The Table Podcast

Transformational Leadership

In this episode, Bill Hendricks and Robert McFarland discuss transformational leadership, focusing on employee engagement.

Timecodes
00:15
What is employee engagement?
02:50
Robert McFarland’s background
07:12
McFarland’s research into employee engagement
13:32
Tenderness in active leadership
22:46
The power of active leadership
26:20
Team in active leadership
30:23
The theology of active leadership
36:05
Trust in active leadership
40:37
Transparency in active leadership
Resources Dear Boss: What Your Employees Wish You Knew Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't
Transcript
Bill Hendricks
Well, welcome to The Table Podcast. My name is Bill Hendricks. I am the Executive Director for Christian Leadership, and I want to welcome you today.

We hear a lot about a term called “employee engagement” in the work world. Since the year 2000, the Gallup organization has polled American workers and, frankly, workers around the world, studying what they call “employee engagement,” which means the extent to which people feel connected to their work, that their work matters, that it has meaning to them, that they, frankly, look forward to doing the work because they find it so meaningful.

The statistics show that roughly 30 percent of American workers are engaged with their work; they do have that sense of connection. But what that means is that 70 percent are what Gallup calls “not engaged,” which means their work is just a job; it’s just a paycheck; it’s just a way to pay the bills. Their heart is not in the work.

And of those 70 percent, there’s a segment that nets out to roughly 18 percent who are called “actively disengaged.” These are people that are mad about it. They hate their job, and they actually undermine the work that many of the engaged workers do.

Well, our good friend, Steve Ramseur, down in San Antonio, has told me that this is not really so much about employee engagement – I mean it is about that, but that’s the business jargon – what this is really about, from a theological perspective, is human flourishing, the idea that humans were put here to thrive. Of course we know that we experienced the fall and, as a result, sin has invaded the workplace with the result that many, many workers, perhaps worldwide it’s 87 percent, are not at all happy about having to go to work.

And so, today we have Robert McFarland with us, who’s going to help us look into this matter because through his consulting practice, Transformational Impact, he works with businesses all across the country around this whole issue of how to build cultures where people thrive.

Robert, welcome to the podcast today.

Robert McFarland
Thanks so much, Bill. Glad to be here with you.
Bill Hendricks
I’m very glad you joined us. Robert has put this together in a book that we’re going to reference quite a bit called Dear Boss: What Your Employees Wish You Knew. So, if you’ve got people reporting to you, you’re a supervisor, a manager, an executive, a CEO, whatever, this is a book you want to pick up.

Robert, before we get into all of this employee engagement and culture and all that, tell me a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up, and what was college, and ultimately, how did you get into this line of work?

Robert McFarland
Sure enough. Yeah, I grew up all over as a kid who had a military father, and then involved in academia, and then involved in insurance. And so, that took us in different places around the country, but I spent most of my time on the East Coast – don’t hold it against me, though. And New England as well as in Virginia.
Bill Hendricks
Sure.
Robert McFarland
So, that’s where I’ve ended up. I went to college at the University of Virginia, met my bride there. That’s the best thing that ever happened to me –
Bill Hendricks
Absolutely.
Robert McFarland
– was finding the Lord at UVA and finding my wife at UVA. So, that’s really made me pretty much who I am today.
Bill Hendricks
And so, did you major in business, or how did your – how did your interest in the business world come about?
Robert McFarland
Really kind of a round-about way, actually. I was more into communications, and that ended up putting me more into a career within the nonprofit world and really wanting to be – as you were talking about in terms of engagement, really wanted to make sure that what I was doing really mattered.

And so, I wanted to make sure I followed my passion. And so, I was engaged at what I did, and was very excited about that whole world. I ended up transitioning more into a consulting arrangement, working with different nonprofits and such in terms of helping them function better, and then transition that over into working with businesses because I realized that the business world really needed to have that kind of connection. Just as you said, the fact that employment engagement is so low – granted, it’s worse worldwide, but here in the United States, it’s still pretty abysmal.

Bill Hendricks
Seventy percent.
Robert McFarland
Yeah, exactly. And the fact is that without that kind of connection to the work itself that we really are not allowing our professions, where we spend so much of our time, to really be glorifying God to the point that they could be.

And so, I see the whole idea of increasing employee engagement really as kind of a mission just to really see how we can help that arena of life become so much more fulfilled – as you said, human flourishing and helping that become what it can be.

Bill Hendricks
Well, I know that you and I share a lot in common, but I know that some of our listeners either will be thinking or they will know people who think, as soon as they hear this conversation, “What do you mean? Work is a curse.” I mean you’re not supposed to like it; that’s why they call it work.
Robert McFarland
Well, that’s actually interesting. If you look in the Scripture that God said to Adam, really, to cultivate the garden. And then the – then sin entered, and then the ground was cursed. The ground was cursed after the sin which took place, then after he was commissioned to work the ground. So really, work was there long before – well, actually, we don’t know how long – but it was there before the curse.
Bill Hendricks
Right from the beginning.
Robert McFarland
Yeah, exactly. So really, work is really who we are. It’s – well, not to say that we need to take our identity from it, but it is an expression – an opportunity for us to express who we are and how God has made us and how we are to exist in the world.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah, the way I like to say it is that, you know, the very first command that God gives to human beings is in regards to their work. He says, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the Earth, rule over it, cause the world to be fruitful.” You know, the world on its own is not particularly fruitful; it just gives us raw resources.
Robert McFarland
Yes.
Bill Hendricks
You know, I’ve never stood next to a mountain, you know, that has ore in it and, by golly, out pops a Mercedes Benz. I’ve never seen that happen. No, only humans can add value to the world and its resources to create cars and roads and gasoline, as well as all the occupations that educate those workers and take care of their medical needs and raise the food that they need to eat and take care of their spiritual needs.

