead of in the appropriate tray as she stroked my hair playfully and smiled down at me, giving encouraging feedback on my latest attempt. I did better this time, but honestly, there was no way I was going to match her speed and exactness, and I definitely wasn’t going to put anything in her chair.

I’m reminiscing on those long ago days going to work with my mom as I reflect on an exchange I had with a colleague yesterday. She has a meeting to attend today, and she hadn’t completed the deliverables for it. When we were discussing that, she stated that she was only going to do what she would do and that she wasn’t going to stress about it. I reminded her of her newness to leadership and that this was not the time nor the place to drop the ball. She shared that she’d take whatever consequences came her way. I tried to impart the importance of representing oneself well in this situation, but in a most cavalier and cocky tone, she doubled down on her position. I was appalled by both her behavior and her stance, but I decided to retreat, hoping that she’d come to her senses in my absence.

Upon my return, she asked, “Do you think I was disrespectful to you?” In all honesty, I hadn’t even thought about that because I was so concerned with her well-being professionally. To feel disrespected means that on some level, I had taken personally what had transpired, and I didn’t. “No,” I responded, “I think you were dismissive.” At that, she flew into a fit of defensiveness and emotion that mirrored my children, and I realized that it was time for me to shut down this air of haughtiness and be completely real with her.

“Listen,” I said firmly to stop the rant. “Character is everything.” I let the words sink in a bit before continuing. “Intelligence is relative and beauty fades, and I should know because in my own mind I’m smart, and I used to be fine, but character will open doors intellect and attractiveness never will. I don’t care if you lead your home, a girl scout troop, a school, or a business, how you talk to people and how you make them feel will make or break you. You pay your dues, you deposit positivity into people, you ensure that the tone of your message is even more well thought out than the content of your message, and you’ll have longevity in this profession.

“I’m not making a judgment on how you were raised because I know nothing about that, but my parents taught me more about character in their interactions with other people than they ever said to me directly. I watched company executives and janitors, police chiefs and office clerks, storefront workers and aldermen sing my parents’ praises not because of the big jobs or authority they had, because they didn’t have big jobs or authority, but because of the type of people they were and how they treated others in their everyday exchanges.

“As a leader, everything you say and how you say it carries so much more heft than it ever has before. You need to remember that.”

She looked instantly exhausted. “I feel like everything I say requires me to think about it so long, and I’m constantly wondering if I said something wrong. It’s like I have to plan out everything I say.”

“That’s what this seat requires,” I said honestly.

As I drove home last night, I kept questioning why I didn’t feel disrespected initially. It’s not like I wanted to feel this way. It was just that I probably would have a year ago or maybe even a month ago. What had changed?

When I slid into consciousness this morning, it hit me. My perspective is changing. I’m starting to see the world from a Christian perspective, and while not wholly successful on a daily basis, I’m finding myself more and more viewing people and situations with the empathy and love that Christ showed me when He went to the cross.

Lord knows I made mistakes as a young leader, and mistakes still traverse my threshold, but I know the grace God has shown me. I live in His mercy. It would be both hypocritical and wrong to profess my allegiance to Christ and deny extending grace to others. And even though I didn’t even realize it at the time, I am so grateful that this perspective is penetrating my psyche and informing my world view. I wasn’t angry or exasperated. I just felt badly for her and wanted her to realize her mistaken thinking before it was too late.

Before leaving my bed, I prayed for her. I know she’s not a Christian, nor is she interested in being one, but still I prayed for her. And in my asking God to show her the way to Him, He reminded me that every day as His child, I should be a reflection in my living of His light.

So, Friend, in turn, I remind you that as Christians, no matter the frustrations and inundations of life, our living should reflect the image of God. We don’t know what person may be positively influenced by our behaviors and communications. We don’t know what situations are sharpening us for bigger fights to come. Therefore, we ought to live life on purpose and demonstrate the character Christ taught through both word and example. Quite frankly, that’s what our seat as Christians requires.

Romans 12: 2 (KJV) “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

 

 

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