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Pursuing Godly Success
CBN.com John Beckett is the Chairman of the Beckett Companies in Ohio, and the author of Loving Monday, a faith in business book that has been translated into a dozen languages. Recently, Mr. Beckett visited Regent University for some Q-and-A with students and faculty. This article is an excerpt from that conversation.
What does it mean for an individual to be successful, from God's perspective?
Too often, we focus on success relative to what other people are doing. But we shouldn't because it creates this sort of problem. Suppose that you made it to the Olympics to compete in the 400 meter race. And suppose that your preliminary heat was good enough to get you into the finals. At that race, the crowd is cheering and your adrenaline is pumping and you beat your own personal best time by two-tenths of a second. Unbelievable! But guess what. The guy in the next lane comes in ahead of you. Were you successful?
You see, we have this comparison thing going on that can be very destructive to individual accomplishment. And I think that's probably one of the reasons that scripture admonishes us not to compare ourselves with one another.
Here's another example: I was up on the MIT campus earlier this year, actually both MIT and Harvard, to speak with some of the students. A campus ministry leader surprised me by saying that one of the things she does on behalf on the students is to visit the psychiatric wards. Why is a campus minister going to the psychiatric wards in Boston? She is going to visit students who have gone over the edge. And why are they going over the edge? In several cases these are Asian students whose parents expected them to be number one in their class. They were pushing themselves to such a level of expectation that they cracked. What a cruel thing to be measured in those kinds of terms.
So we need a definition of "success" that's not relativistic. I was thinking about that on the plane to Regent. And this is not a perfect answer, but I'd define success as "consistently achieving realistic goals without compromising personal standards or neglecting important relationships or priorities." What I've sought to do with this definition is to have a balance. Setting goals is good. We are energized and motivated by setting goals, but they need to be realistic goals. Don't go out of this room saying "I'm going to jump to the moon." It's not going to happen. Instead, set realistic goals. In doing so, and without compromising personal standards, you can accomplish all kinds of incredible things. But if you set unrealistic goals or set your standards aside, you'll likely pay a heavy price for it in the long run, especially in your relationships.
This is very relevant for those of us in business. I'd say the number one issue that believers in business leadership are grappling with is this apparent trade off between work priorities and family priorities. They just have this gut feeling that they are neglecting their families and in many cases, they are. So we have to be careful of that. We have to realize that whether it's our relationship with family or our relationship with God or our community, we need to keep our priorities straight if we truly desire "success."
What I'm hearing is that success is a relative term that depends on your benchmark. I'm also hearing that there are appropriate and inappropriate benchmarks to use. An appropriate one, it seems, is to define success based on what God thinks, not what people think. But how, then, do you hear from God so that you can pursue his will and be successful in his eyes?
One of the most helpful things I've heard about hearing God is the concept of "the three harbor lights." If a ship is coming into a harbor, there are lights along the channel. If you are on course, those lights will line up and appear to be one. If you see multiple lights, you're off target. The ship's captain will then re-position the ship so that the lights appear to be one. The analogy to spiritual guidance is that if we can get "three lights" lining up in our discernment process, we may in fact know God's will.
The first of these lights is the Word of God. If scripture tells us to do something or at least does not prohibit it, then we may have a clue when making a decision. The second light is the witness of the Holy Spirit. It is more subjective than Biblical truth, but just as real, and if we subscribe to the idea that the Holy Spirit wants to guide and lead us throughout every aspect of our lives, then we have to seek the Spirit's inner peace about a decision. The third light is circumstance. God will work through and speak to us through our circumstances, but that should never be the sole source of guidance because that could be misleading. If God opens a door that aligns with his Word and the Spirit's prompting, though, then the lights are in alignment.
Another way to think about hearing God comes directly out of scripture-the concept of two or more witnesses. Now that may be two or more people speaking consistently to us, or it may be two events that happen to line up. I'll bet that for most people in this room, even over the past 48 hours, there was probably a time that you thought "I have the mind of the Lord on this because of this confirmation."
