01 December 2023

In the Presence of Greatness

"Because everything we say and do is the length and shadow of our own souls, our influence is determined by the quality of our being." 

--Dr. Dale E. Turner

Frances Hesselbein, Dr. Edgar Schein, and Harvy Thomas distinguished themselves and were genuinely eminent. It's a privilege to have known and worked with each one. These short tributes pay homage to their character, humility, and wisdom.

Frances Hesselbein
November 1, 1915 - December 11, 2022 (aged 107)

In looking for a speaker to address the topic of "mission," the obvious choice was Frances Hesselbein. Ms. Hesselbein came to our attention from her turnaround of Girl Scouts USA and work with the Peter Drucker Foundation. 

"She was incredibly focused on the Girl Scouts' mission," said Marshall Goldsmith, a prominent leadership coach and a friend of Ms. Hesselbein's. "She came up with a model called 'Tradition With a Future,'" Goldsmith added. 

Ms. Hesselbein set out to diversify the membership. She added management training for its volunteers and paid staff. She hired Halston and Bill Blass to design new uniforms. She added activities for the girls steeped in math, science, and technology.

The overhaul worked. 

Membership rose to 2.3 million in 1990, according to Businessweek. Recruitment efforts increased minority membership to 15.5 percent. Ms. Hesselbein launched a project to help scouts learn about as many as 95 career opportunities and started programs in telecommunications and marine biology designed to be done at home or at troop meetings.

In 1998, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. The citation read in part, "With skill and sensitivity, Frances Hesselbein has shown us how to summon the best from ourselves and our fellow citizens."

Her message about the mission was clear--know what it is, live it, repeat it often, and include everyone in its knowledge. 

Across eight decades of service, Frances Hesselbein was inspiring to children, youth, and adults. And paved the way for more women (though still not enough) in leadership.

Edgar Schein, Ph.D.
March 5, 1928 - January 26, 2023 (aged 94) 

It was a long shot, but in 2007 we called Dr. Edgar Schein, the Society of Sloan Fellows professor of management emeritus at MIT and the recognized "father" of organizational culture, inviting him to join a restructuring project with our consulting firm.

Dr. Schein, who has written over three dozen management books, including the best-selling Organizational Culture & Leadership, took a week to consider the request. He called back, agreeing to consult if it could be done by phone.  

Originally from Zurich, Switzerland, Dr. Schein brought common sense and experience to the three-year assignment, always with a sense of realism and encouragement. 

Early on, he focused on getting a client to state the problem broadly since the exact problem may be obscure. As a process consultant, Dr. Schein said that our understanding of the matters in question improves with new insights, different perspectives, and time. 

A trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to wrap up our work with Dr. Schein was memorable, exhausting various topics while enjoying homemade brownies. 

After the engagement, Dr. Schein would write occasionally. He is missed, as are his short notes. However, those personally signed books in our library are frequently referenced for his thoughts.

Harvey Thomas, CBE
April 10, 1930 - March 13, 2022 (aged 82)

I met Harvey Thomas at a conference in London. Harvey knew how to capture an audience's attention through his many gifts--humor among them. I recommended him to a client who used Harvey's talents in their leadership circles. 

His teaching centered on this principle--"If they didn't hear it, you didn't say it." Responsibility for communication rests with the leader. 

Between 1960 and 1975, Harvey worked for the Rev. Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. During that time, he organized Graham's world tours and massive rallies, including one in Wembley Stadium in 1965 that attracted over 100,000 worshipers. 

Using the skills and experiences he honed under Graham, Harvey first became an international public affairs consultant. He then worked for the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's leadership, helping the party transform its communications strategy and win three general election campaigns. 

It was during this role that Harvey was caught up in the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton by the IRA in October 1984. The huge bomb exploded in the room below Harvey's, resulting in Harvey being blown one floor up before crashing three floors down. He became trapped on a steel girder, topped by tons of debris and with water from burst pipes gushing past him in total darkness. 

According to doctors, Harvey's bulk saved him; a smaller and thinner person would not have survived the impact. The press reported that it was his "irrepressible nature" that a major bomb blast couldn't stop him from leaving the hospital only hours after he was rescued to continue with the party conference he had helped to organize. 

Many years after the bombing, Harvey contacted the bomber, Patrick Magee, and over time, the two became unlikely friends, with Harvey forgiving Magee, as required by his Christian faith.

In 1990, Thomas, who became a favorite with my client, was awarded the CBE--Order of the British Empire, by Prime Minister Thatcher for his distinguished service to the head of government of the United Kingdom.


© Bredholt & Co.

01 November 2023

Learning to Be Grateful

"Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart."

--Lucius Annaeus Seneca

(C) Guideposts

What does it mean to be grateful? 

The dictionary says, "Gratefulness is a 'state' or quality of being grateful that can provide a deeper, more unconditional, and robust experience of gratitude." 

