In part one of this series, I focused on the foundations and motivations of being a faithful founder. In this post, I will unpack how those things are put on display throughout the workday.
Let start off with a somewhat contentious topic about how followers of Jesus should conduct themselves in the workplace.
An Integrated Person
In the western world, we tend to compartmentalize our lives pretty drastically at times. In one setting, we are a passionate student of Jesus, and in another, we’re a soccer player, and in another we’re just an employee, working our eight-to-five job. Even though we have many roles in life, we must not segregate our faith away from our working hours. Said differently, we must not elevate our identity of “worker”, higher than our identity of son or daughter of God. Let me unpack this a bit more.
Even before you are an employee of XYZ company or an American citizen, if you have submitted every part of your life and faith to Jesus as His disciple, and He your Lord, then you are first and foremost a citizen of heaven. Since we are ambassadors of that heavenly kingdom, we have a duty to “let our good deeds shine before men that they would praise [our] Father in heaven”, which is found in Matthew 5:16. Jesus’ parting words to his disciples before leaving earth were to share his message “as you go” in the different areas of life – like at work. Another angle on this is found in 1st Peter 3:15, where Peter writes, “Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…” This means that God wants us to be an integrated, person in our daily walk. What does the world think about this?
In recent years, many in the corporate world have praised colleagues who declare, “I am the same person here at work that I am outside of work.” People often want to experience the most “authentic you” you can bring to work (footnote: Seattle might be a little overly open compared to other areas of the world). This is why, if we truly call ourselves a faithful disciple of Jesus, we cannot be silent in the workplace, at lunch or events with co-workers about what matters most to us. It would be disingenuous to omit our faith from the conversation. If we struggle with that thought, we may need to invest more time in our own walk with God to see why our desire doesn’t align with His command.
Most full-time workers spend 50-60% of their waking hours on earth in the workplace (9-10 hours including lunch). When we stand before the Lord one day and give an account for how we acknowledged and represented him during these hours, what will we say? Do your co-workers know about your love God? Do they feel served and cared for by you? (more on this below) We must find ways to love God and make him known in every arena of life – from the home to the workplace, to the soccer field to the grocery store and every other place we find ourselves.
The Bedrock of Prayer
As believing co-founders we often prayed for our fledgling business, trusting the Lord for sales, partnerships, employees and capital investments. We prayed for more love to serve and care for our customers and our employees with all the situations they faced. We also prayed for ourselves as we faced the throes of startup life – reminding each other that our identity is not in our performance, but in the perfect life that Jesus already lived. These times were usually only 15-20 minutes, but they were a powerful pause in the busyness of the startup world. We acknowledged how the Lord was working, even in ways beyond our control and we would point to Him when He showed up in the results.
Since prayer was key to each phase of founding, building and selling the business we could speak openly, praising God about how He had responded to our prayer – despite our challenges and shortcomings as founders (more on those in a few sections).
Pastoring Diverse Employees
Diverse teams outperform homogenous teams with 35% higher likelihood to deliver results above average than homogenous teams (HBR article). Especially if you’re a Christian, you should be seeking to hire not-yet Christians to put God’s love on display for those who likely won’t set foot in a church building. Even well-meaning Christians need discipling & mentoring to follow the Lord in the workplace – if they are open to it. Try to strike a good balance of building in diversity where possible. You’d be surprised by how many opportunities arise to show care for and encourage not-yet Christians in your workplace.
As a CEO and a manager of people, you have a duty to hire people equitably and in alignment with HR best practices (not showing favoritism or disadvantaging employees because of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation) in line with being an Equal Opportunity Employer. Although we weren’t the shining example of the most diverse team, we definitely made an effort to draw in people with different views than our own.
Because we mentioned our gratitude towards God and pointed to God answering our prayers, it became natural to offer prayer to our employees when the situations of life were hitting the fan in their lives. This was one way to “pastor them” and show them the Kingdom against other toxic work environments they’ve worked in – or bad leaders they’ve worked beneath.