God wants us to make this world and its people to thrive and to flourish, to make us fruitful. And so, what you’re trying to do is that very thing. Now, why, then, do you – well, let me back up. You did some research, as I understand it, to write this book –

Robert McFarland
Yes.
Bill Hendricks
– in which you discovered what to me seemed like some pretty disturbing statistics around how people perceive their boss and the nature of their work as well. Tell us about that research and what you discovered.
Robert McFarland
Sure enough. Yeah, in writing this book, I commissioned a firm to go out to 589 people around the country.
Bill Hendricks
So, this isn’t just anecdotal evidence.
Robert McFarland
Oh, no. This is really hard data.
Bill Hendricks
Excellent.
Robert McFarland
And so, I went out to these different people and really trying to make sure that it was as representative as we could make it. I mean granted it was done online, so, there’s some biases that are going to occur there, understood. But nonetheless, it was still – we still had representation around the country, different socioeconomic status, different ethnicities.

And so, taking all that into consideration, really looking to see what are the concerns out there. So, basically, other than the demographic data, there was one open-ended question which I asked, which was, “What is the one thing you wish your boss knew that they might not already know?”

Bill Hendricks
Right.
Robert McFarland
So, with that, what’s that one thing – what’s that top-of-mind thing? And what was interesting is other than the 26 percent who said nothing to the survey, and the 8 percent who said, “Well, I’m not really sure,” there was only 4 percent of the respondents who said something other than the four major concerns that popped for the research.
Bill Hendricks
So, four came out?
Robert McFarland
Yeah, four big themes.
Bill Hendricks
And those four were?
Robert McFarland
Well, the top one, at 17 percent, was insufficient appreciation. Then there was a three-way tie for second place at 15 percent with inadequate morale, incompetent management, and improper communication. So really, it boils down to appreciation, morale, management, and then communication.
Bill Hendricks
So, where did you go with this research when you discovered this?
Robert McFarland
Well, what I did was I looked at this and I said, “You know, this is a problem we see here,” that – cause it really corresponded with what you had said about the Gallup’s research. In fact, one thing I found in the 2017 State of the American Workplace report that Gallup put out was a statement by the chair of the board and CEO of Gallup, Jim Clifton.
Bill Hendricks
Mm-hmm.
Robert McFarland
And Jim Clifton said this – and these are not my words –
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Robert McFarland
– these are Jim Clifton’s words; he said that, “The very practice of management no longer works.”
Bill Hendricks
Wow.
Robert McFarland
Yeah, exactly. It was just hidden away in this big, long report.
Bill Hendricks
It no longer works because it’s outdated, or it no longer works because it’s become dysfunctional, or –
Robert McFarland
Well, I’m not exactly sure –
Bill Hendricks
You don’t know?
Robert McFarland
– all the context in which he meant it, but –
Bill Hendricks
It’s not working.
Robert McFarland
Yeah, it’s not working. You know? And so, since it seems to be broke, I mean, let’s fix it. So, really that’s what the rest of the book is really about is, “Okay, if this leadership paradigm, this managing paradigm that we have as bosses – what needs to shift for us to be able to increase employment engagement?” We can’t say to our employees, “Well, you’re not getting it,” because, really, that’s kind of like, “All right, the beatings will continue until morale improves.” I mean you can’t say that.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Robert McFarland
You’ve gotta – there’s – because, really, it’s – to quote John Maxwell, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” So, what do we as leaders, what do we as managers need to do to really bring out the best in our people?

And so, to go back to your whole idea of human flourishing, we need to have a different model; we need to have a different leadership model. So, the concept I put forward in the book is the idea of “active leadership”; that’s a term that I used, and it really describes a four – the four tenets of active leadership which addressed the four concerns from the research.

And so, the four tenets of active leadership would be tenderness – well, I know that’s a funny word to use –

Bill Hendricks
We’ll come back to that.
Robert McFarland
– in a business context, but tenderness, and then team, and then trust, and then transparency. So, that addresses the issues of appreciation, morale, management, and communication.

So, that’s really what most of the book is about is really what does that need to look like; what do we, as leaders, need to be focusing on to be able to bring out the best in our people? Because I believe the whole idea of employee engagement really is more or less a spiritual mandate for us to take the Scriptures – I mean those of us who believe that the Lord is on His throne, that it is our responsibility, those of us who occupy the seats of management and leadership, to really take this as a mantle upon ourselves to see how can we unleash the passions within people to make them – really, for human flourishing, for their good and for everybody else’s.

