The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Monday, January 25, 2021

RANDOM THOUGHTS AND REALITIES ON LEADERSHIP (AND RELATIONSHIPS)

Many troubles, failures, shortcomings and inconveniences we experience in life can be boiled down to intentional actions (or a deliberate withholding of actions) that individuals use as a way to accomplish their personal ends.  Far too many individuals would prefer to elevate themselves by standing still – content to remain within their self-imagined importance and fragile sense of worth – by removing “the competition” and diminishing the spirits of those around them RATHER THAN by lifting others up to a higher level we should all seek.  Avoiding accountability or responsibility within a relationship by bringing those around you down rather than lifting them up – by seemingly elevating oneself as others falter – does not result in gain but rather in standing firmly on ground that has been previously walked yet feeling yourself much better than those floundering in troubled waters (into which you – intentionally or unintentionally – banished them).  This destructive demotivation can happen at work, in life and even within relationships when one (or both) parties exaggerate their self-importance and perceived contributions to a controlling level above those of the engaged partner (team or group).  While many of our shortcomings are a result of our personal actions (or inactions), others are a result of personality issues (strengths and flaws) that interfere with our ability to interact with others.

It has been said that someone perpetually late for meetings is driven by one of three characteristics.  They are either controlling (wanting to make sure that others know their importance), overly focused on details (not wanting to leave a project until a stopping point is reached) or are insecure (needing the attention and validation from others that being late brings).  None of these are good reasons to keep others from working, contributing or problem-solving but all focus more on an individual (their wants, needs, desires or personality characteristics) than on the good of all involved.  Whenever an individual NEEDS to finish one project before moving on to the next (or, alternatively, has NO INTEREST OR DESIRE to look into all the facts before making a decision OR cannot make a decision until ALL the facts have been reviewed and all the remote possibilities explored), talk more than they listen (or speak as if with a sturdy stick rather than a gentle voice), personality factors may be in play.  While it is difficult to change “who we are” it is possible to alter “how we look and act” to and towards others as long as we have a good reason to alter our perspectives or a worthwhile reward (or punishment) is linked to actions our actions.  Whenever we change ourselves to accomplish something we would not normally set as a high priority, however, we should recognize that no matter how successful we are in changing ourselves into something that seems to be different we will ALWAYS revert back to who we are should we experience stress or be pushed beyond our limits.

Doing things the same way they have always been done rarely produces results different than what has already been accomplished.  While not always a bad thing, progress is jeopardized and results minimized when someone perceived to be “large and in charge” shifts all the blame to others while seeking to claim all the positive praise for themselves.  Leadership should be seen as credible, trusted and wise (wisdom being the appropriate application of knowledge and experience to accomplish a task through others or build others up to accomplish great things)...as fallible and sincere...as honest and approachable.  Far too often a new leader sits back and takes comfort in the misconception that he or she “has arrived” when receiving their promotion rather than realizing that the opportunity is only the first step on their journey towards continued growth.  Far too many relationships have been destroyed by a self-seeking and self-serving partner feeling that he or she is THE reason for success, THE financial driver, THE only one with any needs and THE only one to set the relationship’s agenda.  The same holds true within a work setting...those IN CHARGE often find that the only one listening is themselves (as they carry on about how good they might be) and that those around them have become strangely distant (why compete with another’s self-perception?).

Some would say that rules are made to be broken – that the ends justify the means...that it does not matter how something transpired as long as it ended in a result that was satisfactory to the individual(s) who benefit from the actions.  An issue with this perception is that far too often it results in winners and losers.  Leveraging “win/win” solutions (approaching something in a shared decision-making process) could meld the talents and abilities of many to move forward in a manner that would allow all to win. 

Leaders recognize and respect rules – and typically seek to understand WHY they might be in existence and WHAT they might be accomplishing before doing anything to alter or change the rule by focusing on its origination and intent rather than its results and repercussions.  Supervisors or Managers often use rules as a weapon – relying upon them regardless of the circumstance and blaming them for any problem, discipline or termination.  “I would love to work with you but the rules are pretty clear on what I must do” is such a transfer of power that the manager might as well forfeit his or her authority.  A great leader (in any setting) should be able to explain the “why” of rules and recognize not only the absolute value of word meanings but also their intent.  Compromise (consistent and fair) tends to be most practical within any relationship (be it at work or at home).  There are very few “bright lines” as to “what cannot be done” unless it impacts life, livelihood, safety, trust or an organization’s bottom line.

Leadership within organizations or within a relationship (service group or body of individuals) is not that much different.  One must establish credibility in order to lead (OR to be heard) – a leader who does not know what is being done by those he or she leads and fails to identify the reason they enjoy (hopefully) their work will not be able to command the respect needed to motivate performance or maintain engagement.  A leader within any setting must be able to communicate clearly and effectively – and communication is not telling, ordering or dictating that something be done in a certain way within a given timeframe allowing for no independent thoughts.  Sometimes, in fact, silence and intent concentration on what another might be thinking, saying or feeling shouts much more loudly than words ever could. 

