Speaking Up When You’re Not the Boss - Joi Freeman (Podcast Episode 5)
Speaking up, especially when you’re not in a position of authority, is not easy. When you're in a lower position, there's a big incentive to keep quiet, but sometimes that's not right for you and it's not right for your company. So, how do you know when to speak up, and how can you do it effectively?
In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed such dreams that his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him. So the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, “I have had such a dream that my spirit is troubled by the desire to understand it.” The Chaldeans said to the king (in Aramaic), “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will reveal the interpretation.” The king answered the Chaldeans, “This is a public decree: if you do not tell me both the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. But if you do tell me the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. Therefore tell me the dream and its interpretation.” They answered a second time, “Let the king first tell his servants the dream, then we can give its interpretation.” The king answered, “I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see I have firmly decreed: if you do not tell me the dream, there is but one verdict for you. You have agreed to speak lying and misleading words to me until things take a turn. Therefore, tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can give me its interpretation.” The Chaldeans answered the king, “There is no one on earth who can reveal what the king demands! In fact no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. The thing that the king is asking is too difficult, and no one can reveal it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with mortals.”
Because of this the king flew into a violent rage and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. The decree was issued, and the wise men were about to be executed; and they looked for Daniel and his companions, to execute them. Then Daniel responded with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the king’s chief executioner, who had gone out to execute the wise men of Babylon; he asked Arioch, the royal official, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. So Daniel went in and requested that the king give him time and he would tell the king the interpretation.
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Nehemiah 1:1-11 - 2:1-8
1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah. In the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capital, one of my brothers, Hanani, came with certain men from Judah; and I asked them about the Jews that survived, those who had escaped the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.”
When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven. I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments; let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned. We have offended you deeply, failing to keep the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place at which I have chosen to establish my name.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great power and your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man!”
At the time, I was cupbearer to the king.
2 In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was served him, I carried the wine and gave it to the king. Now, I had never been sad in his presence before. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This can only be sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my ancestors’ graves, lies waste, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it.” The king said to me (the queen also was sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I set him a date. Then I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may grant me passage until I arrive in Judah; and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, directing him to give me timber to make beams for the gates of the temple fortress, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the gracious hand of my God was upon me.
John 8:1-9 NRSV (Jesus, Adultery, Pharisees)
while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
Numbers 13:1-3, 25-32; 14:1-11
The Lord said to Moses, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites; from each of their ancestral tribes you shall send a man, every one a leader among them.” So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them leading men among the Israelites.
...At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the land of the Negeb; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea, and along the Jordan.”
...But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size.
...Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron; the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become booty; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 So they said to one another, “Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt.”
Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the Israelites. And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the Israelites, “The land that we went through as spies is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” But the whole congregation threatened to stone them.
Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?
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Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.
Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work
LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.
MR: I’m Mark Roberts
LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.
Speaking up, especially when you’re not in a position of authority, is not easy. When you're in a lower position, there's a big incentive to keep your mouth shut, but sometimes that's not right for you and it's not right for your company. So, how do you know when to speak up, and how can you do it effectively?
Our guest today is Joi Freeman. Joi is a strategist who has worked with brands such as the YMCA, Claire Stores Inc., the Girl Scouts, MoneyGram International, and Burger King. Recently, she founded Remnant Strategy, which is a consultancy working at the intersection of culture and business to counsel brands through the process of mapping the next and best chapter in their story. Over her career, Joi has needed to make some tough decisions about when to speak up and about how to do it, and today she educates young professionals about speaking up and managing up. Welcome to the show, Joi.
Joi Freeman: Thank you. Thank you, Leah, for having me.
LA: We're so grateful that you're here this morning. So Joi when you speak with young professionals, the topic of managing up comes up again and again. Why do you think you get this question so often?
JF: Yeah, I think that one of the challenges with professionals is they are coming out, especially young professionals coming out of what has really been a flat organization their entire lives. So, school whether it's primary, secondary, college at most you have a four or five-year difference between where you are and who's around you. And so, coming into the professional realm, I think part of it is figuring out your identity and your role and this new position that you're in, but then also what does that mean to enter into this space and what does it mean to have a voice when you are now in an environment where people are 40 years older than you and have significantly more experience than you. And there are more levels than you've experienced ever in your life.
