workplace relationships

GCN Publishes "One Another"

One Another Cover JPEG Final.jpg

Here is a memoir written for our increasingly impersonal, lonely, and distrustful age. Author Ken Lottis demonstrates that it is possible to develop strong, intimate, long-term friendships in the midst of stressful professional demands.

One Another—written with humor, spiritual insight, and transparency—will inspire readers to live and work for what matters most: the people in our lives. You can purchase the book in print and digital formats from Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

In the mid-1960s, Ken and his college friend, Jim Petersen, along with their wives and small children, embarked on a surprising Brazilian adventure. Moving from the United States to Brazil, they settled in the southern city of Curitiba during an era of deep political and social turmoil.

Overcoming false suspicions that they were CIA agents, Ken and Jim began to develop friendships with university students. They presented the students with an authentic opportunity to think about life’s biggest questions and to strengthen friendships within the context of normal Brazilian routines. Gradually, these relationships extended organically to include classmates, hometown sweethearts, and relatives.

What emerged—and continues today—is a simple but powerful expression of friendship and faith. The Brazilians taught them that our deepest human needs are best served when we love one another and live for God in daily life.

One Another will fill your mind with ideas for how to invest in your relationships and deepen your faith in God without religious structures.

The Loneliness Epidemic and Work

Two recent studies once again demonstrate the desperate need for improving workplace relationships.

The first was published in the September 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review by the former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Titled “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic,” the essay reports that over 40 percent of all Americans and over half of CEOs feel lonely. He adds that the high rates of loneliness in America are causing serious health problems.

“We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s,” Murthy writes. “In the workplace, new models of working — such as telecommuting and some on-demand 'gig economy' contracting arrangements — have created flexibility but often reduce the opportunities for in-person interaction and relationships. And even working at an office doesn’t guarantee meaningful connections: People sit in an office full of coworkers, even in open-plan workspaces, but everyone is staring at a computer or attending task-oriented meetings where opportunities to connect on a human level are scarce.”

Murthy argues that business leaders can and should play a vital role in changing workplace cultures as a means of combatting loneliness. This, he says, is because we spend most of our waking hours at work.

The second study reveals that 71 percent of American workers are so dissatisfied with their work that they are looking for new jobs. This survey of 17,000 people from 19 industries, conducted by the nonprofit group Mental Health America and the Faas Foundation, found that several factors are causing this problem. Chief among them was poor workplace relationships.

“. . . 44 percent believe that they are “always or often” overlooked. Sixty-four percent say their supervisors don’t give them enough support and a majority of the participants are resentful of their co-workers. So much for teamwork,” writes Washington Post journalist Gene Marks about the survey.

These studies are published at a time when our news is filled with reports of rampant sexual abuse in the workplace, making the lives of professional women a nightmare. Clearly, there is a lot of work to do to renew workplace cultures.

Global Commerce Network has published numerous articles and books about healthy relationships. These books will help you take a fresh look at the scriptural foundations for healthy relationships, and to integrate this theology with business culture.

Two GCN resources published for this purpose are titled Working Together and Why People Matter, both of which can be purchased on Amazon. 

Leadership and Pro Soccer, Part 3: The Power of Unity

In the months leading up to the 1994 World Cup soccer tournament, which was held in the United States, the Brazilian national soccer team played a friendship game in Paris. After the game, all the players went to the hotel. At about 11 p.m., hotel staff served a late snack to the Brazilian players in a hotel hallway. (Watch highlights of the 1994 World Cup Final here. At :36 seconds into the video, you'll see Moraci Sant'Anna seated third from the left.)

As the players stood talking and eating, the team’s physical trainer, Moraci Sant’Anna, participated in a conversation with about five of the players who had played in the 1990 World Cup. Brazil’s performance in that tournament was lackluster. They were eliminated in the second round by arch rival Argentina and thus took a beating in the press. Sant’Anna told me that he would never forget that hallway conversation.

“You could sense the strong commitment of those players,” Sant’Anna told me in a 2009 interview. “They were talking in the corridor, saying ‘We’re not going to let what happened in the last World Cup happen this time. We’re not going to let the marketing guys into our team meetings. We’re not going to allow friends in. No journalists. We are going there to win the Cup.’ It was there that I began to see the inner strength of that team, the strong sense of purpose, the commitment to arrive in the U.S. and win."