While a leader is responsible for results, he or she must also ensure that all interested parties within the team, the group or the relationship are able to express an opinion that is discussed and considered prior to a decision being made.  A relationship that is controlled (not shared) by one individual doing what he or she thinks is right (without considering the thoughts, feelings or opinions of the theoretically equal partner) will not remain strong unless an unhealthy emotional dependency exists in which one party takes joy while the other provides subservience.  An individual might be able to supervise or manage others by telling them what is needed and how to do it but will never be able to LEAD through trust, credibility and respect unless he or she actively engages team members and discusses their thoughts and suggestions.  A government entity will not be able to provide fair and democratic leadership if all blame for dissension or disagreement is dumped upon “the other folks” that “obviously caused the problems” while excusing or ignoring the role those seeking unity might have played.

Leadership is a “many splendid thing” no matter what way one looks at it.  It can be the highest peak in an individual’s life or the lowest valley within their existence – which, unfortunately, carries over to the individuals being led.  Learn to lead by taking the time to listen, to think, to analyze and to act.  Pick yourself up should you fall – more can be gained from getting back up than would ever be learned from staying down.  Know that whatever decisions you make or actions you take influence more than just yourself...that you are being counted upon to provide guidance (resources, support or a host of other things) to those depending upon you.  Remember that much can be accomplished by those willing to listen, to share and to “not really care” who gets the credit for a job (or a relationship) well done.


Monday, January 18, 2021

PLAYING THE BLAME GAME

Leadership emerges during times of trouble, turmoil and strife.  It has been said that anyone can manage during good times – and any relationship can be great if everything is easy with no trouble in sight – but what happens when the going gets tough becomes the measure of a person’s strength, character and values.  While there should be very little difference in your leadership style when you face unexpected hurdles, far too many “competent” individuals excuse (avoid, cover up or justify) their own actions by blaming or deferring to someone else.  It seems that when things are going well some will always take the credit yet if they begin to get even a little bit rough the blame falls squarely upon others – it is either their fault, their shortcoming, their mistake, their actions that caused the conflict or ANYTHING except a bit of self-examination and the assumption of even a shared responsibility.  Seeking short term-gain (popularity, acceptance, being “liked” by others) often damages long-term credibility when “it was not my fault” is the immediate response to every issue, problem or concern that faces us.

Examples of “decision deferral” and “blame game mastery” exist everywhere we look.  The Government tends to shift blame rather than assuming ownership of most situations – and (sadly) the American People tend to accept that transfer as being acceptable (this happens no matter who was or is in charge...anything wrong is because of a past decision...anything that turns out to be a good thing is because of a new leader’s insight and action).  People do the same...if their retirement account gains it is because they invested wisely – if it decreases it is because their advisor does not know what he or she is doing.  If a relationship is going well it is because of what they bring to the party – if it falters it is because of some unforgivable thing that someone else has done (without considering what role may have been shared).  While blaming may defer or deflect it rarely resolves an issue or repairs a relationship.  Individuals within failing (or suffering) relationships OR facing impending doom because of an equal and opposite reaction to an action intentionally (or unintentionally) taken often blame others for their position in life, lamenting that things would have been different IF ONLY someone else had not made a mistake or made a decision without first running it up the management flagpole.

In reality, many people feel vulnerable when accepting blame...more worried about what someone else might think than they are about resolving the issue or what went wrong rather than how they should move forward.  “It is not MY fault!” is far easier to say than “I am sorry – I was wrong.”  An apology should be the beginning of a new direction rather than the end of a poor choice.  It is not a conclusion – it is a fresh start.  Too many people feel they need to avoid all appearance of being “human” (making mistakes, expressing doubt, changing a direction should the conditions change or admitting to a weakness rather than seeking to appear infallible) as they mistakenly feel that “being right” trumps “being real” when it comes to relationships, leadership or life in general.

In the workplace, sudden decreases in business may cause otherwise competent managers to tell staff they should “look busy” because “top management” is out to cut expenses and “we do not want that to happen to us.”  By building a bond of fear perpetuated by some “other authority” with their staff (trying to be the “good guy or gal” rather than assuming the responsibility inherent to their role), deferring managers may avoid the perceived responsibility for negative consequences but will never be able to own the credit for something done well...will never be able to become truly exceptional leaders.  Rather than becoming driver in the implementation of a solution, their deferral of responsibility makes them an inexcusable part of the problem.  Seeking a short-term gain (popularity) at the expense of a long-term reward (credibility) is like seeking refuge from a storm within a dry riverbed at the bottom of a canyon. Both choices lead to disaster BUT one would be able to hear the water crashing through a valley more easily than a loss of credibility which slips silently away.