LA: When you put it that way, it does seem incredibly tricky to navigate. I remember when I was coming into the workforce in my first job, it just felt like I didn't know which way was up. I was learning how to land on my feet, run my own finances and work a job and live in a city, far from my parents. And, to think of how do I participate in a culture that's very different than all the cultures have experienced beforehand, that's actually very tricky.
JF: Yeah, if you think about it, it's kind of like being a rookie in a game that you've never really played. And, determining where exactly in that game and on the field you fit in and when you're supposed to swing the bat or a throw a ball or kick a ball, all of those things are new concepts when you're coming in.
LA: And maybe you don't even know the rules.
LA: Gosh, it does sound hard. So, can you give us a real life example from your own career of a time that you faced this and needed how to figure out how to manage up?
JF: Sure, one of the ones that really comes to mind when I think about having to manage up and navigate this is actually midway in my career. And, I was in this position where I had significant exposure, even though I was pretty junior on the team, and I was now at a place where I was sitting in meetings with executives, the CEO of the organization. So at this point I was at a large global organization and I was in a lot of the meetings representing my department and one particular time, it felt like a distinct Daniel moment in that we were sitting in a meeting with our CEO, and the team was trying to make decisions about how to move forward with a new initiative and how much it would cost to make this quick decision that we needed to act on within a matter of days.
And I recall the CEO, who was known for demanding and expecting that he get responses as soon as possible, including in meetings. And there is a unique point in the meeting where he turned to me and he asked me my opinion on pricing that would impact the decision that we were moving forward with, and I just didn't know. And he pressed again for me to tell him how much it would cost for us to make this rush delivery and rush decision and, again, I wasn't confident in the decision that I was gonna make in that moment. And so I did something that was pretty taboo, and I told him that I could either give him an inaccurate answer now or if you gave me a little while, then I could go back and I could find an answer that I was more confident in and help him make the right decision on how we move forward. That was unheard of.
There were people who were senior executives who had never pushed back in that way. And, actually, that was a turning point in my relationship with the CEO because he came to respect that what I had to say wasn't because I wanted to save face, but it was because I wanted to really provide the best answer and solution possible. And after that, he came to really trust what I had to say and actually look for my and seek out my opinion.
LA: You call that, this is something you slipped in, you called it a Daniel moment. What is the link for you between that and the story of Daniel in the Bible.
JF: When I think about Daniel he was... All of the satraps and all the wise people around him were looking to just provide an answer, and they were used to having all of these kind of tricks in order to push through what sound good. Daniel was willing to stand firm. One, he was willing to stop, and he was willing to pray with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for the wisdom to give the right answer. And he knew that it was a risk, but even in that you see throughout the Book of Daniel that Daniel stood firm in his perspective. He stood firm in what God had called him to do, even if it was at risk of his own life. And I think a lot of times throughout your career, we have those Daniel moments where we have to decide, are we willing to be like the "wise counsel" of everyone around us who just says what leaders wanna hear or if we're willing to stick our neck out.
LA: Wow. Mark, how does that resonate with you?
MR: It's funny. I'm now reminiscing about all of these times early in my career. My first full-time job was working for a fairly large church, and the pastor there was an extremely influential and highly-grounded pastor. And, I not only worked under his authority, but then I had a boss who was under him. So, I was three down. I just remember this feeling of sitting in meetings, trying to decide whether to say something or not and calculating on the one hand the risk of ticking off my superiors or being perceived as being, oh, I don't know, unsupportive. And the same time, the risk of not speaking and then things that I might have seen happen in advance that aren't good would actually have happened, and then I'd feel responsible, etcetera, etcetera. So I'm just, I'm living into that tension, Joi, that you talk about because there's no, at least I don't know, there's not a super clear playbook that says, "Okay, this time speak. This time better to hold your tongue." And actually the feeling I have is one of anxiety as I remember what that's like. And, Joi, I think your example is an inspiring one both because of what you did which was gutsy 'cause the CEO could have just said, "Okay, enough with you," or... I also admire that CEO for the willingness to see that you were a person of honesty and integrity who could really contribute, and that was good. So on both sides, good on you both.