Unlike gratitude, gratefulness does not require waiting for outside circumstances to conform to our desires. It isn't positive thinking. Gratefulness is consciously choosing to adopt a grateful orientation to life--no matter what happens. (Grateful Living)  

Almost eight in ten U. S. adults regularly feel a strong sense of gratitude or thankfulness, although women (84%) are more likely than men (72%) to exhibit that pattern of behavior. (Pew Research Center) 

Kristina Karns, Ph.D., assistant research professor at the University of Oregon, posted on Conversation.com, "When you're grateful, your brain becomes more charitable."

Generosity ("the virtue of giving to others freely and abundantly") is a value that builds on gratefulness and gratitude. 

Joshua Becker, writing on the Becoming Minimalist website, says, "Every study ever completed on the personal effects of generosity tells us the same thing: Being generous is one of the quickest paths to happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction."

Motivating forces to give

Giving USA estimates for 2022 show Americans gave $499.33 billion to charitable organizations, a 3.4% decline compared to 2021. Adjusted for inflation, the total declined 10.5%.

Once again, giving by individuals led the way with 64% or $319.04 billion, a decrease of 6.4%. Foundations gave 21% or $105.21 billion, an increase of 2.5%. Bequests accounted for 9% or $45.60 billion, a 2.3% increase. Corporations gave 6% or $21.08 billion, a 3.4% increase over 2021.

Religion (almost exclusively congregations) received $143.57 billion or 27%, the largest of any category, with a 5.2% increase over 2021. Human Services took in $71.98 billion of the total. Education, which fell to third place for the first time, received $70.07 billion or 13% of charitable giving, a decrease of 3.6%.

A person's attendance at a house of worship is the single best indicator of overall charitable giving, religious and secular. Those who attend frequently, at least two or three times a month, are three times more generous than those who attend less often or not at all. (The Lake Institute)

Generosity is an expression of faith.

The median income of the nation's churches is up nearly 42% from three years ago. From the Spring of 2020 to the Spring of 2023, church median income in the U.S. increased from $120,000 to $170,000. "Even adjusting for inflation, that still represents a remarkable increase of over 25% since 2020," said Scott Thumma, Ph.D., who directed the EPIC and Faith Communities Studies.

That same report shows the more a church emphasizes online and electronic giving, the greater their per capita income. Additionally, the greater the in-person over virtual ratio, the larger the per capita giving. In-person attenders gave $2,479 per capita compared to $1,053 from their virtual counterparts.

A cloudy forecast for some

Here are charitable giving trends worth watching--

-Fewer Americans are donating to charity. It was 80% in 1980 and now 50% in 2022. That amounts to 20 million fewer donations and a retention rate of around 43%. (Bre Alexander, iWave) 

-A growing number of U.S. adults are less likely to attend religious services or identify with a specific religion. Three in ten say they have no religious affiliation. Four in ten Millennials make that claim. (NORC-AP)

-There's top-heavy philanthropy in America. Wealthy donors are giving less to charities that serve the public and more to institutions trying to solve big problems. Just six donors represented 5% of all giving in 2022. (Winkler Group)

-And there's more competition for nonprofit donor dollars with over 450,000 new 501 (c) (3)'s in the past decade. 

An uneven distribution of wealth

Baby Boomers, 73 million, with the youngest turning 60 and the oldest 80, are preparing for the most significant wealth transfer in U.S. history. 

The New York Times suggests that they are leaving behind liquid assets, homes, or not much at all. The upper strata of Boomer households will turn over millions in cash, securities, and billions in various investments.

In 1989, U.S. family wealth totaled $38 trillion. At the end of 2022, that had tripled to $140 trillion, half of which is held by the Baby Boomers. Of the $84 trillion projected to be passed down to Millennials and Gen X heirs through 2045, $16 trillion will be transferred in the next decade. (Federal Reserve)

The wealthiest 10% of households will be giving and receiving most of the riches. Within that range, the top 1%--which holds about as much wealth as the bottom 90% and is predominantly white--will determine where the broadest share of money goes. A more diverse bottom 50% of households will account for only 8% of the transfers. (Federal Reserve)

"Giving while living" is a philosophy of wealth promoted by Charles Feeney, the billionaire founder of Duty-Free Shoppes. Feeney, whose biography, The Billionaire Who Wasn't, #2 on the best-selling philanthropy book list, and who passed in October of this year, felt more should be done while the principal donor is still alive. Feeney's obituary said he practiced what he preached, giving away nearly all of his $8 billion fortune to charity "as quietly as it was made."

Where to begin

Lessons from a trove of development experiences are available to help nonprofits improve. 

Capturing some of the best thinking:

1. Be able to explain to a variety of audiences in clear and understandable terms what your mission is, who it serves, and how it's different. And why it deserves funding.  

2. Show others how they can be part of the cause. It's not necessary to always talk about needs. Let donors know how they can belong and play a heroic role in fulfilling the charity's goals. 

3. Donor surveys show the importance of high regard for the organization's leadership. When they have confidence in those people to perform, gifts follow.

4. People whose lives are being helped tell the story best. Testimonials are more authentic and credible from those benefiting from your outreach and compassion.

