Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Undercover Boss

I absolutely love the new reality TV show, Undercover Boss! I love it not only because it celebrates the unsung hero who truly makes the company successful, but because it is a fascinating case study in Christianity. There are myriad applications of this fact but I’ll concentrate on just a few. First though, I need to give you a broad overview of what the show is all about. CEO’s of different companies have agreed to be filmed while working undercover in their organizations. They work in various entry-level positions across different locations of the organization over the course of a week. The big idea is to observe and get a feel for how the employees are doing, what their feelings are about the company, how effectively they work with the customer and with each other, what needs to be rewarded, and what needs fixing. It’s amazing to see how the CEO’s perspective of the business is changed as they interact on a more personal level with the people that make their companies run effectively (or not so effectively!)

7-11 CEO & Lawmakers Support Law Ending Unfair Credit Card Transaction Fees
But I digress, because I’d really like to talk about the applications and similarities I see between this show and Christianity. The Bible reminds us that we shouldn’t become weary as we serve and care for strangers, because we may well be entertaining angels without being aware of it. These unsung heroes in the companies profiled were completely oblivious to the fact that the employee assigned to work with them was actually the CEO of their organization, and thus the one responsible for “signing” their paychecks. They could have acted all superior and condescending (and believe me some of the employees do), but these unsung heroes simply wanted to provide the best opportunity for a new employee to be successful, and so they went out of their way to ensure that the process was made easier by the way they treated the new employee.

The 7-11 episode is by far my favorite so far. The “undercover boss” spent a day working in a New York store that sold the most cups of coffee each day. Wanting to find out what was different about the product in that store from all the others, which caused it to be so popular he made that his first stop. What he discovered amazed him. Delores, the matronly lady who had served in the store for 12-years (in a 7-11 convenience store!), was the reason people came to the store. She knew just about every customer by name, and had a kind word for everyone. She was patient and friendly as she taught “Danny” (the undercover boss) the ropes and made the learning curve much easier to navigate. Then Danny discovered from a customer that Delores had bad kidneys and was on a transplant list, however she wouldn’t accept a kidney from any one of her five kids because she was concerned that if they developed a problem at some point in the future, they needed their kidneys so that they could live longer since they were younger.

Then Danny went to 7-11’s largest bakery and interned under Phil. Phil was incredibly pleasant, patient, and kind. Even though he was the bakery supervisor, he not only took the time to show Danny the ropes, but he worked right alongside him doing the basic stuff while making light of Danny’s gaffs and encouraging him to be patient with his own foul-ups. During their break Phil, an amazingly talented artist, showed Danny some of his artwork and even drew a picture of a donut and gave it to Danny as a gift. In yet another store Danny works the nightshift where he meets Wakas who refers to him as “Mr. Danny.” Wakas, originally from Pakistan, has worked the night shift for four years. Working with the most pleasant disposition and attitude you’ll ever find on a nightshift worker, Wakas does this “graveyard duty” just so he can put himself through school studying Criminal Justice. His ultimate goal: to return to Pakistan so that he can help the poor people who cannot afford to get justice for themselves! Wow!!

Finally, Danny rides with Igor, an overnight delivery truck driver. Igor is originally from Kazakhstan and he loves his job. His enthusiasm for his job is infectious as he regales Danny with tales of how he’s living the American dream (driving a night-delivery truck that doesn’t even belong to him personally), and how grateful he is for what America has provided for him and his family. Why is Igor so grateful for a seemingly dead end job? You see, Igor came to the USA with a wife and $50.00 in his pocket! Amazingly, Igor works nights while his wife works days, so they are like two ships passing in the night, and only get to spend the weekend together. Igor’s take on that: “Well it means we have less time to fight and more time to be lovers.” Do you see the correlations yet? These are all ordinary people living extraordinary stories. Unknown to them though, life is about to change because the “messiah” is walking among them and they don’t even know it. But simply because they are enthusiastically pursuing their purpose with passion and dignity, they are in for a very pleasant surprise. You see, the best part of the show comes at the end. I call it the big reveal because all the people the boss has met on his undercover journey are brought to HQ where he finally reveals his identity and rewards their faithfulness.

