On behavior and working for the Lord

Last week, I was having a one-on-one with one of my direct reports. As we were discussing the day-to-day goings on, our conversation turned to behavior. She noted that people often change their perspectives based on the expectations of the people they work for. We talked about this idea for a bit which got me thinking. It occurred to me that people change their behavior when they want to please their manager.

When we work for a manager, we often shape our behavior around that person’s expectations. When I was early in my career, I worked for a great boss. He was understanding, wanted the best for his employees, and always encouraged us to provide great service. His common refrain was to encourage us to act like we cared, even if we didn’t at that particular moment. As a result, the whole team would rally around problems, work together, and be responsive to customers. Were we perfect? Absolutely not. However, we were better than we might have been otherwise.

I’ve also seen it play out the other way as well. When managers try to drive behavior, even when well intentioned, they can often have a negative impact on the employee and their behavior. I was going into a meeting once and my boss at the time instructed me to “not give an inch”. I didn’t. I was blunt and unyielding. I won the battle! I also damaged my credibility with the other participants, which harmed my effectiveness with that group for quite a while. This can happen in more subtle ways as well, like people who provide poor service to meet service metrics. Metrics can drive behavior and have unexpected consequences.

People who think of themselves as working for their manager are willing to do things they might not normally do. For most people, the line stops at things that are immoral, but the gray area can be fair game. They might be less helpful, more aggressive, or maybe just not as friendly as they would be without that influence. Men change over time and have varying expectations. Those changes create behavior changes in the people around them as well.

In Colossians 3, the Apostle Paul tells us to work as unto the Lord, not man. I’ve heard that scripture for years, but it never really hit home for me. I understood the words, but not what it meant in practice.

23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Colossians 3:24-25

When we align ourselves with God’s expectations, we can be much more consistent. God provides a center; a true north; a rightness of action. Practicing even the most basic behaviors, like the Golden Rule (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) or the Ten Commandments, yields different results. When we treat others with kindness, respect, and gratitude, we can get to more positive outcomes overall.

What I can say with certainty is that I can deal with adversity more easily, am more forgiving of others, and feel generally happier when I approach work this way. The level of consistency in outcomes and relationships is noticeable. Am I always positive, kind, and patient? Absolutely not. I fall short, sometimes daily. However, striving to be our best is the goal, not perfection. To do that, it requires that higher standard to aim toward. There is no standard higher than God’s standard. Thankfully, it comes with God’s grace as well. I certainly need it.

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