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Work Is a Sacred Trust

The summer I was 15, I locked myself in the bathroom. Not for the typical reasons. There was no fight with my parents or disappointing love interest. I wasn't trying to hide tears or cool down a temper. I had just received my first paycheck.

It wasn't just the paycheck I loved. That was just symbolic. It was work I loved. I loved the feeling of doing something that mattered, something that helped other people, something that I could accomplish.

Growing up, I awoke each morning to the smell of coffee and the sight of my dad in his crisp white shirt and tie, sitting at the breakfast table reading the newspaper. His aftershave gently filled the room and there was a sense of anticipation in him as he readied to start the work day. My dad loved what he did, and he was good at it. That was a dynamic combination.

Every morning my mother drove me to school. After she dropped me off, she continued on the few more miles to her workplace. In the 1960s, I had one of the very few moms who worked. She was always dressed up for work and her mood seemed to match. My mother loved what she did, and she was good at it. That is a dynamic combination.

"Thank God it's Friday."

"I hate my job."

"Can't wait until I retire; then I can start living."

I don't get that.

I love to work. I love getting up in the morning and getting dressed for work. I love looking over my calendar for the day and seeing what lies ahead. I love working with a team to make things happen. I love the relationships at work; I love the tasks. I love dreaming and imagining what might be, what the future could look like, how we could make a difference. I love starting to change things, and setting things in motion that might make those changes happen. I love celebrating the wins along the way and learning from the losses. I love watching the team getting healthier and happier as it gets better and better at the work it does.

I love how when people are led well. Not only do they accomplish great things, but they become better people in the process. There is that kind of redemption in work.

God gave work to Adam and Eve before the fall. Work was not the result of sin; it is another way of working out the image of God that resides in all of us.

Work is a sacred trust and there are a few things you can do to treat it as such in your role as a leader:

1. Yourself. I first heard the concept of "self-leadership" when I was on staff at a church. Here's the main idea: You are responsible for carving out a life that has a rhythm that renews you. It is not anybody else's job. As a leader you take responsibility for your own self-renewal which includes things like reading, planning alone time to do thinking and processing, and maintaining a schedule that allows you to keep your promises, which is one of the key jobs of a leader. Self-leadership will not only increase your leadership capacity and skills but will also work to prevent burnout.

2. Others. Leadership is the promise of development. People need three things to grow: opportunities, challenges, and relationship. It is your job as a leader to be sure, over time, that your people are getting all three. They need opportunities to use their abilities to make a difference, challenges that stretch them without breaking them, and relationships in which they are known and celebrated and told the truth about themselves.

One of my most memorable moments working on staff at a large hospital was when I was speaking for the first time to one of the top executives. I introduced myself and she immediately said, "I know who you are." I was 22 years old. I have never forgotten that phrase. It was powerful to be noticed and made me want to do a good job.

3. The Organization. Organizations - not just individual people - are important. Organizations, as a collection of people, allow us to accomplish things we could not do on our own. As a leader it is your responsibility to make sure that meetings are compelling, that they are places where collaborative (not consensus, which Patrick Lencioni defines as "mutually agreed upon mediocrity") decisions are processed and made, a place where goals are set and people are held accountable for those, where short-term and long-term gains are celebrated and lack of success is autopsied and learned from.

Leadership is a sacred trust.

March22, 2007 at 8:45 PM

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