Bill Hendricks
I couldn’t agree with you more. It is true that God has given this world of wonderful resources to human beings. It’s also the case that to every human being, God has given a means of adding value to the resources of the world and its people so that they would flourish. In my work, we call this your “giftedness.” Every human being has some form of giftedness that essentially drives their behavior. And this is really what you’re tapping into when you talk about bringing out the best in people.

The reason somebody puts joy and heart into their work, like those engaged employees, is because it dovetails with how they’re designed by God, and they’re able to express that which God has gifted them to do. This is why job fit is so important. And I’m sure you run into that a lot, people who are literally the square peg in a round hole or trying to be. And they’re not happy, and their boss is not happy, and yet, “Well, we’re paying you, so get the job done.” And it just doesn’t work.

And, you know, Colossians 3 says that we should put heart into our work, do you work heartily. Well, I believe it’s a lot easier to put heart into your work when the work actually fits who you are.

Robert McFarland
That’s right.
Bill Hendricks
And – but I would – before we get into your four – the tenderness, and the team, and the trust, and the transparency – which I want to talk more about, I guess it comes down to, in part, a leader actually caring about the people. From one point of view, people are just – I mean they’re to get the work done, and why should I really care whether they like doing the work or not doing the work?
Robert McFarland
That’s a really good point. And actually, that dovetails into the four points I was talking about earlier. The whole idea of the point of tenderness really can break down to more or less the Golden Rule. I mean so if you, as a leader in your – and manager – to think, “Well, why should I bother to care about the people that are in my – that are working for me? Why do I need to make sure that they are feeling –”
Bill Hendricks
Cared for.
Robert McFarland
Yeah. “Why do I need to –”
Bill Hendricks
Cared about.
Robert McFarland
Yeah – is the fact of, all right, from a scriptural admonition, you want to treat others the way that you would want them to treat you if the situation were reversed. That’s really, I think, a scriptural mandate on that. And so, then, also within that same context, you were talking about adding value.
Bill Hendricks
Mm-hmm.
Robert McFarland
If we’re really concerned about adding value, and that seems to be a huge business mantra –
Bill Hendricks
Yes.
Robert McFarland
– they’re most concerned about making sure that we’re adding value.

Well, here is a simple, cheap, relatively easy way to add value, because, as you said, to really awaken the human soul in a context of them feeling connected enough to the work that they’re doing, that they feel like that they are glorifying God in terms of how they’re able to function, even if they’re not necessarily believers.

But to feel that they are excited, impassioned to do the work that they have been given, what a great way to glorify God, to treat the people who are working for you – even if they’re not believers – in a way that would honor their Creator.

Bill Hendricks
Well, I just want to point out for our listeners the significance of what you’ve just said, because as I understand you, what you’re saying is that anybody who has people reporting to them – whether you’re a senior-level executive, a mid-level manager, or a line supervisor – if you have people reporting to you, you literally have an opportunity to affect their very souls by the way you structure that work. Because to the extent that you set it up for them to thrive, that affects everything about their life.

If they come to work and they feel like their work is noticed and matters to the enterprise and, therefore, they’re valued, if they find that when they get along with their co-workers and even when they have disagreements they’re resolved in a civil way, their boss treats them fairly, they take all that home, and it affects the whole climate of the home. As you said, it doesn’t matter whether they yet have a relationship with Christ or not, just their whole outlook on life is improved.

Conversely, and this is where we see the Gallup 70 percent statistic, if you go to work and you don’t find any meaning in the job, and it – frankly, you don’t even know if the company cares you’re doing it – you don’t get along with your co-workers; your boss treats you awful – I mean you take all that home, and then you are mean to your spouse and you are mean to your kids. You kick the dog. And you narcotize that pain through all kinds of terrible habits, and it poisons all the community.

Robert McFarland
Absolutely. That is so true. And so, the point I like to make about this whole thing is that you or we as managers have the opportunity to really be causing ripple effects. And as a leader has that kind of – everyone in their circle of influence is affected by the things that they do.

So – and therefore, the power that a leader has over those in their charge is pretty powerful. It’s just as you said. I mean the fact that you were able to unleash that human flourishing for – not just at the job, but it ripples – it ripple effects anybody who has any contact with those employees, whether that be vendors, that be suppliers, that be –

Bill Hendricks
Well, certainly customers.
Robert McFarland
Customers, absolutely.
Bill Hendricks
The whole customer experience is – it’s palpable. You can feel it. I’m not gonna name names here – but there’s certain airlines that you can get on, and it’s a joy to be on the plane. And it’s a mundane kind of thing; they’re moving weight from one part of the country to the other.
Robert McFarland
That’s right; that’s exactly right.
Bill Hendricks
You and your bags, right? But they’ve made such a fun experience out of it that you actually kind of enjoy it.

Conversely, I was on a plane on a different airline, coming back from the West Coast, not too long ago, and about halfway back to Dallas, I looked around at all the other passengers and at the flight attendants – and I couldn’t see the pilots, but I could hear what the pilot had said and the way they had said it as we were, you know, topping out – and I thought, “You know, there’s not a single person that wants to be on this plane. Nobody on this plane is having a good time.”

