The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“Three Biggest Outcomes of Motivated and Inspired Employees “
July 5, 2021
Intro: An organization’s values, effectively developed and communicated, can have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of your people and organization. Listen in today as Mike Sharrow of C12 talks about the importance of their culture and organizational culture overall.
Female: Today’s podcast is brought to you by BCWI’s 360 Leadership Assessment.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire Christian leaders to create a flourishing workplace. As we face today’s leadership challenges, we are here to keep you from experiencing the pain of losing your best people and facing the resulting disruptions. Listen in as we help you attract and keep fantastic teams of engaged people who love one another while accomplishing great things for a higher purpose. Yes, we believe a flourishing culture is more important now than ever before. I’m Al Lopus and will be your guide today as we have a conversation about actions you can take that put you in the driver’s seat on the road to flourishing.
There’s a one-of-a-kind organization for Christian leaders that can help you make better decisions, avoid costly mistakes, and create a solid plan for business growth. The chief executive officer of this organization is with me today, and over the next few minutes, I believe this message could take your culture to the next level. The person I’m talking about is a leader that I’ve come to know and really admire. He’s Mike Sharrow, the president and CEO of the C12 Group. Mike, welcome again to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Mike Sharrow: Well, Al, thank you. I’d say the same thing about you, so there’s mutual admiration.
Al: Mike, this has been great to know each other these past five years. And gosh, I’m really impressed with C12’s recent, current ‘21 conference. Give us a couple of highlights, from your perspective, coming out of the conference.
Mike: Well, I think after a year like 2020, part of it was just, there was a default energy of people getting back together. I think everyone was so tired of Zoom and video conferencing that getting to just be in a room with 800 peers, there was just a “This feels good.”
I loved this year. Our model’s always having practitioners present, so it’s generally CEOs of member companies we serve, sharing best practices. But because they are all CEOs running businesses today, they also were sharing both highlights and lowlights. They were being honest about where maybe winning in business caused a deficit in their marriage, or maybe where success in this area of the business hurt culture over here. And I loved the transparent reality of it. I will say I feel like we actually planned four conferences. We planned the no conference because of COVID; the ideal conference; the version three, four, and five.
So, but I think the other part that was my favorite highlight, our whole business around the idea of helping people lead businesses as a ministry, to build great businesses for greater purpose. And I’m one of those. I’m running a business myself. My business is helping other businesses do that and seeing my team get to connect with hotel staff and minister to the vendors, you would say, in the process.
And at the hotel, honestly, our biggest issue this year wasn’t public health. It was actually that hotels and the leisure industry, hospitality, is struggling to get employees to come back to work from fear of public-health issues to child-care issues to unemployment benefits and a host of things that make it difficult. So the hotel actually had to reduce our capacity by 300, not due to health or demand, but due to staffing. But the employees that came were so outstanding. And when I shared with our guests that these are employees who sacrificed by coming to work—they actually could have made more on unemployment in the case of dishwashers and busboys and housekeepers than they did coming to work that day—someone said, “Gosh, can we appreciate them?” And so we put a box out in the lobby and put a little Venmo app up for people to scan money to us and they wanted to do it digitally. And within an hour, these guests donated $18,000 to go give a week’s wages to every one of those hourly workers. And it was such a beautiful picture of loving in action and deeds, not just words, that the general manager of the hotel called me afterwards and just in tears. He said, “Mike, I’ve been leading hotels for 35 years, and a lot of people will say thank you or give a waiter a tip or a $50 bill here. No group has said, ‘Hey, I want to make sure the people behind the scenes, the people in the kitchen, that clean the rooms, got blessed in this way.’” So it was kind of a mountaintop experience for me as well.
Al: Well, I’ll say, Mike, that first dinner, I was sitting in the back with a couple of our ministry partners, and I thanked the waiter, who was a middle-aged man. I thanked him for his service. And he looked at me square, and he said, “No. Thank you for a job.”
Al: And I thought, “Wow. The dignity of a job is so important.”
But Mike, tell the story. I love this story about there was a region where you were comparing the number of baptisms coming out of C12 organizations—
Mike: Mm-hmm. Yep.
Al: —versus churches in that area. Tell that story. I thought that was just inspiring and really speaks to a business’s mission.