LA: So, Joi, how would you counsel, let's say Mark is one of the young people that you speak to in your seminar. How would you counsel him about either explain what are the things that hold you back from speaking up, or what are the things that help you move forward when it is time to speak up?
JF: Early in my career, I was known as the person who spoke up about everything, and it has become no less terrifying to speak up. What I have learned over the years is this importance of scarcity and quality, and so the concept of scarcity is that the more scarce the resource, the more valuable it is. For me, in speaking up, that means I don't need to speak up every time something is bothering me or I have a perceived challenge with something. I really need to step back and evaluate what value do I bring to speaking up, and what value do I bring to the issue? And if I don't say something, then what happens? And really, I've had to learn how to negotiate what it means to speak up, and what is the reason?
So again, the value to the organization or the value to the team is, I wanna make sure that we aren't at reputational risk. Whereas in younger in my career I could be at times a loose cannon when it came to speaking up.
LA: So it sounds like, what I'm hearing from you is that having a little internal speaking-up checklist, helps you in the managing up portion of this. Speaking up all the time doesn't necessarily help you managing up. Is that what you're saying?
JF: Yes, and I think when it comes to speaking up and managing up, again, I think of people like Daniel who, I think, did a really good job of understanding what was the implications of what was happening around him. Even when I think about Nehemiah, and again that was more of a personal issue with speaking up, but there was something that he felt compelled and called to do. And, the king, his boss, recognized that there was an issue, and so that was when he took the time to speak up about it.
So, I think part of it is really knowing who you are and knowing what your threshold is. I think for me part of it is knowing if I don't speak up, will I be able to sleep at night? Is this something that I feel I will regret not speaking up about? And then if I do speak up, then in the long run is it really worth it at this point? And again, what value does it bring to the people who I'm managing up with? And even just knowing from that perspective and positioning it from the perspective of the person you're communicating with is incredibly important.
LA: I love just to tease out the story of Daniel. I just thought... You just gave me an insight that's so interesting about Daniel because he really did take a stand for his beliefs, but not in a speaking up sort of way. When he heard about the injunction against praying to God, he didn't go into the middle of the square and say, "You guys all stink, and I'm gonna pray to my God, anyway. And, you guys are taking Babylon in a really wrong direction." He didn't do that. He went into his room and prayed in the same way that he had been doing before and only when... It was others in authority who brought it to a head. There were others who accused him of praying in his room, and then he was drawn before the King. That is when he defended his position. There's just a very interesting temporal play of when it is that he took a stand, how he chose to do that in order to win over the king who ended up saying, "The God of Daniel who saved him from the lions den." I don't know. Mark, help me out here. Do you have any reflections on the Book of Daniel? This idea that I'm bringing up?
MR: I think every situation has its distinctive pieces, but what is clearly applicable is exercising wisdom as Joi said, not just using every opportunity to blast away. Joi, what you described about you is where I began. I'm sure in my first staff meetings right at the church I talked way too much, and now I'm probably almost the other extreme. And then I sit and listen a lot and find that to be very valuable. And I'm in places, sometimes I'm the one that would be getting the managing up piece, that is to say I'm the leader of the group, and sometimes I'm the one further down. And so, I’m sort of I play both roles, but in either case, I think to learn to listen well, to really, as you said, to think through, "Is this an important contribution, or is this just my over-estimation of my own value and input?”
And I appreciate, Joi, your pointing that out. In the example Daniel would say, it isn't always the case that we just need to just blab it out as you said, Leah too. And we need God's wisdom. We need help. We need wisdom from others, but I think acknowledging that it's a challenging place. I think, that's a great start to then doing the kind of thinking that we're doing here and that Joi's done.