Given the same sudden decrease in business (or an unexpected turn in a relationship), a leader will “take the bull by the horns” and face reality by confirming that things are tough (staff probably already knows this), telling them that something must happen to change the current situation (insanity is doing things the same way expecting different results), and painting a realistic picture of what might happen unless an alternative is identified.  It does not really matter WHO is to blame or WHY the situation currently exists (if, indeed, it was the fault of another).  What DOES matter is what will (or can) be done to move from where we are (regardless of why we are there) to where we want to be, recognizing that life is not a paved highway providing a clear and direct path to a known destination – it is a winding road offering many alternatives, detours and roadblocks. Those that worry so much about who could have “acted badly” to create such a situation rather than simply identifying what may have happened and moving forward will rarely find success, happiness or fulfillment in life.

Blame is situational – it may be a means to an artificial end but it is rarely an end to a problem.  Life is transactional – it is often more give than take (which, if the giving is without expectation usually results in rewards that are far in excess of what was given)...more sharing and accepting blame than seeking or receiving credit.  When we wait for or continually defer to others for a solution to avoid making mistakes of our own we forfeit the ability to influence our own destiny.  Avoiding (or accepting) the obvious does not create change – it fosters complacency.  Assigning fault and blame without self-examination as to our part of a negative situation may serve to excuse our individual role or responsibility but it does not initiate change or bring about resolution.  If we wait for things to happen to us, expect someone else to lead us from where we are or hope that someone else changes so that we will not have to, our choices become obvious and our results limited to a narrow set of defined (and predictable) outcomes.  If, however, we react and respond to situations rather than blaming and excusing, we will find our lives full of unpredictable moments that reveal to us unlimited potential leading to undefined (and unexpected) possibilities. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

THE POWER (AND POSSIBILITIES) OF LISTENING...

Some people listen but cannot bring themselves to hear – they know words are being spoken but do not (or will not) accept them as information, input or alternative thoughts that might be as important as their own.  A patient listener can be a great addition to any work team or strengthen any relationship – but too many listeners (without any “doers”) can impede progress.  Strong individuals who speak before listening (or thinking) may view good listeners as being “weak” or “followers.” Listening skills must be linked to deliberate and intentional action in order to aid in the accomplishment of specific tasks.  Far too often a person's listening skills could be likened to standing near a waterfall - one can listen to the roar of rushing water but when focused upon the magnitude of that sound will be unable to hear the words of others (regardless of their importance) that can be lost within the noise.  Amazing things could be accomplished if only everyone could “speak softly while listening loudly so they might be able to act boldly,” within a world that seems to be filled with way too much noise.

It takes courage to listen.  In order to listen, one must often be able to first ask.  In order to ask, one admits (either actually or implicitly) that he or she does not know.  Such an admission is nearly impossible for some people – and can be the death of many relationships if not addressed.  We must accept that gathering information in order to make a decision is not a sign of weakness or of failure.  The only failure one can make is deciding something before all data has been considered and all opinions on the application/interpretation of that data have been discussed (and analyzed).  Some may want to enter this “questioning game” by seeking public validation of their own (in their own mind) great ideas.  Discovering that others might be able to enhance (as well as clarify, expand and refine) a solution, may make asking another’s opinion (and honestly listening to their response) easier over time but one cannot listen with an open mind if he or she truly believes that “they are right and the rest of the world is wrong.”

Asking questions (which requires listening to hear the response) can help others think more and communicate their thoughts better.  I once asked an employee what she thought about an issue.  She said, “I am not paid to think, only to do what I am told.”  Needless to say, that employee no longer works at the Organization.  While she worked well and met the expectations established by another manager, she was not the kind of employee that we needed and could build upon for the future.  Without asking a question, however, and listening for her response (which, in this case, was totally unacceptable), she could still be here, “doing” her thing without thinking about what she could be doing to help or support those around her.  When we learn something is amiss by listening we should feel obligated to address it – not by over-reacting to the situation discovered but rather by clarifying and communicating expectations, listening to responses, coming to a mutually agreeable course of action, monitoring progress and seeking acceptable performance or interactions.

A good listener knows when to encourage conversation.  When facilitating a discussion group, a work team or participating in a good relationship, our listening may involve asking open-ended questions (as opposed to giving close-ended solutions), encouraging others to expand on a partially developed thought (rather than adding to it yourself), and drawing introspective individuals (a nice way to say quiet or insecure) into the conversation.  Ground rules for good listening would have to include that the only bad or dumb question is the question not asked, the only bad or dumb solution is the one not given and that everyone involved has value, can contribute in some way and deserves to be heard.