Mike: Yeah. So C12 got started in 1992 as, really, an experiment in the western coast of Florida. And one of the first markets we opened up was southwest Florida, the kind of Sarasota, Bradenton, Naples area of Florida, if you’re familiar with that area. I was down there at a banquet a few months ago where the various member companies—and these are just a hodgepodge of companies. I mean, from HVAC companies, roofing companies, to home health care, just S&Bs of America—and they roll up their data—sales growth and employee-count growth and all this typical metrics—but then in our world, we count what we call spiritual value-added metrics. And the average company there, for the last three years running—and we actually exclude a couple of really large nonprofits. One is actually St. Matthew’s House, who, I believe, is a ministry partner for BCWI.
Al: It is, yeah.
Mike: Vann Ellison’s an amazing leader. They see, like, thousands of people come to Christ. That’s not fair. So we exclude them from our data because that would just throw the mean off. But just looking at the traditional business numbers there, they saw 9.7 salvations per company per year—
Mike: —when the average church sees less than two salvations per year. And with workplace chaplaincy and a whole bunch of stuff in that area of Florida, we’re seeing about 299 people a month come to Christ in workplace settings, which is just so encouraging.
And you and I both know the Billy Graham and the Henry Blackaby conversations around, man, there could be revival happening in the workplaces of the world. And it’s real. That’s what makes it working on this business is to try to see more of that.
Al: That just struck me, Mike, when I heard you tell that story, and I’m glad our listeners have a chance. That’s the true impact of business’ mission and an outcome of C12 and those that you affiliate with.
You know, for scores of business leaders around the U.S. C12 as a centerpiece of deepening spiritual growth—I mean, you talked about business growth, leadership growth, but also deepening spiritual growth—and in a nutshell, what’s the C12 story, and what are you excited about to see every day come out of the C12 experience?
Mike: A friend of mine once came and did a consult on C12, and he was trying to help us think about how we articulate our mission, our vision, our values in different ways. And he said, “Mike,”—we didn’t ultimately end up adopting his language—but he said, “If I had to give you guys two words to say what you do, you replicate integration. You have a leader integrate their life in Christ.”
And I was just at a banquet in Nashville, with a few hundred of our members from the Tennessee area doing kind of an annual celebration. And we did an open-mic time, and what was touching for me that answers your question is a spouse stood up of a newer member—he ran an employee-benefits company, been in about a year—and she said, “You know, when I heard my husband was joining this group, I thought, that sounds great. The business was doing fine, but he was a little chaotic. He’s kind of all over the place. And it’s definitely—he’s focused, and things are much more grounded, and the business is growing.” She said, “But what I didn’t expect is I’ve watched my husband start getting up at 5:00 in the morning and spending sometimes two hours with God and him saying, like, he has to, like, cut it off because he knows he’s got to get to work. But he so is enjoying talking to the Father about people and business and life. And this caused me to start getting up at 5:00 in the morning with him. And I’ve began to actually spend time with God, not because I’m checking a box, but because I am actually enjoying Jesus. And that’s beginning to change what our kids see in us.” And she’s described this kind of rippling out. So what I love is that when we have a leader see that God is living, Jesus is real, the Bible is not a rule book that you just go and consult like the dictionary. It’s relevant, living, and authoritative for your life as a steward and that God cares about every decision you make throughout the day and what happens with people so much more than just what you do with your money, then I’m seeing workplace cultures change, which you and I are partners on. I’m seeing people come to Christ, as we’ve seen, but I’m also seeing leaders invigorated by a more abiding relationship with Jesus Christ, and that changes everything.
Al: Yeah, yeah. That’s great.
Our research at BCWI shows that leaders have started to notice a lack of motivation and inspiration from their employees, from their staff. And some of that may have to do with the employees, some of it may have to do with COVID, but there may be something else going on. By that, I mean leadership may not be investing as much as they could in helping their employees see how valuable the organization’s mission is and how the employee is connected to it. Any thoughts about this?
