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Book review: Winning in the Workplace

Friday, 7 April 2023  | Sharon Cheung

Winning in the Workplace: Uncovering and Managing the Relationships Responsible for Career Success

by Onajite Akemu

(Searcy, AR: Resource Publications, 2022)


One of the most frequent questions I hear when speaking with Christians in the workplace is: how do I balance bearing faithful witness to Jesus in the workplace with my career ambitions? What often drives this question is the underlying perception that the virtues Jesus nurtures in his followers is at odds with the principles the world calls us to draw on for career success. The author articulates this tension through the example of Jesus: he calls us both to be virtuous and shrewd in the world.

My first impressions of Winning in the Workplace were entirely hopeful. I hoped it would be a well contextualised resource for Christians interested in a theological and practical approach to cultivating relationships towards career success. By the time I approached the final chapter, my hope had gradually turned into dissatisfaction. It is quite clear that Akemu is reacting against resources in the faith and work space that are theologically sound yet ignorant of the real-world pressures workers are facing in a predominantly non-Christian environment (pp. xii-xiii). Resource Publications is an imprint of its more theological academia-inclined publishing house. With each page turn, my longing for a more thorough biblical exegesis and a richer gospel-driven theology of work only grew. Throughout the book, Akemu draws wisdom from both secular authors and the Bible, yet curiously and regularly uses the Bible to illustrate the principles of the former rather than allow the wisdom of God’s word to speak for itself.

The book is divided into four key sections: ‘Managing Up’ (Chs 1-8), ‘Managing Across’ (Chs 9-14), ‘Managing Down’ (Chs 15-17) and ‘Managing Yourself’ (Chs 18-20).

Section 1 (‘Managing Up’) begins with a lesson in recognising where power and authority lie within an organisational structure and how to manage their dynamics for one’s own career success. The insight Akemu offers from his professional experience is valuable as it ‘takes the mystery’ out of why some progress faster than others in their careers. His case for reframing power and the study of it as a good thing (as power ultimately belongs to a sovereign God), whilst simplistic, is an important issue Christians must face. There are three chapters devoted to ‘Managing Career Transitions’, which will be useful for readers of all ages who find themselves either willingly or unwillingly in a career transition.

Section 2 (‘Managing Across’) was a difficult section to digest. This section focuses on managing one’s social network to one’s benefit. To what extent does the gospel subvert worldly ways of building reputation and rapport and provide an approach that sees every person treated as an image-bearer of God whilst recognising our propensity to sin? The answer, unfortunately, could not be found in this section. Rather, it appears the author has searched the verb ‘to give’ in a biblical concordance and scattered the results throughout. For example, Chapter 12 draws on Luke 6:38 to articulate how one can avoid the pitfalls of giving too much. Yet Jesus’ use of the term ‘giving’ and ‘measuring’ in Luke 6 is in the context of judgement rather than the giving of wealth, time or effort (p. 145). Furthermore, Akemu describes those who ‘give at all times to everyone’ as being naïve and unscriptural (p. 148). This may well be true if the person who is all-giving is functioning out of unhealthy and sinful habits, however, such pastoral insight is not given. Chapter 13 helpfully offers useful insights into humility and growing in sensitivity towards others, though this same sensitivity is not shown to the reader in Chapter 14 on the topic of burnout.

Section 3 (‘Managing Down) contains three chapters on leadership styles (Ch. 15), effective leadership (Ch. 16) and identifying the best style of management for different types of workers (Ch. 17). Akemu uses various biblical characters (such as Potiphar, p. 184) to illustrate quotes from secular authors, however he does not seem to dig deeper into the theological reasons for why people are more or less motivated to do a task when leaders tell them to.

Section 4 (‘Managing Yourself’) concludes the book with various chapters on personal effectiveness and principles for personal development. Again, these chapters hold much weight in terms of secular wisdom, yet lack a pastoral voice in steering people towards Jesus after they have completed their inward reflection as a child of God operating in the workplace.

Perhaps Akemu writes from a context and culture where Christian leaders lack understanding of real-world pressures. Perhaps it is a culture where Christians are overly virtuous at the cost of being alert. These people also exist in my corner of the world; however there also exist Christians who become so blinded by their shrewdness that it comes at the cost of truly entrusting their lives to Jesus and his idea of ‘career success’. My concern is this book only further entrenches a worldly view of career success for those who desperately need a gospel redefinition of what success truly means in God’s economy.


Sharon Cheung serves as a full-time staff worker at City Bible Forum and is currently based in Melbourne. She enjoys creating spaces where community is built through exploring the big questions of life and discovering Jesus in the Bible. Sharon owes her deep appreciation of coffee to the years she spent working in finance and studying theology. Writing, art and photography are her favourite ways to tell a story.

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