The parable goes of a rich man who was going on a long journey. He calls his three servants and gives each of them some money (each according to his ability), and tells them to manage it until his return. After a long while he returns and finds that two of the servants have literally doubled their investment while the third literally buried the money because he was scared of losing some of it and being berated by his master. The master takes the money from him and accuses him of being wicked, stating “You know I’m a shrewd business man yet you didn’t even put this money in a bank so that it would at least earn interest?” He gives the money to the guy who had the most amount initially so that two of the servants now have not only the money they invested at the beginning, but everything they made through their investments. This is Delores’, Wakas’, Phil’s, and Igor’s story. Investing what time, energy and effort they have into making 7-11 better, they are about to be rewarded.

As Danny reveals his true identity to them one by one, he tells Delores that he is personally setting up a “Delores donor awareness program” within 7-11 so that the tens of thousands of employees are aware of her need for a kidney transplant so that it will hasten the process of her getting a donor. He tells Wakas that he will personally mentor him and ensure that he makes his way up the company ladder as long as he chooses to remain at 7-11. He begins by making him a field operative overseeing ten stores. He assures him that if and when he decides to go back to Pakistan to fulfill his dream of helping hurting people, the company will help him fulfill that venture too.

He puts Phil in touch with the ad agency that does all of 7-11’s advertising and marketing, and Phil becomes a free-lance artist with the agency, helping to build his portfolio. Finally, he moves Igor from driving a delivery truck to owning his own franchise, and also sends him and his wife off on an all-expense-paid, week long vacation. When Igor begins to tell him how appreciative he is, Danny simply says, “Hey Igor, this is the American dream.” Igor’s astounded look says it all, and I think to myself, now wouldn’t it be priceless if we as Christ-followers could love and serve people so much that the expressions on their faces when they discover that we are Christians would be worth everything we do? You see, Jesus is the ultimate “Undercover Boss” because He goes into the world disguised as you and me, loving, serving, and caring for the people He died for. How’s He looking in your neck of the woods?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Focus on your own *@%# Family!

It’s an open secret that we are a nation of voyeurs! We love to poke our noses into other people’s business and this fact is borne out by the popularity of reality TV. The big topic for today is the Tiger Wood’s “orchestrated” apology. I’m amazed but not surprised by the amount of vitriol that is poured out against Tiger. It’s interesting that when a popular leader or figure falls from grace, all of the things about him that people didn’t like but previously ignored, are brought to the surface and highlighted as reasons for his fall.

Tiger has been called stoic, unapproachable, unfriendly and unsmiling amongst other uncomplimentary adjectives. He’s been compared to the ever smiling, ever popular Phil Mickelson and has come up wanting. We fail to recognize that his demeanor on the golf course may simply be the way he focuses on his golf game and is thus able to be the kind of player that he is. If Phil Mickelson had been caught in similar circumstances, I imagine the public perception and response would not have been as harsh. As a Christian leader who has studied extensively in the area of the psychology of behavior, I realize that we hold people to different standards depending on our perception of them.

So here are two burning questions I’m asking this morning:

  • Why is Tiger’s infidelity and subsequent silence so important as to be newsworthy three months after the fact, and in the light of more pressing issues facing us shouldn’t we be focusing our attention elsewhere?

  • What does Tiger have to do in order to be “forgiven” by the public and the talking heads

    • Let me take a crack at answering those two questions. To the first question, it must be said that there is a dark side to the human psyche that loves the macabre and the morbid, and especially loves the downfall of anyone that appears to have the proverbial golden spoon. Ever notice that news of the space shuttle reaching its destination doesn’t raise an eyebrow? Why? Because it isn’t newsworthy! However, the explosion of a shuttle… now that’s news worth reporting. Ever wonder why we “rubber-neck” as we drive by the scene of a fatal automobile accident? It certainly isn’t because we suspect our parents might have caused or been involved in the crash.

      Yesterday Joseph Stack crashed his single-engine Piper plane into a building housing the FBI in Austin, TX after allegedly burning down his house first. As the story unfolded we discovered that he was angry about the fact that his long running battle with the IRS has basically made retirement a fantasy and colossal debt a reality in his life. Further incensed by the fact that the government (IRS) would hound small business people like him who are just trying to make a living, yet come to the aid and rescue of banks and big business, Joseph stated:

      "Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it's time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours?"

      Joseph, 53, leaves behind a distraught wife and a scarred daughter who will always have to battle her own demons, wondering why he took his own life and left her fatherless. Alas, Joseph’s story is probably known by significantly fewer people than know Tiger’s. A broken family and the untimely death of a dad and an innocent worker who just happened to be where the plane crashed, is relegated to the small print on most online news websites while “Tiger’s apology” is front and center stage. Why? Because Joseph represents Middle-America. His story is our story and so it holds no interest for us. Tiger however, lives in a world that we can only dream of and watch on reality TV. His story holds tremendous fascination for us and so we want more and more of the sordid details. That way we can compare our lives to Tiger’s and not come up short in our own minds. “After all,” we opine,” he’s as human and fallible as we are”. “In fact,” we tell ourselves, “I’m better than him because I would never do what he’s done.”