Mike: Yeah. It is a huge issue. I think it’s a huge opportunity. I believe the post-pandemic COVID world and everything, all the other disruptions of 2020, has really reinforced the fact that workplace satisfaction is a strategic issue both for talent retention but as well as business performance. And I think the increasing burden on an employer is now more than ever. Why should that employee come to work? What’s the point? And if it’s just a mill, if this is just another job where you punch the clock, or if they’re just a means to an end for shareholder wealth or an owner executive team, you’re going to kind of lose it or you’re going to get the bottom-of-the-barrel talent if you can find the talent.
And so I don’t know when—I think I first read in Inc. magazine 20 years ago this idea of the term purpose economy that’s been ramping up for years. But the old, maybe boomer and builder generation idea of success than significance, the idea that you do a career for 30 years whether you liked it or not, and then do stuff later, that’s really rejected in the predominant millennial Gen X workforce. They want to know meaning and purpose today. And that’s both an opportunity for an employer to go, is there a purpose in work? Are they part of that purpose? And how do you help them see what we’re doing to benefit mankind? And then it’s a threat for any organization that doesn’t have that.
Al: As we’re doing our analysis, where we came up with the eight keys to employee engagement, and life-giving work is one of them. And so we kind of saw okay, there’s a group of questions that kind of deal with this meaning and purpose. And then, we did our relative weights analysis, and in Christian-owned businesses, we were just shocked at how big that is. And just as you were saying, leaders can—it’s really important, and it really drives engagement to connect that sense of life-giving work, that sense of meaning and purpose in a job. And it can be connected to any job, should be connected to any job somebody does. Yeah. No, I agree.
In this time of COVID, Mike, where have you seen Christian leaders instill the organization’s mission in their people in a way that motivates and inspires employees to truly engage?
Mike: I think there’s two parts. I’m seeing when exceptional employers do this well, it’s when leaders are both highlighting that the people are themselves part of the mission. I care about you, Al. You’re not just a means to something noble. So that’s really important today. Do I care about how COVID or racial-justice issues or community issues or economic issues are affecting your family? Do I care about that? But then also, how do I connect it to the humans on the other side of that customer wall? And do I help make this about real people? I think about, as you said, this has got to be true for any business because not every business has cool widgets. There are just mundane jobs out there that you go, “Man, it’s kind of hard to dress it up. This is what it is.”
But I think of an employer in Alabama, where it’s a paper-shredding business. Like, they go to work sites, and they pick up those bins of shredding papers, and they go and they destroy documents. Like, pretty hard to dress that up. And yet this employer has asked them, the employees, who literally just go and retreat bins of paper and go and systematically shred it, to think about the people that they’re serving there. So one of the big customers is a hospital, and they began to recognize nurses on the children’s cancer ward, that lots of ministries go in and help support the families of children with cancer, terminal cancer, at that. But the employees are saying, “Who cares for the nurses that do this every day? Every day they’re facing death, and children dying, at that.” And so the paper-shredding team began to actually focus on how do we show love and care to the nurses at this hospital that we’re retrieving confidential patient records from? And it became this ministry to where the doctors of the hospital said, “The paper-shredding company show love to our staff more than anybody else we know.” But that was the heart of an owner saying, “How do we begin to see the fact that even if something as mundane as taking paper and shredding it, we’re taking paper from people, and how do we see those people, and how do we love those people through the work we do?” That changes the whole workplace proposition for anybody, and that’s more powerful than a 50-cents-an-hour raise or here’s better coffee in the break room.
Well, let’s talk about the flip side for a minute. What are the possible consequences when employees fail to motivate, inspire, even energize their people? What are the tragic rewards of inaction in that regard?
Mike: Well, I live in South Texas, which is a pretty hot real-estate market. And I spent some time up in Austin, which is kind of like Nashville, where it is such a seller’s market today. Literally, people are putting their houses on the market and they’re getting 20, 30 offers above the asking price, which means it’s pretty hard to be a buyer. Well, talent is pretty much that way right now, especially if you need skilled labor in any way, which means the buyers are really the employees now. And you’ve got to figure, are the buyers the hirers, and the sellers are the employees. So it’s not just wages anymore, but you’re going to be competitive there.