Robert McFarland
Yeah.
Bill Hendricks
And it was sad.
Robert McFarland
It is sad because, really – and where does that all start? Are the flight attendants choosing to have a bad day?
Bill Hendricks
No.
Robert McFarland
Are the pilots choosing to have a bad day?
Bill Hendricks
No.
Robert McFarland
No. It’s just – it all flows from leadership. And so, that tone that is set at the leadership level has that ripple effect and comes down, and then it affects you as a passenger, and it affects everybody else. And then, to follow on what you said about, you know, the whole idea of kicking the dog, you know, it goes home.
Bill Hendricks
Absolutely.
Robert McFarland
And that we’re able to affect people’s homes; we’re able to affect peoples’ communities based on the decisions that we make as leaders to activate or not the people in our employ.
Bill Hendricks
Well, and it has generational effect.
Robert McFarland
Yes.
Bill Hendricks
I’m one of the few people I know whose dad loved his work. Our listeners may know that my dad taught here at Dallas Seminary for 60 years, and he didn’t like everything, you know, about being a professor in an institution, but I’ll tell you one thing, he enjoyed every minute in the classroom. You know, he used to say, “I love to teach; I live to teach. Why, I’d teach whether or not they paid me to teach.” And then he’d usually do an aside, “Now, don’t tell the Seminary that.” You know? But I mean it was true. And so, I grew up where work was always a positive category for me. But I had a lot of friends who you’d find out what their dads did – and moms – for work, and you could tell right off the bat work was a negative category. And they went into the work world assuming this was going to be a bad-news item.
Robert McFarland
Right. And instead of – and so, therefore, they approach it with kind of a win/lose mentality.
Bill Hendricks
Yes, right.
Robert McFarland
That therefore, I have to just try to minimize how much I lose and try to make sure I win as much as I can.
Bill Hendricks
Exactly.
Robert McFarland
However, with the whole idea of human flourishing, it can be a win/win situation. Instead of claiming value on that continuum, we can create the value. And it goes back to the whole idea of the adding value concept, and it really comes down to a concept. It’s not like it’s necessarily – it could be adding dollars to your budget in terms of how you do this, but it’s really – a lot of it is the intangible stuff that can be really incorporated into how we do things.
Bill Hendricks
So, culture matters in other words.
Robert McFarland
Culture matters.
Bill Hendricks
Corporate culture matters.
Robert McFarland
Absolutely, and in so many ways.
Bill Hendricks
Well, I love this word “tenderness,” and I realize that you’ve got this alliteration going. The word that occurred to me, when I read the book and came to that, a synonym would be compassion –
Robert McFarland
Yeah.
Bill Hendricks
– in that it’s clear that you actually care about the people. That doesn’t mean that you never have to come down hard on somebody, or shoot straight with them, but it means that you do so in a civil way, in a Christlike way that retains their dignity as a person. Well, you know, it’s interesting, in the New Testament, where one of the places the word “compassion” comes up is – remember there’s a rich young ruler. So, we could call them a senior executive-type person.
Robert McFarland
Right.
Bill Hendricks
Certainly a person of affluence comes to Jesus and asks Him, you know, “What must I do to be saved?”

And you know, He says, “Follow the – you know, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.” And it says that Jesus felt compassion for him.

Robert McFarland
Mmm.
Bill Hendricks
Like He saw him as a person. One of the great problems in the work world today is that we don’t see people as persons; we see them as a means to an end, as employees, as just people to get our work done instead of noticing that there’s a human soul there. A soul, frankly, for whom Christ paid His life because of His compassion.

And so, what I hear you saying is that the place leadership has to begin is from a place of, frankly, love or compassion, that I really care that God’s put these people in my path. One of the – one of the key pieces in that, you said, was that leaders are showing what you describe as tenderness or a kind of compassion; they care about the workers. And I think you were going to tell me a story to illustrate that.

Robert McFarland
Yeah, exactly. There was a time, about 16 years ago, my father passed away. And so, it obviously is a difficult time –
Bill Hendricks
Sure.
Robert McFarland
– personally and then it just – it affects everything. It affects how you work, it affects everything. And – but my place of employment was very sympathetic to what I was going through. They even had time for bereavement leave, which was very helpful.

But – and then after the funeral, which had taken place in Atlanta, we ended up having a time for local family in the D.C. area to – and also friends and church people – to come and just give their well wishes.

Bill Hendricks
Mm-hmm.
Robert McFarland
You know, for people who weren’t able to come down to Atlanta for the funeral. And I just remember people were coming and going, just constant activity, just having to go to the door constantly to go open the – to welcome more people coming in.

But I’ll never forget one time, I went and opened that door, and there, standing on the doorstep, was my boss.

