While living in Japan I had to learn about business etiquette in that culture. I learned how to bow, how to give and receive business cards and where to sit in cars. Because of the hierarchal nature of Japanese business, most things have some form of symbolism and rules to follow. This includes where to sit in a meeting. On one side of the table, usually the side closest to the door will be the host. The guests will be honored by being seated farther from the door and any interruptions. The lowest rank employee from the host will be closest to the door. From there, the highest ranking guest will be seated in the chair farthest away from the door. Sitting directly across will be the individual of similar rank. In many cases the highest ranking host will sit at the head of the table. So each seat has been identified specifically based on your rank in the organization.
We find a similar situation in Jesus time and He shares a parable that we can learn a heavenly principle from Luke 14:8-11.
He went on to tell a story to the guests around the table. Noticing how each had tried to elbow into the place of honor, he said, “When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. Then he’ll come and call out in front of everybody, ‘You’re in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this man.’ Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left.
“When you’re invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, ‘Friend, come up to the front.’ That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! What I’m saying is, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
If we were in Japan, it would be clear where we would sit, however in many other parts of the world, there are no such seating charts. The heavenly principle here is really about humility. We can apply in a business context. While humility seems to be counter intuitive to what we read in most leadership books, I have found it a great tool for success. We have all been in a meeting with an individual who is so full of themselves and cocky. There is an air of superiority and believe they can do no wrong.
I can relate, as I fell into this trap early in my career. I had success after success and became very full of myself. I thought I had pulled off a feat to automate Accounts Payable on a global scale. I influenced governments, build systems and transformed the industry. Or so I thought. I know now God had a lot more to do with the success than I ever did. He let me learn that in my next job where I went in believing I could do no wrong and anything I touched would turn to gold. It was then where God allowed my single greatest failure in business to occur. It was certainly humbling, even more so because I was so cocky.
This parable is letting us know that we should be humble, no matter what our successes are. We should not go to the head of the table, thinking higher of ourselves. Let others see us, our value, our values and have them invite us to sit closer to the highest ranking host. If you take on this characteristic, I know you will find more success than you ever imagined. Give me your thoughts and stories. What do you think?