But if organizations had gotten used to the fact that, okay, we’re just kind of mediocre. We got stage one cancer of disengagement. Every employee, Gallup would say, what, 37 to 40 percent is kind of average workforce engagement. That’s just what it is. Well, now we’re at stage two drought conditions, which means you may not even be able find low-engagement employees, and more people are just going to leave, and they’re not going to be there, or they’re going to stay and be so disengaged that you’re literally going to be losing customers, losing fulfillment. Where there is in the toxic effect, we’re seeing restaurants and farms where they can’t get poised to come to work. This thing creating supply-chain issues and dominoes down the chain.
So you and I were at that hotel, and you talked about the amazing experience. The service manager at that hotel is doing something different that makes that employee come work on a night shift, and thank you for the job. That leader is doing something. I was at a different hotel, but equally noble brand, and had horrible experience with the same paid people treating my people very differently. And it came down to leadership.
Al: Yeah. It does.
Mike: And so the market’s going to reward who solves this problem, and it’s going to become starkly contrasted, I think, very rapidly in the next year.
Al: I wrote a Seven Trends for 2021, back in January, and that’s one of the trends is that there’s going to be a lot of turnover in the next several months, and I think you’re right, and the next year, because people are now poking their heads up. It’s a buyer’s market. It’s an employee market at this point, and they’ll be able to go where they want to go, and it’s going to be the culture that keeps them in their current job. So that’s the big job. But it is a great example. Two cases, two hotels, two similar jobs. And what’s the difference between the two? It’s the leadership. It’s that manager and the way they’re working with their people.
Al: I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
Female: As we come through the COVID-19 crisis, leaders everywhere are asking, how do we understand the tensions our employees are experiencing coming back to work? How do we keep our employees engaged, hold on to our best talent, and position ourselves to thrive as an organization going forward? If you’re looking for a way forward, the Best Christian Workplaces Institute can guide you onto the road to a flourishing workplace.
The first step to begin the journey is our well-known Employee Engagement Survey. This proven online tool pinpoints where your organization is already strong and where you can improve your employees’ workplace experience, resulting in more productive people. That’s right. You’ll have more engaged, productive, and fulfilled people. Time-consuming guesswork won’t get you there. Instead, let us help you with a fact-based, hope-inspiring action plan that only our Employee Engagement Survey and skillful coaching can provide. Sign up now to begin the journey to build a flourishing workplace culture and a thriving organization. Find out more at bcwinstitute.org.
Al: And now, back to today’s special guest.
Well, here’s a straight-up question for you, Mike. What are two or three of the biggest outcomes of an employee who is motivated and inspired at work? What would you say?
Mike: Well, I mean, there’s the obvious one, if you’re going to have engagement, which then correlates to productivity. So you’re going to get higher—whatever your throughput is, it’s going to be higher. But you’re also going to have joy. And joy, I always say, when our engagement went from where we were a few years ago at 38 percent, and you start getting up to 75, 80 percent, I just began enjoying who I work with. But the other factor that I think we underestimate is the peer impact on motivation. So a happy employee increases the joy and engagement of their peers, and an unhappy employee diminishes the joy and engagement of their peers. So you could have high performers or high potential performers diminished by the presence of mediocre and unmotivated and disengaged employees. And so there is this very kind of symbiotic team effect that I think I know I underestimated before, that when we begin to solve that, it lifts the boats of all players on the team.
Well, one of our mutual friends, Craig Warner—he’s a C12 chair—he talked about not only does it impact your peers and the joy that you have going to work, but also the impact of a leader going home in a good mood.
Mike: That’s right. That’s very true.
Al: Yeah. It impacts the home, the home life, the family, even the community beyond.
But now I want to get to something that I’m really interested in having you talk about, and that is buffalo culture. Mike, what an image. That’s something that you guys have talked about. And now there’s even merchandise that you can buy about the C12 buffalo culture. So tell us what is a buffalo culture.
Mike: You know, Al, you’re asking a question—I don’t know if you realize you were actually part of helping provoke buffalo culture for C12. Did you know that?
Al: I do know that, yeah. I figured that out, Mike.
Mike: Okay, good. Okay. Well, then, good. Okay. Wanted to make sure you knew you were part of that story.