5. Mobile technology, social media, and websites communicate the latest information with donors and make giving easy. Electronic and online giving are essential for multi-generational contributions. A.I. and ChatGPT are on the way, too. 

Ultimately, though, giving is more about human than scientific knowledge. 

6. Remember the base. Know who they are and keep them close. Be sure to say "thank you" for each dollar given. 

Broaden the base through donor referrals, ensuring adults 65+ are included in that recruitment. They have time, money, and knowledge to share. Teaching kids to be generous is an investment in their and society's future. Involve them, too.

7. There's a 100% correlation between didn't give and wasn't ask. It's okay to ask for a gift. If you don't, those funds will likely go somewhere else. 

A grateful heart

Attorney John Kralik, a University of Michigan graduate, had come to the end of the line. His small law firm was failing. He was estranged from his daughter. Had gone through a painful second divorce. He was overweight and alone in a small apartment where he froze or baked, depending on the season.

One day, he thought he should not be thinking about what he didn't have and be grateful for what he had. His book, A Simple Act of Gratitude, tells how Kralik was inspired by a thank you note he received for sending a Christmas gift. Could that simple expression of gratitude be his way out of a miserable existence?

So John Kralik started writing thank you notes. Not just a few. Or a dozen. He wrote 365 thank you notes, one for each day of the year. 

As the notes went out, his life began to turn around. There was financial gain. Improved personal relationships. Weight loss. An appointment to a California judgeship. And most of all, inner peace.

As to being in a place of unconditional order, John Milton wrote: 

"Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world."

 As we enter the holiday season, may the truth of Milton's prose be a gift to all.


© Bredholt & Co.

01 October 2023

Minding the Corporate Culture Gap

 "Maintaining an effective culture is so important that it, in fact, trumps even strategy."

--Howard Stevenson

(C) LinkedIn

If you were in any one of the 2,750 railway stations across the U.K. during King Charles III Coronation Weekend, 5-7 May 2023, you likely heard the monarch himself in a specially recorded message to "mind the gap," when boarding trains on the British Rail System and the Underground tube network.

"Wherever you are traveling, we hope you have a safe and pleasant journey. And remember, please mind the gap," Charles added.

Reuters reported that this famous phrase, the British version of the American admonishment to "watch your step," was intended to warn passengers about the gap between the train carriage and the platform. 

New norms for the office class

In his book, The Fifth Discipline, published in 1990, Peter Senge, Ph.D. wrote that it takes a powerful force to break a vicious cycle. Thirty years in advance of unprecedented nationwide lockdowns, was Dr. Senge foretelling a global pandemic reshaping in-person office work, and altering corporate cultures? 

Who could have imagined 36 months ago a coronavirus or AI would make it possible to consider normalizing a 32-hour workweek. Or that almost one billion square feet of empty office space would be on the market in the U.S. alone due to overbuilding and worker safety.

As of July 2023, 59% of full-time employees are back to being 100% on-site, while 29% are in a hybrid arrangement and 12% are completely remote, according to new data from WFH Research. 

Even Zoom is making people return to the office.

Pre-pandemic, just 5.7% of the nation's workers worked remotely. That 2019 baseline figure indicates a rapid normalization of virtual environments. (CNBC) 

"Research shows that a solid majority of knowledge workers want flexible arrangements after the pandemic. Company leaders face the challenge of reimagining their culture for a world where rituals and ceremonies enacted in the office are inaccessible," says Pamela Hinds and Brian Elliott. (Organizational Culture, Harvard Business Review, February 2021)

Those negotiations also include receiving the same pay and benefits for less time. *

How to imagine again?  

What is corporate culture?

Dr. Edgar H. Schein was a social psychologist who moved easily between academic theory and the practical sides of organizational life. A professional acquaintance, Dr. Schein was the Society of Sloan Fellows professor of management emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His contributions to the understanding of corporate culture were groundbreaking and a lasting legacy.

Dr. Schein's book, Organizational Culture, and Leadership proposed that culture can be analyzed on three levels:  

Artifacts--the constructed environment of an organization including its architecture, technology, office layout, dress code, visible or audible behavior patterns, and public documents like employee orientation and handbooks. They are easy to collect but difficult to interpret. 

Values--the reason and/or rationalizations for why members behave the way they do.

Assumptions--typically an unconscious pattern that determines how group members perceive, think, and feel. While mostly taken for granted they are the ultimate source of values and actions.

"It is the deeply held assumptions and values that lie below the waterline but profoundly shape behavior on a day-to-day basis," says MIT lecturer Donald Sull. 

A company's culture includes the qualities that set it apart from other organizations. A well-defined culture attracts the kind of talent that prioritizes shared values. The potential outcomes are greater employee engagement, productivity, and talent retention. (Indeed) 

"In addition, it is a place where there are clear and consistent processes and healthy conflict management balanced with adaptability, learning, and the ability to shift as necessary for customers and the market," writes Tracy Bower, Ph.D., in Forbes. She adds, "A perfect match with culture is more important than particular attributes of the culture."