As VMware CEO, Pat Gelsinger, shared in a sermon, he views himself like the pastor of a mega church – referring to the massive software company of 19,000 employees. To be clear, CEOs are not the literal “Pastors” of their employees and businesses do not submit to the biblical structure that is required for God’s church (Gelsigner agrees). However, I do admire how his pastoral mindset influences the way he leads. He recalls the stories of praying for employees who bring hardships to him and respectfully getting permission to pray for them. He is blessing them and acknowledging the Lord as the source of that blessing. This picture has inspired me to care for or “pastor” my employees as much as they welcome it in our relationship.
Serving Customers with Great Experiences
Any good and lasting business will serve its customers well and make sustainable revenue while doing so. It’s a delicate balance to achieve both. Early customers often need more attention than you planned for in your cost model. Since providing great service can be at odds with sustainably making money, you’ll often have to make difficult decisions about that trade off.
This is why it is so important to run your business in a way that meets a real need and does so in a profitable fashion. Are customers delighted by your product or service? Are they grateful when you speak to them? How do you accept and apply feedback from customers to serve them better? Are customers excited about the outcome your product or service has created for them? Have you really enriched some part of their lives? You know you’re delivering great customer experiences when you hear customers say, “Wow, this is amazing!” or “You’ve just made my life a whole lot easier. Thank you!”
You know that Jesus was a craftsman and a stone-builder (likely not a carpenter: read this). As Jesus worked His craft, I wonder how he served His customers? Did He not see them as people who God called Him to love? People who needed the kingdom of God as well. Our motivation to build great products and services stems from the two greatest commands – to love God and to love people. That’s why part of our daily and weekly worship of God is finding ways to serve and love our customers, with the same love, precision and excellence that Jesus likely served His customers.
Let’s finish this post on an important topic for every founder.
Relating to Investors
Scripture teaches us in Proverbs 22:7 that “the rich ruler over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” Wise business leaders carefully consider their need for cash. Do I really need the money? Is there a way to bootstrap this business, or minimize dilution? If you’re developing hardware, or dealing with raw goods, you might have a high cost to startup. Software businesses, on the other hand, require far less capital to launch. If you decide you need capital, you’ll have to juggle the tension of striving for funds and discerning compatibility at the same time.
Faithful founders listen to God’s Spirit while they meet investors, paying attention to when yellow or red flags appear in the investor. There was a specific investor that I stopped pursuing because he said, “If sales are hurting, see your family less.” Red flag went up. I thought to myself, I would never want to take this guy’s money.
As a CEO friend of mine advised me, “Don’t hook-up your wagon to horses that are running in a different direction than you want to go. Their money is not worth the pain you’ll experience in working with them.”
Once you’ve found investors you trust, agree with and signed-up with, you’ve found a great thing. But after the money has been transferred and you’re three, six or nine months down the road, you should ask yourself these questions:
- How do they feel about the business you’re building and the value you’re creating in the market? Are you building their confidence or eroding it?
- Have you laid a foundation of trust that helps you share honestly about your challenges?
- Are you coachable, and asking for feedback – or are you stubborn and avoiding questions or obfuscating the answers?
Faithful founders put their walk of faith on display even in their relationship with their investors, advisors, and mentors. I think we’re often intimated by investors because of our fear to lose investment, to lose the power they represent. What does this say about your faith and trust in God and His wealth, His influence and His power? Seriously, who are you more impressed with? a mere man or woman with a tiny sum of cash, or the King of all the universe, who owns every penny and with His power maintains the feeble & short-lived lives of all people in the palm of his hand? The answer to that will help you see what you really value in life and whose approval you’re trying to gain.
Certainly, not all investors will want to talk about spiritual things, but when you bring up how you’re relying on God and thanking him for favor, they should respect your faith as important part of the integrated person you are.
Let us not forget this truth from Colossians 3:23, which says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as if working for the Lord and not for men.” Remember Who you are really working to please.
In the last post in this series, I will unpack a few other key topics for being a faithful founder.