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(This is another in a week-long series on forming oneself as a Catholic business person.)

While still in the Fortune 500 world, we were continuing to downsize. The word came down during one round of layoffs to include a specific individual working for me. My perception was that cost-cutting wasn’t the primary reason for including this person on the list for layoff. I still believe this layoff was motivated by a senior leader’s sense of revenge; he wanted to "get" someone new to the corporation that had struggled to fit in, ruffling many feathers along the way. Having personally experienced the ruffling and other challenging behaviors, I understood why people were pissed and would want the individual gone.

Yet, having worked with the individual closely in the previous year, I witnessed the most dramatic turnaround in personal leadership I had ever seen in a co-worker. This person made big changes, working to take a different, more productive approach to co-worker and executive interactions.

A Personal Leadership Test

Based on the personal leadership turnaround, I made the case several times for a demotion and not a termination. The answer was, “No.” I suggested other alternatives. Our HR rep told me, however, it was a lost cause. The senior executive running things wanted this person out of the organization.

During the weeks leading up to the mass layoff date, I worried and agonized. This person had become a friend I had invested time and energy helping to develop. Carrying out layoffs always bothered me; it was especially troubling in this case. Working out one evening, my fretting and negative self-talk escalated. What happened next is as clear as if it happened yesterday. In the middle of ab exercises, I worried about not having the talents and personal leadership wherewithal to terminate this person. While thinking about what was ahead, I heard a voice in my mind that wasn't my own. It carried a message I would never consider: "The talents aren't yours. They're mine. Quit doubting them."

I looked around, realizing the message hadn’t been uttered by someone near me. The message had been delivered to me personally and internally. It was completely clear to me God was sending this message. Who else could claim ownership of the talents I completely doubted in myself? Wondering whether this was simply self-talk, it was clear this message about talents was something I would never consider. It was a message that had originated externally to get me on the right track.

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This was the first time I remember, after many years of trying to cultivate a more rigorous prayer life, hearing a message from God directly.

It’s reassuring, however, that it wasn't the last message. It's not as if these messages are frequent, but they have happened again at very important times. I test them on whether they are things I want or already think. If so, I dismiss them as my own thinking. When they are messages clearly beyond me, I pay attention and look for external confirmation.

What types of confirmation?

In the case of the layoff, the night before it happened, I received a mysterious, supportive email in the middle of the night from someone who checked out as a real person I didn't know. Additionally, the person I had to terminate handled it in the most positive, professional way I could EVER imagine. These external signals confirmed for me this message originated from God, even though I still have no absolute proof of that to this day.

Listening for Answers

People who know me as fact-based and logic-oriented will likely struggle to understand this post. Trust me, though. The answers are out there. And if you’re open to listening everywhere, God is more than willing to share the answers you need. - Mike Brown

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