In 2014, Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned company, won a lawsuit at the Supreme Court. The lawsuit objected to an Obama-administration mandate that companies had to provide a number of contraceptives to their employees at no-cost or face large fines for not doing so. This violated the religious convictions held by the company’s ownership, and they initiated the lawsuit.
The court held that the rule violated the religious freedom which is guaranteed by the constitution, and that the company did not have to provide free contraceptives to its employees.
Christian business people around the country applauded this victory, seeing it as a victory for religious freedom and a blow to big-government encroachment on their freedom. While it certainly was that, it was also an example of a deeper principle at work: Excellence in business brings with it a disproportionate measure of community and cultural influence.
Excellence in business brings with it a disproportionate measure of community and cultural influence.
I discovered this principle as a young person. In order to work my way through college, I sold men’s suits at a higher-end men’s clothing store. Even though I was young and not quite full time, I became the leading sales person in the company’s five store chain. And that brought with it recognition, access and influence. A famous clothing designer whose line we featured – Oleg Cassini – came to town to promote his line. I was the only salesperson invited to the cocktail reception for him.
When the buyers would visit my store, they made it a point to spend some time with me. I was even invited to talk to the company’s president on a couple of occasions. At the time, I was just focused on making enough money to support myself and pay my college costs, so I was oblivious to the influence I had gained. It wasn’t until years later that I realized my influence was a direct result of the success I had on the job.
As I moved through my career, I discovered that the principle that business success engenders recognition, access and ultimately influence held true for all the years that I made my living as a sales person. My status as one of the top sales people meant that when the company president wanted to spend a day riding with a sales person, he chose me. When the company was considering a new line, they often ran it by me.
I have, of course, seen that same principle at work in the hundreds of companies for whom I have consulted over the years. When I interview employees, for example, it would always be the top sales person who was on the list – chosen to be the spokesperson to the outside consultant. When decisions were made that impacted the entire sales force – compensation for one – they were often run by the top sales person.
In my career as a professional speaker, I had lots of occasions to interface with national trade associations. I found the principle at work at the company level as well as the individual sales person level. It was the leading companies in that industry who provided the personnel for the boards and committees, for example. That particular association’s decisions regarding strategic direction, location and agenda for the annual meetings, etc. were often made by the principles in that trade group’s leading companies. At the company level, excellence in performance brings with it recognition, access and influence.
Hobby Lobby would not have had the ability to stand for its rights (and ours) if it were a struggling, one-store operation. It’s success and industry-leading position put it into a position where it could impact the entire country.
There is a lesson in this for Christian business people. We are called to be the light in a world of darkness and salt to season our communities and culture. What better way to do that then to become excellent in our professions and leaders in our industries!
Influence through excellence ought to be the strategic goal for every Christian business person and every Christian business. When business excellence intertwines with our transparent Christianity, the impact can be enormous. I remember hearing Zig Ziglar speak at the annual conference for the National Speaker’s Association a number of years ago. The first words out of his mouth were to praise Christ and give a short version of his personal testimony. Then, onto a memorable keynote speech. Zig set the bar for excellence in his profession and used the influence that came with excellence to point to Christ.
We can’t be another Zig Ziglar, with his influence and platform, but we can have a similar impact on the communities and industries in which we find ourselves.
Imagine the impact on our culture, economy and political environment if every industry were led by a Christian company. Imagine if the movers and shakers within every profession were the Christians who had earned that position through excellence. We could frame the discussion nationally, impact legislation, and touch and empower millions of citizens. Our commitment to individual responsibility, kindness, fairness and character development, to name a few, would leap to the top of the national dialogue. We would have the ear of the lobbyists, and the political powers would seek our insights. Millions of employees, vendors and customers would see what it is like to deal with integrity, love and concern for our colleagues. People would flock to learn at our feet and see what it was that distinguished our efforts. (For a full treatment of this idea, see Chapter Thirteen of The Good Book on Business.)
There is a world of recognition, access and influence that awaits every Christian business person. Yet, we won’t begin to realize it until we see that potential and choose to pursue it. Sadly, the vast majority of Christian business people are stopped at the very first step – they never even recognize the possibilities.
One of my acquaintances was a principle in an industry-leading Christian company. Despite its position of influence, the owners decided to sell the business and cash out at a relatively young age. That is, of course, the world’s recommendation. Unfortunately, the idea of using their influence to impact the community and the culture for the Kingdom was never given serious consideration.
Another, a Godly, deeply committed Christian, owned a financial services company that had grown profitable and comfortable. Rather than use the influence that accrued to him because of the excellence of his company, he choose to take more time off and pursue hobbies. While there is nothing wrong with that, he could have chosen to use some of that time to use his influence to season his industry.
From my experience the world is full of Christian business people who never make the connection between business excellence and Christian influence. Thousands, maybe millions of Christian professional and business people have the opportunity to impact our community and culture through business excellence. The overwhelming majority never recognize the opportunity to be salt and light that comes with it. Every Christian business person ought to focus on gaining and using the influence that comes through excellence.