By Gideon Strauss

(This is a reprint of my first piece for Fieldnotes Magazine, prompted by my carrying the De Pree Center’s Eames Time-Life chair down our stairs for a photoshoot yesterday, which – along with several conversations this week about the purpose of the De Pree Center – reminded me why this chair matters so much to me.)

Carrying our Eames Time-Life chair

Carrying our Eames Time-Life chair

I write these words while sitting in an Eames Time-Life chair manufactured by Herman Miller. The chair is beautiful, comfortable, and well-made.

Without making too much of it, I want to claim that working in this chair is a theological experience.

The chair communicates to me that I live in a wonderful world, beloved by God. It communicates to me that work matters—also work done in offices and at desks. And from what I know of its manufacture, it tells me that the work of designers, factory foremen, millwrights, and upholsterers is all worthy work—work to which people are called by God. This is not just conjecture on my part: The De Pree family, founders and for a couple of generations managers of the Herman Miller company, are on record with regard to their concern for the humanity of the people who built chairs like the one in my office.

In 1927, while walking home from the funeral of Herman Miller’s then millwright, the founder of the company, DJ De Pree, came to the conviction that “We’re all extraordinary.” Long decades later, DJ’s son Max, in his slim volume of leadership wisdom, Leadership Is an Art, asks what we can learn from his father’s reflections on the death of the millwright. Max writes, “In addition to all of the ratios and goals and parameters and bottom lines, it is fundamental that leaders endorse a concept of persons. This begins with an understanding of the diversity of people’s gifts and talents and skills.”

Later in Leadership Is an Art, Max elaborates on some of the features of the concept of persons that informed his father’s leadership and his own: “Each of us is needed. Each of us has a gift to bring. Each of us is a social being and our institutions are social units. Each of us has a deep-seated desire to contribute.”

Max De Pree has influenced many people through his example and his writing, and continues to do so. Because we share Max’s—and DJ’s—deep love and high regard for the human person, we hope to see this influence extend into many places of work around the world. The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary—the publisher of Fieldnotes Magazine—is a catalyst for the truly human practice of work, leadership, and organizational life in businesses, non-profits, and churches.

In Fieldnotes, we hope you will discover insights and stories that will change your life and your leadership, setting you free to be truly human in how you work, and equipping you to shape organizations in which others can be truly human—connecting, learning, contributing.

Gideon Strauss is the executive director at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and also editor of Fieldnotes Magazine.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email The Editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.

 

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