And lastly I would just say what might be obvious to you, but it's essential: Please, never underestimate the importance of prayer. God will speak during our times of prayer and when we earnestly listen for his voice.
Companies have had so many problems in recent years ensuring ethical decision-making of their employees. How can we manage our organizations so that our people will consistently act with integrity?
There's probably no more powerful gyroscope for an organization than what the leader does because, let's face it, it's just like parents and kids. It's not what we say, it's what we do that people are watching and emulating all the time. It's a bit scary, actually. A leader doesn't have to stray very far to move a whole organization off balance. Little things are very important.
It's also important to articulate specifically what your standards or values are, but then, how do you incorporate them into your organization? That's the question of the hour when it comes to the administration of ethics. I'll tell you in my own case, we settled some years ago on three core values: excellence, integrity and a profound respect for the individual. They've served us very well. But I'll tell you that they are almost identical to the ones that Enron had. Almost identical! And when that story broke, it was a real sobering reminder for me that it's not what you've got up on the walls, it's what you've got in people's hearts.
So, we've taken that on as a challenge in our organization. How do you work your core values into the DNA of the organization? First of all, I'm not sure that you ever fully get there. But one of the creative things that we did is to take the question back to our own people. We said, "these are the things we want to stand for. Would you help us figure out how we can work this right into the fabric of the company?" We put people in teams, gave them a modest budget, and it was amazing what they came up with. I showed up to work one morning and all the name badges had our core values on them. I came in another day and everyone was wearing a t-shirt with the core values across the back. I came in another day and they had a banner all the way across the plant to let the world know that we were committed to these core values. Then they put headers on our emails that stated our core values. And so I saw this generating a real excitement in our people.
But the ultimate test is when problems come up that implicate those values. Are you going to adhere to them or are you going to set them aside? This was the Enron situation. They had the values, but they set them aside. It's those crisis situations where everybody is looking that you really decide what your priorities are. As you do that, your decision becomes part of the ethos of the organization and your employees are going to remember it. They remember things like the time you shut your whole factory down because you weren't producing excellent product-and then you had to go to your customers and tell them: "I'm sorry. We can't ship today because our products aren't up to snuff."
Those decisions leave deep, lasting impressions. People say, "Gee, they mean what they are talking about." And then they tend to emulate your behavior.
You're talking about humility-listening to your people, giving them a budget, accepting their suggestions, relinquishing control. A lot has been said about the importance of humility in business over the last couple of years, from Jim Collins and others. What do you look for to assess humility in your current and prospective leaders?
One of the things I look for is in our leaders is whether they are zealous to get the credit for themselves, or whether instead, they easily defer to other people and try to bring other people along. This is really a gauge of pride. Do they always have to be right? Are they able to admit that they are wrong?
It's to me it was fascinating that Collins identified this so clearly, because again, it is not typical of the image of the hard-driving, proud, successful business leader. In fact, I went back to Collins' book and I wrote down the terms that were used by others when they were describing the leaders they admired.
Listen to this list: Admired leaders are quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, and understated. What an interesting list of attributes for the significant business leader!
How do you deal with disappointment and failure?
I think it is important that we deal with failure in a scriptural way-and that is to repent and go on. Every great leader has a litany of areas where he or she has failed along the way. But the difference is that these leaders re-focused, they got up and persevered.
But sometimes we let failure lead to an unrelenting introspection that casts a pall over the other people you work with and your family. It is extremely debilitating and I would go so far as to say that reaction to personal failure could actually bring down an organization. So your question is an extremely good one and an important one. I think God provides for us the way to deal with mistakes and failure. If you can embrace his approach, it is one of the most liberating aspects of the gospel.
For more information about John Beckett, R.W. Beckett Corporation, and Loving Monday, please visit www.beckettcorp.com.
Copyright 2005 Regent Business Review, Issue 16. Used by permission.
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