Have you ever heard that “actions speak louder than words?”  People often say things like “I care, I am interested or I am listening…” as they continue writing when someone comes into their office or doing what they were doing before being addressed by another.  They think they are asking the right questions and waiting quietly for the answer (with their arms crossed, their foot tapping, and a vacant look in their eyes causing their body to scream “I do not hear you, nor do I care!”).  While we are given two ears with which to listen, our body is much larger than our ears and can make a greater impression upon someone trying to speak.  Make an effort to keep IT receptive, also, to the words that are being spoken by those answering our questions and the feelings or concerns that are being expressed by them either verbally or through their body language.  Listening involves more than simply hearing what might be offered...it requires one to ask non-judgmental questions that could (should) initiate two-way conversation that will lead to thoughts being exchanged so that answers can be expressed.  It requires one to communicate openly and honestly, responding to what is being said AND inquiring as to what is not being said.  It requires one to hear what is being whispered through another’s words while seeing what is being shouted through their body language (by paying attention to the “tone” as their outward appearance screams while their voice speaks softly).  Often we can “hear” more by watching (we were given two eyes as well as two ears…we can see and hear twice as much as we say with our one mouth – though some may speak more loudly than they act) than by listening.

Listening is a complex phenomenon.  In order to listen effectively we must ALWAYS act on what others say (as well as what they may intentionally or unintentionally NOT be saying) and what we see (sense or feel).  Within a team one must listen and act in order to accomplish expectations.  Within a relationship one must listen and act TOGETHER in order to accomplish today what must be done so that tomorrow can be spent fulfilling dreams.  ALWAYS remember that while you are listening to those around you they are also listening to you.  As a leader we must set the bar high by doing what we say is important through both our words and our actions.  “Do as I say, not as I do” never has been (and never will be) an effective way to encourage participation or achieve exceptional results.  One must learn to silence the noise around them and listen with an open mind to hear the thoughts and feelings expressed by another when they speak in order to consider their input within the formulation of a solution - and must acknowledge the words they hear by responding (whether or not the suggestions will be included in the actions you take) if one can fully realize the power (and possibilities) of listening. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

RESOLVING TO CHANGE

The only certainty about change is that it will happen – regardless of what we do or say.  We can anticipate change – planning alternative reactions to the multitude of possibilities that might present themselves – but rarely can we predict with any degree of accuracy what we will be doing during the New Year as we so well learned last year (but we MUST react to unexpected circumstances or anticipate things that COULD happen to minimize their impact in our lives). Change is far too elusive to be contained – its possibilities far too numerous to be compartmentalized within our finite minds.  In order to accomplish change we must act with purpose and refuse to accept the status quo as we constantly identify new possibilities through a process of screening or validating their potential benefit by measuring their rewards against the investment of time and effort required to bring them to fruition.

As we move from one year to the next, many make resolutions of what they wish to change – proclaiming what will be different or what things in life they will leave behind – without ever taking the time to identify what must be changed BEFORE they move forward.  They often fail to realize their dreams because they do not identify and eliminate the behaviors that led to the need for change.  We cannot expect to see different results until we start doing things differently, honestly thinking about our strengths AND weaknesses or responding to the things in life that impact us rather than simply recognizing them and accepting them as fate, destiny or some other unchangeable influence.  Change is as much about identifying where we want to MOVE FROM as it is about looking towards where we wish to be.  We need to establish goals and objectives in order to begin a journey towards change – but to accomplish change we must intentionally decide to move away from our past without becoming comfortable and content within the “present” we find if we wish to discover and embrace all the future might hold.


In order to grow we must come to grips with who we are and what we do well as well as what we want and why we wish things to be different if we seek lasting change.  We must embrace our positive attributes while compartmentalizing the negative – and accept that where we wish to be IS an extension of where we are rather than an abstract concept or a desire shrouded by mists and darkness.  Change most often succeeds when it is gradual – when it builds from our strengths while minimizing our weaknesses – rather than proclaiming that things will be different without planning, preparation or self-awareness.  We can initiate and maintain change that builds upon what we do well – that does not require a complete transformation of who we are or what we portray ourselves.  It is relatively easy to change when we can alter a negative behavior or isolate a wandering thought to receive a greater reward than we would have had if we remained tied to what we did or where we were.  It is much more difficult to re-invent ourselves, our actions, our tendencies and our expectations without plan or purpose in order to achieve a different outcome in our lives.  Self-directed change can be accomplished when the initiator of change is able to monitor progress, see results and continue to move forward because the positive benefits gained are greater than those received had change NOT been initiated.  

