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Friday Five May 26

Facebook ran through its’ IPO this week. Their stock is falling – mainly because they issued too many shares and they don’t have a good revenue model. Stories like this don’t help either. Interestingly enough, NASDAQ would have stopped the IPO had they known the extent of the technical problems that were inherent in their systems.

Two stories this week continue to illustrate the growing divide in our country. The divide is on nearly every line possible: economic, theology, cultural, political and so forth. The first story is about how the left is trying to intimidate the Justices on the Affordable Health Care Act as they work to decide the constitutionality of the law. The second is a well-written opinion on how defending capitalism is equated with being offensive to Obama. Both are symptoms of the larger problem in our country: we no longer have even a thread of shared morality or ethics in this country. While we have a legal system, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an issue that nearly every American agrees with.

High rates of joblessness and home foreclosures are two signs that a city is in trouble. The good news is that home foreclosures are starting to go down – a sign that the economy is improving. This is great to see, though I think all of us realize we’re not out of the woods yet. Another sign of good news is the bipartisan offer from four Senators who are working together to pass legislation to help businesses create more jobs. What I like about this is that we have someone stepping up to offer some good ideas from both sides of the aisle. What is not surprising is that they are showing leadership in a body that lacks leadership. I think Senator Reed has been a poor excuse for a Senate leader. He has not allowed a budget to come forward for nearly 3 years, ignoring his legal and moral obligations to the country. The fact that our country just shrugs our shoulders in response to his lack of leadership is a quiet reflection of the apathy most of us feel toward our government and our nation.

I have to admit that I’m a bit surprised at the way we cover for Congress. This article is a good example. While the CBO is telling us that another recession looms if Congress doesn’t act, what I wonder is why they think the Fed should shoulder the responsibility of the Congress? Why can’t we just hold Congress accountable and not look to other institutions to get results they are not designed to achieve? I agree with CEO Oberhelman: we lack real leadership in this country. Our congress is polarized and can’t lead – primarily because our country is polarized (here and here too). Our President is pitting one group of people against other groups and he gets applause for doing so. IMHO, the polarization comes not from the grassroots, but from a combination of fringe groups who use civil disobedience to push their agendas along with leaders who seek to win through dividing this country along racial, economic, religious and partisan lines. We are slowly Balkanizing into a multiple set of cultures which will result, eventually, in a permanent division of these united states. It may take another hundred years, but the foundation is being laid. You have multiculturalism to thank for this as well. Can we disagree without hating each other? I honestly don’t know anymore. And I don’t know if a nation whose values are so fundamentally disparate among the major groups can engage in self-government without fracturing. I just don’t see how it will work in the long run. Shifting the responsibilities of Congress onto another group only masks the much larger and more important, fundamental issues. We have a serious problem in this country and it’s not with the political parties. It is with ourselves.

Why is it all about Bain? While Romney’s time at Bain is fair game, I also think the loss of jobs and equity that President Obama instituted in order to save GM and Chrysler is fair game too. Does anyone recall all of the dealerships that Obama put out of business (here too)? The hypocrisy of the Obama campaign is unbelievable. Let’s rake Romney over the coals for destructive capitalism, but let’s not mention the jobs and profitable businesses that Obama destroyed. Obama did the very thing he is criticizing Romney for. Keep that in mind the next time you hear him and his team talk about all the jobs Romney was responsible for destroying.

 

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

 

 

Each One of Us will be in This Place Someday

Dear friends of ours in another city recently experienced the loss of her mother. I’ve copied part of their email here in this blog post to remind us all that we each will one day face this situation. This story touched me – not only because of the tenderness between Lisa and her mom, but also because of their faith in Christ. Nearly all of what we do on this earth is meaningless – that’s one of the core messages of the book of Ecclesiastes. But how and why we do what we do will matter a great deal in eternity. If you’ve never accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, I invite you to contact me to learn more how you can know Him personally and be assured of your eternal life.