LA: And with Daniel, it really was an ethical issue that he had to decide how to manage up to the king about. Joi, how do you feel speaking up and managing up interacts when it's an ethical issue?
JF: I think that is again where you have to know your threshold and your internal conviction. So again, Daniel was a great example of speaking up and knowing that there is a risk, and I think really being willing and ready to take that risk. But, again, it goes back to knowing when to speak up, and what's the value of what you're saying.
And this has happened across my career where talking about or determining whether to speak up about issues that were ethical. One that is really unique and ties into this idea of having very senior level leaders and speaking up is actually I was at a symposium, and it was CEOS from across the country that were connected to the company, which I worked, and it was a symposium about poverty and inequity and how inequity is often connected with race and a lot of the social implications that happened with poverty and the conversation turned to talking about the Department of Labor.
JF: And there was a push for a change in wages at the time. One CEO in particular, was talking about the challenges and frustrations of having this possible wage change and, while simultaneously talking about the challenges of how do we work towards preventing poverty. And I had this moment where I felt this rush to say something, and then I had this moment of complete fear and said, "I'm not going to say that," and then I don't know what came over me, but the next thing I know I was talking.
And to this group, there were about 60 people at the symposium, I talked about. I said, "We're here and we're talking about the challenges of subsidies and people who have to go on food stamps and all of these things that we see happening in society in the social safety nets, while simultaneously talking about the frustrations of having a wage increase. But I think we need to understand that we live in a world today where CEOS make 400 times what their employees make. So if we're really serious about what we're here talking about today, then CEOs need to be willing to cut their salary, so that their staff have a fair and livable wage. And again, I'm saying this to a group of CEOs. I was pretty sure that I would need to pack up my desk or be packed up for me by the time I got back to Chicago because there was this moment of silence where no one said anything and then eventually, one CEO spoke up and said, "You know, she's right. We have to really think about how we contribute to this issue that we are here saying that we want to solve."
So again, that was a time where it was very risky. I think I have had to learn the art of delivering a bold message without trying to be offensive. And I think Jesus is really good at that. He was good at saying the truth in a clear way, but not saying it in a way that was intentionally offensive to the audience. So they were offended by the message, but they weren't necessarily offended by the messenger. And then...
MR: Joi it's obvious to me that you are able to say hard things without being too emotionally engaged to say them in inappropriate ways. I was thinking of my own case a couple of years ago, I was in a meeting where I was not the leader, my boss was in the room and several people, colleagues, and a presentation was being made by an outside group, and I was getting really angry with them. I really thought they were not being honest and I was bugged and not managing that very well. I spoke out, and I said things that were true but I completely lost the room. And I actually lost the ability to influence the decision, the decision was made in the other direction.
Turned out I was right, but I... My inability to speak in a way that was calm and helpful completely blew that thing. And so I appreciate the way you're talking, 'cause it's obvious you can talk about some pretty significant things in a way that allows people to listen, and respond, and that has a whole lot to do with your sort of managing of yourself. You mentioned that earlier knowing yourself and being self-aware and I just wanna acknowledge that because that's hard to do.
And that's, again, that's the kind of thing that develops over time. Although I must admit, this thing I did a couple of years ago, I've been working for 40 years and I'm still learning, but there's that that such... It seems such an important piece. If people are really gonna you and not just react against you.
JF: Yeah, but you said a key word there, and it's influence. And I think no matter where you are in your career, you can have the power of influence even if you don't have a positional authority, and I think that is something that's critically important for people to learn early in their career is that influence is not contingent upon your level, influence is about how you carry yourself, and people's willingness to listen to what you have to say and believe and follow and that can happen at any level in an organization.
LA: Now, Joi what were you doing in that moment, that allowed you to get through to those CEOs? Were you channeling some sort of spiritual practice that you had been working on for years up to that moment?
JF: I don't know, I think I spend a lot of time in prayer. I spent a lot of time really trying to read the scriptures from the perspective of a professional and I have I think what I call biblical mentors, so people in the Bible and go-to books that I use. In that moment, I think at this point in my career, and this was only a few years ago, I'm at a point where I know my passion, I know my interests, but I've also have continuously worked on the craft and the art of exposing what needs to be exposed in a way that allows people to engage in the conversation and not feel ashamed.