Typically, resolutions that result in visible physical or behavioral change that others notice and comment upon passively feed one’s desire to maintain their change.  When obvious “positives” come from minor behavioral changes or altered choices, resolutions are often at least partially (if not fully) realized.  When individuals enter into a “pact” with themselves to realize change, however, it is not always accomplished since accountability to another is stronger than holding oneself responsible for results.  Even resolutions initiated through internal desires (one must WANT to change before change can occur) may need external oversight to keep the train on the track and moving in the right direction. It is almost impossible to “resolve” to be something different or “wake up” as someone other than who we have always been without someone being honest and helpful should you begin to drift from your objectives.  Far too often when we make a personal commitment to alter our behavior we compromise our internal standards when “the going gets tough” by allowing ourselves to “stop going” (and often fail to get back on track when conditions change).  We accept a level of “acceptable sameness” when we measure our own progress and answer only to ourselves for the results we achieve.  While short-term change can be dictated, lasting change occurs ONLY when we internally formulate the “what,” fully realize the “why,” understand the “how” and are completely committed to the “what will be.”  Relying upon a trusted friend, partner or co-worker to discuss the distractions while holding us accountable to push forward will help us make significant and lasting change.  We should always declare our resolutions publicly (even if the “public” to whom we declare them is but one or two) rather than keeping them secret IF we truly want help in our accomplishing transformational change.

Take the time to start fresh in 2021 BUT hold on to those things that you do well – that move you forward – rather than resolving to be drastically different in an unrealistic period of time.  Change is good – but sometimes choosing NOT to change can be just as rewarding.  Do not, however, accept mediocrity as a standard or find comfort in complacency.  When you resolve to change, do whatever it takes (internally OR with an external accountability partner) to initiate, monitor and maintain the change.  Make this year one of successful resolution so that, should you so desire, you might be able to initiate a meaningful revolution in your life.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Immerse Yourself in Who You Are (Not Who You Wish You Were) To Become All That You Can

In whatever we choose to do in life we should try to be “who we are” because everyone else is already taken.  As individuals we tend to blend into the environment in which we work (play or live) and support the ideas expressed by those around us (to minimize conflict and confrontation) rather than intentionally expressing our own opinions, grasping our individual options or taking the “road less traveled.”  If we truly lived as if we were “comfortable in our own skin” would we be in any better (or worse) shape than trying to fill the expectations that others have in terms of how we should think, act or feel?  Would the world be different if we lived in more of a “what you see is what you get” place (tempered by appropriateness and acceptable moral/ethical standards) rather than the somewhat guarded face we typically present when interacting with others?  If we were to transform the tolerance we begrudgingly demonstrate when others are “not like us” in thoughts, actions, appearances or values into unconditional acceptance, would the world become a better place in which we could live, work and thrive?  If we could be more comfortable with who we are – readily exhibiting our strengths, acknowledging our shortcomings and intentionally acting to leverage what we do well in order to bring about positive change – might we more readily embrace the similarities and accept the differences of those around us (rather than obsessing on and about the differences BECAUSE we prefer people to be “like us”)? 

Accepting “who we are” does not imply we need not change.  An individual must change as their environment changes and adapt when something that once worked is no longer effective – we are not static points within a sedentary world.  Life “happens” and we must anticipate, respond and react to the challenges it presents.  Expressing “who you are” today does not mean you should be the same tomorrow – nor does it assume you are the same as you were yesterday.  It means we should accept our skills, abilities, values, ethics, standards and persona as they express themselves today – within the conditions, environment and circumstances we face – so we can build upon them while moving towards a better tomorrow.  We should never accept progress as being an end result nor should we discount the steps we take towards a new beginning (which can easily happen if we focus on the ends rather than the means).  We can learn from the experience of others but should not claim (nor settle for) their success as our own nor seek...nor avoid potential personal failure by accepting that what has been achieved by another is all that could be accomplished by anyone.  Much growth (and great reward) can come from building upon the efforts of another and potentially exposing ourselves to failure by allowing ourselves to experience personal risk, overcome shortcomings or defeats and share the “credit” with others.  Growth and discovery comes only when one is courageous enough to expand upon established reality to uncover new ways of doing things, meet people once thought unreachable and discover new possibilities beyond the known and proven probabilities.  While we can emulate those we respect – who have accomplished things we may not have yet imagined – we should never reject who we truly are by seeking to become someone (or something) that already exists.  Seek to make that which exists (and has yet to be discovered) within your own unbridled imagination a potential destination rather than a possible pitfall.

To become all that we can be we must first accept all that we are (and acknowledge but not necessarily accept all that we ARE NOT) so we can move beyond the limitations of our present abilities into a world of limitless possibilities.  We cannot fulfill our own potential when we are busy immersing ourselves in our proven and accomplished success.  When we dwell upon what we have we do not have time to consider what we want or need.  Rather than focusing on what others might have that we do not we would be better served to carefully weigh our true needs (rather than our “wants”) before taking intentional action to bring to fruition those things (thoughts, goals, dreams, relationships,  or objectives) that are truly important, critical or significant.  When we truly accept ourselves as being able to initiate change (while recognizing, understanding and acknowledging there are some things we are not yet able to accomplish) – refusing to be content with what we have or where we are in life (until we have done all that is possible to fulfill our unrealized potential) – we will discover that “being ourselves” is a good thing. 