So it comes from this zoological principle that the American bison is a creature that God designed instinctively, that unlike cows and cattle of various types, when facing a storm, God has just wired bison that they face the storm. As the storm approaches, they gather together. And then when the time is right, they actually run into storms, head on, as a herd. And as a result, counterintuitively, they spend half as much time in the storm because they’re running against it. They stay together, they see the risks, and they’re less prone to injury, isolation, and harm. Whereas, a typical herd of cows, for instance, is going to be kind of surprised by the storm, run away from it, which means you spend more time in it. They’re going to be running in kind of a chaotic pattern. They’re going to trip and fall and get isolated. You have broken legs. And so there’s just this really neat kind of DNA of the American bison.
Well, we began talking initially, just actually I was trying to address team issues with my own team where we were not healthy. And we began saying, “Well, we need a culture where when anybody sees a problem, we deal with it. We don’t run from it. We don’t avoid it. We don’t stick our head in the sand. We don’t hope someone else deals with it. Whether it’s my issue or your issue, that we bring in the daylight, and as a team, we problem solve it together, that we confront things head on.” And so we start talking about buffalo leaders and buffalo mindset and…call buffalo culture, and we started just using it as an internal mantra.
And then in COVID, honestly, is when it bloomed. We had already trademarked the website and all that kind of stuff. So buffaloculture.com and all those things. We bought those assets to say, “Hey, we may want to use this one day because this is really helping us.” And companies started saying, ”Hey, COVID’s coming. We can either focus on surviving or we can run right into this and go, how do we help our customers, help our employees, help our cities, and come out the other side stronger?” And so tech companies and service companies, construction companies started saying, “Hey, we’re going to embrace that buffalo-culture stuff.” And it just became this kind of thing. But it’s about a mindset of how we rally together. You run right into things; you deal with them. Really, the big motif is going towards the problem, not running from it.
Al: Right. Yeah. I love that idea.
So, Mike, you know, one of the great things about having a clearly defined culture that’s attractive, as you’ve just described it, is that you’re able to screen for employees who will fit into that culture and then even evaluate them after they’ve been in the culture for a while. How do you do that?
Mike: One of the lessons I learned, Al, it was actually a surprise to me. I thought once we defined this, like, isn’t this so cool? Who wouldn’t want to be part of a buffalo culture? Well, not everyone does, actually. And so I remember us rolling this out with all this clarity and a bunch of people were like, “Yes, that sounds great,” and a couple people went, “That sounds horrible. I’m very private. I don’t like dealing with issues. I want to avoid it at an extreme level. I don’t like things being brought at a team level,” or whatever. And we actually had to do some right sourcing on talent or, frankly, to that. And we began realizing we had it on the front end, not just say, “Hey, would you like to come be a graphic designer or a customer-service agent for us? Do you have these skill sets?” But to say, “By the way, here’s our culture. We value these things. Here’s what that looks like,” and we give them language and give them examples, even say, “Hey, here’s a video you can go watch where we describe it.” And they tell us what you liked about what you saw and what you didn’t. And we found out that that’s actually, for some, an incredible attraction factor. Yes, I so wish that. But it’s also repulsive to some. There was people who didn’t want it. And then it also creates in that level of management expectation, like, we have to wrestle with saying, “Hey, are you prepared to be in a place where we have tough conversations in love, but your voice matter, your voice is expected? Disagreements are a healthy thing. And we want to identify problems earlier and solve them together versus later and do blame games. Does that excite you?” And it’s been a qualifier of incoming talent for us.
Al: And it really does bring the people with the skills, the interest, and being in that kind of a culture where issues are dealt with and resolved and you’re able to move forward and be more resilient and pivot as you need to as people are communicating more effectively. I love it. Yeah, absolutely.
Mike: You usually have to teach to it. Like, a recent example, you have to continually work on and we’re never done, and we still have continuous pockets of doing this poorly. We have to keep making it safe to be a buffalo and honor and appreciate it. So, for instance, I had a manager come with me to explain a pattern of my communication that was creating hardship for her and confusion and setting her up for failure. She confronted me in a very respectful but direct way. It was helpful for me. But then what I did is I actually went to our next staff meeting and highlighted, “Hey, by the way, she had the guts to skip a level of management and confront me as the CEO on where I was actually sabotaging her ability for success, unbeknownst to me. That took guts. Here’s what I learned. Here’s what were doing. And I want to applaud her because I need to keep making it okay to have tough conversations and deal with things, because that’s not human nature.”