An opening between two things

In a new Gallup survey, more people who work from home say they don't feel a connection to the mission of their companies. A gig-worker mentality increasingly describes the current remote work environment.

The share of remote workers who said they felt a connection to their organization's purpose fell to 28% from 32% in 2022--the lowest level since before the pandemic. The findings are from interviews with 9,000 U.S. workers whose jobs can be done remotely.

By contrast, the same Gallup report shows that a third of full-time office workers reported a sense of connection, nearly the same as last year. Hybrid workers reported the highest connections with 35% saying their company's mission made them feel their jobs were important. (The Wall Street Journal)

Gallup found that 38% of people who work remotely full- or part-time are engaged, and enthused about their work, compared with 34% of in-office workers.

"Conflicting metrics show bosses don't have any easy answers as they provide flexible working arrangements yet fret about worker productivity," says Lindsay Ellis who covered this story for the Journal.  

Narrowing the gap

What should leadership be doing to create a corporate culture that transcends time and space?

Here are the main points from the Harvard study:

The first hurdle is acknowledging that culture can no longer be forged in the same way as it was in the office-centric model. 
Be explicit and repeat often about the purpose and meaning of the organization. 

It's not that company culture somehow goes away in a remote or hybrid context. Cultural beliefs and norms are still being created and reinforced, but they're not being guided by systems and routines that were previously established in the office. They're more open to change and subject to influences from new, non-work factors present in employees' day-to-day lives. 

Culture is evolving despite being remote and that organizations need to invest a substantial amount of time and energy into keeping their cultures on track or steering them in new directions. Organizations that fail to do the deep work required to rethink the transmission of company culture may well have unpredictable results.

Leaders can do nothing; work to craft new ways of reinforcing the existing culture; or capitalize on the shift to remote work to profoundly reset the culture. 

In summary

Corporate culture, understood and employed correctly, is a powerful force. Though the ideal culture can be different for different people. 

Institutional knowledge is lost due to staff turnover, retirement, and death. Therefore, generational culture carriers are required to make the relevant historical artifacts, values, and assumptions--especially the organization's character--known to new people. 

Cultures have difficulty recovering from neglect. And widespread contagions don't help.

However you decide to address the realities of this remote work--corporate culture predicament, there's a lot at stake. So watch your step. 

*In its Stand Up Strike against GM, Ford, and Stellantis (Chrysler, Jeep, and RAM trucks), the United Auto Workers is seeking a new contract calling for 32 hours of work with a 40% pay increase over three years.


© Bredholt & Co. 

01 September 2023

Unambiguous Leaders Are Rare

"The enemy of accountability is ambiguity."

--Patrick Lencioni 

(C) Adobe Enterprise License

What does it mean to be personally ambiguous when you're in a position of responsibility?

And why are unambiguous leaders hard to find?

Before pursuing that last thought, let's begin with a definition of ambiguity to determine its opposite. Dictionaries define ambiguity as "any concept, idea, statement or claim whose meaning, intention, or interpretation cannot be definitively resolved." 

Put simply, it means being vague or uncertain.

Writer Don Hermann explains that the "lack of clarity in communication, mission, and vision is nothing less than a productivity and performance killer. In short, ambiguity does nothing more than destroy profitability while protecting ineffective leaders."

Hermann underscores that ambiguity is not a leadership value--but dealing with ambiguity is. Facing uncertainty and lacking complete information is an ever-present reality. Gathering more data doesn't reduce or resolve ambiguity. At some point, hesitation only postpones critical choices, making them harder to implement. 

Our decisions will ultimately be a judgment call based on our values.

Yuval Levin reminds us that to govern is to make hard choices with incomplete information. "The pandemic shows there are no purely technical solutions for problems that demand political leadership," he says.

A study by Alexander Batsuk at Deloitte illustrates that skillfully dealing with ambiguity can help a leader succeed. "This quality deals with situations with limited information and uncertainty of outcomes in the absence of clear direction.

"On the other hand, those who lack in this area simply get paralyzed by uncertainty. A large part of the problem is social acceptance. We want to be respected by others and be perceived as fitting into the surrounding community. When you're ambiguous, there is the possibility of sounding 'neutral.' When you're clear, there is a possibility of being wrong. And who wants to be wrong," Bastuk concludes.

Observers of management behavior say that those who do their best to avoid personal ambiguity have the characteristics of honesty, decisiveness, competence, and being apolitical to the extent possible.

When Confucius says, "The moral virtue of the king is like the wind, and that of the people is like grass: whichever way the wind blows, the grass bends," he is trying to teach something about the importance of the leader's moral character. (Oxford University Press)

So why are unambiguous leaders rare? 

The answer correlates with a high percentage of the populace having low levels of self-awareness; many need help knowing who they are or what they believe.

In a series of surveys, 95 percent of respondents identified as self-aware, but only 10 to 15 percent were. 

Three reasons were given for this disconnect. First, we have blind spots. We're wired to operate on autopilot, unaware of how we're behaving and why. There's also the feel-good effect--we're happier when we see ourselves in a more positive light. That last trait is a "cult of self" courtesy of social media. (Insight, Currency Publishers) 

Oxford Languages defines self-awareness as "conscious knowledge of one's character, feelings, motives, and desires."    

