Positive Impact in the World
In our daily labor, each of us desires to make a positive impact. The Bible references work as soon as it begins "God created..." That’s how important and fundamental our vocations can be to finding fulfillment in our lives. We may not realize it amid the sweat and toil of our individual jobs, but once we’ve created or achieved something of lasting significance little if anything is ever more gratifying. This is simply our way of “imaging” God, whether we realize it or not.
For some, this can mean earning outsized returns; for others, it can mean breaking a record, winning an election, or bootstrapping a business that goes on to become a unicorn. Although each of these accomplishments are all well and good, even triumphs become dangerous when the ultimate objective is the success, in and of itself. Indeed, most will find that the goals we do achieve only provide a fleeting satisfaction and, generally, aren’t nearly as gratifying as we had hoped.
The Bible teaches us that even if you are among the select few that attain all their aspirations in this life or "under the sun," in the end there are no permanent achievements.
"I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 2:18–20).
The implication, which can be a hard pill to swallow, is that all the fruits of your work will eventually be wiped away by history. In fact, all things temporal in the end will disappoint to some degree. It can seem hopeless at first blush, but upon further reflection, it’s quite empowering to realize that only through genuine humility -- and in service to others -- can we make the impact that fulfills our need for purpose and passion.
In Tim Keller’s book, “Every Good Endeavor,” he cites Mike Ullman as an example of how we can apply our gifts through work to promote human flourishing. Keller notes that Ullman, inspired by a nudge from Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, viewed his return to JCPenney as CEO as a calling to help his colleagues recognize the dignity in their own jobs. This, alone, allowed the company to retrain its focus on its core customer base and the service orientation they were accustomed to, which helped reset JCPenney’s growth trajectory after a period of underperformance.
When Mr. Ullman was named the chairman of Starbucks by the Board in June of 2018 the mission was similar. Unlike JCPenney, however, Starbucks wasn’t confronting a cultural or financial entanglement, but rather faced a public relations crisis. A few months prior, the company found itself in the crosshairs of public criticism over a racial-profiling incident in one of its Philadelphia cafes. Recall, too, that Starbucks had previously tried to initiate a wider dialogue around racial inequality back in 2015 with their well-intentioned but botched campaign, Race Together. It wasn’t that the stakes were high (although, they certainly were). The bigger issue is that the incident ran counter to an ethos that Schultz spent a career trying to foster.
Starbucks’ response was to shut down all of its company-owned locations for two hours during the workday to implement a training program that brought to light the impact of unconscious biases. Starbucks didn’t try to spin the news or avoid admitting fault. At the expense of its own profits, it used the crisis as a learning opportunity, one that is also aligned to its bigger mission.
Due to Mr. Ullman’s stewardship during his time at JCPenney, which Mr. Schultz observed carefully, he had the utmost confidence to walk away after 31 years as executive chairman at Starbucks with conviction and faith that Starbucks was in good hands with Mr. Ullman at the helm. What Mr. Ullman and Mr. Schultz share in common is an appreciation for how a higher calling -- when it’s genuine and authentic -- can build loyalty and advocacy that goes well beyond any branding exercise.
There are a few takeaways that are applicable to each of us. First, we must come to terms with the fact that work is a calling, and its purpose is to serve and promote something greater than ourselves. What Mr. Ullman has come to understand is that success in our work has a direct relationship to our ability to recognize how we can best sacrifice for and serve others, not ourselves.
Second, we should value and respect all work, and treat our colleagues with dignity, no matter their rank, race, gender, ethnicity or beliefs. Whether white collar or blue collar, all dignified work is of equal value to God and humanity.
And third, be dependable wherever you are in your career and commit to being excellent in the tasks at hand. Goals and aspirations are certainly important, but when you take pride in the little mundane responsibilities, your purpose and passion will be fulfilled.
Although we are not perfect exemplars, we see work as a privilege, not a burden, and we recognize that profit is only one of several bottom lines. We strive to create an environment in which we empower our team and partners to leverage their gifts, know that their work is valued, and encourage them to help those around them. In the way we lead, speak, and act, we strive to personify faith, honesty, loyalty, hard work, and collaboration in our firm and the organizations we endeavor to partner with. It is the compounding impact of these little things that help each of us to thrive, promote humanity, and leave a positive impact on the world.