Al: Yeah. And the scores on your Engagement Survey will go up on the question, I feel free to express my opinions.
Mike: I hope. I hope. Well, that’s constantly—keep having to—you have to reinforce that because that falls.
Al: Yeah. And the issue of being able to be safe, to communicate those kinds of things, that’s really admirable.
C12 is anchored in the authority of scripture, and that’s over and over, it’s reinforced. What’s one biblical principled truth that you suggest senior leadership use to light the fire that can motivate and inspire its people to fulfill your organization’s mission?
Mike: So one of the things we really feel is bedrock from a biblical principle that kind of transforms the way every leader, at least that we work with, thinks about their overall business stewardship is this kind of obscure biblical idea of the bema seat of Christ. It’s not—when we survey leaders, it’s like 94 percent of leaders don’t really know what that is. It’s mentioned three or four times, not in those terms. But in Romans 14 and First Corinthians there’s this talk about that when as believers we’ll stand before the judgment seat of Christ, not to know whether or not we get into heaven. It’s not a salvation thing. It’s a little bit like a performance review, and it describes this rewards process. Will there be this evaluation of what we did? Was it in Christ and did it matter? And a lot of stuff must be burned up and it won’t really have mattered that we thought did. But in the stuff that did matter will be like precious jewels and crowns. And there’s this rewards idea. And we go, well, if there is a performance review and we’re all performance oriented, and the good news is I like to say it’s an open-book test. Like, God saying, “Hey, there is a quiz coming next Friday. You might want to study the book for what the scoring is.” That how we conduct business, particularly how we engaged in stewarded people, we believe is going to be one of the big scorecards of that. If we do spend 88,000 to 90,000 hours at work, that, man, I sure hope that that’s not just a passing grade block of my life, but that I’d look in there and I don’t think God’s going to be saying, “Oh, cool. You tithed that year.” I think He’s going to be saying, “Oh, cool. You really helped Susan and Bob flourish, and you demonstrated My kingdom to them, and you lived out the gospel to them.” And so when we begin to say, hey, what if Jesus cares about Tuesday afternoon staff meeting as much as the check you write at the end of the year, man, that kind of changes the game of why you do this. I don’t do BCWI just to get my employee-engagement points up five points to then get a little better yield on my business performance, though all those things are valid rationale. It’s also because I think one in the same for God needing to say, “What’d you do with the people that I trusted you with for those years?”
Al: You just created a new image in my mind, Mike. So you can go in your final days or on your final day and you’re at the bema seat of Christ and you can say, “I had above a 4.25 in my Best Christian Workplace Survey,” and that’ll be a proof that you’ve engaged in, stewarded your people. I don’t know. What do you think?
Mike: Well, I think Jesus will love that number. I will say it’s when you say that number, before the show, you and I were talking about kind of future plans and scorecards. And I have a five-year roadmap of growth and products. But one of our scorecards is a minimum of a 4.25. We actually have to do a 4.4. So our scorecard is to keep no less than 4.4 on the flourishing scale every year while we grow. And if we drop below that, we believe that’s an indicator that we may have prioritized growth over people. So that’s a high mark, but that’s what we put out there as our watermark.
Al: Okay, yeah. The bema seat. I have to admit, I hadn’t heard that term, so I’d be one of those 97 percent that you mentioned.
You know, is it possible that the seeds of motivation and inspiration may already be nestled in the soil of workplace culture? I mean, if so, what effective strategies and approaches can a leader wisely tend to or raise up talent that can bear fruit?
Mike: I think it’s there. I think—and a bunch of people pointed at this in different ways. The classic book The Dream Manager by Kelly draws upon this idea that everyone in your workplace has got a dream or a pursuit in their life. I love Will Mancini’s book Younique, y-o-u, that really focuses on the Ephesians 2:10 idea that every person in Christ has a destiny, a calling to work they’re made for. And so I think just starting the fact, realizing that whether you’ve been a great architect of that vision, every workplace should be encouraging the value of individual flourishing and then helping them see not only each other, but every customer, every vendor, anybody you’re doing work with as someone just like them who has a destiny, a calling, and a dream, and that we’re interdependent in living those things out. That alone begins opening up an instant advantage. And then if you invite people to care for each other, seize opportunities to help make the world a better place through whatever they’re doing with whoever they’re doing with it, and you have real core values, man, those are just, I think, low-hanging fruit for catalyst around culture.
