Leading Biblically: Good Mourning, Part 3

Jan 29, 2008 |Bruce E. Winston

The second Beatitude — "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" — provides a key business and leadership principle.

PART 2: Walk Humbly »

In the introduction to this series I mentioned that I've found the Beatitudes to be in a sequence that matches the consulting problems I've encountered. The first has to do with humility, being "poor in spirit." The second most common problem I find with leaders and people in organizations is that people don't care about other people.

I hear slogans like "people are our most important asset," and I hear employees called "associates" and "partners," but I don't see a lot of behavior to back up the statements. This article presents the meaning of the Beatitude "Blessed are those who mourn" and how we should live our lives because of this principle.

What does it mean to mourn?

The Greek word Penqueo that we translate "mourn" implies a measure of intensity as if mourning for the dead, according to Augsburger's commentary on Matthew in the 1982 The Communicator's Commentary by Word Books.

When I saw this description it piqued my curiosity about intensity of mourning for the dead. I studied some of the norms and customs at the time of Jesus' preaching the Sermon on the Mount and found that families, at the time of a funeral, hired professional mourners to ensure that a desired level of intensity showed at the funeral.

I further researched the use of Penqueo in the New Testament and found a key passage in 2 Corinthians 7:7 that aligns mourning with comforting, which affirms the benefit expressed in the Beatitude that those who mourn will be comforted. The same word for comfort is used in both Matthew 5:4 and 2 Corinthians 7:7.

Thus it seems that mourning in this case is a measure of intensity in how we consider the needs of those around us. With the tie to "comforted" it seems logical that mourning is not complete unless action occurs to comfort others and as a result others comfort us.

Seems simple doesn't it? It is.

A decade ago as I was trying to understand this Beatitude I noticed that I wasn't very caring toward the employees that worked with me. I had thought I was, but I realized that I didn't spend much time thinking about them, praying about them, seeking what I could do for them — a difficult realization for a guy working in a Christian organization.

I found that as I worked on the first Beatitude and gained an appreciation for others it was not difficult to begin thinking about the folk that worked with me.

Caring for others doesn't always cost money. I found that just being more attentive to others let me see when folk who needed flexibility in scheduling. Giving people time to go to doctors' appointments or go to a mall and take advantage of a sale didn't take much away from the workplace, especially when these same people "comforted" me by staying late or coming in on Saturday to finish projects and keep me satisfied.

In the first article of this series, "Leading Biblically: Beatitudes in Business," I mentioned one of our MBA graduates who commented during a recent interview that he had a real burden (Penqueo) for single mothers to the extent that he structured his firm to provide flexible hours and above-normal wages to ensure that his employees could take care of family-matters and, economically, had a minimum "living" wage. Our graduate said that he allowed his single-mother employees time to meet the needs of their children and, when needed, he personally helped the children with school and doctors. As he talked about this his eyes teared up and the level of intensity in his speech rose (Penqueo). He went on to say that while he focused on the needs of employees he received productivity far exceeding the local expectations (thus he was "comforted").

I can attest that as I became more attuned to the needs of those around me and sought ways to meet those needs I, too, saw productivity increases beyond my expectations. The benefit of this Beatitude truly is that you will, in turn, be comforted.

This applies to the family as well. As our three sons were growing up each had different needs and desires. Our oldest son was always interested in the military, our middle son was always interested in theatre, music and the arts, and our youngest son was always interested in sports. Fortunately, Kristie and I lived out the Beatitude of "mourning" with them in that we sought to help each with his own interest and did not force the boys to fit our mold for their lives. Even though I was not interested in some of their interests I helped them achieve their goals. Penqueo means to know others and care for them, not to recreate them in your own image.

Are you mourning?

How often do you think about the people around you? When you see someone working near you, do you know what he/she needs? A simple way to do this is to ask them how they're doing and then listen beyond the words — listen to the body movements/positions, eye movements, tone of voice, and general demeanor. I've found that it only takes two minutes of this type of deep listening to have a sense of what is going on in the person's life.