Here is part of their email to us:

“It was a crazy week last week with Natalie’s high school graduation and then Lisa’s mom.   She went into the hospital on Friday, May 11, suffering with severe pain in her legs.  After a couple days of tests, they discovered a number of blood clots in both legs that blocked the circulation.   Long story short, she had one surgery to remove the clots, but after a week in the hospital she was extremely weak, the blood clots were returning to her legs and she was starting to have other complications.  It got to the point where a foot or leg amputation would be required in order to save her life.  She was still lucid enough to tell Lisa and her brother/sister that she didn’t want any further treatment but instead was ready to “go home”.   She also wanted Lisa to be at our home, celebrating Natalie’s graduation.    They put her into hospice care on Friday, May 18.    Lisa was OK staying away as she was able to talk to her mom some during the hospital stay. But she was really worried that her mom would try to hang on in the midst of terrible suffering until we could get [back to her mother] early this week.  Our prayer was that [Lisa’s mom] would not suffer and would not linger on.  What an answer to prayer Lisa got!  On Sunday morning when we first got up, Lisa felt a strong need to call the hospice.  The nurse told her that her mom was failing pretty fast and couldn’t talk but could still hear.    They held a phone up to her mom’s ear and Lisa was able to tell her all about Natalie’s graduation, to thank her for being a great mom and to tell her how much we all loved her.  As Lisa was finishing talking the nurse came back on the line and told her that her mom passed away while Lisa was talking to her.   The nurse believed her mom was holding on until she got to talk to Lisa one last time.  That was a huge answer to prayer and a huge comfort to Lisa – that her mom wasn’t suffering anymore. Her mom lived a long (92 years) full life and was in remarkably good health right up until the end…”

 

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

Friday Five for May 18

This week, I’ll start by focusing on the old saying “there are lies, and then there are damn lies!” Today’s unemployment figures are a good illustration. The unemployment numbers are out for last month from the Department of Labor. The “official unemployment rate” has dropped to 8.1% (See graph to the left). This is the U-3 number and does not include discouraged or underemployed workers. I consider it a “damn lie” to say that our unemployment rate is only 8.1%. Why, well, consider that the U-6 unemployment number is at 14.5% – a far higher and more insightful number that indicates that those who *wish* they could find full-time employment that utilizes their skills are not able to find such employment. Of course, the administration will take credit for the better numbers, but even the U-3 number represents millions who are unemployed. The BLS site reports that at the end of 2011, over 13,000,000 people at age 16 and over were out of work. Today’s announcement by HP to cut up to 30,000 jobs won’t help the situation either.

Note also that since February of 2002, our labor force participation rate has dropped by 3.4% (See graph to the right). This means that the 8.1% unemployment rate does not count those who have left the labor force. A dropping labor force is just as damaging to our economy as the short-term unemployment rate primarily because it represents chronic unemployment, which is difficult for any society to overcome. But to the point, a falling unemployment rate in a shrinking worker base is nothing to brag about and doesn’t represent, IMHO, an economy that is recovering stellar fiscal and economic policies by the administration.

Don’t be fooled – our economy is recovering at glacial speeds in spite of the additional regulations and debt that have been created by the Federal Government in the last 3.5 years, not because of it. And for those who think we can just print more money to get out of this mess – if that were the case, then counterfeiting would be a public service.

Secondly, I don’t see how Facebook is worth what they are asking. Their business model doesn’t make sense to me, so understanding how they plan to make money in the long run is difficult for me to see. People don’t go to FB to purchase goods and services. Instead, they go there to interact. Knowing that they mine personal data about me that they plan to sell to others or somehow make money off of bothers me a great deal. Privacy be damned.

Thirdly, I’ve known for a long time that Delta Airlines (DAL) is one of the worst airlines for cashing in frequent flyer seats. Northwest Airlines was much better at this than Delta. As a frequent flyer who has been Platinum for 10 years with Northwest/Delta, I can attest that not being able to use my miles when and where I want to has been a serious frustration with Delta. But since 80% of the flights in and out of MSP are Delta flights, I have little choice but to fly them. I don’t have any major complaints about their service or aircraft. So my only rant here is about their stingy frequent flyer seat policies.

Fourthly, I agree with Turley that this is a decision that is “breathtakingly stupid”.

Lastly, I kinda laughed when I read this title because being boring probably is one of the more common characteristics of leadership. I recall reading elsewhere that the best corporate CEOs tend to be introverts who are ruthlessly honest and drill into the nub of an issue. This latter part is consistent with the book “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done“, which I am reading for the second time. For the most part, leadership isn’t glamorous. It’s a tough grind to be a leader and it shouldn’t be taken on lightly. BTW, I do enjoy posters like this. It’s nice to have a chuckle during the day.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp


 

360 Review

I learned the results today of my 360° review. Since there is no formal review process in my company for myself, I voluntarily sent an email to a number of people, both inside and outside my organization and asked them to answer one question: “What is it like to be on the other end of Bill English?”