Al: Yeah, yeah. That’s great.
And these days, Mike, here we are. It’s been a number of months where we’re starting to see the light after COVID in terms of things are coming back, and the economy certainly is heating up, and that’s going to help a lot of the businesses that you’re part of. But I’m noticing that leaders just are feeling washed out at this stage, even burned out, after the chaos of the last 15 months or so. What’s your message to leaders whose tank is empty or at least not even close to being full? Can they really afford time to take their foot off the gas at work and maybe get rested? What are your suggestions?
Mike: Man, I’ve learned a lot through cycles of this. The premise that’s always been out there is the Ecclesiastes 10:10, sharpen the saw. We all need to stop and make the ax sharper. We tend to go, “I’ve got too much to do to sharpen the blade,” and so you end up working harder but not more effectively. But I think there’s also the big idea that has been really lost for me in Christian culture, and that is Sabbath and this idea that we actually need when it makes no sense. And I read a great book this fall, a leader gave it to me, called Take the Day Off, and it really addresses the biblical imperative for Sabbath for leaders. And if you think about it, God told Moses, who was leading two million people in a hostile wilderness, 40-year journey, to stop every six days and take a complete day of rest, be vulnerable to enemies and the weather, the elements and delaying progress one more day. That had to seem totally irrational. But it was not because God needed the day from them. God knew that He designed them to need the day. So I think biblical rest and renewal discipline seemed totally like a luxury you can’t afford as a leader, but I don’t think you can’t afford not to. I think the abundant life of Jesus is missed when we do it out of a perpetual pattern of our own flesh. And there’s always more that can be done, but the key is to know what must be done.
There was a day for myself. I was driving home in March, late March, early COVID, 2020, preparing to tell my wife why I was not going to be able to take Sabbath day that week and that probably for the next number of months that I was going to need to be in kind of a seven-day-a-week run to keep the business from dying. And I remember pulling in the driveway, prepared to tell my wife that, and I felt like I had a conversation with God in the front seat, right, in my driveway, where He went, “Hey, Mike. You can go tell your wife that, and I’ll be okay. But you’re taking the wheel, and you’re going to feel the weight of the world. Or you could trust that I can do more with six days in you trusting Me than you can do it seven days not trusting Me. And you’re going to miss out on what I would do.” And that was a huge, huge leap.
But I think—there’s a pastor up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, named Michael Todd, who gave a talk to some leaders a couple years ago that really impacted me. He made a statement. It was really provocative. He said, “You know, Jesus never lived up to His potential. He only resolved to fully live His purpose. And He knew the difference.” And at first, you’re like, what do you mean He didn’t live to His potential? And it’s like, well, think about it. He left town after town without everyone being totally healed, without everyone being totally fed, and every issue solved. He went to towns and did surgical strikes, and He knew when to stay and when to go because He was about whatever not people wanted and needed or what He was capable of doing, but what His Father was telling Him to do. And if He had tried to satisfy everyone else’s expectations, He would never have accomplished His ultimate purpose. And as leaders, if we’re running, we’re likely causing others to run at a pace that actually is to the detriment of their own soul. And I think God can do more with a rested, renewed leader and a rested, renewed team than the opposite. But you kind of have to choose when to get off that treadmill and begin to trust a biblical rhythm mix, and that’s super hard.
Al: Yeah. Well, the sitting behind the steering wheel, that’s a great analogy. You can work the next seven days, every day for the next several months, then feel the weight of the world. Or you can trust Me. That’s, wow.
The next question I’ve got here, Mike, is just, you know, maybe a personal reflection, maybe a quote or fresh new awareness of God and how He’s working through you, or even just how you’ve got a new love or devotion for Christ in this time, anything come to mind there?