And I think that was probably what was at work in that moment was lovingly helping us see how we have a potential to be hypocrites, and how we have the potential to contribute to an issue that we believe legitimately have a passion about solving. But the issue wasn't that the issue can't be solved. The challenge is that we have to be willing to take risk. And that was more so what I wanted to point out in that, and I think that came from a heart and a desire and a belief that people for the most part want to do good. We just at times... It's kind of like sin. What Paul talks about he doesn't want to sin but it pulls him in. And it's the same thing with these types of decisions, particularly ethical ones, I think, at times, is that you want to do right but you're accustomed to what is comfortable to you. And sometimes you just need someone to help you call that out in a way that doesn't bring shame.
LA: You had to take a risk yourself in order to get these CEOs to see, maybe they needed to take a risk to make some real progress towards the change that they were talking about.
JF: Yeah, and I think personally and because I've spent so much time studying Daniel and Nehemiah and Joseph and Esther, I think I walked into my roles in my career, and even now with having my own consulting business, with the perspective that I'm here and in this place because God has allowed me to be here and so in every situation, I am praying through, "What am I supposed to be in this situation?" And I think that also helps to your earlier point about knowing when to speak up, and when not to speak up, because it may not be my purpose for that particular role. My purpose may be something else. And for me, it's about staying centered and what is my purpose in this position?
LA: Those are all characters in the Bible who really did need to manage up in their own individual circumstances. Joseph and Esther and Nehemiah and Daniel all had a message from God that they needed to carry, but none of them were in the position of power in their situations.
LA: You also mentioned another biblical example, which is Jesus which is a funny biblical example to mention when you talk about someone not having power, right? Because he had a considerable amount being the son of God, but he often did not have the positional authority, in terms of society's view of him, in the situations that he was speaking into. So is there an example from the Gospel that really stands out to you of the way that Jesus influenced other people around him?
JF: I think there's so many amazing examples. One that really comes to mind is the stoning of the adulterous woman, and I think Jesus in that moment was able to... He did not deny... He didn't address whether what she did was right or wrong, he was able to pivot and focus on, "But how are we to respond? And who of us has a right to respond?"
LA: For our listeners who may be the verse doesn't jump to their mind. I'll jump in and say, we're talking about John chapter 8, and this is a scenario a bunch of religious leaders who are gonna stone this woman to death for adultery, and Jesus doesn't yell at them or say you can't do that. He does something very odd. He stoops down and he writes in the dust and then he says, "The person who is without sin should cast the first stone. Let the person who doesn't have any sin themself throw the first stone at her," and then everybody leaves. So anywau. Continue. Sorry to interrupt you, but I want... So we're all on the same page, we're talking about this very odd scenario in the Gospel of John where Jesus gives a message to the religious leaders around him in a very unconventional way.
JF: Yes, and what I've heard in a sermon, a church was, that the law at that time was that both people, both parties should have been brought to the center, to the court and stoned. And so in a way he's calling out that if you're going to do this then you have to do it according to the law. And the crowd was responsible for making sure that both parties were punished for what they did and so in many ways the crowd in convicting the woman was also being disobedient to the law. And I think Jesus is very eloquent and simple in how he challenges everyone. And again that is an ability to understand the situation, to read the room, to read the people who are in the room and really understand and know how to navigate the situation, and I think that that's an art. But it's also an amazing character trait to have, and one that is extremely beneficial for people who want to have influence, even when you don't have position.
LA: I hear a couple of practical tips coming out of the way that you analyze this scripture. I hear simplicity in the message, I hear eloquence, I hear reading the room. Are these, kind of, on your top 10 list of tips that you give people for managing up effectively?
JF: Yeah, when I talk with young professionals and even the staff that I have managed over the years, it's those, it's also having empathy. I think at times when we need to manage up and also manage difficult challenges, we don't do a good job of really thinking about it from the other person's perspective, and I think that goes a long way. And the other part of it is, I've had to learn in managing up is that the people who I report to, their job is not exclusively to manage me, and so how do I manage up and think about managing up in a way that accounts for that I am a sliver of what they're thinking of on any given day?
