The Bible says many came to sit at the feet of King Solomon and learn from him. I have to believe these kingdoms sent their most intelligent, excellent men and women to learn from the wisest person who ever lived.
I have also come to believe these were no ordinary visits or conferences they attended, nor a recommended podcast they quickly listened to and forgot about. I have to believe they took home and implemented everything they learned.
When the Queen of Sheba went to visit King Solomon, she took with her 120 talents of gold from her treasuries—some $285 million-plus by today’s market values. And that wasn’t all; according to the short account of her visit in 1 Chronicles 10, she also carried more spices than Jerusalem had ever seen, plus precious stones.
We don’t know much about this unnamed queen of a mysterious and magnificent country, but we can deduce that she lived in opulence and already had an established kingdom, where commerce and trade made them great. Yet still she came to find out more about the famous wise king she had heard of.
Put yourself in the frame of mind of someone who is scouting out an adventure, making a site visit to evaluate the reports that have filtered into your office. Think about a corporate visit: you’ve heard about this incredible chain and have heard you can possibly meet the owner of Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out Burger, or Delta Air Lines. You want to take your company—what you want to be—and see if the leaders of these corporate success stories can help transform your vision. So you hop on a flight and jet to their headquarters because you want to inspect firsthand what these people are doing.
This is essentially what was going on when the Queen of Sheba went to visit Solomon. The overriding question in her mind: “How do you do what you do? Because whatever you’re doing, we want to do in our city.”
Because “game recognizes game,” royalty recognizes royalty, and regal-ness is a byproduct, it seems that a common mutual respect existed between these two monarchs. But what the queen witnessed, felt, saw, and experienced was unlike anything she expected.
I think she and King Solomon’s other visitors learned lessons they were able to adapt to their own context and for the betterment of their kingdoms. And I believe those same lessons are found in the life of Solomon and applicable today, in whatever sphere of influence you may be involved.
God inspires excellence, and it can accelerate everything you touch, and in turn, the lives of other people as well. But excellence is not brought about by a fairy’s wave of the wand or pixie dust that just happens to be sprinkled on someone’s life or business. It is a choice.
Details are important: ask anyone who has been audited by the Internal Revenue Service! Ask anyone who has been to traffic court because they forgot about those pesky parking tickets. Ask me about my wife’s Starbuck’s drink order! (How the most uncomplicated woman can have a complicated drink order is baffling to me.)
By the time the Queen of Sheba arrived in Jerusalem, Solomon and his staff had mastered the details. Not only the details of a magnificent scope of exterior building design, and interior quality and excellence, but also of attention to details in the way his team operated. You can bet Solomon and his supervisors worked on coaching them about such things as the expression on their faces (“You should all look happy to be here. There are thousands of Hebrews who would love to have your position!”)
Those fortunate to be working at the palace would have been coached on their posture (“Stand up straight and pull your shoulders back!”), when they should make eye contact with guests, or when they should gaze into the distance, as if they hadn’t seen anything or heard comments they were not supposed to repeat.
Additionally, their ability to solve problems with wisdom (I’m sure the wisdom thing wore off on Solomon’s people) and speed in arriving at creative solutions was something that must have been drilled into them. Such attention to details shows you actually care about what you do, who you are serving (the customer), and who you do it with.
There are bedrock principles behind caring for others and how we carry out the tasks we have been given to do:
- Care About What You Do
(Principle: Pay attention to the details)
First, let’s talk about caring about what you do. When you care about the details of your uniform, how you are groomed, and how you present yourself to customers, it shows you care about what you do. When you show up for work looking like you just rolled out of bed, or are dressed in the same casual stretchy fabric sweats you wear to saunter down to the corner market, it speaks volumes.
Many people say: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Generally, I agree with that old adage. However, when it comes to business, people do judge by appearance.
It isn’t just clothing that makes a difference, though. When I started as a busboy at The Willows, a famous local restaurant, I arrived with experience gained in working at two well-known chain restaurants. Their philosophy could be expressed through the phrase familiar to all the busboys (and girls) who worked there: “Turn and burn.” We bussed those tables in a flurry to allow those waiting outside the doors to get in so the wait staff could carb-load them into lethargy.
Now, at The Willows, supervisors wanted us to turn (buss) the tables quickly. But at the same time, they wanted us to remember this restaurant had an old Hawaii charm to it, which meant we needed to avoid the appearance of hustling customers out the door. The business’s revolved around caring about what you do. If you don’t have care for what you do and the people you do it for and with, then it’s either time for a motivational pep talk with yourself, or to find another place to do that in.
