Most of my professional life has been devoted to “behind the scenes” work. When people ask me what I do, I usually say, “I’m a painter.” If they ask for more details, I might describe some of the projects our company has completed. But even if they’ve heard of or been to an airport, hospital, or municipal building we’ve painted, none of them has ever noticed the paint. In commercial painting, it’s usually a bad thing when the paint job attracts notice.
My secondary arena of work has been serving in various advisory and consulting roles for individuals, companies, and organizations—work that has always taken place in one-to-one meetings, boardrooms, or small-group settings. It’s quiet, private, relational work, and I absolutely love it. I’d say it’s my sweet spot.
Frankly, being in the spotlight has never been my desire. I know and have worked with leaders with public platforms, have deep admiration and respect for what they do, and count it an honor to offer my strength to them as a friend and advisor. But I’ve never had a longing to step into their shoes.
So, when Danny Silk asked me to coauthor a book with him—and step on to his platform in the process—I had to do some thinking and cost-counting. There was the minor issue that I had never written a book before to consider, not to mention the fact that Danny wanted me to tell my personal story in the book. Saying yes to his invitation meant embarking up a steep learning curve full of risk and vulnerability.
Over the course of writing this book together, I’ve discovered that, like any long journey (discipleship, marriage, a career), becoming an author requires multiple yeses along the way. At first, I said yes to writing The Business of Honor simply because I love and trust Danny. Then, as we started to unpack the central problem we wanted to go after and define the solution we both had the authority and ability to offer, I began to say yes because I became convinced that there were people we could help by putting them in a book.
In our early discussions and exploration of the problem of dishonor in business, it was natural for us to turn to the famous stories of corporate greed, corruption, and downfall in the last few decades as our first point of research. We read books and articles on Enron, Bernie Madoff, the major players in the 2008 recession, and a host of other companies and business leaders who have made big messes in public.
Yet as I read the accounts and post-mortem analysis of these scandals, it became obvious to me that the bad policies, dysfunctional cultural dynamics, and flawed leadership that had caused them were ultimately rooted in the same behavioral issues I had observed in many people (leaders, in particular) I have known throughout forty years in business.
One leader I know landed his organization in huge financial stress when he agreed—without any accountability or discussion with his business advisors—to enter a partnership with another leader who wooed him with a grandiose vision of how they were going to change the world together. Immediately after signing contracts, however, the other leader refused to honor his financial commitments, embroiling the two parties in a months-long litigation and ultimately destroying their relationship.
Another leader was a successful businessman and philanthropist who was respected as a go-to supporter for noble causes in his city. Everyone wanted him at their events and on their boards and committees. Then one day without warning, the truth came out that he was going bankrupt. Almost no one, not even his own family, had known that his business had been on the downward slide for over a year.
Another leader slowly leveraged his large organization until they were tens of millions in debt. Though his company is still running, his policies have created a debris field of CFOs, staff members, and board members who have churned through as he has refused to hear their advice and reverse course to right the ship.
These leaders are all Christians. They are all gifted, anointed, and good-hearted. I believe they aspire to be people of honor. But as leaders of businesses and non-profits, they have lived out patterns of isolation and compartmentalization that have caused them to make dishonoring choices that violated relationships and hurt them and the people they were leading.
Isolation and compartmentalization—for me, the most obvious telltale signs that a leader is producing dysfunction and dishonor in his or her relationships and organizational culture—are ultimately rooted in shame. Brené Brown has helpfully defined shame as the fear of disconnection, which stems from the belief that our flaws make us unworthy of connection. Ironically, when shame is motivating our behavior, the fear of disconnection produces a life of disconnection. We withhold ourselves from people, refuse to trust them, run from the truth, and work overtime to manufacture a life where we don’t need people. This puts us on a crash-course to self-deception, pride, resistance to wisdom, and ultimately, dishonor.
We don’t have to live this way—and for the sake of ourselves and those around us, we mustn’t. All of us, especially leaders, are called to live in relational wholeness, especially at work. And this means we must overcome the things that are holding us back from that.
Danny and I agree that work culture issues are always leadership issues, and leadership issues are ultimately heart issues. For this reason, in The Business of Honor, we go after the heart issues. I’m fully aware that in doing so, we are probably going to make some people uncomfortable. But most good things in life lie on the other side of discomfort. Writing this book was uncomfortable—not just because of the learning curve and the work of writing, but especially because I knew I couldn’t talk to anyone about heart issues without digging one more layer deeper into my own.
But I’m here to tell you that it was—and is—all worth it. I hope you’ll trust me, like I trusted Danny, and embark on the journey with us of learning to carry a heart of honor—a heart that rejects isolation and compartmentalization and pursues a life of healthy connection—in business and in life.
P.S.S. The Business of Honor is available for presale! Take advantage of huge discounts and great rewards on our presale campaign here: Business of Honor
P.S. Bob and Danny’s free eBook, 3 Ways to Build Healthy Relational Culture at Work, is still available! Get your copy today.