We must never stop learning from our successes (and our failings), never stop growing from “wins” (as well as our “losses”) and never stay down after falling (or avoid the fall at any cost to avoid failure) - RATHER we should focus our energies on picking ourselves up to continue moving forward or seek alternative paths that might provide new and different perspectives.  ONLY when we are able to find comfort in “who” and “what” we are (rather than seeking recognition and comfort in the accomplishments of another or basking in their success) will we be able to let others be who they are (because we are OK with who we are becoming) and, more importantly, will we be able to accept who WE ARE rather than who we might someday, somewhere, somehow become (knowing that we are OK now and intentionally moving through each chapter of our lives as we move towards an ever-evolving destination.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

TURN ACCOMPLISHMENT INTO ACHIEVEMENT

Far too often people focus on how their day starts, how their task is being accomplished or what must be done first RATHER THAN thinking about how their day could/should end, what progress might be made towards the resolution of an issue or a situation or what must be finished in order to consider an assignment complete.  We focus on the path that must be taken rather than upon the end that must be reached – on how quickly we can start and what kind of “pace” we should maintain to complete each “race” we run within a defined and acceptable time period rather than focusing all of our efforts and energies so that we might be able to run a strong race and have energy as we near the finish to seek other opportunities.  Regardless of how well each individual assignment is performed, one cannot do only what has been assigned and expect to receive more than minimal reward, growth or success.  

Looking back (instead of ahead), remaining content with the present (rather than building upon the present as a springboard to the future), and doing what we know works (as opposed to seeking what might work better) are all signs of stagnation – at work, in our relationships OR in life.  An acorn cannot become an oak tree without the proper environment and adequate nourishment present to feed its future growth.  What kind of a butterfly would a caterpillar become if it were content to crawl rather than seeking to fly?  An individual cannot become “one” with another without caring more for the other than for him or her self.  If one wishes to achieve “the possible” rather than being content to accomplish those things that are “probable,” the race that is run must be built upon a path that transforms “what is” into “what could be.”  In order to achieve great things (rather than to accomplish what is expected) our sights must be firmly focused upon that which has yet to be considered possible – running each race as if it has never before been run and climbing mountains not yet conquered – rather than being content to perform those things that have been tried, tested and found to be safe while seeking to avoid (rather than learn from) failure.  In order to focus on the ends (rather than being trapped in the means) – to accomplish and achieve (rather than simply to perform and comply) – one must continually and intentionally strive to:

 ·         Clarify the difference between efficiency with effectiveness.  Efficient individuals make sure that every investment of time and/or energy has a direct and measurable impact – either in their own life or in the life of another.  They rarely waste time or energy doing unnecessary things that “could be done or might be nice” but are not needed in order to accomplish their objectives.  Effective individuals are focused – accomplishing things that need doing in order to move forward – in the most efficient and impactful way imaginable.  Effective individuals accomplish all things well as they advance their cause or move them towards the accomplishment of defined objectives – often accomplishing ONLY their objective – often quickly but not always in the most streamlined or efficient way possible.  An efficient individual may tell others what to do then get out of the way – coordinating actions and monitoring ideas so that all involved can work in a complimentary fashion towards the accomplishment of goals and objectives with very little wasted effort or activity.  Effective individuals get things done.  Efficient individuals accomplish things with a minimum of wasted effort that results in maximum rewards.

 ·         Stop believing that they are irreplaceable.   If an individual feels that nobody could EVER do what he or she does, that person has probably limited what he or she can accomplish.  When we feel nobody could ever do the things we do as well as we do them ourselves – and accept that as an unwavering paradigm – we become so enamored with our ability to accomplish defined objectives that we fail to identify possible alternative outcomes...we believe that since nobody can do something as well as we do that we cannot abandon the path we are on to pursue other possibilities for fear that the “routine” will not be accomplished (which keeps us from achieving what has not yet been considered).  If nobody else can do (or even wishes to try) your job, then you will never advance beyond the rung of the ladder upon which you have firmly positioned yourself.  If you feel so important in the life of another that you quit trying to discover new adventures, activities or uncharted territory within your relationship you may find comfort and security but fall far short of your potential.

