Have you ever noticed how many of us live and work as if in front of us there is an imaginary ladder waiting to be climbed? Dan J. Sanders, CEO of United Supermarkets, (the first supermarket to win the prestigious National Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics), describes an encounter he has with a new employee on one of his routine store visits:
As my visit ended, a young man in a pressed United Supermarkets uniform approached me.”Mr. Sanders,” he said, “this is my first day on the job and I want to introduce myself.” We spent only a short amount of time getting acquainted before he asked this interesting question: “How long do you think it will be before I’m promoted to store director?” His query caught me off guard, primarily because he had been a team member for all of four hours. I responded, “That’s an interesting question. Why do you ask?” His answer was an epiphany. “I want to be in charge so that I can make a difference,” he said. As I thought about his comment, I wondered what we had done in our culture to lead people, young and old, to believe they must climb to the top of an organization before they can make a difference (from Sander’s new book, Built To Serve: How to Drive the Bottom Line with People-First Practices).
You may be new to your company or early in your career path (a.k.a. the bottom rung). . . Or you may sense you are halfway to the top, or actually near the top of your “ladder”. The different “rungs” may represent specific positions of authority or particular titles or certain financial milestones. Wherever you are on this ladder, you probably feel like you must climb at least one more rung before you will make the difference that you imagine.
The “ladder” image is an illusion, a false image that creates a barrier to fulfilling God’s calling for your life. The American dream is not as noble as it sounds, for it is usually characterized by the pursuit of money, power and greed —the icons of self-serving ambition. There is a higher call—to serve something greater than ourselves. This higher call is characterized by humility, selfless service and a single-minded purpose. This higher call doesn’t begin after you obtain financial clout or an esteemed title. It starts right now, wherever you find yourself, because it begins with a new mindset, a true image where you view your life and work as a “door” open to divine opportunities and appointments.
Once Jesus had two disciples present a problematical challenge: they wanted to be seated in the two highest positions possible in His kingdom. Jesus responded, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them (translation: the board of directors and CEOs seek untouchable power). But it is not that way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be slave of all . . . for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”(Mark 10:42-25) This draws out the paradoxical blueprint for truly making a difference in the marketplace—by serving others. Yes, leadership in its purest form is serving others; and I believe that you and I can make a revolutionary difference in the marketplace by pursuing God’s higher call rather than the American Dream in our work. As a matter of fact, that revolutionary transformation began over 2,000 years ago when a baby named Jesus was born in Bethlehem.