Of Prophets and Profits | Part 1

Daniel Montgomery Reality

DANIEL MONTGOMERY
Founder & CEO
Leadership Reality

This is the first in a series of 4 blog posts on what the Church and the business world can learn about from one another about leadership.

When the Church Father Tertullian (c. 155-240 A.D.) asked, “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem,” he already had an answer in mind: not much. As far as Tertullian was concerned, speculative philosophy had very little—if anything—to say to the Church.

In our day, I’ve noticed a similar tension between the Church and the business world:

What has New York City to do with Jerusalem?

With Tertullian, many would answer that question in the negative. “Not much,” they say as they seek to build a firewall between the “sacred” and the “secular.” Business lives out in that scary place called the world; surely, there’s nothing for us to learn out there.

Business owners—Christian or not—believe the flip side of this as well. Faith’s natural habitat is in hearts and homes, not the corner office. It may make me a “better” person, they argue, but faith doesn’t have much to say about how I run my businesses.

I think both perspectives are wrong. Church and business have plenty to say to each other; they just need a little help mediating the discussion.

Today, Im going do my part to facilitate that conversation by kicking off a 4-post blog series where I lay out specific ways the Church and the business world can enrich one another. In this first post, we’re specifically going to look at action and reflection.

The Distance Between Action and Reflection

The Church has a rich history of deep reflection.

David repeatedly asked God to help him search his own heart (Ps 19:12-13; 139:23-24). Jesus often withdrew from the masses to stop and pray (Luke 5:16). Paul disappeared into the desert to reflect for the better part of three years (Gal 1:11-20).

In the early centuries of the Church, monks cloistered themselves off in monasteries so that they could devote their lives to prayer and reflection. Even today, Christians retreat into the woods to spend time alone, reflecting on what the Lord has for their lives.

In the business world, the opposite is often true. Leaders put a premium on action over reflection. As Napolean Hill said, “action is the real measure of intelligence.” Reflection isn’t a waste of time per se, but it’s certainly not where the money is.

Mark Zuckerberg typifies this bias towards action: “If you just work on stuff that you like and you’re passionate about, you don’t have to have a master plan with how things will play out.”

Of course, unreflective action can carry a pretty steep price tag. Last I checked, Facebook is down $60 billion in value since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke.

What Can Church Say to Business?

The bridge between meaningful action and meaningless activity is paved with thoughtful reflection. Here’s what the Church can say to help business leaders remember that fact:

  • God is in control. Often, the business world’s bias towards action reflects the idea that “if it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.” Proactivity is great, but without a deep conviction that God works “all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11), a leader will run him or herself ragged trying to control every last detail.
  • Don’t always trust your gut. Jeremiah wasn’t being melodramatic when he said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9). All action and no reflection inevitably gives our hearts free reign over our heads. Instead, we need to slow down and think—even better if we do that with others.   
  • The ends don’t justify the means. Woven into the Christian story is the idea that God’s “foolishness” is better than man’s wisdom (1 Cor 1:25). In business, that means sticking to your values even when they’re inconvenient. Only patient reflection will help you know when you’re dangerously close to compromise.

Bonus: A Case Study or Two for Business Leaders

In 2014, a group of researchers in connection with Harvard Business School set out to understand the relationship between reflection and performance.

So, they set up a study using two groups of employees from a corporate call center. In one group, they told the employees to do their work as normal. In the other, they had the workers end each shift with 15 minutes of reflection on what they’d learned that day.

By the 10th day, the reflective group was outperforming their peers by 23%.

What would a 23% productivity bump look like for you?  

Would it be worth 15 minutes of your time every day?

I’ll admit, this study focuses on the ground floor. But, does this hold true in the C-suite?

Ray Dalio—the founder of Bridgewater Associates—thinks so. In a recent interview, Dalio shared one of the most important principles that helped him get to the top: “pain plus reflection equals progress.”

Dalio went on to talk about how he’d extract a new principle from every botched decision and use it to guide future action. That, he says, was the primary way he learned about investing—by reflecting on and learning from his mistakes.

Today, Bridgewater manages $150 billion in global investments.

What Can Business Say to Church?

Churches, historically, have been great on reflection, but not so much on action. Here’s how the business world can help the Church get out of its own head:

  • Don’t just hear; do. Business leaders put a premium on actionable insights. Rightly so; if I can’t do anything with the information you’ve given me, then it’s functionally worthless. Churches would do well to take this to heart. If our theology doesn’t drive us to action, James says we’re deceived (James 1:22-25).
  • Know when to stop reflecting. In business, putting off a decision brings immediate pain: products fail to launch, market share dissipates, people lose their jobs. Church leaders need to learn how to act with that sense of urgency.
  • Get off your duff. Business leaders “get” the book of Proverbs better than most pastors. Like the ant, they get their work done (Prov 6:6-8). How often do we, in the Church, bury our hands in the dish of the gospel, never to lift it out for the sake of our own nourishment as well as that of our neighbors (cf. Prov 19:24)?

Putting it Into Practice

As it turns out, Church and Business have a lot to say to one another. But, so far, this has all been abstract. Here are 6 practical steps (3 for each side) to help bring this home:

Business: 3 Inaction Steps

  • Don’t just do something; stand there. Next time a major decision lands on your desk, give yourself an extra day to mull over it. Work some quiet time into your schedule to simply sit and reflect.
  • Seek outside perspective. Don’t just get into your own head; get into someone else’s as well. Call someone on your board or an elder in your church to sit and process your next decision with you.
  • Put values before value. Conduct a moral gut check. Where has the business violated your organizational or personal values to turn a profit? What does that say about where your values truly lie?

Church: 3 Action Steps.

  • Convert ideas to action. Don’t leave insights floating up in the air. Next time you meet with your leadership team, don’t leave the room without a list of specific, quantifiable, and time-indexed action items based on your discussion.
  • Stop listening. Fight back the analysis of paralysis by drawing a hard line on information intake. Know when to stop taking opinions, reading books, and consulting blog articles. Act on what you know and make course corrections as new information comes to light.
  • Throw your back into it. Deep reflection pays off in confident action. So, trust your thinking process, own your decisions, and, whatever your leadership hand decides to do, do it with all your organizational might (Eccl 9:10).

Conclusion

So, what does New York City have to do with Jerusalem? With apologies to Tertullian, I’d have to say, “quite a bit.” As we’ve seen is this one post, business leaders have a lot to teach church leaders about taking action. On the flip side, pastors can help their executive friends slow down and take a careful look at what’s really driving them.

Stick with me for the next 3 blog posts; the conversation’s just getting started.

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