At Work

Letting Go of a ‘My Way or the Highway’ Attitude at Work

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Captain James T. Kirk likes to get his way.

In the 2009 movie reboot of Star Trek, while a cadet at Starfleet Academy, Kirk has to take a war games simulation called the Kobayashi Maru. He fails on his first attempt. The ship is destroyed and the crew is killed.

Kirk passes the test the second time. No one ever passed before.

He cheated.

The simulation was designed to be unwinnable. It was a test of character.

Rather than facing the real intent of the simulation—failure—Kirk reprogrammed the test to ensure he got his way.

How often do we act this way at work? How often do we insist on getting our own way?

The Pearl and the Shell

In 1 Corinthians 13:5, the Apostle Paul tells us love “does not insist on its own way.” Philip Graham Ryken calls this kind of love a “selfless desire to bless other people.

This is radically different from what the world teaches about success at work.

By focusing on self rather than others, the postmodern idea of success is out of alignment with biblical love. In the postmodern world, success is defined as me deciding upon and then getting my own way.

Countless self-help books encourage this form of insistence as a way to get ahead at work. Many of these books make selfish insistence sound really good by confusing it with the commendable practices of perseverance and dedication.

We all fall short of God’s model of selfless love. Each one of us demands our own way in direct, indirect, and even manipulative ways at work.

Here are a few examples:

  • Forming political alliances to vilify or undermine colleagues preventing us from getting what we want.
  • Lying (often by omission) about or painting an unflattering picture of colleagues with authority over areas we want to control.
  • Antagonizing or intimidating colleagues whose views differ from ours, with the intent of reducing the free exchange of ideas.

We often get our way when we do these things, but at a great price.

Working this way means sacrificing integrity and personal relationships. Insisting on our own way is like cherishing the crusty shell and throwing away the pearl.

Humility in Action

How can we put Paul’s description of selfless love into action? Are we to walk on eggshells, never expressing our views and ideas? Are we to be cubicle drones that never question decisions or propose alternative approaches?

Of course not.

As followers of Christ, we are called to be excellent in all we do (Col. 3:23). Using our gifts and abilities at work will almost always mean that we have ideas and proposals to share.

When our ideas are not adopted, however, we are called to humbly and patiently adopt the ideas and direction that have been chosen. This is the opposite of insisting on our own way.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another (Col. 3:12-13a).

We all have seasons in which decisions and circumstances don’t go our way. And we have all, at one time or another, had trouble accepting that.

If you’re experiencing this situation, here’s something you can try this week:

  • Start with words. Humbly approach the colleague with whom you struggle for power/control. Acknowledge the tension in the relationship. End by letting your colleague know that you will be fully supportive of him/her and the decision.
  • Prove your words with actions. Demonstrate your support of the decision and your colleague. Be openly supportive in meetings and behind closed doors. Do all that you can to make the initiative—and your colleague—successful.

Rebuilding relationships is hard, pride-crushing work. Please let us know how it goes.


Editor’s note: Letting go of control is easier with God’s help and when you understand God’s big picture. Read more in All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel.

On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This article was previously published on Aug. 12, 2014.

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