      In an ideal world, Joseph’s family would be front and center on the news today. We’d be praying for and seeking answers to making life more equitable and fair for everyone. We’d be exploring in greater detail the efficacy of a government that bails out entitled, pompous, and glorified, self-styled royalty, who spend millions of dollars a year on bonuses and private jets from the very tax-payer funds that are used to bail them out of impending bankruptcy. In an ideal world, we’d let Tiger, Elin and the rest of their family work out the details on their long and difficult road back to healing and wholeness. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t make people’s personal business our business. But that’s in an ideal world!

      As for the second question, it’s human nature to want to make people pay for their perceived transgressions against us. Married couples do it. Friends do it. Employer’s and employees do it. Every one does it. Tiger apologized to a plethora of people. He took sole responsibility for his choices. He outlined his new priorities in light of his failure. He talked about ongoing therapy. He apologized again! He called his actions foolish and entitled. But that’s not enough. Talking heads say he was insincere because he read a scripted apology. What? He had thirteen minutes of crucial detail he didn’t want to forget, what’s wrong with reading it and why does reading suddenly make it insincere? I know pastors who write out their entire sermons after much heartfelt preparation. They read much of it and deliver it as best as they can without making it sound scripted. Does this negate the sincerity of their message?

      Stephen A. Smith (as arrogant a man as you’ll ever find, and I’m confident he has his own major issues), declared that Tiger was a fake. He categorically stated that he was insincere and didn’t mean a word he said. His reasoning? Because no one can go from having that many extra-marital relationships to having no extra-marital relationships. Well thanks Stephen A. for that rousing declaration delivered with gusto and authority. Pray tell, how do you know that and what makes you such an expert in the field of sexual addiction? Is it personal experience, or is it copious study and training in this area of specialization? No, seriously Stephen A., I’d like to know!

      It seems that until we feel like we’ve made Tiger pay for his sins, and suffer at least as much as we perceive he should, there is no forgiveness forthcoming. That’s why when we are angry with people, a simple apology does not seem to satisfy. We perceive that they have hurt us much more than their simple apology can erase, and so we levy greater judgment and speculate as to the veracity of their apology and their motives. But to the one who has been forgiven of much, extending forgiveness to others becomes second nature.

      It’s time to leave Tiger alone. What a person sows is what they’ll reap. We're not responsible for, nor do we have to monitor Tiger’s “harvest,” it’s plain for all to see: He’s fighting for the very survival of his marriage, his dignity, his finances, his sexual and emotional health, and his professional future. Now it really is time for us to leave the Wood’s family alone and let them get on with their process. Why do I care so much about this? Well I guess this strikes close to home for me because a few short years ago a good friend of mine suffered a similar fate in ministry. While it is true that he must bear the consequences of his actions and choices, I just don’t think that it’s yours or my responsibility to mete out those consequences. Life has a funny way of ensuring that we do reap what we sow. Just my two cents.

      Saturday, February 6, 2010

      How will the Judge score you?

      I've recently been fascinated with the idea of living a good story. This simply embraces the idea that God is the Master Storyteller and there's no better, or more captivating story than one that's fraught with conflict and numerous twists and turns so that we become sympathetic to and begin to root for the hero of the story.

      The victory at the end of the story is always made much sweeter by the amount of conflict, hardship, and danger the hero has endured. We all consciously or subconsciously embrace this truth and it's borne out by the fact that our favorite movies are always those that have the protagonist in the story going through a really life threatening or dangerous and difficult situation, and then finally finding redemption through doing a selfless act.

      If you don't believe me, take a moment and think of your favorite movie and it probably reflects this fact. Even if you picked a non-violent, non-action movie such as the Sound of Music, you'll discover that Maria fully represents those ideas. So, if we're going to live a story that truly reflects God's greatest calling and design for our lives, then it must be a story that pits us against circumstances and situations that often seem incredibly difficult and painful to overcome. But words don't express that as well as pictures since a picture speaks a thousand words. Watch this Francis Chan video and you'll get an even clearer picture (pun intended) of what I'm talking about.