I had them send their emails to a trusted friend who in turn gave their comments to me anonymously. I must say that he did a great job in delivering the content to me. And he welcomed the opportunity to interact with me about both my challenges and my strengths. He then told me to be sure to develop my strengths even more, shore up my challenges as best I can, then look to hire around me those individuals who strengths will compliment and compensate for my weaknesses.

The results were both accurate and not surprising. What was surprising were the positive comments – some of them gave me insight into my person and work that I didn’t know much about. The comments on how I can improve crystallized for me the core areas in which I’ll have to give extra effort just to meet an adequate level of performance. I’ll work 2x or 3x as hard in those areas to do what others do naturally. But that is the effort of leadership – I must demonstrate a willingness to learn and grow if I’m to expect my staff to do the same.

I won’t go into the specific results, but I did find the exercise both helpful and encouraging. Thanks to all who contributed.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

Leadership, Calling and Accountability: Why Christian Business Owners Must View Their Work of Accountability as God’s Call on Their Lives

I’m reading through Judges right now in my devotional times each morning. I’m usually up between 5:00 – 5:30 AM and spend a good 60-90 minutes reading the Bible, praying, confessing sin and discerning God’s direction for the day. I often pray through my schedule for the day and take time to listen to God. Hearing God’s voice is a tremendous blessing, but one that doesn’t come to those who are fickle in their holiness or love for God.

“In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit”. That phrase first appears in Chapter 17 and is also the last words of the book. In all, I find this phrase appears four times. It is during this time that we can read about the horrific abuse of women, the mixing of idolatry with worshipping God and general unrest as people form groups who betray others and then in turn splinter their own groups to betray again and again. How does this apply to Christian business ownership? I would submit several lessons can be learned from reading Chapter 17 through the end of the book of Judges.

Chaos is always the result when there is a void of leadership

It is important to understand that one of the core elements of leadership is to setup boundaries in which people can operate. We know from child psychology that children who are properly disciplined and loved have a sense of peace and safety. We know that civilizations must have the rule of law in order to provide the context in which people can take risks in business and life. The law, properly enforced and without prejudice, is essential for any organization or business to run effectively. That law must be communicated, understood and enforced, or we’ll have what we read about in these latter chapters in Judges.

When it comes to business ownership, it is the owner’s responsibility to create and enforce the law. As the business grows, the creation of the laws (more commonly known as policies and process and procedures) becomes the responsibility of the leadership team. For those who are Christian business owners, two elements are added to this mix: humility before the Lord and love for your employees. Publically held companies answer to their shareholders. But privately held businesses answer to the ownership group – whether an individual or a partnership. But in the case of the latter, where the ownership is also working “in” and “on” the business, there develops unique relationships that contain multiple roles. In order to avoid chaos in the business where everyone does what is right in their own eyes, the owner *must* step in and enforce the policies, processes and procedures. Who holds the owner accountable? I would submit this is where the owner voluntarily submits to an Advisory Board as well as voluntarily having an annual 360 review of his or her performance and person.

Abuse of people will occur within the context of chaos

This is a pregnant, troubling result when laws are not present or are not properly enforced. People will be abused. We read in Chapter 19 of the horrific story of the men saving themselves at the personal expense of a young girl who was gang raped and left for dead by the men of the town. This is the result of having no law. Left to our own devices, without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we will gravitate toward evil – every time. This girl paid the price with her own life for the lack of leadership of the Levite and more generally, the lack of leadership in the country.

When it comes to business, you’ll find that relationships will be abused between managers and employees if the managers are not held accountable to conduct themselves properly. I’ve had employees come to me and cry in my office over the anger and rage they have experienced from their own manager. I’ve seen managers insult and demean employees and not understand how their words and actions have affected their direct reports. I can’t report that I’ve handled myself well in some of these situations. But like it or not, this is the role of a business owner – to confront and hold accountable those who act outside the boundaries of propriety.

Purpose and Cohesion will be fluid

In order to have a coherent set of laws, one must first have a purpose and vision for the organization. This is true of businesses as well as countries. In business, policies (governance), process and procedures are intended to achieve a set of results – both financial and non-financial – that will fulfill the purpose of the organization. When there is a lack of enforcement of these three elements (PPP), then the purpose and vision of the organization will not be fulfilled. Christian business owners have a unique stewardship responsibility to the Lord to ensure His purposes for the business that they steward are fulfilled. When the owner lacks the intestinal fortitude to enforce PPP, then the organization flounders and the result is that the organization’s purpose is not fulfilled.

