The Spiritual Restructuring Series: I

Rich Pirotta

LPTrendsSpirit: A Series on Balancing The Secular and Spiritual Life. A different take on organizational restructuring of our spiritual lives – a way to take what we know about systematic organizational restructuring and apply it to our internal selves….by Rich Pirotta, a regular, highly experienced, and credible business and leadership contributor to LP Magazine.

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“Most of my career has been invested in assisting organizations in restructuring and renewing their focus, whether as a leader, coach, or facilitator.  We can lose focus frequently amidst challenges and distractions.  Is our sales team and organization truly customer-focused?  Does the nonprofit understand the concept of ease of use for volunteers and donors?  Does the company that is running out of cash realize the situation in enough time for a turnaround?

In reflecting upon these experiences, I believe that we can apply similar principles of restructuring to our spiritual lives, and our broader spiritual journey.  These articles (this being the first) will share five key concepts that are relevant to both organizational restructuring and our individual spiritual restructuring for a strong spiritual journey.

The first shared concept is to Surrender Authority.

In the organizational world, the initial step in a restructuring is a transfer of authority, power, or control, from the individual(s) who have been running the organization.  In the absence of this first step, it is unlikely that the significant and necessary changes will occur.

Usually this transition is painful or controversial.  The CEO or President doesn’t see the situation as others do, and even after confronted with the facts, can’t comprehend how bad it has become.  They may believe that they still have a role to play in fixing the situation, when the reality is that they need to step away.  As such, most of these changes happen quickly, in a surgical manner, and are disruptive to the entire organization.

In one of the companies that I was hired to lead, this transition had an unexpected, but positive effect.  It was a small company, and performance was such that the owner was desperate to make a change.  He had invested over $3 million to fund the launch of the business, but four years in, was still losing money. He was rightfully impatient with the promises that sales would improve and profits would begin.  I was asked to lead the organization, and the first step was to remove the current leader and the operations manager.

On the pre-determined day, the two individuals who previously had authority for the organization left with their respective boxes of possessions, and it was time to meet with the remaining employees and start stabilizing the business.  This is often the hardest part, because the uncertainty due to the disruption is so high.  Most people’s first thought is – am I going to lose my job too?  And the next – is the company going to be shut down or will we make it?

Implementing The Concept

As I began the meeting, shared future plans for the company and the reasoning why the changes occurred, I noticed that no one was upset with the loss of their leaders!  To a person, they had been hoping that the owner had the courage to change those in authority.  This was remarkable, because it’s rare that;

1) leadership is the main roadblock to success,

2) employees recognize that leadership is the main roadblock to success, and

3) employees remain instead of seeking work elsewhere under better authority! 

In this case, the group knew what had to be done to make the company successful; they had just been stymied by poor authority.  When we were able to produce more high quality product for our customers in one month than in the prior six months, it appeared to me that the transfer of authority was more like a laxative.  Removing constipated authority from holding back a strong organization was the lesson.

In the Charitable Purpose Business

Restructuring is not limited to the for-profit world.  When working with nonprofits where volunteers have ambiguous authority, and the leader or founder of the group has a large influence, the concept of Surrender Authority can be even more difficult.  My wife and I were asked to join the board of a ministry that provided housing and meals for orphaned children in Africa.  There had been some financial challenges, so I served in the role of CFO, and my wife took the lead on a major fundraising event that raised over $50,000.  Still, the organization never seemed to have enough money.

When I took steps to limit the CEO’s use of the organization bank account as their own, they went ballistic, and I thought to myself – this is not going to end well.  Over the next year, things that had been hidden came to light, and some of them were ugly, especially with the use of the organization’s funds.  Pastors and churches got involved, board members quarreled, and the CEO was asked to step down for a period of time to allow the organization to restore credibility.  They refused – and the organization disintegrated.  Six out of ten board members, including my wife and I, resigned, and what had taken many years to build became a shell.  A ministry that had served many with an honorable purpose fell because the one in authority refused to surrender it.

Although I’ve been a catalyst for others to Surrender Authority, I’ve had to do the same.  In a manufacturing business that I had led successfully through a turnaround, I was rewarded with the role of President.  Over a two year period, we survived the bankruptcy of our largest customer by diversifying our sales base, and even won a large program that allowed us to continue to grow profitably.   But we couldn’t survive the failure of our bank.  When it was taken over by the FDIC, we lost all access to capital, and began a death spiral.  At a Board meeting, I was asked to resign from the business, the pre-selected Trustee took over, and I had my own personal experience in Surrendering Authority.