Here's another perspective.

"Put simply, self-aware people can interpret their actions, feelings, and thoughts objectively," says Executive Coach Meredith Betz. "It's a rare skill as many of us spiral into emotion-driven interpretations of our circumstances. Self-awareness is important because it allows leaders to assess their growth and effectiveness and change course when necessary," Betz adds.

Conversely, those with low self-awareness fail to hold themselves accountable, are dismissive of others, refrain from thinking through their actions, and tend to be judgmental. (PsychCentral.com)

Why or what?

One way out of the internal and external self-awareness dilemma is to switch from asking, "Why don't I speak up at meetings?" to "What can I do to overcome my fear of speaking up?" Psychologists say that "why" questions tend to deepen our negative thoughts. "What" questions move us toward particular outcomes. 

"Thinking about why one is the way one is may be no better than not thinking about oneself at all." ((J. Gregory Nixon and William Swann)

Beware experience and power

Studies show that people only sometimes learn from experience. And just as experience can lead to a false sense of confidence about our performance, it can also make us overconfident about our self-knowledge. The more power a leader holds, the more likely they will overestimate their skills and abilities. (Tasha Eurich, Harvard Business Review)

Professor James O'Toole suggests that as a leader's power grows, their willingness to listen shrinks, either because they think they know more than their employees or because seeking feedback comes at a cost they are unwilling to pay.


Therefore, understanding the rarity of unambiguous leaders leads us to a profound truth. Being unequivocal with others means first being unmistakable with ourselves.


© Bredholt & Co.



01 August 2023

Summer Sabbatical

(C) The Retirement Manifesto

To our readers:

I am taking time off to work on a book project. Therefore, Strategist Post will resume on 1 September 2023. 

Consider searching the Post archives by clicking on the link below.


Thank you, and have a safe and enjoyable summer. 

Russ Bredholt, Jr.

01 July 2023

Summer Sabbatical

(C) The Retirement Manifesto

To our readers:

I am taking time off to work on a book project. Therefore, Strategist Post will resume on 1 September 2023. 

Consider searching the Post archives by clicking on the link below.


Thank you, and have a safe and enjoyable summer. 

Russ Bredholt, Jr.

01 June 2023

Summer Sabbatical

(C) The Retirement Manifesto

To our readers:

I am taking time off to work on a book project. Therefore, Strategist Post will resume on 1 September 2023. 

Consider searching the Post archives by clicking on the link below.


Thank you, and have a safe and enjoyable summer. 

Russ Bredholt, Jr.

01 May 2023

Calling All Self-Starters and Late Bloomers in the Class of 2023

"Hard work spotlights people's character: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don't turn up at all."

--Samuel J. Ewing

(C) Admissionly.com

Whether to work from home, office or hybrid is a much-posed question by employers and employees. But, unfortunately, it's out of sequence. 

Steve Rattner writes, "The notion of flexible work is a form of white-collar privilege. Those who labor in factories, restaurants, or stores don't have the luxury of working from home."

Where to work is also the wrong question, at least initially. How to work and what kind are far more important inquiries. They are preferable to one about location.  

The idea of work begins with a sense of purpose and calling, not just employment. And it's in that province where identity becomes established. 

Here are four wells of thought that contribute to a deliberative response to calling and career:

Knowing who you are.

"People, by and large, become what they think of themselves," said American psychologist and philosopher William James. He rejected genetics (Sigmund Freud) and environment (Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner). Instead, James believed that we are a product of free will. We all have the option and ability to choose and control our thoughts. 

"For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he." 

Dr. John Eliot says that every morning we have a choice to make. "We can either fill our minds with negative or positive thoughts--whichever ones we consistently choose determine how successful we will be in life."  

Like Mount Rushmore, those good and bad choices sculpt our beliefs, values, trustworthiness, and moral character--revealing who we are. Aristotle said, "Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom."

Taking personal responsibility in today's culture stands out like a lantern in a darkened room. Therefore, holding yourself accountable for your actions, and exercising self-control, is an attractive quality for anyone looking to hire. 

Regardless of frustrations and disappointments, which are always with us, we must believe and act anyway.

Work is learned.

Here are four declarations to consider:

  • First, a work ethic is a unique set of values determining how employees approach their work.
  • Employees with strong work ethics are highly motivated and produce high-quality work.
  • A good work ethic can be taught (learned) through productive behaviors. Employees like these exhibit model behavior for others to emulate. 
  • The benefits are increased productivity and a respectable workplace. (Personio.com) 

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal described how employers, fed up with late arrivals and mobile phone distractions, are hiring older people. As a result, those over 55 are the fastest-growing segment of the workplace. 

Three-quarters of people 65 and older said that hard work is vital to them personally. Among 18-29-year-olds, 61% said hard work is very important. (The Wall Street Journal-NORC Survey)

"Managers and recruiters say that remote work made it tough for some young workers to find mentors and learn professional norms in the office," observes Julia Lamm, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "As a result, many of these young workers struggle with resourcefulness, professional networking, and communications with clients and c0-workers,"  Lamm concludes. 