Bill Hendricks
Wow, wow.
Robert McFarland
And here he was out of work hours. He came to show up to say he was concerned about me. He didn’t have to do that. And here it is, 16 years later, I still remember that. So, that’s the kind of thing – yeah, it takes a little bit of time, and yes, maybe you lose a couple of hours in a night that you wouldn’t have ordinarily, and that you’d have to restructure your evening.
Bill Hendricks
Well, what you’re really –
Robert McFarland
But what it did for me, on the receiving end, was something – a story I could tell, 16 years later, like it was yesterday.
Bill Hendricks
And what you’re really describing there is the power of a leader who really is investing in their people.
Robert McFarland
Yes, absolutely.
Bill Hendricks
It’s not just, oh, as a formality, as a courtesy, as a – you know, a part of my job, “I gotta make – I gotta show up at this guy’s house, say a few words and –” no, no. It’s like, “Man, I know you’re going through a tough time.”
Robert McFarland
Right.
Bill Hendricks
Just the power of my presence shows you I want to help you be a better person, a better human being as a result of being in my life.
Robert McFarland
Oh, absolutely. And it’s something that we can forget how much just the simple words that we say have – I mean how that really can affect people. And so, one of the things I talk in the book about is the process of active leadership. Really, what does that – what does that entail? What is active leadership?

And really, it comes down to the kind of thinking and the words and the actions that we have and how we can use them to bring out the best in the people around us. So – ’cause it goes back to the whole idea of human flourishing, I mean making sure that we are really investing ourselves intentionally in terms of the people around us so that they can become at their best.

Bill Hendricks
Yeah, I think “intentionally” is the operative word.
Robert McFarland
Yes.
Bill Hendricks
What you’re describing here is – it’s a great, you know, concept to think, “Okay, God wants us to cause the world and its people to flourish.” That’s wonderful. But what you’re describing is – all right, let’s take that, and let’s be intentional. How do we make that actually happen at the place where we have influence over what happens if we’re in leadership there?

And we talk about how it begins with tenderness, and you have these other three – team, trust, and transparency – how does this now eventuate into team?

Robert McFarland
Well, the whole idea of team is really making sure that everybody on the team is really able to perform at a level where they are positively contributing.
Bill Hendricks
Mm-hmm.
Robert McFarland
In writing the book, I had the opportunity to interview Mike Houston. And you may not know who Mike Houston is –
Bill Hendricks
No.
Robert McFarland
– especially down here in Texas, where football is king. But in my area of Shenandoah Valley, Mike Houston’s a hero because he brought the James Madison University Dukes to the FCS National Championship.
Bill Hendricks
Mmm.
Robert McFarland
Okay, that’s a big deal where I’m at.
Bill Hendricks
That’s a big deal, right.
Robert McFarland
And anyway, but what’s more significant is the fact that he did that as his first year as head coach.
Bill Hendricks
Wow.
Robert McFarland
When the team had not performed at that level in about a dozen years. So, it tells you –
Bill Hendricks
That’s quite a turn-around.
Robert McFarland
Exactly. So –
Bill Hendricks
So, what did he do?
Robert McFarland
Exactly. So, I thought, “Well, what did he do?” So, I asked Mike, I said, “Mike, how did you do that in your first year as head coach?”

And he said that it was important for everybody there to – on the team – to be able to perform. And everyone on the team had to be dependable in their role, and everyone had to also be accountable to everybody else.

Bill Hendricks
Mmm.
Robert McFarland
So, setting that kind of tone as a leader to make sure that everybody is able, dependable, and accountable is huge. I mean – and that is – that’s a very intentional leader really saying, “Okay, how can I unleash the best in my team.” I mean granted, he’s not giving anybody a pass.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Robert McFarland
I mean, you know, football is not one of these kind of things that you can just say, “Well, let’s just see how it turns out.” No, no. He was extremely intentional in creating that team and making it to be what it could be.

And I think it’s very important for us, as leaders, to do the same thing in terms of how can we deliberately create constructs within the workplace to be able to do that.

Bill Hendricks
So, ability, I think, in our culture, we tend to think, “Oh, we want the best players on our team; that’ll make us winners.” But you have these other two things in there: dependability –
Robert McFarland
Mm-hmm.
Bill Hendricks
– reliability, I guess, is the way you put it.
Robert McFarland
Mm-hmm.
Bill Hendricks
You know, sometimes ability is important, but sometimes what’s more important is reliability. You know, we all know the superstar that keeps dropping the ball. That doesn’t do any good. We need somebody who catches the ball. Maybe they’re not the superstar, but at least you can rely on ’em, you know, to hold onto it.

But then that third piece was – what? – interacting with the other team and being a team player as we would call it?