For our Spiritual Restructuring, the principle of Surrender Authority applies to who we are and the spiritual journey we are on.  We live in a culture that enables independence and messages that we can be who we want to be if we just persevere on our path.  Just like the leader of a business, nonprofit, or company in trouble, we believe we alone are responsible for our lives – what we choose, or what we allow them to be.  The Aesop’s fables of our day have to do with individuals exerting intense effort to climb what they believe to be the ladder of success, only to find it is leaning against the wrong wall!

With the benefit of experience and time, I think we can look at the truth for what it is.  Can or do we control a large part of what happens in our lives?  Yes.  Are we the ultimate control and authority?  Not even close.  How much luck have we had in trying to control other people, whose interaction and relation makes up most of our lives?  Or the cycles of the economy?  Or the circumstances of where we live and our family of origin?  Or the outcome of the game with our favorite sports team? At best, we have partial control, which we need to exercise well – but despite our messaging and our culture, we are not the sun in a me-centered universe.

In contrast, those who seek begin to understand that God’s presence is in all places and all things.  The wise in every generation and every civilization have pondered the presence of the God they cannot see, but know intimately exists.  St. Augustine of Hippo’s remarks in the 5th century are poignant – “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

The Complexity of This Perspective

We will not rest in God while we try to wrest control for our lives away from the one who is sovereign.  I once interviewed with a company where one’s spiritual affinity was as important as the nature of the work they performed and the value they delivered for their clients.  It was an amazing place.  Statements like “… our best work for our clients comes through us, but is not from us…” were discussed and reflected upon on a weekly basis.  As I approached the third round of interviews, I was told that this was one that was going to cover spiritual ground.  That in itself was fascinating.  How was a US organization going to comply with the non-discrimination requirements of Federal labor law, yet use a spiritual lens for potential candidates?

During the phone interview, we progressed through a series of questions, with the final one clearly being the decider.  The interviewer asked, quite innocently:  You are in car, driving down the road of life.  Who is sitting behind the steering wheel?   This was not a question I had heard before, and I relished its implications.  If I said I was behind the steering wheel, that was probably the more common or standard answer.  Me, the high-achiever, alpha male, superhero, taking control of my destiny and leading the transformational change for a better world!  Or at least, that’s what a good library of self-fulfillment tapes would indicate. (Please note the sarcasm).

But what about the other answer?  To share that in fact, I didn’t have the ultimate control over my life – and that my faith led me to believe that God was at the steering wheel, driving the car, and that I was really a passenger?  A capable, intentional, and alert passenger, but nonetheless, a passenger who had learned not to wrest the steering wheel from his sovereign creator?   A lesson I may add, that had not been learned easily, with plenty of pain for me and others.

In this case, I defaulted to what I believed to be the truth.  I answered that for most of my life I had believed I was behind the steering wheel, but in reality, God was driving and I was along for the ride.  Whether it was what the interviewer wanted to hear or not, I wasn’t sure – but I knew it was the true answer.  A few days later, I received a job offer and went to work for a time at an amazing company that was attuned to the spiritual as much as the physical world.

Perhaps you have been wrestling with this concept – balancing the secular and the spiritual in life and struggling with both.  I would offer that a Spiritual Restructuring begins with putting one’s life firmly on the side that says God has ultimate control.  As the complete Jewish Bible shares in Romans 9:20 “Who are you, a mere human being, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me this way?”

Yield.  Let the God who is omnipotent and everpresent take authority for our lives.  How do we do that?  On our path of spiritual restructuring, the second concept is to Be Still, the topic for our next article.

Rich Pirrotta serves as Managing Director of the Whitehall Group, with over 20 years of experience in manufacturing, technology, and restructuring.  Rich has served in President, Vice-President, COO, and CFO roles as a line executive in entrepreneurial and Fortune 50 companies, and spent ten years with Deloitte in their Management Consulting and M&A practices.  As a consultant and adviser, he has contributed significant value to companies such as Merck, General Motors, RJR Nabisco, United Technologies, and Chevron, and has helped raise over $35 million for smaller companies in various stages of growth.  He is a member of the National Speakers Association, and holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from Penn State, and a MBA in Financial Management and Operations Management from Wharton. 

Tweet him @richpirrotta.

Article by Rich Pirrotta

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