Talking about religion in the workplace is a no-no, right? To the contrary, it seems to be working out quite well for Giving Company, a faith-based media company. With four properties, including the recent acquisition of a Christian bookstore chain, they are a healthy and growing enterprise. Divine intervention, perhaps?
This week on CEO Exclusive, I’m happy to welcome their CEO David Henriksen and former CMO Adrion Porter to discuss how digital media is taking over their business, how they’ve taken advantage of the changes in retail, and (yes!) how they apply their faith to running Giving Company. While this topic may not be for everyone, I’ve been waiting patiently for a chance to discuss the intersection of spiritual faith and business leadership with a CEO who is willing to go there. Well, my wait is over. Here are the recommendations from the show that I believe are helpful to every CEO.
Figure Out Where You Stand on the Issue
If faith is something that’s an important part of your life, given the taboo around discussing God at work, what do you do? Do you just let it sit in the background forming your personal decisions? Do you let your employees know about your beliefs? Successful leaders and companies fall everywhere on the spectrum. The Denver Institute positions four approaches to invoking faith in the workplace. Pick your flavor and enjoy it.
- Faith-avoiding—Talk about God, faith and religion are discouraged. “Leave it at home”
- Faith-tolerant—Discussions about religion are accepted but not encouraged. Adjustments are made for religious observances, for example.
- Faith-based—Full court press with the religion of the leaders and owners. The faith and belief is fully integrated into the company culture and operations. Giving Company and Chick-fil-a are examples of this approach.
- Faith-friendly—Everyone’s faith is encouraged. Whatever your beliefs are, religious, atheist, or agnostic, go ahead and bring them to work.
Build Alignment around Common Values
Regardless of where you are on the “faith at work” spectrum, one lesson that the faith-based approach teaches us is the power of common values. Giving Company has prayer every morning at 9AM. Just for those few minutes, all activity is interrupted and all employees join together in this common exercise. As the other CEOs I’ve interviewed have attested many times, this kind of unity is powerful, regardless of what the exercise happens to be. At David’s company, it happens to be morning prayer.
Adrion realized the impact after he left to go start his own branding agency, “[When I started] I wasn’t used to coming to an organization and praying every day, before every meeting. It was a breath of fresh air. It was enlightening and empowering. When I wasn’t there anymore, I definitely noticed the void. I said, ‘I’ve got to get up and pray every day.’ Even at home, I’m going to have devotional in my house.”
Use Tested Principles to Shape Your Leadership
Certain principles are very effective in shaping and molding leadership. For example, Adrion describes his daily practice of gratitude and planning, which he attributes to making him a better father, husband, and (of course) business leader. Adrion’s recipe:
- Start every day with gratitude. Begin each morning, usually a couple of hours before the rest of the crew wakes up. Start the day with three things that you’re grateful for. These may change every day.
- Then after that, get into personal devotional or prayer time.
- Finally, do your planning, backed by a connection first with yourself, internally, and then, also with the higher being. Set your goals for the day, week, month, whatever.
He admits this is very much a work in progress. Adrion explains, “I’m trying to make that spiritual connection. And I’ve noticed that when I do fall off, I notice that I feel like the wheels are not aligned. So that keeps me coming back, because I want to make sure that I can be the best that I can be.”
Apply Data Driven Divine Guidance
Studies show that about 94% of people believe in some sort of higher something. If you are one of the 6%, go ahead and skip to the next section. So, what does this look like at Giving Company? David explains, “We walk this balance of the importance of data, the importance of good financial decisions, the importance of good financial stewardship, and our purpose; which is rooted in our faith…Every morning as a group, we ask for divine intervention on a daily basis. It might be with business decisions, [or] It might be with things that our team is going through personally. We’ve had a number of tragedies that our team has experienced over the past few years. So, we’re leaning into divine intervention for comfort and deliverance from those kinds of things. But we also know that staring at the spreadsheet too long maybe can get us in trouble. Because while we want to be financially sound, strategically sound, and disciplined in how we run the company, if we don’t lean into our Creator for that insight, we’re going to miss.”
As airy-fairy as it may sound, David’s approach of asking for divine intervention tempered with financial skepticism is typical of CEOs and entrepreneurs. The Harvard Business Review explains this phenomenon in an article entitled “Entrepreneurs Feel Closer to God Than the Rest of Us Do”. In a 2013 study conducted by Baylor University, 1714 adults were asked about their religious habits. They found that entrepreneurs prayed more frequently than other people and were more likely to believe that God was personally responsive to them.
Adrion describes the payoff, “To me, when I started to [pray] consistently, I noticed that things became more clear. I noticed that my goals become less insurmountable. Because I’m starting with something that’s outside of myself…”
During Difficult Times, Draw on Your Purpose
Every business (and its CEO) goes through difficult times. So, what sustains you? The answer for Giving Company is entirely clear—their higher purpose.
David proudly attests, “Our purpose is to serve vulnerable children all around the world. And so, on the tough days, when the revenue wasn’t what we wanted it to be…Or, we didn’t get the product out in time…Or, we’ve got a bug…Or, the Apple Store declined our latest release. Or, whatever it might be, we think about the over 5,000 people in Africa that have received clean water for the rest of their life because of our relationship with World Vision. We think about the girls that have been rescued from human trafficking in East Africa because of our relationship with Crisis Aid International. Whether it’s faith or whether it’s purpose, which are intertwined, that is what keeps us going, and that is what keeps us driven.”
Faith and religion are deeply personal and often divisive issues. It’s no wonder that we work hard to keep them out of public spaces, like our businesses. But, if we’re honest, we all believe in something. We all idolize various things– money, success, status, or, at Giving Company, their religion. It’s useful for us to harness those beliefs and use them as fuel for growth and development. So, what do you believe in? And, what are you going to do about it?