Monday, January 14, 2008


I never have been able to keep a tidy desk. I gather my working tools around me: my files, my books, my notes, my pens, my phones, my incoming correspondence, my daily journal, my cup of coffee, my computer and I am ready to go. I know where everything is--well almost--and I go to work.

My desk has been a source of contention for several of my bosses. They would come into my office, take one look at my desk, and do one of two things: retreat or give me a word that usually could be boiled down to, "Your desk should be tidier!" It may not have helped that I had a sign on my desk that read "A CLEAN DESK IS THE SIGN OF A SICK MIND!" Probably not the most tactful sign to have on my desk.

One of my early bosses walked into my office and told me, "Last night I was praying for you and the Lord gave me a scripture for you." I broke out into a panic-driven sweat when he said this. I was thinking, "Oh, I am in doo-doo now!" (Doo-doo is Texas talk for "manure.")

He quoted me Proverbs 14:4: "Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; But much increase comes by the strength of the ox."

Strange as it may seem, this verse has come to have wonderful meaning for me over the years...but only after I got over the complex of being compared to an ox. (I had to watch Dr. Phil for over a year to break the image in my mind and I still have the occasional nightmare about it.)

Simply put, this verse is saying: "If there is no ox in the stall, there will be no mess on the floor. It's better to have to get out the shovel and clean up the mess, because from the strength of the ox comes the increase. No ox, no mess; no mess, no increase!"

One of the weaknesses of our culture and its approach to measuring people is that we are accustomed to putting too much effort into finding out what people's weaknesses are. I learned a valuable lesson from reading about how the Japanese approach hiring new staff. Japanese businesses tend to focus more than we do on people's strengths, what they are good at. They want to be aware of what the weaknesses are but they do not disqualify a person because they have weaknesses. They accept the fact that strong capable people often have weaknesses that are quite visible. One of the reasons Japanese businesses surged so strongly in the later portion of the last century was because they embraced this approach.

It is much more profitable to understand where people's strengths lie and help them build on them than to concentrate on their weaknesses. You may not like this idea but it is better to have to clean up a little mess now and then because you have a strong ox in the stall than it is to have a mediocre ox that makes tiny, neat little messes but just never does get the job done.

The ox was the work animal of the ancient world. Smart farmers that had a team of oxen took good care of them. They understood that if the oxen were properly fed and cared for, they would be able to plough more land in a day. They would be able to drive a grinding wheel longer in a day because it was through the ox's strength that the strength of the farmer was multiplied and made abundantly fruitful. So a smart farmer/employer/person knew it was important to nuture the strength of the ox.

It is often difficult for us to understand exactly where our own strengths lie and frequently we need the help of others in this. I am grateful that the same boss who impressed Proverbs 14:4 was caring enough to help me begin to develop some of my strengths that I could not see in my self. There are also some wonderful assessment tests available to us.

The word "increase" as it is used here means gain, profit, fruitfulness, or revenue.

I think the Apostle Paul understood this principle because of the way he used it in 2 Corinthians 10:15: "Not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men's labors, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere."

Build on strength and watch the increase come!

Okay, enough of this Dr. Phil is about to come on.

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