MR: Man, I so appreciate so much of what you're saying and your biblical examples, Joi, I think are really strong. Many years ago, I actually wrote a commentary on Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. So, I thought a lot about those people, and I didn't talk about managing up. Makes me wanna go back and revise some, but again, you got me thinking. I just think like, okay, so one of the things you said, Leah asked are there practices in your life to help you do this. You mentioned the practice of prayer, and I thought immediately of Nehemiah. In the beginning of his book, as you know, he hears that things in Israel are terrible, and Jerusalem is terrible. And, he's terribly upset. Now, he works for the king of another empire. So, he's a close servant of the king, and he hears that his homeland is in deep trouble. And so, he's very upset about this, but what it says in the book is that he spent several days fasting and praying and asking for God's help and God's wisdom, first off. Then, he decides he's gonna actually confront the king and ask... Confront is too strong, approach the king and ask for this extraordinary favor.
And part of what I love in the text is at one of the points when the king asked him what he wanted, he said he was really afraid. So he prayed quietly just on the spot. And it's just such a great example of a managing-up situation that was so tender, but I think it completely underscores your point, Joi, that in prayer and in this case, taking time to really sort it through in prayer, he was given on the one hand the clarity of what he needed to do and needed to say at the same time of the awareness that he really needed God's help in his "secular workplace." So, I love your examples, and the Jesus one, too, is great 'cause sometimes we think of Jesus as just sort of blasting away the Pharisees. Sometimes he blasts away. In other cases, like the one you mentioned, it's a very different approach to communication.
JF: Yeah, and I think the other one is being able to manage up in disappointment, and Caleb and Joshua, they're a great example of that. They were right, [chuckle] and then they then had to suffer, you could say, for 40 years because the other 10 didn't see it their way.
LA: And this is from Numbers 13 when Moses sends in the 12 spies into the land that God promised them and says, "Check it out. Check out this land and give us back a report." And Caleb and Joshua say, "Yeah, we should totally go in and take over this land. We can take these guys." And the rest of the 10 are like, "No, no, no, they're too scary. We can't go into the land and take them." So, that's what you're talking about. So, tell me what your personal reflection is on Caleb and Joshua, Joi?
JF: I've been spending a lot of time studying Caleb and Joshua and what it means to have a pulse on the situation and how do you navigate that when no one else sees it? And part of that is with a skill set as a strategist, I'm often seeing situations ahead of the organizations I'm working with or consulting. And I think it can almost at times feel like the prophets who no one understood or listened to. And so I've spent time studying the prophets, but also Caleb and Joshua because I think the challenge in that is knowing, being sure that you are right and being able to see things from God's perspective, but having to live with the disappointment when you have it right, but the decision is opposite of the direction you've recommended.
And I think there is a tendency to want to say, "See I was right," but then when you're in the middle of it, and you're in the desert, that's not really what everyone needs to hear. And so, I think what I am learning in this stage is how do I consult? How do I advise? How do I navigate situations where it may be clear to me the direction that we need to head but also do it with the level of grace that I can rest assured knowing that I have done everything I can do, but also have grace to myself and to the organizations and teams that I'm working with, that I don't need to... That in the end, God has the ability to course-correct. And I think we see that at the end of what happens once they actually enter the Promised Land.
LA: So how do you do that, Joi? How do you continue either to manage up or to manage your own emotions in that state of disappointment?
JF: Well, it's a work in progress, [laughter] but again, I spend a lot of time praying. There is no strategy that I have done that I have not prayed over. So, my work at the YMCA and when I re-positioned youth development, and all the work we did in creating a platform around anti-hunger, that was all through prayer. Those are all strategies that came because I really prayed about where we should go. The same thing when I worked with Claire's. When I started at Claire's, I spent time reading the Book of Nehemiah because I had an impossible challenge ahead of me. And so, when things don't work out, one, I have my Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's around me. The people who I can call and pray with. Other professionals who are also believers, who can be there when I'm having a really difficult time and also who can remind me of the victories I've had in the past.