About two months later, as training sessions started, Sant’Anna saw that same determined attitude spreading among the other team members. On their own accord, the team decided to seal off all practices and team meetings from the public. No one was allowed in, accept one or two photographers who did no interviewing. The team agreed that players could no longer negotiate marketing contracts with companies like Nike and Adidas. They even decided to limit the free-time allotted to them during the month-long tournament, even though that provision had been written into their contracts.

“Nothing was going to distract that team,” Sant’Anna said. “Nothing.”

And nothing did. Brazil went on to win the final game (by penalty shots) against Italy in the Rose Bowl. It was Brazil’s third World Cup title and the first in 24 years. That 1994 Brazilian team, he said, had something unique.

That “something” had more to do with leadership, character, and attitude than with soccer skills. Playing skill was important, of course. But Brazil has always put players with incredible athletic talent on the field. It was the leadership qualities and relational unity that made the 1994 victory possible, he said.

Sant’Anna cited several players who, because of their personality, character and experience, naturally became the team’s motivational force. No one appointed them as the leaders. One was Dunga, the team captain who later became coach of the Brazilian national team. Another was Taffarel, the team’s brilliant goalkeeper who played in 101 games and three World Cup tournaments before he retired in 2003. There was also Jorginho, who is was Dunga’s assistant coach for Brazil’s national team, and Leonardo, who after three World Cup appearances became the head coach of the Italian team A.C. Milan.

I asked Sant’Anna to describe the specific leadership qualities that these players brought to the 1994 team. One factor, he said, was that these players had already played in at least one World Cup tournament; they were highly experienced and excellent professionals. But there was still something more.

“They all had a strong personality,” said Sant’Anna. “But they used this quality to benefit the group as a whole. They were committed to win the Cup and they were able to lead the entire team toward that goal. The team was extremely united. It didn’t matter to them who would be among the starting 11 players and who would be among the reserves. Everyone had the same thing in mind, to help make an important victory happen.”

Humility was one of the primary character traits that Sant’Anna saw among that core group of leaders. They had the ability to lead without being arrogant. They were humble, but not weak. They showed inner strength and perseverance, focusing on the needs of the team more than their own desires. The most experienced players were able to instruct other players without humiliating them. In this way they earned respect rather than contempt.

It’s often the case, Sant’Anna said, that reserve players often become a problem for the team because they’re upset about not playing as much as they’d like. But that never happened with the 1994 team. The reserve players sat on the bench encouraging the starting team. Then, when they were called to action, the reserve players gave 100 percent on the field. It’s almost as if the team had no individual ego problems, he said.

This unity, commitment and dedication made the work of the coaching staff much easier, said Sant’Anna. Coaches and physical trainers typically worry about team relationships during high-level international tournaments. Individualism and ego can easily destroy unity. But these problems were almost non-existent in the 1994 tournament, he said.

“When Brazilian players pull together like this—considering the athletic quality of the Brazilian national team—I won’t say that they’ll always win, but it’s a huge step toward winning,” Sant’Anna said.

Positive attitude, humility, dedication, commitment, inner strength—these factors are often neglected in discussions about business and professional success. When was the last time you saw a job listing looking for those qualities in a professional? It’s easy to focus on the technical capacity of people and the mechanics of running a business. But if business is anything like soccer, Sant’Anna’s observations about the 1994 Brazilian World Cup team should be taken to heart.

Rowing Teams as a Model for Business Culture

An eight-man crew: power, synergy, unity.
An eight-man crew: power, synergy, unity.

Business is built on relationships. The word "corporate" comes from the idea of a body, diverse and interconnected parts working in unison. The word "company" is rooted in the notion of eating together. For businesses to grow and flourish, they must have strong internal relationships among those who work together, and they must foster strong external relationships, to build trust with clients and suppliers. The whole deal is relational.

However, if you talk to people about their biggest problems at work, most will complain about the bad workplace relationships. There are many statistics that report high rates of workplace bullying and tension between bosses and employees. Few like to admit it, but this friction is caused by the dark stuff of human nature--envy, selfishness, pride.

