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January 10, 2009

Devotional Journey—Day 6

Speaking of work and the workplace, we now have scientific proof that one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch. A recent episode of National Public Radio's "This American Life" featured researcher Will Felps, who identified three types of bad apples (below) when it comes to group dynamics. He hired an actor to play each of the parts below and surreptitiously placed him in motivated small groups working on a business project. After you've been thinking about your work today, see if any of these types sound familiar:

1. The Jerk. This person attacks others and their ideas, but offers no viable solutions. Common phrases might be, "Are you kidding me?" or "Have you taken a business class before?"

2. The Slacker. He or she does as little as possible. When collaborating on a project, they might spend their time text messaging with their feet up, eating a bagged lunch. Their phrase of choice? "Whatever."

3. The Depressive Pessimist. Someone who is negative about every idea. They keep their head down, and look, in Felps' words, as if their cat had died. "This project is dumb anyway, and it will never work."

In theory, the power of group dynamics should overcome the negativity of one member, right? Wrong. Felps' study showed that the groups who were burdened with the bad apple suffered from poor performance ? 30-40% less productivity than the groups without the bum personality. The ultimate result? Team members took on the characteristics of the bad apple, mimicking the jerk behavior, or putting their heads down, always sapping the teams of positive energy. Interpersonal relationships suffered as conflicts arose. They would plod along miserably until the group could officially be pronounced dead with an utterance of these words: "Let's just get this over with."

Contrast this with Paul's words in 1 Corinthians from today's devotional: "I don't just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ." How does Paul's description of his approach to leadership inspire you, encourage you, or convict you? Do you recognize a little bit of yourself in any of those descriptions? If not, do you know a positive group member you can acknowledge this week? Do you view your work as a sacred trust, or just something to get over with?


WOW! This devotional was just what I needed to start my day. I've been asked to head-up a project that involves my ministry and another that might be called a "sister-ministry." I needed to meet with the leader of this sister-ministry.

I was concerned about the meeting because it would involve facing some obvious problems, and I wondered how I might address the issues without offense.

Then I read the devotion.

The idea of leadership being about bringing out the best in others by doing what is best for them as a means of accomplishing the goals was just what I needed to hear.

Instead of going into the meeting with my long list of problems, I began by asking this ministry leader to share with me how she got involved in the work and her insights.

I was surprised to see tears well as she quietly explained that she was simply "filling a gap" and "struggling" to hold it together.

With this window opened, the meeting naturally moved along in the direction I had hoped to go.

Praise God for his faithfulness in providing just what was needed, just in time!

Loved this reading. Nancy's use of the word "love" in conjunction with the word "work" was disturbingly fresh. I LOVED it. I think Nancy captures something most people WISH they had, but often do not. I love the work that I do, but not just for its own sake. I love something much more: I love God's purposes and being a part of His will. I love being close to him in my everyday tasks, praising Him because He's there with me, because He cares, because it's going to turn out all right. My heart is set far above today--and I think that's what Nancy was getting at. She didn't just love "work"--she loved everything about it and more: people, progress, dreams, creativity. That's the real work we're all called to. We're to love and lead others.

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