JF: And I think that's incredibly important. That's one of the beauties of the Book of Daniel is I think it's a great book for young professionals to really see what it means to have your small group or your discipling group of fellow young professionals and what it looks like to pray through the difficult times. So I think for me because I spend so much time in prayer about where I'm headed and about the things that I'm doing and I have people who know these things very well. When it doesn't work out the way that I hope or the way I envision or know what could be successful, then I'm able to go back and say, "Well God, I did everything I could. So now it is out of my hands. And I think having that piece is also really important. And again, I have not mastered it, but that is always the direction I'm moving towards.
MR: You know Joi, it just struck as you've been talking and at one point Leah had asked you about things that help you do this, and you're really connecting classic Christian disciplines, to your daily life in the workplace. So a scripture, you have many examples, and are making those connections for you're scripturing work. You mentioned prayer several times and praying through everything having to do with your work. And you mentioned also community and the community of support. And many Christians have those things in their lives, but I also think many haven't made the connection that you've made so just naturally, and beautifully into your work and that's gonna help you not only in terms of managing up stuff, but all kinds of stuff as you are really living your faith in such a way that it has everything to do not just with your personal life, your family life and whatever, but with the stuff you're doing at work in whatever context. And I just think that's a great encouragement that you're a great example of that and I'm glad for you're sharing this.
JF: Thank you.
LA: The last question that I wanna ask both you, Joi, and Mark is you're at points in your career where you have had opportunity to manage other people. Do you have examples when other people have either disagreed with you effectively, or swayed your behavior or decision-making, effectively, what does that look like from a manager's side?
JF: So I would say, I prefer not to manage and I prefer to lead, and I think that those can be two distinctly different things. So for me, as I started to lead and lead large teams I've spent a lot of time studying what it meant biblically to lead. And for me, it's about taking all of the talents and skills that I am responsible for in the people that are on my team and giving it focus and nurturing it so that we are moving in the same direction toward the goal. And I think when I do that, I have teams that feel comfortable challenging my perspective, and I welcome that because I don't know everything.
And so it becomes less of a thorny situation like a thorn in my side and more about encouraging everyone at every level on my team to bring attention to the visibility that they have, because we're all at different places, so we all have different types of visibility, and I think that has helped a lot in making the people on my team feel valued, and feel that they have purpose in the role that they're in. And it's helped me a lot in building strong teams that can work towards the goal because it's also not on me 100%, it's a team and we all have a responsibility and a role to play in being successful towards the goal.
LA: I love that. It's just a different way of seeing managing, leading, not managing. Mark, what about you, from your experience leading and managing others? Has there been a situation where you said, "Wow, that person really influenced me really well."
MR: Yes and it's interesting because one of the things Joi said it was something about, I know I don't have all the answers. And I think early on in my management or leadership either way, I felt like I have to be the one with all the answers and it wasn't 'cause I was so filled with my sense of self importance, it was more like if I don't have all the answers then I'm a failure, and I'm not a good leader, not a good manager. So it was really hard for me to admit that I don't have all the answers. as I have, this is now about 30 years later in my life, I think, "Oh my gosh, I don't have all the answers." And there's some real freedom in that, and it's one of the things that I communicate with the people that I'm officially supervising the team that I'm over is that, yeah, there'd be some things I really care about, but there is so much I don't know.
And for me, there's tons of freedom in that. Now having said that, it still is tough. If I'm really committed to something, believe in something, and somebody on my team challenges that, I again, I've gotta deal with myself, my own defensiveness, my issues, and if I don't deal with myself well at that point, we have a problem. This is where I think Joi would encourage us, encourage me to pray, and I know if I stop, not stop the meeting and pray out loud. But I mean, in the context of whatever the situation I'm in. If I bring it before the Lord, that helps a lot for me to manage myself.