 ·         Quit believing we know all the answers.  People who know the right answers in life often find themselves thrust into management roles – positions that require quick responses and specific directions to individuals charged with accomplishing defined tasks using proven processes.  They often take charge within their relationships by providing others exactly what he or she feels is needed, wanted or desired to create happiness.  MANAGERS can assign tasks, oversee activities and provide security by defining what must be done and how it must be accomplished.  Those that ask the right questions, however, are much more valuable than those who can give all the right answers – often becoming well respected leaders rather than successful managers.  They develop strong relationships because they support others and help them to grow (as individuals) rather than expecting them to accept what they are told, given or provided as being sufficient.  In order to finish each race strongly we must ALWAYS be open to new ideas, techniques, and ways of doing things.  We can truly contribute to success and profitability – or experience all that life could offer – ONLY after identifying the limitations of current systems, policies, practices and procedures (or the weaknesses and “fatal flaws” within relationships) by asking questions as to how they might be improved then intentionally acting to implement acceptable change.  Nothing will change, however, until we decide to act – to move forward by implementing the answers received of the questions we asked (rather than doing things as we have always done them because we think we know all the answers ourselves).

 ·         ALWAYS give credit to others (when deserved) and accept responsibility for “learning experiences” (even when blame could be shared).  People recognizing and acknowledging the ideas and actions of others tend to share a never-ending ride to the top – enjoying a seemingly unlimited potential “upside” while minimizing (but not eliminating)  their individual risk.  When failure is truly viewed as a learning opportunity, those that achieve great things will never quit learning because unless we experience shortcomings, disappointment and “dead ends” in life we will probably never achieve much beyond what others have accomplished.  Unless we care more for others than we do ourselves we will never taste the fullness that a life-changing relationship can provide.  Those that take credit for the ideas of others (and assign blame for failure or shift focus to deflect accountability) may manage the accomplishment of defined objectives or live within the “comfort” of a relationship but may never experience the camaraderie found through supportive friends, strong relationships or peers that might prop them up in the future. 

 ·         Add to our existing abilities and upgrade outdated skills, refusing to accept “what is” as a destination and “what has always been” as an infallible truth.  What was once necessary to maintain a life-long job or to enjoy a long-lasting relationship is no longer sufficient in today’s ever-changing world.  Individuals who “fail to know” that a self-serving attitude or “do as I am told” perspective are not the standards of achievement (but could be standards of accomplishment) will also typically fail to grow...those who refuse to retrain (enhancing their skills, abilities and perspectives) typically will not remain (successful, accomplished or respected).  Unless an individual brings more into a relationship than he or she could ever expect it to return – is willing to give to another more than is taken (unconditionally and without expectations) and seeks to gain more by sharing than by receiving, he or she will never realize the treasures awaiting them just beyond their current reality.

Life is not a sprint run within a vacuum – it is a marathon that requires a team of runners relying upon each other for strength, encouragement and support.  Turning individual accomplishment into achievement that impacts many requires more than singular thoughts that initiate personal actions.  We must leverage the abilities of a team having diverse experiences, different perspectives and unique aptitudes to produce the best possible outcomes that will be supported, championed and carried out by all people or stakeholders involved (whether the team is many or few...a group or a relationship) if we wish to achieve great things within a good world.  We must build the foundation upon which we stand (so that we are firmly rooted and grounded in our convictions) as we intentionally choose the paths upon which we will travel (keeping our eyes wide open to avoid unwarranted or unwanted turbulence).  We must be approachable as we acknowledge the abilities of others, allowing (and encouraging) them to learn from their mistakes rather than making them fear and avoid failure.  We must embrace the encouragement of individuals around us to make personal contributions to the resolution of an issue or the enhancement of a relationship, recognizing the importance of their input by giving them appropriate credit (and rewards) when due, allowing them to fail as necessary and encouraging them to “get up” when they fall rather than remaining down. 

 Leaders able to mobilize the thoughts, abilities, capabilities and experiences of those around them accomplish much while achieving objectives not yet imagined while reaching heights not previously considered possible in their work, their relationships and their lives.  Those that choose to operate in ways defined by others, maintain what is already in place and find comfort and sufficiency within relationships that have become routine, stagnant and predictable may accomplish much but often achieve little in life.  When operating under the mantra of seeking to “make a difference” in the lives of others by doing things selflessly and without expectation of anything in return one might find out how much can truly be achieved in life.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

SEEKING LEADERSHIP FROM UNEXPECTED PLACES – LOOK TOWARDS INTROVERTS

Some would suggest that great relationships involve extroverts seeking new adventures and adding spice to life in whatever they say and do – that to be fun one must be heard clearly and frequently. We often think that highly effective leaders speak flawlessly and persuasively to both crowds and individuals or mingle effortlessly at events bringing a sense of value to all they interact with and a perceived elevation to all that are engaged with them. Extroverts having KNOWLEDGE, EXPERIENCE AND ABILITY are able to mobilize individuals to follow them when they step into the spotlight but introverts are often excellent and highly respected leaders if they can overcome the tendency to hide or downplay their strengths – if they can recognize and accept the value that they hold for others rather than continuously dismissing it as being “nothing special.”