In addition, without law, cohesion among the staff – sometimes thought of as unity – will be fluid. Instead of rallying around the core purpose of the organization, people will stake out their own territories and create little kingdoms that they rule. Negotiations between these kingdoms may be difficult at times and since loyalty to the kingdom is preferred against loyalty to the organization, the organization’s best interests will be sacrificed if those purposes are at odds with the personal interests of those in the kingdom. Enforcement of PPP is essential to the development of teams that don’t develop into kingdoms.

God’s Call on Your Life

If you’re a Christian and you own a business, then you are called to be a leader and an enforcer. If you have a strong need to be liked, then get over it. Because in leadership, there will be times when people don’t like you. What’s more important is that they respect you and are willing to follow you into battle. Lovingly enforce your culture, your policies, processes and procedures. But do enforce them. And understand that people will not like having rules enforced on them.

The purpose of business is to produce wealth for the kingdom of God, to provide purpose through meaningful work, to imitate God’s creativity through innovation and to reflect the unity and diversity that exists within the Trinity and creation by having unity of purpose and vision in your business while recognizing diversity of talents, passions and interests in your employees. The fulfillment of these purposes in your business requires that you – as a Christian Business Owner – provide leadership to your business, ensure accountability for every person in your organization and that you take this work as seriously as if God had called you to fill the role of a pastor in a church.

May God bless you and your business on the day that you read this.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

Friday Five, May 11

My Friday Five this week have both personal and professional entries. I’ll start with the personal.

I recall preaching my mom’s funeral – about 2.5 years ago. I preached my Uncle’s (my mom’s brother) funeral just a few months ago. When I was growing up, I never thought that I would be the one closing out their lives as I did. It was a deep privilege to do both funerals. I was reminded of these two events this week when I read a short blog post from R.C. Sproul, Jr. He has recently lost his wife to illness and decided not to preach at her funeral. But God gave him a chance this past February to preach in a way that enabled him to do what he couldn’t do so shortly after her death. I’m happy for him that he received that opportunity.

I still think about my mom. I often wish I could talk with her. Even 2.5 years later, the pain is still there. I suppose it will never go away completely. She was genuinely one of my best friends in life. She was a fabulous lady – someone who possessed the rare combinations of leadership and humility, competence and meekness and loving honesty. I look forward to seeing her again – face to face. It will be a fabulous day.

On another note, the Department of Labor is having a Skills to Pay Bills chat. This reminds me of an opportunity that I would love to see Mindsharp take advantage of – and that is offering SharePoint education to those who are unemployed. Perhaps, if they received some additional education, they could find themselves in a better position to find a job. There are job openings – but I understand that the competition is fierce in some verticals for those few open jobs. At my Vistage group this past week, one member mentioned that in his vertical, the unemployment rate is less than 1% – he’s having a very, very hard time finding good people to work for him. But anyways, I wonder how this would go over or how we would throttle/monitor this effort. I believe it is worth doing – at least in the long run.

From the “you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up” department, a Federal inmate garnered 41% of the democratic presidential primary vote in West Virginia. Keith Judd is now entitled to one delegate at the Democratic National Convention. I seriously like the campaign slogan that Turley is offering: Experience in Politics Counts: Elect a Felon!

From the “How-stupid-can-you-be” department, a man recently went to his Ex-Girlfriend for dental work. Instead of the doing the work he requested, she put him under and pulled all of his teeth. No kidding. Moral of the story: Don’t go see your Ex for professional services. She is now being investigated for malpractice.

Finally, while our illustrious Senate has not found time nor spent any effort to pass a budget in nearly 3 years, they did take time today to announce that May 15 is the 150th birthday of the Department of Agriculture. Really? Don’t you folks have better things to do than to pass worthless, meaningless, symbolic legislation like this?

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

Honesty in Ownership – a Stewardship Issue

I’m presently being faced with several sticky relationship issues, both personal and professional, but all of which demand absolute honesty from me in those relationships. Such honesty will lead to conflict. I don’t like conflict. I’m not a guy who enjoys getting into the ring. Yet I’m learning (once again) that leadership and stewardship require honesty – in these cases – about what others have done or not done that needs to be corrected. I take my text today from Leviticus 6.1-7:

1The LORD said to Moses: 2″If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, 3or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do— 4when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, 5or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering. 6And as a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD, his guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. 7In this way the priest will make atonements for him before the LORD, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.”

(Various Authors (2010-05-05). NIV Stewardship Study Bible: Discover God’s Design for Life, the Environment, Finances, Generosity, and Eternity (Kindle Locations 7723-7735). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)

I want to be clear on this: when my employees don’t receive the unvarnished truth from me – in love and with tact, of course – that is the same as deceiving them. And that is sin. When I shy away from conflict and leave problems on the table, in essence, I’m also lying about what I’m really thinking – bottled up inside with a frozen smile. This is sin.