Robert McFarland
Yeah. I mean being willing to be held accountable.
Bill Hendricks
Okay.
Robert McFarland
I think that’s a huge thing. And giving –
Bill Hendricks
So that I live on behalf – I do my work on behalf of the rest of the team.
Robert McFarland
Right.
Bill Hendricks
It’s not just about me.
Robert McFarland
Exactly. And I think that’s a – it’s a powerful thing when we create an environment where we’re giving everybody else permission to speak into our lives about our performance on the job. Not in a way to condemn, not in a way to point fingers, but to say, “Look, you’re part of the team; I’m part of the team. This is a problem; we need to fix it.” You know? Instead of just saying, you know, “We’re gonna talk about it behind your back, and we’re just going to play some office politics, and we’re trying to shut you out.” No, let’s respect each other enough to say, “Look, we have a problem; let’s deal with it and let’s move on.”
Bill Hendricks
Well, I can think of, you know, one situation where it’s the leader who, frankly, the team needs to hold accountable. That’s got to be a relationship where they can speak honestly and give feedback to the leader without the leader powering up on ’em.
Robert McFarland
Exactly.
Bill Hendricks
So, there’s a humility involved there is what you’re saying.
Robert McFarland
Absolutely. I mean I think that that’s a huge part of being a good leader is humility and being able to be self-aware enough to say that I need to not let myself get in the way. I’m sure you’ve read Good to Great by Jim Collins.
Bill Hendricks
Yes, right.
Robert McFarland
And the whole idea of that level five leader having that personal humility, but also that professional will and saying that, you know, the organization is more important here; it’s not about me.
Bill Hendricks
Right. Just to take an aside here, I want to get your thoughts. There are some folks, in the Christian world, who would say, “You know, this conversation is interesting, but it’s not particularly helpful because you guys aren’t quoting Bible verses, and you’re just taking stuff that – you know, you mentioned Jim Collins –
Robert McFarland
Right.
Bill Hendricks
I mean people out in the business world come up with research and what not, and you just import it. And how is it that biblical?
Robert McFarland
Well, I believe that we have a God who’s the author of all truth, and therefore, all truth is God’s truth.
Bill Hendricks
Mm-hmm.
Robert McFarland
And whether I find that in the writings of Jim Collins or John Mackey or anybody else, it’s still truth. It is not negated because it doesn’t have “thus sayeth the Lord” in advance of it.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Robert McFarland
So, what I think is cool is when we can see God’s truth showing up in business contexts, whatever they may be, and then for us to be able to point a flashlight on it to shine the truth or shine God’s light on this to say, “Hey, here’s an opportunity where we can put Scripture into practice without necessarily saying that this is –
Bill Hendricks
Chapter and verse.
Robert McFarland
Exactly.
Bill Hendricks
Well, the way I would look at it is I believe that God has designed certain – we might call them laws or principles into the fabric of how the world works.
Robert McFarland
Exactly, yep.
Bill Hendricks
And so, for instance, the Golden Rule.
Robert McFarland
Right.
Bill Hendricks
You know? If we treat others the way we want to be treated, we discover in the main that good things tend to happen. The whole principle of “you reap what you show.”
Robert McFarland
Exactly.
Bill Hendricks
You work hard, and you apply yourself, you know, sooner or later you’re gonna reap some good results out of that. And so, when human beings align themselves with those core foundational principles, they’re kind of living out life the way God set it up to live out, and good stuff tends to happen.

And if you do know your Bible, you can see, in certain corporate value statements and certain ways that companies operate – you can see a principle that they hold to and say, “Why, that’s right out of –” and then here’s a verse that that applies to.

Robert McFarland
Right, exactly. I mean that – I think it’s pretty obvious that we don’t really break the Law; we just break ourselves upon the Law so that God has put His truth into reality, into our existence. And if we go afoul of that, we’re gonna learn the hard way.

And so – but when we are working in consonance with God’s Law, that’s when the beauty happens.

Bill Hendricks
And I think this is helpful for many Christians who, frankly, are a little nervous about – quote – trying to impose my faith in the work world. You know, we live in a very pluralistic culture. There’s people with all kinds of different worldviews out there. You know? And who am I to, you know, impose the way I see life on these other people?

Well, actually, we have an advantage, as believers, because God has told us all this wonderful truth about the nature of human beings and what causes them to thrive. And so, we don’t have to quote Bible verses to practice what we would call kingdom values or biblical values.

Robert McFarland
Right.
Bill Hendricks
You know, we can treat people, for instance, civilly and be kind, and all the things that are mentioned in, say, Colossians 3. “Be tenderhearted” – you have this value of tenderness there – “Be tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you.”

Well, that doesn’t just apply at church; I need to be tenderhearted toward all of my co-workers, to all the people that report to me, to my customers. We can live out Christ without having to cite every chapter and verse of what drives our behavior.

Robert McFarland
That’s exactly right. And I think it’s really helpful for us to think through that the more we put things into practice that go along with Scripture, then we can shine more of a light on God in the process.
Bill Hendricks
Well, and it becomes attractive.
Robert McFarland
Yes.
Bill Hendricks
I mean I have met people who have told me stories about how, you know, they weren’t believers, and they went to work, and it was a very dysfunctional culture, and people were back stabbing and all the problems that happen in work places, and their boss was mean.

And then they’ll say, “But there was this one manager –”

Robert McFarland
That’s right.
Bill Hendricks
“– he was just the kindest person in the world. He always would have a kind word for me. He’d stand up for me. He’d back me up on stuff. He’d help me out when I was in a jam. He didn’t have to do any of that; he wasn’t even my supervisor, but he was just the nicest man. And, of course, everybody knew he was a Christian.”

