What’s Wrong with Work Today: Management

So, it’s been awhile since I started this series. If you want to refresh your memory, here’s Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Today, I want to talk about Management. Ah ha! We’re finally getting to the real issues, you think. Time for us to rant about our ridiculous bosses. Not so fast.

Let’s be clear, I don’t think managers are naturally evil – I’ve had some excellent managers. But, when I say that management is part of what’s wrong with work today, I mean that managers shoudn’t exist. We shouldn’t have them. They shouldn’t be necessary.

What?! You think. I know – there are so many “buts” that come to mind immediately. For example:

  • But people need direction
  • But people need accountability

Ok, so let’s think about this a little. Yes, people work best with direction and accountability, but it’s how this direction and accountability is provided that I think should change. I’m all for leaders, partners, mentors and colleagues providing direction and checking in on deadlines. And I’m all for project managers because I think projects do need to be managed. But I don’t think managers of people should be necessary. And if you’re thinking I’m just getting picky about word choice, you’re absolutely right.

David Whyte writes in Crossing the Unknown Sea:

It is strange to think that the whole spirit of management is derived from the image of getting on the back of a beast, digging your knees in, and heading it in a certain direction. The word manager conjures images of domination, command, and ultimate control, and the taming of a potentially wild energy. It also implies a basic unwillingness on the part of the people to be managed, a force to be corralled and reined in. All appropriate things if you wish to ride a horse, but most people don’t respond very passionately or very creatively to being ridden, and the words giddy up there only go so far in creating the kind of responsive participation we now look for.

See what I mean? Words matter. It matters if you feel managed or if you feel enabled.

The idea of management is at odds with freedom. And every human was built with a desire for freedom. Freedom is a core issue in employment and management so I want to dive into that one on the next post.

Meanwhile, tell me what you think. If we throw out the idea of management are we in for disaster and mayhem? Are we being too idealistic and naive in our view of human nature to think we might not need managers?

Don’t Tell Them Not to Read It!

I read Rachel Held Evan’s blog. I enjoy her writing, her humour, her challenging questions and the grace with which she handles differences among us. She just published her second book called A Year of Biblical Womanhood and the Christian blogging world is whirling with reviews and reviews of reviews. I haven’t read the book although I plan to, but all this reminded me of one of my major pet peeves:

People who warn you against reading something.

Danger - Do Not Read This Book!

Seriously?

To put it bluntly, I think that’s the stupidest thing you can say. Here’s why:

1. The minute something is forbidden, it becomes more tempting. I know we’re supposed to be more mature than that, after all we’re not toddlers who have been told not to touch the hot stove. But let’s be honest, don’t you immediately feel the urge to flip through that book to see why you shouldn’t read it? If you’re trying to make sure someone does not read a controversial book, what you should really do is brush it off casually and suggest that it’s boring or not worth reading. Don’t warn people about its dangers! That will just encourage them to read it!

2. You reveal your own insecurities or fears. If you feel threatened by the material in a book, it might mean you have some doubts or questions you haven’t adequately addressed in your own life. Instead of just avoiding “dangerous” ideas – maybe it’s time to tackle them until you know where you stand. If you’re not confident about handling questions on your own, get help from a mentor.

3. It’s insulting to the person you warn. Do you think they’re not smart enough to recognize the problems or “dangers” in the book? Does reading a book mean you agree with everything in it? Does reading a book automatically change your mind? No! If only! Think about what perfect Christians we would be if simply reading the Bible immediately changed our hearts, attitudes and behaviours!

If you’re worried about someone being influenced by bad ideas, the best thing you can do is encourage them to read the book carefully. Tell them to take notes, underline sentences, write down questions and highlight points to discuss. When they’re done reading it, go out for coffee and have a good long discussion about everything they documented. Do some research together. Dig into what you really believe together. Figure out where you agree and disagree with the author and maybe even each other (gasp!). You might be surprised about how much you learn BECAUSE of that “dangerous” book.

I would argue that Rachel Held Evans wrote this book to start a conversation, not to declare that she has the final answer to “biblical womanhood.” In fact, she says as much here. Reading something does not mean you agree wholeheartedly with an author. The point is to engage their ideas thoughtfully and form your own opinion. If an author is telling lies, it will teach us to recognize them. If an author is using bad arguments, poor logic or falsified data, that should teach us to reason, research and fact-check properly. Frankly, we should be doing that with everything we read, whether it comes from a “dangerous” source or your favourite author!

Please read dangerous books. Read them with your friends and mentors. Talk about them. I promise you it will be good for your spiritual growth.

 

What is God’s Plan for My Life?

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” It came up in a great discussion I was having with some good friends on Saturday. We talked about how this phrase actually isn’t very helpful – it makes us think we just need to find the blueprint and follow the plan in order for our lives to be wonderful. If our lives aren’t wonderful, we wonder if we’re somehow missing out on the perfect plan that God wants us to be following.

This can lead to paralysis in decision-making as we look for confirmation from God on which direction is part of “the plan.” While we should be looking for God’s guidance and direction in our lives, often we want everything spelled out in concrete before we move forward. Then we get frustrated when we don’t seem to get any clear answers from God. We can begin to question our ability to hear or wonder if he doesn’t care.

In Listening to God in Times of Choice, Gordon Smith writes,

God does not abandon us in a time of decision.
It is important to stress this because we will often feel the absence of God at the critical junctures of our lives. Many times God will seem silent, and we may think we have been deserted. We are children and God is our Father. But he is the Father of adult children. In times of decision the motives that drive us and the faith that nourishes us will be tried. God could give us simple answer; he knows what is best. But as adult children we discover that he often keeps a gentle distance, providing us with the necessary space to discern and in the process to mature our faith.