Nevertheless, despite the negative attention, Gen Z workers are making their presence known with ingenuity and hustle. Some are starting businesses and working long hours to make them go. These entrepreneurs are an encouraging look into the future.

Here's a small but valuable piece of practical advice shared with me: Learn to do one job that nobody can or wants to do but is important to the organization's success. 

Getting the right experiences.

Personal and professional development comes from experience (70%) and forms of learning such as seminars, reading, observation, and feedback. (30%). Not just any kind of experience will do. It must be the right kind coupled with takeaways from those experiences--which don't always show up immediately. 

Development requires insight from positive and negative encounters to get the most out of them. Something from those bumps on the head should make the pain worthwhile. And it's less costly to learn from someone else's mistakes. So take advantage. 

How to get a good experience? Start something. Fix or turn around something. Enlarge your responsibility. Take on special projects. Learn to endure hardships. (Center for Creative Leadership)

Consider serving on an in-person task force early in your career, even if it's outside your professional interests. Benefit from individuals who know when and how to speak, process, sit at a table, dress appropriately, and interact with colleagues. Regrettably, some participants are notable for the wrong reasons. Learn from them, too.

An ad hoc opportunity such as this is like getting an advanced emotional and social skills degree without the tuition.  

The contours of a successful life.

A tip for taking better pictures from a distance is not to zoom in, as it makes the photo grainy or blurry. There's no need to zoom in too soon. If it's safe, better to get closer to the subject to avoid compromising quality. The same holds true for envisioning one's life.

Over time, the contours of success come into focus through proximity to the right circumstances and engaging in healthy mental and physical practices. In addition, international travel for business or pleasure expands your horizons as cross-cultural knowledge is invaluable.  

You are rich if one person of integrity, humility, and sound judgment enters your life and stays there long enough to make a difference, often by listening and asking questions. All to assist in becoming more self-aware. Quoting Leonardo da Vinci, "The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions." 

A sensible definition of personal success comes from Marcus Buckingham, who wrote, "Success is not about money, title, or recognition. Instead, success is the ability to make and sustain a significant contribution."

Think about it. 

Regardless of the starting point--with self-knowledge, hard work, pacing, and a few breaks-- fulfillment is achievable no matter where you serve.  


©  Bredholt & Co.



01 April 2023

The Church in Transition and Change

"It has never stopped being under construction."

--Mylène Pardoen, Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris

(C) Cathedral of Notre Dame Bureau Bas Smets

A trip with family to France in the summer of 1987 included the first of several visits over the years to Notre Dame de Paris, one of the great marvels of French Gothic architecture. With 13 million tourists annually, the Cathedral is more popular than the Eiffel Tower, 15 minutes away.  

So there was shock and sadness worldwide when news broke on 15 April 2019 about a massive fire engulfing one of France's most famous landmarks. The Cathedral's underlying oak tree frame, carved in AD 1163, was a source of vulnerability. 

The 850-year-old Gothic building's spire and roof collapsed, but the main structure, including the two bell towers, was saved. Thankfully, no one was killed, and no firefighter lost their lives in putting out the blaze. Observers noted that despite the long road ahead, there's reason for optimism.

The Associated Press recently reported that the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral is going fast enough to allow its reopening to visitors and faithful at the end of 2024, less than six years after the fire destroyed the roof.

Tracking historical trends

The earliest archeologically identified Christian church is a house church (domus ecclesiae), the Dura-Europos church, founded between 233 and 256. (Graydon F. Snyder, 2003, Ante Pacem, Mercer University Press. p. 128.)  Since then, church properties worldwide--Byzantine and Romanesque, pointed arches and vaulted ceilings, thatched roofs and no roofs, homes, and storefronts, some even carved out of rocks--have become a place of assembling set aside for Christian worship.

Nearly one-third, or 31.2% of the world's eight billion population, is considered Christian. The term Christian encompasses a broad range of denominations, with Roman Catholicism comprising the largest group with around 1.36 billion adherents. Protestants, Evangelicals, Orthodox, Anglicans, and many other sub-denominations are included in the count. (learnreligions.com; Institute for Advance Catholic Studies at USC; Pew Research Center)

According to an average of all 2021 Gallup polling, about three in four Americans said they identify with a specific religious faith. By far the largest proportion, 69%, identify with a Christian religion, including 35% who are Protestant, 22% Catholic, and 12% who identify with another Christian religion or simply as a "Christian."

Twenty-one percent of Americans said they have no religious preference, and 3% did not answer the question.

Fifty years ago, in 1971, 90% of U.S. adults identified with a Christian religion, 6% were non-Christian or another religion, and 4% did not have a religious preference. Thus, much of the change in the U.S. has been a shift from Christian religions to no religion. 1

A precipice? 

Suppose you only read the news headlines about organized religion, not the stories themselves. In that case, it's possible to conclude that the church, especially in first-world areas like America, is a slow-motion version of the Cathedral spire and roof falling to the ground.