If I don't, odds are, it's gonna be hard for me to be open and then it's a loss for everybody. It's a loss for me because I'm not creating the team I wanna create. It's a loss for the person who's pushing back on something because that person has both a need to be affirmed, but also often great ideas. I just think the other thing I'd say that what I've learned and even right now in my team, Leah you know, one of my key colleague whom I supervise, Michaela, I mean she's extraordinary. I mean, if I didn't, I mean I'm... She had to be on this call 'cause she could probably tell you all kinds of way she manages up that I don't even know, but what I know is...
LA: We'll get her on the follow up interview.
MR: What she brings is so incredible that I would be a fool not to be open to that. At the same time there are occasions I'll just be honest where she'll challenge something and again, I've gotta deal with me 'cause I'm feeling defensive, I'm feeling unheard, I'm feeling whatever it is. So there's this just I think a balance for a manager or a leader even of being open, but also that dealing with oneself and knowing my stuff so that it doesn't get in the way of my leading in the way I wanna lead building the kind of team I wanna have, and having the kind of team relationships that I think are not only good for me, but best for the organization.
LA: I'm gonna give each of us a chance to have a last word. So, if we're talking, imagine one of our listeners is facing a work situation like, "I just don't know how to budge my boss, I just don't know how to say this thing that I believe is really needs to be heard in my organization. How do I even go about starting to figure out how to say it, to figure out how to phrase it, to figure out when... " Let's go around the table so each of us can give one piece of advice and I'll start with you Joi.
JF: I would say, really take the time to take stock, of... What does it mean to have influence and that is largely understanding the situation and the people who are around you and really thinking through how to talk from their perspective and not from your agenda.
LA: I love it. Mark, do you have one gold piece of advice?
MR: I really liked Joi's. That's... [chuckle] But let me underscore something I said earlier, and it really was paraphrasing something Joi had said that, although it sounds just so obvious in a way, the discipline she talked about that help her do the kind of thing she just said. I look at it from another person's perspective, see their interest. I mean that's coming from this consistent discipline of scripture and prayer and community and making those connections into the workplace so that I'm just so impressed that for Joi that certainly makes a difference when it comes to these particular issues, managing up issues. But I'll bet you we could talk about all kinds of other things.
We could talk about visioning, we could you talk about strategy, we could talk about structure and I bet you Joi that you would have a very similar kind of integration of where your faith really informs your work. And I just wanna acknowledge that and it's inspiring. It's good, good to be reminded. I'm glad to be reminded and I expect that that'll be true also for our listeners, so thanks for that. So Leah what about you?
LA: I totally agree. If I have one takeaway from this conversation, it's pray. And which sounds so simple, but we often forget. I often forget in the context of my own work. I think my workplace problems are so big, I think my communication problems are so big that it can't possibly remember to bring them to God in the moment. And all of the heroes of scripture that we've talked about have been people who paused and prayed before taking action in their job, so I feel really encouraged by that message today. Stop and pray, and trust that God has the outcome in his hands. No, it's not just me figuring out how exactly I need to say this thing or manage my manager. It's God who is in charge of all of us in the end.
MR: And so, what's so cool 'cause you're right Leah that does sort of sound sort of simple... So it's like, "Okay, we're Christians, we should pray “duh.” What Joi is giving us is real life nitty gritty examples from real leadership and management challenges. It's not just the religious folk are saying, "Oh yeah, pray about it." But this is a great example of what that really means.
LA: Joi, were you able to keep your job after speaking up to those CEOs? How did that all shake out in the end?
JF: Everything was still on my desk when I got back to Chicago.
LA: So there's hope.
JF: There is hope.
LA: There's hope for the person who manages up.
JF: And actually the other role where I spoke up to the CEO about waiting to provide input, later on... the President of my division actually promoted me because he said that he felt I was one of the people that he could trust what I said, even when he didn't agree with it.
LA: Wow, pretty good. That's a pretty good outcome. I'll take that, I'm gonna put that in my back pocket as a piece of hope. Success after managing up. I like it.
JF: There you go.
LA: Joi, thank you so much for joining us on this podcast together. It has really been a pleasure.
JF: Thank you for having me.
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