John Ortberg writes in a similar vein, in God is Closer Than You Think, that sometimes it’s better for us to wrestle and grapple with decisions without feeling clear direction from God because it helps us grow and challenges us to really assess our lives and take responsibility for our choices.

On one hand, it’s a huge relief to let go of the “there’s-only-one-right-plan” concept. On the other hand, it means we have more freedom than we sometimes want! In An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes about her experience with asking God about his plan for her life,

Then one night, when my whole heart was open to hearing from God what I was supposed to do with my life, God said, “Anything that pleases you.”
“What?” I said, resorting to words again, “What kind of answer is that?”
“Do anything that pleases you,” the voice in my head said again, “and belong to me.”
At one level, that answer was no help at all. The ball was back in my court again, where God had left me all kinds of room to lob it wherever I wanted . . . at another level, I was so relieved . . . Whatever I decided to do for a living, it was not what I did but how I did it that mattered.

All of this is summed up succinctly with, “Love God and then do as you please” (St. Augustine).

If you’re struggling with the idea that you’re missing out on God’s plan for your life, or wondering if you’re not listening hard enough, I’d recommend taking some time to examine your expectations. Do you actually care more about “the plan” than you do about knowing God? It might be time to let go.

Speaking of Risk and Micro-Management

I should maybe make a “Rant” category for my blog posts. Sorry this got a bit long. . .

In my post about the Parable of the Talents, I mentioned how the Master handed over a large investment to his servants without a lot of direction and then left them to it. No micro-management = huge risk. How would things turn out?

Now, I’m not saying that God doesn’t give us lots of direction and guidance in our lives – I think he does. But I think that when it comes to the gifts, interests and callings he has given us, he also allows a lot of freedom in how we end up expressing and using these gifts. We have to risk figuring it out on our own without a micro-manager telling us each step. I think it’s partly how God helps us learn to trust him more.

This started me thinking about how uncomfortable we can be with figuring things out for ourselves . . . and allowing others to do the same. I read a lot of blogs by Christian speakers/authors/pastors around the country. And I just wonder: are we trying to take Master’s place in other’s lives? Are we trying to micro-manage how they use their talents? In the absence of explicit direction, are we policing everyone around us to make sure that they’re using their gifts correctly and following their callings in the right way? Are we so consumed with right thinking that instead of giving others the grace and freedom to risk (and perhaps get things wrong!), we have to tear apart their work and actions and words at every opportunity to test for doctrinal soundness?

I’m not suggesting that we don’t test what we hear and be discerning about the teaching we absorb, but I am concerned about why are we so eager to pick people’s words and actions apart and prove them wrong. It seems like a lot of “correction” I see taking place isn’t polite disagreement over errors but personal attack. It smacks of pride and insecurity rolled into one.

If you’re wondering about some examples, here are just a couple that come to mind:

– Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage book recently came out with the usual stir of controversy. In a recent interview he questioned the interviewer’s wife spiritual capabilities as a pastor, using personal comparison. This inspired a round of upset blog posts. I wonder why Driscoll felt the need to say what he did, and also question why so many bloggers felt compelled to respond.

– Tim Tebow’s and his outspoken faith on the football field. There have been quite a few differing opinions in the Christian world about if and how Tim Tebow should be sharing his faith the way he does and whether this is helpful or harmful to the public at large. We’re not in his shoes, why are we all so busy trying to determine if he’s walking well?

– The Jesus Hates Religion video that went viral on Facebook this past week. While it inspired plenty of people, it also inspired several blog posts showing what was wrong with it.

While some blogs do an admirable job of responding well, many of us seem to forget that humans deserve to be treated with respect and dignity – even (and maybe especially) humans we disagree with.

Still – so much response makes me wonder if it’s all necessary? Are we really worried about the effects on the readers/viewers/listeners or do we just want to be right? Do we really think everyone else around us is less smart, less discerning, less able than us to discern what is wheat and what is chaff? Discernment and wisdom yes, but character assassination so easily sneaks in as hard as we can try to tackle only the “issues.” At what point do we cross the line from helpfully adding to the conversation to just adding fuel to a virulent fire?

It seems like it’s too easy for us to be so busy questioning everyone else’s ability to hear God, that we don’t focus on simply trying to hear him for ourselves. We’re so busy defending God, that we aren’t listening to him. We rarely acknowledge that we’re all practicing faith, which means lots of mistakes, attempts, backtracks, relearning, repeating. Who knows if the first servant who doubled his money actually lost a good chunk in first attempts and only figured out how to get it back as he went along? Do we assume he just perfectly executed a plan to double his money with no failure? How many of us truly understand what we believe until we put it into action? We grow in our depth of understanding and experience as we go along, and especially when we have to learn from mistakes. Doesn’t this hone our perspective and discernment?

Yes – there is a need for loving correction of bad theology and yes, we certainly need to be on guard about false teachers who are purposely misleading people. But God is bigger than our mistakes. This is something I keep taking to heart as I write. I’m sure my theology isn’t perfect and I worry that I’ll interpret something wrong and experience the same scathing rebuttals I tend to see all around the blogosphere. But if we’re going to walk the path, we’re going to have to be willing to make mistakes. I want to read more stories about people stepping out unsure, but trusting – I want to see more affirmation of risk and growth. I want to hear about all the amazing work people are doing in this world, instead of all the critique. Can we quit the micro-management of others that we seem to easily get addicted to?