Here's a sampling from U.S. publications and research firms over the past three years:

  • "U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time."--Gallup, 26 March 2021
  • "About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Religiously Unaffiliated."--Pew Research Center, 14 December 2021
  • "The Pandemic May Be Ending, but the Church's Fight Is Just Beginning."--Christianity Today, 14 June 2022
  • "Losing their religion: Why U.S. churches are on the decline."--The Guardian, 22 January 2023

Much, but not all, of the decline in the past 50 years resulted from a sharp drop in attendance for Catholics after Vatican II. (Roger Finke, Ph.D., Penn State University) While the rise of the "nones," mostly among Millennials and Generation X, has gained attention, little notice has been paid to the other side of the faith spectrum.

A study published in early 2018 shows that "intense religion—strong affiliation, very frequent practice, literalism, and evangelicalism—is persistent, and in fact, only moderate religion is on the decline in the U.S." (Landon Schnabel, Indiana University; Sean Bock, Harvard University) 

Vitality is found in nondenominational churches. The 2020 U.S. Religious Census shows that those congregations increased by 4,000 since 2010 and rose by 6.5 million in attendance in that same period. A significant part of that growth comes from the Catholic-to-nondenominational pipeline and retention of children. (Ryan Burge, Ph.D., Eastern Illinois University)

The Atlantic reported in 2021 that Latino evangelicals are the fastest-growing segment of evangelicals in the country. It also said that "Latino Protestants, in particular, have higher levels of religiosity"--with more frequent church attendance, prayer, and Bible study than White Protestants. 

A revival at Asbury University in Kentucky, which began in February of this year, is a reminder that studying religion is more prudent than trying to predict its future. "Religious history is shaped as much by sudden irruptions as long trajectories, as much by the mystical and personal as by the institutional and sociological," wrote Ross Douthat in the New York Times.

Ministry is (mostly) analog

Though decreasing church participation pre-dates Covid-19 by at least a generation, there's no question the pandemic is further restructuring relationships with houses of worship. 

"Churches waiting for more people to return on Sunday morning are still waiting," wrote Kate Shellnutt in Christianity Today. She added, "While overall reach has expanded, there's a segment of Christians who used to belong to a church community who aren't engaging at all anymore: 12% of formerly regular churchgoers say they're not attending in person or watching online." (Pew Research Center)

So why don't those who resumed their everyday lives attend physically or virtually? It's a follow-up question to consider asking as a matter of concern. Although knowing why people returned--or never left--may hold greater value.  

Digital worship, like remote work and schooling, lessens the magnitude of a communal experience. 

"Virtual services, webcasting, and online Bible studies are certainly better than no religious participation. However, none is likely to be a fully adequate replacement for the in-person meetings and community, wrote Harvard professor Tyler J. VanderWeele, who studies these interactions. 

But, of course, health, job schedules, and caregiving are legitimate reasons for online worship. And that format helps avoid social isolation, an unhealthy state of being. 

Benefits of frequent service attendance

"We have to retrain people from the beginning on why you should bother to assemble," said Collin Hansen, who wrote Rediscover Church: Why the Body of Christ is Essential. 

Let's remind everyone that faith communities are sometimes disordered and filled with flawed people. Yet, changed lives speak of God's grace, meeting individuals where they are. Like the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Christian life is always under construction.

In addition to scriptural exhortation, pre-pandemic research from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and other sources reveal why frequent in-person service attendance is vital to wholeness and well-being: 2

o First, there's a closeness with God not always felt when alone. Forgiveness is a theme and caring for others is a priority as needs are made known.

o A belief system offers clear moral guidance creating relationships of accountability to reinforce positive behavior. Some religious communities can provide a social safety net that other institutions can't easily replace. 

o People who attended weekly religious services or practiced prayer and meditation in their youth reported greater life satisfaction in their twenties. For example, they were less likely to subsequently report depression, substance abuse, and premature sexual activity--than people raised with less regular spiritual habits. They were also more likely to grow up happier, to be forgiving, to have a sense of purpose, and volunteer.

o Multiple mental and physical health benefits correlate with attending church once a week or more, including reducing mortality by 20% to 30% over 15 years. In addition, people who attend at that frequency are significantly less likely to die from "deaths of despair" (suicides, drug overdose, or alcohol poisoning).  

o Those who attend services three or more times per month are generous givers. They are more charitable to the church, nonprofits, and secular institutions than those who don't attend or do so less often. 

Habits of the heart

While research shows improved personal health correlates with attending church regularly, one's spiritual well-being may be the more critical beneficiary of frequent in-person attendance. 

The 19th-century English preacher Charles H. Spurgeon, whose church, London's Park Street Chapel, suffered through the Broad Street cholera outbreak of 1854, reminds us it's not about music, presentation, or architecture. 

Instead, Rev. Spurgeon said, "Go where the gospel is preached and go often."