Then ask yourself what you can do to help. When I had a complicated back surgery earlier this year many of my fellow professors offered to teach my courses for me until I felt well enough to take over. Staff offered to help with food and lawn care. One of my friends who had a long career as a physical therapist came to the house and helped me just move around in the first few days of returning home from the hospital. These examples of caring didn't cost folk a lot of money or even a lot of time but it made a big difference for my peace of mind.

If you are supervising employees in a paid-work or volunteer setting are you aware of the work conditions, chairs, desks, lights, tools, etc.? What needs exist that would make their work life more comfortable? Is there a need to provide some flexibility during times of stress? Have you offered to fill in for an employee so that the employee can run an errand or take care of a sick family member?

There is a caution here in that there are folk who will take advantage of this and mistreat the kindness/caring that emerges from a Penqueo-informed supervisor. If you have someone who does not show the reciprocity then it may be that the employee needs some help maturing or perhaps the employee is in the wrong organization.

Person-organization fit is an important concept that most supervisory training programs don't discuss. I've found that most employee problems are related to not working for the right organization rather than in their being a "bad" person. If you find a mis-alignment between person and organization then it's necessary to counsel and help the person get a job somewhere else. Only when there's a good fit between the person and the organization can there be joy in the person's work and commitment to the organization.

Although this is a topic for a different article, in order to go into more depth it's important here to know that when there are problems with people in the organization it's usually caused by poor person-organization fit, followed by poor person-job fit, followed by a need for training and education, and last — a bad person.

W. E. Deming in his book The New Economics made the claim that 85 percent of the problems in an organization are caused by systemic issues, which include person-organization fit, and that the systemic problems are the responsibility of leadership. Deming went on to say that 15 percent of the problems are related to people and most of these problems are solved with training and education.

As a supervisor do you ask people what they need to make their lives better? At first when I asked this question I got answers like, "Give me a million dollars." A nice request, but not something that I could do.

I followed up with questions that focused the thinking on the job and the tasks at hand. What I heard were simple things like a new stapler, a cushion for a chair or a new chair. One request was for a chair mat so that the employee could more easily roll the chair at the desk. While some requests are not within my capability, I found that most were and that most did not cost much. Employees usually respond positively when they know that the supervisor cares about them.

As I developed my skill of caring for others I found that I had to spend time telling everyone in the office what everyone was getting. People are people and equity issues come into play. One employee complained when another employee was missing for a few hours and I had to remind the complainer what he/she got the day before and that everyone was being treated as each person needed. Not equally, since no one wanted what someone else got, but justly — getting what each needed and deserved.

Are you ready to start mourning?

We've covered two Beatitudes thus far in the series and if you've not noticed something, let me point out a concept that took me a while to get. If we as leaders, supervisors, family leaders, and so on spend our time doing the work of the Beatitudes we have less time to do the work of the organization. You'll see this continue to varying extents as we move through the remaining Beatitudes. If you want to be an Agapao-leader (see the first article in the series for a treatment of Agapao) you'll have to spend more time doing the work of leadership and let others do the work of the organization. At home it may be that you let the dishes go or skip mowing the lawn one day in order to show Penqueo for a family member. Doing the more important task will result in a better long-term life than focusing on the short-term requirements.

Are you ready to mourn? The next time you're in your place of work, school, church or home, spend time observing those around you and wondering what they need. Then ask them. Develop your deep listening skills so that you can tell what is concerning them.

Several years ago I saw a professor of a different school at Regent University than I worked in and I asked him how things were going. He stopped, looked at me, and replied: "Do you really care?" I sat down with him and spend an hour listening to him. His problems were not something that I could solve, but I did suggest a couple of things for him. At the end he thanked me and said that he felt better. I missed out on writing an article that I planned to do that day but I chose the better choice. I chose to Penqueo. How about you? Are you ready to Penqueo?

PART 4: Controlled Discipline »

Copyright 2008 Bruce E. Winston, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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