And then the story’ll go, you know, years later, when they – the Holy Spirit gets a hold of him and they’re convicted of their sin, and they realize, “Wow, what that guy had, that’s what I want.”

Robert McFarland
That’s right. When you can see somebody putting those kind of things into practice and living by scriptural standards, and then we – that’s when we can put forward the concept that everybody is made in the image of God, and that everyone has dignity –
Bill Hendricks
Because of that.
Robert McFarland
– because of that, because they are made in the image of God. And what a great way to preach the word without ever having to quote Bible and verse –
Bill Hendricks
Exactly.
Robert McFarland
I mean Scripture and verse. I think that’s a powerful thing to be able to do. And when – and then right there, you’re bearing testimony to the Word by that, and people will remember, “Gosh, why was his actions so different from everybody else?” Well, it’s because he was motivated by his faith.
Bill Hendricks
When your research brought out that trust needed to be infused into leadership, tell me how that works.
Robert McFarland
Yeah, trust is really important in terms of creating that kind of atmosphere where a leader will trust the people working for them so that, therefore, they will be trusted in response. I mean it’s the sowing and reaping concept. I think there’s often a lot of suspicion within workplaces. So, there’s, therefore, a tendency to micromanage, whereas, actually, instead if we say we trust somebody, then it’s going to be – it’ll work back in our favor.

I think that one example of that is I remember we were talking before the program about how I tend to travel. And one time I was driving from my home in the Shenandoah Valley over to Virginia Beach on the other side of the state. And my GPS got me to the general area where I needed to go, but then when I got to that specific location, it just kinda looped me along, and I just ended up back where I started from and couldn’t find where I was trying to go.

Bill Hendricks
Very frustrating.
Robert McFarland
Very frustrating. And it’s that kind of meandering leadership in organizations where you’re not a true GPS, that’s not creating an environment where people can trust you to really lead them where they want to go.

People are looking for a leadership where there is a clear direction, where there is a – where there are some definite values that they can point to, and it’s – without that kind of in place, there is a lack of tendency to trust, just like my ability to trust my GPS was certainly lessened by that experience.

And I think that’s often the case within workplaces today when people don’t feel like they’re really trusted, and they can’t really rely on the people above them to take them where they think they ought to go. So, it’s – it can be a frustrating experience.

Bill Hendricks
Very frustrating. Well, if a business leader says, “Listen, I have to look over the shoulder of my people because they steal from me, they slough off. I can’t trust ’em.” What do you say to that person?
Robert McFarland
Well, somebody who says the people are stealing from them, then I tend to wonder what are the values of the organization? What are you teaching them by allowing them to steal? Are they – are there no – are there no situations where the situation can – where they would be held accountable for that? Or just – maybe they just haven’t been caught?
Bill Hendricks
So, there need to be repercussions?
Robert McFarland
Yeah.
Bill Hendricks
They need to be handled fairly.
Robert McFarland
Right.
Bill Hendricks
But they need to be handled consistently is what you’re saying.
Robert McFarland
Yeah. And I think it’s a situation where when things are taken – when appropriate measures are taken to hold the line on a standard, I think that’s where people can say, “Okay, I can appreciate that.” But I think that just assuming that people are going to be doing wrong things, then that kind of demeans them to say, “Well, you can’t do any better; you’re always going to be stealing,” or whatever.
Bill Hendricks
Well, and, you know, a great illustration of what you’re talking about here, Jesus calls the Twelve, and He works with them for a while. And then the day comes when He sends them out – remember? – two by two. And He wants them to go preach this gospel. And He actually – they discover they’ve got real power; like things actually happen. That’s an awesome amount of trust to put on some guys that frankly He’d only known for maybe a year-and-a-half or so and – but He trusts them to go out and try their hand at this new thing that He’s brought into the world, the kingdom.
Robert McFarland
That’s right. And so, I think that trusting people – it’s amazing what you can do when you create that environment of trust. I mean like in our house, I mean we just – our kids have just been raised to see just money just sitting around, that I don’t – if I have a ten-dollar bill, I don’t go hide it somewhere. I just – I might leave it on my dresser; and it stays there. I don’t ever – I’m not ever concerned about it disappearing, and my kids know that I trust them to – that I don’t have to worry about that.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Robert McFarland
So, I think that it’s the environment in which you create – the expectations that you have, and then – and enforcing those in terms of how you actually do things on an ongoing basis.
Bill Hendricks
Well, this kind of brings us to this fourth quality that you’re trying to work on with leaders and their cultures, this issue of transparency. Tell me where that came from in the research and how you got to that.
Robert McFarland
Yeah. It was really the fourth part in terms of communication, and it’s interesting. In some of the surveys I’ve done of different organizations that they might score well in tenderness or in team or in trust, but inevitably, it seems like there’s always a breakdown in communication. And it’s that their – that is one of the areas that I think people really struggle with a lot is making sure that communication really gets out there to the level that it should be.

So, with that, I think that it’s really imperative for us to focus on that environment and making sure that we are being as forthcoming with information as we can be in terms of transparency because we tend to learn better when we have somebody who is being authentic with us.