National trends don't necessarily imply the same positive or negative trend in a particular location. In addition, nationwide data can differ from specific areas for cultural, demographic, or political reasons. A recent Wall Street Journal/NORC study showing patriotism, religion, and hard work in decline in the U.S. is an example of that phenomenon.

2 Findings were published in the following sources:  Journal of American Medical Association, American Journal of Epidemiology, USA Today, Christianity Today, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Lake Institute, Edge Foundation, and The Heritage Foundation. 


© Bredholt & Co.


01 March 2023

Is Truth Getting Harder to Find?

"I'm not upset that you lied to me. I'm upset that from now on, I can't believe you."

--Frederich Neitzsche 

(C) Getty Images

A culture of ambiguity

Why is it becoming so difficult to believe anyone? Are a proliferation of opinions and speculations undermining our ability to sort through all we see and hear? Would see and hearing less help? 

"Whatever the topic, we're bombarded with polarizing news and social media. Many people cope with the uncertainty--and fear produced by it--by placing 'trust' in the 'leaders' they see as able to cut through the noise and provide guidance around what to believe and what to do. 

"It's easier to trust a single person (politician, podcast host, social media influencer, etc.) and follow their lead versus evaluating every issue oneself," noted Soren Kaplan in Inc. Magazine. 

Delegating judgment to a single filter (individual or group) simplifies life but simultaneously invites the potential for disappointment if the filter can't be trusted. Even amidst the noise, we must know who and what to believe, whether human or artificial communication. 

Discernment makes that possible. 

Institutional trust in decline

Is there a connection between the mistrust in media and the government? 

"Journalists and politicians have become ensnared in a symbiotic web of lies that misleads the public," contends Paul H. Weaver, a former political scientist at Harvard University. 

Just 7% of Americans have "a great deal" of trust and confidence in the media, and 27% have "a fair amount." Meanwhile, 28% of U.S. adults say they have little confidence, and 38% have none in newspapers, TV, and radio. (Gallup 2022)

Similar results show up in polling on trust in government. Americans continue to lack faith in the federal government, with low trust in all three branches. Gallup previously reported that trust in the federal government's judicial branch has cratered in the past two years; it now sits at 47%, below the majority level for the first time in Gallup's polling history. 

At 43%, trust in the executive branch is just three percentage points above its record low from the Watergate era. Americans are even less trusting in the legislative branch, at 38%, but this figure has been as low as 28% in the past. (Gallup 2022)

Watch what you say

Why do people knowingly lie? Because in the short-term, they think they can get away with it, and often do.  

In his book, Why Leaders Lie, University of Chicago professor, Dr. John J. Mearsheimer, says that before defining lying, spinning, and concealment, it's necessary to understand deception and truth telling--the direct opposite of deception:

Truth-telling. When an individual does their best to state the facts and tell a story straightforwardly and honestly. A truth-teller resolves biases or selfish interests to report relevant facts fairly.

Deception. Where intentional steps are taken to prevent others from knowing the whole truth--as that individual understands it--about a particular matter. 

Lying. When a person makes a statement that they know or suspect to be false in the hopes others will think it to be true. But lying is not only about the truthfulness of particular facts; it can also involve the disingenuous arrangement of points to tell a fictitious story.

Spinning. Telling a story that emphasizes specific facts and links them together in ways that play to their advantage--while downplaying or ignoring inconvenient facts. The American Bar Association stipulates that "a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of fact or law to a  tribunal." Still, spinning is routine behavior on behalf of their clients.

Concealment. Withholding information that might undermine or weaken one's position.

(C) Shruti Sharma
Operating under pressure

Dana Brownlee makes a case for being as truthful as possible by showing the damage leaders do to themselves, their employees, and the company when distortions appear. Her article in Forbes Magazine highlights the following:

1. Lying erodes trust. For leaders, credibility is everything, and lying is simply the kryptonite that destroys a team's confidence in their leader.

2. If people think you're lying, they may assume things are worse than they actually are. 

3. Employees don't respect liars. Associates don't like being lied to. 

4. If you lie about the small things, colleagues may distrust you with the big stuff. When stakes are the highest, goodwill may not be there when needed most.

5. Lying encourages others to lie. Normalizing this type of behavior could come back to haunt you.

How to be transparent when entertaining questions from employees--

  • Tell them the truth.
  • Tell them you don't know, but you'll find out.
  • Tell them that you can't tell them.

"To err is human."

As the famous physicist Stephen Hawking said: "One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn't exist. Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist."    

Nonetheless, a bad character is redeemable and behavioral consistency is achievable. More than simply change, transformation is the way to reach our highest potential. That's how admired qualities like self-awareness, courage, and gratitude are acquired. 

Additionally, any position of responsibility requires humility and good judgment, as no one can access all the information needed to make decisions or flawlessly interpret the times. 

Albert Schweitzer once wrote, "The great enemy of morality is indifference." Thankfully, many do care enough to embrace honesty, which is more than not lying, deceiving, or cheating. It also means showing respect toward others. 

An honorable life with guiding principles makes reality unambiguous. And truth easier to find.  


©  Bredholt & Co.