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The Single Most Important Element in Business

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“. . . you are the light of the world . . .” Matthew 5:14-16

Light. I would say that light is the single most important element in business. The light of transparency builds trust. And trust breeds trust. I love the way the Renaissance artists used self-portraits in their paintings. Actually, this is why I consider myself a Renaissance man. In my family, I am famous for holding a camera at arm’s length and shooting myself right into the picture. In fact, through this form of advanced photography, I discovered truth in that old saying, “Behind every good man is a woman rolling her eyes.” The picture didn’t lie. Our eyes told the story. My eyes said love and pride. My wife’s eyes said, “I can’t believe I married this nut.”

Recently, I was in Washington, D.C., and had a chance to visit the National Gallery of Art for roughly the twentieth time. It is my favorite art collection. At the time, it was hosting an exhibit of the late religious portraits of one of my favorite artists—Rembrandt. People who know even less than I do about art know that this Dutch master has no peer in his use of light on dark and suffused shadows. In his late religious paintings, the contrasts were even sharper than in his earlier works—more darkness, brighter light.

Rembrandt helps make the argument for light as the most important element in business. Our daughter Brenna gave me a book of poems by Marilyn McEntyre on Rembrandt’s religious paintings entitled Drawn to the Light. And that is exactly what you experience standing before his paintings. The light shines so brightly against dark interiors that your eyes move instantly away from the shadows to the light. The contrast animates the light.

In business, the lights of openness and transparency shine brightly against the recent scandals percolated in secrecy. When we commit to transparency in the workplace, trust follows. We need to ask ourselves “Why wouldn’t we make as much information available as possible to our coworkers?” rather than “Why should we make plans, budgets, expense reports, and various deliberations available?” Common answers to the second question include, “They wouldn’t understand,” or “It’s none of their business.” What a demeaning view of our colleagues!

Maybe it would help us flip the light switch on if we thought of our business associates as friends. Jesus appealed to transparency when he defined friendship. In John 15:15, he said, “I don’t call you servants, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you what the Father has made known to me.”

Drawn to the light. Our customers, our coworkers, and our business associates are drawn to the light, drawn to our openness. When I entered the second room of the Rembrandt exhibit, I noticed something immediately. Amidst the paintings bearing small splashes of light against vast ambient darkness, one shone light more than any other. It was the painting of the resurrected Christ, and John’s words came to me, “. . . the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” In business and in life, we are called to be light. Jesus is the light.

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