Daily Proverbial, from Ecclesiastes, 11 October 2012

Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing?” Ecclesiastes 8, verse 4.

Just before I went into the Air Force, both my mom and my dad gave me some advice: don’t buck the system because the system is bigger than you. You can imagine how I reacted to that. I mean, me: I’m a stubborn, independent, bull-headed individual. I know what I know and I trust what I know. Sometimes, I KNOW better than the system, so whaddaya mean don’t buck it because it’s bigger than me?

Let me repeat the advice again: don’t buck the system because the system is bigger than you. If you read it one more time, then re-read today’s verse, I think you’ll find my parents’ advice is a kind of derivative of the verse. No wonder it has served me well.

Yesterday, I was in a meeting with senior vice presidents and C-level officers of the company that is my current client. We were officially kicking off a new project I’m managing. In a way, because I’m the project manager (PM) I’m the big cheese. I’m the king of the project, if you want to look at it a certain way (but I think reality will shed a different light). My word is some kind of supreme in that I’m the decision maker and the facilitator for helping other people get their tasks done. The reality of the situation is that a successful manager usually does so more by serving than by directing. Yet that also doesn’t change the fact that my talent and experience have earned this position, that they’ve hired me for my leadership and management skills and that I have to be good at my job just to be able to be a part of the big group. Go me, right?

While patting myself on the back for becoming a PM (yet again), I looked around and realized I was a small fish in a big pond. I was in the meeting with a group of three other senior vice presidents, a CIO, a chief medical officer, and a host of other senior managers like myself. Who was I kidding: I wasn’t king of anything. I am but a captain in a room full of generals. These folks are paying me to do what I do but NOT to have a big head about it. My job won’t get done without the input of many other people, and I can’t have decisions executed without serving the needs of others. Project management isn’t about being in charge: it’s about serving in interdependence. I’ve known this for years. It’s an essential part of learning to be an NCO in the military, and it’s simply common sense.

All the while, my parents’ advice is repeating in my mind. This is how the system works. This is how a project is managed, how work gets done. Things are done the way they’re done for a reason. Methodology and process are meaningful and can minimize waste and mistakes if they’re sensibly executed. Don’t buck the system. The system is bigger than you.

In light of yesterday’s verse (about doing one’s duty and not standing up to the king), seeing my role in the context of serving others, the idea of being the big cheese in charge doesn’t really mean a lot. Who can say to the king in charge ‘what are you doing?’ It turns out that, in an inter-connected world, a great many people can. CEOs report to stock holders; directors report to company officers; managers report to directors; employees report to managers; husbands report to wives (and, to be fair, vice versa). Election Day is less than a month away. In America, even the president must report to the voters. Who can say to you ‘what are you doing?’ It turns out quite a few people.

Especially God. Especially God because God is the king over everything; the king of last resort. He repeatedly leads but calls us up short on our shortcomings. God of our fathers whose almighty hand leads forth in beauty all the starry band. That’s what the hymn said. The God of our fathers is over all we think, see and do. He’s over the president, the voters, the CEO, and the steelworker. He’s over my project. How well do you think it would work if I stood up to God and said “what are you doing?” Think Job. Think insignificant. Think the Mexican proverb (if you want to hear God laugh tell Him your plans). Think the amoeba talking to the redwood. Think it would be me shirking my duty and trying to tell the Master what He messed up in the world He created to be good and very good.

Think about not bucking the system because, in this case, the system knows what it’s doing.

And God’s system isn’t unjust. We can have the debate about what to do if the system is unjust, if it’s illegal, immoral or just wrong. But that’s a slippery slope, you know, and not one into which we should enter lightly. If we question the system and our WWJD question can be addressed favorably, well, then maybe it’s a good idea to not buck the system after all.

We’ll save that for another day. Instead, let’s move on faith and trust that God is leading well.

For now, I’ll go to work today and get down to brass tacks managing my project. Where is God leading me today, what minutiae of tasks need to be done and who do I need to contact for A information, B work, and C scheduled meeting? Through it, there will be issues, decisions, problems, successes, failures, roadblocks, challenges, wins, and coffee. In other words, it’ll be a normal day full of extraordinary things. When living out our lives with the King, I find more and more that I don’t need to question Him on what He’s doing. I simply find happiness in doing my best, doing my part, and doing the work set before me for someone greater than myself. THAT is the stuff at the center of leadership. I don’t need to buck His system since His system is bigger and better than me. He knows what He’s doing.

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