Columns for The Lufkin News

Tips for Success in Any Office Environment

Posted Nov 04, 2014 by Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

My wife, Catherine, starting working for St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church as Parish Administrator about four and a half years ago. We were close to empty nesting at the time, and she felt she wanted to get back in the workforce in a meaningful, purposeful way. St. Cyprian's has been a blessing for her, and she for them.

Catherine was recently asked to provide her job description for other churches in the diocese. She wisely commented that the key to being a successful admin is understanding that your calling is to make someone else successful. A well-written job description is a great starting place, but a smart admin thinks beyond the dry description. What follows are her guiding principles, in her own words:

Smile. Every parishioner deserves to be welcomed into the office with a cheerful attitude. Not because they pay your wage, or you might need them to do something for you, or simply because you regard them as a friend beyond the walls of the church, but because this is God’s house and we are a very small reflection of Him and the joy He has in His people.

Menial Work. Every job has tasks that seem menial. When I’m feeling a little weighted down by such chores, I remember that Martin Luther once said that a dairy maid could milk cows to the glory of God. So I milk the cows and am surprised by how the more enjoyable aspects of my job pop up unexpectedly in the middle of the humdrum.

Don’t bring troubles to work. Don’t come to work thinking that you are coming to therapy or your own counseling session. Yes, be open and honest with your co-workers, but remember how much emotional baggage they are expected to carry for others already.

Wear multiple hats. Learn how to compartmentalize within your work relationships. That sounds bad, but think about the different roles that are necessary to function smoothly in an office. With my former rector, I would put on my Employee/Employer hat to discuss things like salary or vacation or working conditions. The Friendship hat I wore outside the office when I would invite him and his wife to events or would socialize with them away from the office. The Big Sister hat was worn when I needed to try and teach him something about parenting or life (I am 15 years older).

Listen closely. As you gain trust and credibility, people will begin to solicit your opinion. Note that sometimes they are simply practicing or working out their own thoughts and ideas by talking them through. You can be a valuable asset by listening closely, reflecting back what they have said, and helping them think through the implications of what they are discussing. Sometimes you will be able to contribute an original idea, but what the ministerial staff really need is a safe ear to listen. The freedom to think out loud in confidence is a gift you can give them. Most of them are very verbal people who talk things out and sometimes don’t want to just talk to themselves.

Finally, try to say yes more than you say no. This job is full of the humdrum, the interesting, and the surprising. Be flexible and enthusiastic. It is a valuable ministry. Every day I am blessed to further God’s kingdom in some small manner by helping his shepherds and their sheep to follow him better.

What Catherine has written is great advice for all of us, regardless of our position or job or ministry. Thanks, Catherine!

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Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

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