Doug Nix, Stillwater M & A Advisors on Meaning @ Work (Part II)

Most management authors in today’s environment sing as one choir that people need to see work as something meaningful in their lives. As a result, when employees do well at work, they will be progressing towards meaning in their whole life. We ourselves at ELO, iIn previous blog posts we have delved into the interrelation between work and meaning from writers and business leaders such as Jordan Peterson, Adam Grant, Jim Collins, Mark Carney, Niall Ferguson, Michael Dell and Phil Knight.

Jim Collins, for example, believes that work needs to provide meaning because, “We live in a world rich in success but impoverished in meaning” [Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0, p. 37]. People’s ongoing search for meaning is often centered around work which establishes their identity and absorbs many of their waking hours.

When I asked Doug Nix, Founder & CEO, Stillwater Capital M&A Advisors, how he defines meaning in the context of his work, he emphasized two points. “First, my Christian faith impacts how I view my work. My highest calling is to follow Christ. He gives us each a vocation, which could be as a pastor, lawyer, doctor, stay-at-home parent, car mechanic–no vocation is better than the other. So, the vocation of the person who stocks shelves in a grocery store is as important as a pastor.”

“Second, I got to the point where I realized I didn’t want to lead a bifurcated life where I have a sacred world on Sunday with church activities and then a secular world for the rest of the week. To me, as soon as you choose to follow Christ, your whole life is sacred. When you apply that thinking to entrepreneurship, or to building a business, this is a calling to follow Christ and to think through ‘how best can I do what I’m doing as a mature son of the living God?’  We owe Him our best because we’re stewards. We’re called to stewardship – of our business, employees, clients; of every part of life.”

As I have written in Entrepreneurial Leadership: Finding Your Calling, Making A Difference, the foundation of meaning for Christians at work is their sense of calling. Doug reflected this understanding. He explained that “I’ve never, ever doubted a calling into whatever I’m doing. The other part of that, though, is that I’ve tried my best to hold it with an open hand. ‘Lord, if at any point in time you don’t want me to do this, I don’t want to do it. I might not recognize that it’s time to go, and if I don’t get that, then Father, show me because I want to live every part of my life with an open hand in regard to You.’  Another part of that -a friend of mine told me this a long time ago -we are trained to say, ‘Lord show me your will, what’s your will, am I in your will?’  My friend explained that we’re looking at it all backwards. What we should be doing is looking for evidence that we’re not in God’s will. So, live your life from the point of view that you are in His will until it’s shown that you’re not. That’s really helped me a lot. ‘Lord, I’m where you called me to be and I’m doing what you called me to do, and if I’ve got this wrong, Lord, just take it away from me and put me where you want me to be.’” 

I asked Doug, how his approach to work has changed because of being a Christian entrepreneur. He highlighted two areas. First, it has fueled his generosity. “We have a pro bono part of the work that we do where people who can’t afford our help, we will help them with no cost. We pray for people who wouldn’t otherwise be prayed for. For example, how do I figure out what to do when I don’t know what to do? There’s something I need to do in front of me, so I sit down and I pray through Isaiah 28: 23-28. Verse 23 states, “Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say” and verse 26 says, “His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.” Here’s a problem, I don’t know how to do this, and as you instructed that farmer, would you instruct me? And I sit and wait and listen. And the creator of the universe discloses stuff to me.” 

Second, when you run a professional services business, if you’re good at what you do then you develop some proprietary materials. “What I was doing was holding this know-how tightly to myself, I wasn’t sharing it all with the staff because of the fear of creating a competitor. I looked at that, and as we started integrating some spiritual practices into the business and showing the people with whom we work what it’s like to work in a Christ-centered secular business, my perspective changed.”

Doug’s perspective changed in that when somebody leaves, he now knows it’s okay for them to do so because the hope is they take what Stillwater is doing and bring those same practices somewhere else. “I started holding my secrets with an open hand as well. I started holding the people who work here with an open hand, saying to the Lord that if somebody wants to go, I will get behind them. It’s happened twice – let me get behind them and help them, even if they go to a competitor. How can I help them to excel there? I want to see that what they took with them from a spiritual point of view they take with them, and it grows there and other places.”

I asked Doug about the most important lessons he has learned that he believes are important for Christians at work. “Be serious about your faith in the marketplace. You really need faith, sometimes, to do things that go against what you see. As an example, we were out of money in the early days of Stillwater, and we started giving. And then our financial situation changed, we survived and went on to do well.

Be careful about the source of your values. “Just because a business school says to do this doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Draw the Lord into every part of what you do. Don’t be ashamed of your faith. Follow Christ. Spend time at the start of the day with Him. Time with the Lord in the morning is not time spent—it’s time multiplied.

Doug also highlighted the importance of guarding your interior life. “You could have the most successful business in the world and externally be a believer, give the appearances of it, and have no faith. I would rather be the most insignificant guy and have faith than be the richest guy in the world and have no faith. Get around people who have gone before you.“

In short, people should be clear about their meaning at work. They should define meaning rather than have a company do it for them. Christians in the marketplace should be rooted in their calling. Doug Nix provides an example of how to establish meaning at work.