Mike: I’d say in the most recent weeks, I’ve been really impacted by the vice by me, like a vice of two things coming together, not the vice of the sin—I get plenty those too—but the crucible of thinking about John 15 in a different way, that if we really trust that God’s the vine dresser, that He prunes good branches because He’s trying to create the fruit that He gets to decide, which isn’t the fruit I want necessarily, and it needs to prune back beautiful things that are great. But that’s not the point. The point is what’s He trying to accomplish, but that He’s worried about the total vine in other branches, not just me. So I’m not the protagonist, and I need to trust the vine dresser to get a bigger picture, combined with the thought of going back to the fall of man in Genesis 3, and we all are familiar with the first sin. Adam and Eve ate the fruit. But the real, I’d say, the first mistake wasn’t the eating the fruit. The first mistake was that when the enemy planted this question as doubt, they didn’t take those questions and doubt to God. They made a decision out of their flesh of what to do with this scandalous idea, and so they made a choice. But if they had taken that to God early and said, “God, man, this does not make sense. The serpent raised a good question. Would I really die? Why’d you say I couldn’t do that?” I think God would have given them a fatherly answer. But because they made the first mistake of not asking Him, they then made a decision and then paid the consequence. And so just understand the heart of God that I need to bring issues to God earlier and then yield to Him as the vine dresser if I want to really experience abundant life that He promises.
Al: Yeah. Bring issues to God earlier, just in prayer and supplication. Yeah. And having that time of prayer and contemplation to do that.
Well, Mike, this has really been a great conversation. I’ve really enjoyed all we’ve talked about. I love the way that you work with leaders to integrate their lives, their business lives, their spiritual lives, their family, their money, the culture of their organizations, how that’s all integrated. And I love the conversation around the importance of culture, how it’s important to give employees, those that you work with, meaning and purpose. And every job has the ability to create meaning and purpose and how that’s really going to improve retention and a whole bunch of things. There’s no question. And also, I like what we talked about, employers caring, not only for customers, but also employees. And I just did a webinar on trust between senior leaders and employees and how caring and compassion is just one of the three things that really improve trust between senior leaders in the organization, really, not just the employees, but customers. There has to be a compassion element, and some of us don’t have that as a natural gift.
Al: But then the buffalo culture. I just love that analogy. I love the idea of how we’ve got to run into storms. We need to stay together so that we’re safer in that case. And how you can use culture to help select and refine, even motivate your current employees. I could go on. There’s more. The bema seat of Christ, the importance of Sabbath, and how He is the vine dresser. And we just need to abide and that He prunes good branches to make us all better.
Well, all great stuff, Mike, but how about something we haven’t talked about. Anything you’d like to add?
Mike: Man, if we could all get that stuff, if I didn’t have to learn all those things 15 times, we’d be pretty far down the road. No. I think the buffalo culture, it starts with the leader. And even one of the things that is the barrier to engaging BCWI is are you willing to deal with the data, deal with the insights, deal with what you don’t know? And there’s fear in that, because I’m overwhelmed by the issues I do know. What if there’s more issues I don’t know? But the issues you don’t know are often the underlying drivers of the ones you are seeing. And so, well, it has oftentimes been painful to deal with the things I didn’t want to know were true in our culture. But it’s also been the storms we’ve ran into that then we ran out of the other side stronger, and it’s been worth it.
And so I would encourage anybody who’s listening that buffalo culture requires a buffalo leader, and buffalo leader means you’ve got to be someone who embraces brutal facts and brutal truth. Jim Collins talks about that in Good to Great. That’s not new. But, man, on the other side of that storm is a really cool daylight moment where you look back and realize, man, that was worth it. So I would encourage any leader to play offense, not defense, on culture, on post-COVID workforce dynamics and the marketplace on their own business. You can either complain or you can make a change. And I believe God’s called us to be co-creators and to bring order to chaos. And I appreciate your friendship and partnership in that along the way, Al.
Al: Thanks, Mike.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, Mike Sharrow, president and CEO of the C12 group. Thanks, Mike, for being so open and genuine with us today. You know, I really sense your integrity. I know your integrity. I work with you enough to know how you bring integrity to the workplace, your commitment to your colleagues, and most of all, I appreciate your devotion and service to our loving God. Thank you for taking time out of your day and speaking into the lives of so many listeners. Thanks, Mike.
Mike: Thank you, Al. It’s been a worthwhile conversation. I appreciate your passion for these things.
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