I was at a conference, a few years ago, where I remember there was a guy who was on the stage, and I just thought, because of his age, he really couldn’t teach me much because of – he had less life experience than me.

And so anyway, I had a bad attitude about it. So – but anyway, this kid – I’ll just say he was a kid, ’cause he was probably half my age – taught me more than anybody else that whole conference because he was so real, so authentic, so transparent that I learned so much just from the way he handled things because he was willing to be open.

Bill Hendricks
It sounds like that transparency engendered that other quality of trust for you.
Robert McFarland
Absolutely, absolutely.
Bill Hendricks
You knew if he was going to shoot straight about difficult things, he was shooting straight about most everything.
Robert McFarland
Yeah. And so, as you can see, all those four things really kind of relate together in terms of how they create a good environment.
Bill Hendricks
So, do you consult with organizations, then, and leaders to try to build these things into their organizations?
Robert McFarland
I do; I do. And really, that process of how those come together really is addressed in the third part of the book where there’s the culture that you create really comes down to four things that you can do in your organization in terms of implementing all that. And it really comes down to what you teach, and what you celebrate, what you model, and what you permit. So, those are the four things that really end up creating a culture within an organization.
Bill Hendricks
So, earlier we used this word “intentionality” that the way we do things around here isn’t just an accident.
Robert McFarland
Right.
Bill Hendricks
And it’s not just a passive – you used the word “active” leadership – but that somebody’s – it’s not so much that they’re working in the business; they’re working on the business. Right?
Robert McFarland
Exactly.
Bill Hendricks
And they’re trying to make this place an environment whereas we’ve said that the people thrive.
Robert McFarland
Right. So, in terms of – it involves, then, actually – you know, you have to teach; you have to make sure that people understand the values that you hold dear, that that organization is gonna function in certain ways. You’ve got certain parameters, and that can be done just in any thing, any way. It can be private conversations, staff meetings, whatever; you can be teaching all the time.

Also, what you celebrate. You know, if there’s something that you think is important for you to be able to recognize, “Well, I want to have this situation be replicated,” well it’s the process of actually then looking for it, and when you see it, to reward it, and then to reinforce it in front of other people, making sure that they realize that’s important.

And then the whole idea of what you model – I mean you can’t just say it; you gotta do it. I mean it’s just a matter –

Bill Hendricks
You have to show it.
Robert McFarland
You have to live it, exactly. It’s a matter of being the person that you would want to follow.
Bill Hendricks
Well, and that’s the operative word there is “follow.” You know, the best definition of leadership I’ve ever heard is a leader is somebody who people follow. Like you can have the title CEO, captain, whatever. If nobody’s following you, you’re not leading anybody anywhere.
Robert McFarland
That’s right.
Bill Hendricks
But on the other hand, if you’re doing something that causes people to follow you, de facto you’re the leader even if you don’t have the title. And so, what you’re talking about with modeling, you’re leading out so that people will follow in your wake.
Robert McFarland
Absolutely. And it has to be that process of, as you said, intentionality, making sure that they would do the things that they want to have done.

Just a quick story, there was a guy I knew who was leading a business in a country where the boss was always supposed to be the boss. Right? You could never be –

Bill Hendricks
Human.
Robert McFarland
– a servant. And then – but no one wanted to wash the dishes in the office. And so, one day he went over – the boss went over and started washing the dishes. And it freaked out his staff. Like, “You can’t do that; you’re the boss.” But he did that specifically to say, “If I, the boss, can do this, then you can do this.”
Bill Hendricks
Sounds like Jesus.
Robert McFarland
Exactly, exactly.
Bill Hendricks
Well, Robert, I want to thank you for being with us today.
And again, Robert’s book, Dear Boss
What Your Employees Wish You Knew, you need to pick this up, if you’re a leader, and read it through in terms of your culture.

At the very end of Good to Great, you mentioned Jim Collins, his very last paragraph, he says, “Human beings crave meaning.”

Robert McFarland
That’s right.
Bill Hendricks
They crave meaning, but it’s very difficult to have a meaningful life apart from meaningful work. And so, the real opportunity for Christians who are leaders in the work world today is to create cultures where the people thrive and kingdom values are enforced.

Thank you.

Robert McFarland
Thank you.
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Bill Hendricks
Bill Hendricks is Executive Director for Christian Leadership at the Center and President of The Giftedness Center, where he serves individuals making key life and career decisions. A graduate of Harvard, Boston University, and DTS, Bill has authored or co-authored twenty-two books, including “The Person Called YOU: Why You’re Here, Why You Matter & What You Should Do With Your Life.” He sits on the Steering Committee for The Theology of Work Project.
Robert McFarland
Robert McFarland is a leadership consultant, executive coach, and conference speaker. He is President of Transformational Impact LLC, a leadership development consultancy helping companies envision their preferred future, map the strategy to get there, and create the company culture to bring it to fruition. After serving evangelical ministries and nonprofits for 20 years as an executive, board member, and consultant, Robert founded Transformational Impact LLC to help for-profit companies and nonprofits capitalize on the power of their vision.
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