Many of the better leaders and those involved in the strongest relationships I have in my life have been more “introverted” than “extroverted” in their actions, communications and ways they influence those around them. Though extroverts can often motivate individuals or with ease and inspire them to do things they might not have otherwise considered or dominate relationships by attracting all the attention, glitz and glamour to themselves (and those around them), some extremely introverted individuals have become excellent leaders (AND deeply respected within the relationships that they build) by exhibiting basic characteristics not typically associated with their more flamboyant peers. An introvert’s natural tendencies and characteristics include:

·      They are deliberate and measured in their response to situations.  Introverts are not slow nor overly focused in their thinking processes – many process things quickly – rather they typically consider the “pros and cons” of most decisions and formulate several alternative courses of action should their initial direction prove untenable AND they typically find ways to work with and through others rather than seeking all the glory or basking in all the attention. 

·      They are not prone to bursts of temper or extreme reactions.  Introverts are thoughtful in how they sift through and process information, rarely acting until they have considered thoroughly what might happen should they act and what might have to be done to “undo” anything that might go wrong. They tend not to “shift blame” nor have unreasonable outbursts of emotion preferring to listen and consider before they speak or react.     

They are decisive once they have charted a course. Subdued in words and actions, introverts spend ample amounts of time “thinking” before “acting,” Perceived delays in action (seen as a negative by extroverts) are typically caused by the need to view issues from all sides rather than fear of failure or “losing face.”  In the story of the tortoise and the hare, one was probably an introvert and the other an introvert...one took time to make deliberate decisions that won the race while the other was boastfully confident and ended up losing (the race, respect and  credibility).

They are good listeners. Introverts let others do most of the talking then meld diverse suggestions into workable solutions. Introverts act on what they hear after filtering “what will work” from “what will not” so their recommendations are more likely to be accepted by “the team” rather than rejected as being “top-down” decisions.  They seek input from others that extroverts might ignore and value the ideas of others in the relationships they build.

        They are naturally risk averse – a critical characteristic in avoiding potentially disastrous decisions. When we do things as they have always been done we cannot expect to produce results that are different from what they have always been. The ramifications of intentionally changing a product (in business) or a relationship must be anticipated with alternative responses developed should “our worst nightmares” come to fruition – introverts tend to expect the best but plan for the worst as they approach their work or their relationships. Being “risk averse” helps introverts to minimize nightmares but measured change is necessary for growth so they must identify risk wisely and act accordingly when others depend on the decisions made or “the way we are” may prevent us from becoming “what we could be - together.”

·       They often become the voice of reason within any situation or environment. While an introvert’s voice is not typically loudest or most dominant it often becomes most clearly heard and persuasive as it stands above the noise of a crowd. Influenced more by rationality than charisma – by self-confidence than the need for external validation – an introvert is “heard” because people know something reasonable is being said in a rational and thoughtful way (while and extrovert is “heard” because nothing can detract from the importance they feel in themselves or the volume with which they speak).

Extroverts often become leaders in their careers (AND within the relationships they build) through self-proclamation of their abilities and accomplishments as they thrive on those preferring to avoid personal risk by following another’s suggestions or directions – to avert personal failure or disappointment by acting on thoughts expressed loudly and convincingly while hiding behind the perceived protection of “it is not my fault” or “it was not my idea” should something fail. Introverts align more with the “meek” than the “weak,” showing their strength rather than proclaiming it – earning the respect of those with whom they interact and acting for the good of the whole rather than for the advancement of themselves.  Introverts try to avoid personal mistakes (or learn from them should they occur).  The compliant actions and attitudes of others help extroverts elevate themselves into leadership positions or perceived dominant roles within relationships but great leaders (and “equal” partners) are elevated upon the shoulders of those able to see their strong internal values and understated their personal characteristics.

Introverts must be willing and able to leave their “comfort zone,” entering the world of “what if?” while leaving that of “what is” behind, if they are to contribute significantly to others.  An introverted leader must be willing to make him- or herself stand up and speak in front of people, facilitate large and contentious meetings, and wade into interpersonal conflict when their natural inclination might be to go home and read a good book or be “an island” rather than a part of a larger society. Introverted leaders are typically “drafted” by others to show the way because of the exceptional results their understated mannerisms achieve. They rarely shine a light on their own accomplishments or seek recognition for what they do, preferring to find satisfaction in their results or the strength of the relationships in which they become involved. Listening before acting, analyzing before deciding and determining direction only after considering the magnitude and ramifications of risk rather than only how to avoid it are characteristics of introverted leaders. If actions truly speak louder than words, think of the opportunities, possibilities and potential a quiet and introspective demeanor might provide – the strength and confidence that support instead of blustery proclamation might encourage – before choosing to follow the effervescent.  If introverts are able to look beneath the surface to discover their own strengths – then project themselves beyond the obvious extroverted tendencies of vocal individuals seeking to elevate themselves – they can become the emotional, physical and practical leaders that are needed during these unusual times.