Honesty without love is rudeness – harshness – insensitive and uncaring. But honesty with love means that you choose your words carefully, but you do choose to speak and to work towards a more honest, productive relationship. It is the quality of those relationships that will make or break my business or my family. Think about it. Why do families form? Because two people formed a relationship and thought that they could make that relationship work for the long term. Why do families break apart? Because the relationships within the families stop working – they break and they don’t get fixed.

I’ve read several times that my business is my people. I believe that. What I’d suggest is that we extend that idea to say our businesses are our people in relationships – to each other – to me (the owner) and to vendors, partners, customers, and so forth. It takes quality relationships to make a business successful. And quality relationships require loving honesty.

One of my Undeniable Truths of Business Ownership is that you will have the problems that you tolerate (#65). I would be willing to wager that festering problems usually include the element of dishonesty in a relationship. The Lord was good to me today in giving me this gift about myself, my family and my business.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

What Does the Bible Have to Say About Opportunity?

I’m teaching Sunday School today at church. I felt led to teach on the subject of “opportunity”. Here is what I’ve learned in my studies. What’s interesting is that in the word studies, there was a fairly strong connection between the concepts of “opportunity”, “season or period of time” and “Appropriateness of Action”. Here are my notes, for your encouragement. If you do use this outline, please give proper attribution.

When running a business, opportunity is always knocking at your door. The art of leading is knowing which opportunities to pursue and which ones’ to decline. Taking advantage of opportunities vs. staying focused on the short- and long-term strategies of the company is a balancing act that requires maturity and discernment in the leadership of the company. Many small business owners struggle in this area.

Introduction

Quotes:

“luck is when opportunity meets preparedness” (unknown)

“without the strength to endure the crisis, no one will see the opportunity within” (Chinese Proverb)

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. (Thomas Edison)

Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently (Henry Ford)

We are all faced with great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations (Charles Swindoll)

 

Good Biblical Definition?

Opportunity is an event or moment at which actions of importance or significance can be achieved.

  • Greek word (Kairos)
    • It is more than a succession of moments (chronos)
    • Critical or decisive point in time
    • Period marked by distinct conditions
  • Hebrew Word translated in the Septuagint from Genesis 1.14:
    • “seasons” – to set or appoint a time
    • Used to translate a variety of Hebrew words, but the core meaning is a period of time in which conditions are right for a particular course of action

What can we learn?

  1. Times of opportunities must be discerned – Ecc 3.1
  2. Every possible opportunity to do good should be taken:
    1. Galatians 6.10
    2. Luke 10.33
    3. John 9.4
    4. Ephesians 5.16
    5. Colossians 4.5
    6. 2 Timothy 4.2
  3. Examples of opportunities
    1. Rahab saved the spies and her household – Joshua 2.8 – 14
    2. Naaman’s wife’s maid helped Naaman by telling her mistress about Elisha – 2 Kings 5.1-3
    3. Nehemiah gained permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem – Nehemiah 2.2-5
    4. Esther saved the Jews from Haman’s plot – Esther 4.14, 7.3-6
    5. Daniel offered to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream – Daniel 2.14-16
    6. Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos – Acts 18.24-26
    7. David could have killed Saul – 1 Samuel 24
  4. Common threads in these opportunities (with application):
    1. Foresight: The opportunity was noticed – it’s easy to see in hindsight – not so easy to see with foresight
      1. Watch and Pray – often it will take the Holy Spirit prompting you about the opportunity
    2. Action: The actor acted – took action – didn’t just “pray about it”
      1. Take Action – be balanced between waiting on God and taking action
      2. Appropriateness – the course of action is indicated by the opportunity at hand
    3. Discernment: not all opportunities should be followed
      1. Ensure the Lord is directing you
    4. Risk: Most opportunities involved risk
      1. Accept Risk – IF God is directing, it’s always an acceptable risk
      2. Set Fear Aside – cannot move out with risk if you’re afraid
    5. Dependence: All opportunities involved dependence on the Lord
      1. Depend on the Lord – but get going
    6. Prepared: All of the actors were prepared before the opportunity ever came along
      1. Personal and professional development is a lifelong effort – Eph 2.10
    7. Unique: Each opportunity was a singular event – it would likely never come again
      1. Have a sense of urgency – *now* is the time