We’ve all gone to establishments where hardly anyone makes eye contact. No smiles and no warmth coming across the countertop to welcome you to their business. Eyes just fixated on computer screens. I’m sure we’ve all felt ignored or possibly even avoided.
In business, this kind of behavior is a cardinal sin. It simply cannot happen. As soon as people walk through the door, they need to be greeted. If it’s a clothing store, they don’t want to be hovered over, just asked if they need any assistance. Then salespeople need to give them room and space. But ignoring them completely?
The worst thing that can happen is having an employee who is indifferent to customers’ needs. Not only does such indifference bleed onto other team members, it can spread like a fungus throughout the organization. It’s a detail that we cannot afford to miss.
- Care About Who You Do It For
(Principle: It’s all about the customers)
This is why paying attention to details is critical. Not just caring about what you do, but about who you do it for. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about the customer: if you have no customers, you have no business. No business means no new business, new customers, and new profits. Without profits, a business will not stay afloat.
So you could have great food and ambience and pay hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars to upgrade your facilities and still miss the point: Your most important assets are the people who are running the business and those who are making most of the contact with customers. We have to care about the people that we are doing it for.
“How?” you ask. Very simple. Ask questions like, “How is your day going? Are you doing anything special on your vacation? What are you doing this weekend? How are you enjoying the holiday?” Get to know people and ask them questions that will get them talking and possibly even smiling. You will have better than decent reviews on social media, and people will come back not only because of what you sold them, but because of how you made them feel.
- Care About Who You Do It With
(Principle: Relationships help build a culture)
The third critical detail is who you do it with. This is a vital component of building a culture of excellence. We operate in a day when what people feel and experience matters more than it did in the past. That also matters when it comes to how we relate to people we work with, work for, and those we lead. People need to care and know how much their leaders care.
In order to build a culture of excellence, our staff and teams must not feel it’s all about the bottom line and profits. They must know they are loved, valued, cared for and appreciated. People are not just the means to an end, even though they will help you get there. In my experience, when people know and feel you have their best interests at heart, they will do anything—if the cause is big enough and they know you truly care.
Now, I’m the first to admit we haven’t always been the best in this department at our church. There have been times where I’m sure we have failed staff and employees, with some feeling as if we didn’t care enough about their situation. And to that I say, fair enough. But for the majority, I’m sure their experience with us has been a great one.
When staff members have felt that a new season or transition was coming in their lives, they’ve always given us the privilege and the honor of processing with them what their next season will look like. We’ve always wanted “God’s best” for them. If that meant doing something else, somewhere else, then it would be good for us as well.
In his fascinating book, Excellence Wins, Horst Schulze, the co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, advises: “Don’t hire at all. Instead, select—and then inspire.” Schulze’s own experience bears out the wisdom of this approach; his inspiration to enter the hotel industry came during his teenage years, when he encountered “a wise maître d’ who treated me and the rest of his young staff as human beings, not just function fillers.”
One of the famed hotelier’s comments particularly stuck with me: “Hire long, fire fast.” Hiring and interviewing should not be a quick process. You cannot look for warm bodies or people to fog up a mirror or—so to speak—people that you have to check for a pulse. You want to hire slow and find people who fit the profile of the position, not the other way around. Then you want people who have the ability to carry out your values as an organization because they are the ones who are going to live it and uphold it.
However, it’s not only about hiring the right people. As author Jim Collins says in his bestselling book, Good to Great, taking a company from good to great means not just getting the right people on the bus, but getting them in the right seats and teaching them what to do once they are there. So, the onboarding process of culture acclimatization should not be delegated to a fellow staff member or employee so they can show the new person “the ropes”; what they may be passing on could be detrimental to the organization’s goals.
As Schulze points out, the CEO, business owner, or senior pastor should be the one leading these orientation sessions. In the past, I was guilty of too often handing this duty off to others because I rationalized that I did not have time. That is no longer the case.
Another way of making sure you have the right people on board, and that you’re doing it with the right people who enjoy doing it, is constantly reinforcing your values. For us, every Tuesday through Friday morning we have something akin to a pep talk at 9 a.m. While it only lasts for about 10 minutes, it usually has to do with reviewing one of our core values. That talk will use a biblical passage or sometimes an inspirational thought or a story, but it’s all done to develop an esprit de corps among team members and staff.
In other words, to have a strong team, you have to create a strong team spirit.