What does this have to do with rowing? If you don't know much about this beautiful sport, it is one of the most physically demanding and grueling sports on the planet. It requires tremendous synergy between all members of the crew. The most amazing crew to watch involves eight men or women in a 60-foot-long boat (costing upwards of $50,000 each). There is also a coxswain whose role is to steer an coordinate tempo.

It is remarkable to watch eight men or women rowing in perfect sync. Here's a description of what it takes from the New York Times best seller, The Boys in The Boat, by Daniel James Brown.

No other sport demands and rewards the complete abandonment of the self the way that rowing does. Great crews may have men or women of exceptional talent or strength . . . but they have no stars. The team effort--the perfectly synchronized flow of muscle, oars, boat, and water; the single whole, unified, and beautiful symphony that a crew in motion becomes--is all that matters. Not the individual, not the self. . . . Each must be prepared to compromise something in the way of optimizing his stroke for the overall benefit of the boat. (p. 178-179)

Apply that to your business. And while you're at it, take a look at 1 Corinthians 12. It all connects.

Leaders and Authentic Respect

In the film "Good Morning, Vietnam" (1987), Robin Williams plays the role of military radio DJ, Adrian Cronauer, who is summoned to Saigon at the beginning of the Vietnam War to use his brilliant humor to cheer up American troops. Williams' humor is so fast and fluid that by the time you start laughing at one joke he's already moved on to the next. As the story unfolds, Cronauer immediately becomes popular among the American soldiers, but his unconventional and controversial style upsets the stoic military system within which he works. Upset by his "irreverence," two of his superiors do everything they can to remove Cronauer from the airwaves.

One of the sub-plots is about respect. An Army officer opposed to Cronauer in the film, Lt. Steven Hauk, has a higher rank than his other colleagues at the radio station. But he has zero respect. As a result, his verbally forceful orders are received with wisecracks and put-downs. People make fun of him behind his back. No one salutes him. Even though Lt. Hauk tries to use his rank to control people, he ends up looking like a fool.

The film does a brilliant job of showing the difference between authentic respect and positional respect. According to the rules and regulations of the military, Lt. Hauk was in a position of respect. But he didn't have the character he needed to win the authentic respect of his peers.

True leadership in the workplace is difficult without authentic respect. So how does a leader develop authentic respect? This type of respect is entirely dependent on one's character.

In our book More Than Me we describe four foundational character traits that build respect between people, and therefore pave the way for greater unity.

  1. Integrity: to have a strong commitment to moral truth, honesty, and justice.
  2. Love: to actively serve others and seek to benefit others even when it requires personal sacrifice.
  3. Humility: to  place others in a higher position than ourselves.
  4. Forgiveness: to set an offender free from the demand to repay what's been unfairly taken from us, a deliberate choice to set another person free from judgment.

If a person has these character traits and lives accordingly, one of the natural results will be the authentic respect of others. Quality of leadership depends entirely on who we are at the core of our character. There are no short cuts.

So Many Discouraged Workers!

The most recent study of the American workplace has been released by the Gallup organization. The news isn't good. On average, only about 30 percent of all American workers say they feel engaged at work. More than half of the 150,000 workers polled said they basically sleepwalk through the day. And only 30 percent of those surveyed said they really like their jobs. Why so much discontent? There are many reasons, of course. But based on the survey questions, I would say that a primary reason (which is often overlooked) is that the workplace is so impersonal and non-relational. Workers don't feel appreciated or valued.

Here's the questions that Gallup asked in the survey. Those questions in bold letters are related to the relational, personal qualities of the workplace.

1. I know what is expected of me at work.

2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.

7. At work, my opinions seem to count.

8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

10. I have a best friend at work.

11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

You can see that half of the questions aimed to find out how workers feel about the quality of relationships at work. Given the dismal responses, we can assume that today's workplace would be greatly improved if it could simply be more personal. This is a basic human need that is not being met for most American workers.

One of the core values of the Global Commerce Network is to renew the workplace, to make work more personal. It's up to use to make the changes necessary so that the experience of work fits with how we are wired.

What can you do to make a difference?