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!

Thursday, February 9, 2017


A manager mobilizes others to act in order to accomplish a defined goal or objective.  Managers identify (and communicate) expected results then train, direct or tell others what must be done to accomplish specific tasks.  The shortcoming with managing, however, is that doing things “by the book” and “as expected” inhibits innovation, creativity and change.  Unfortunately, many managers put what is accomplished above how it is done, inadvertently demonstrating that the ends are more important than the means.  Managers who dictate who does what, how is it to be done and what is an acceptable outcome can accomplish much BUT will rarely inspire others to greatness nor improve upon “what is” by discovering “what could be.”  Through the application of a specific and highly honed skill-set, managers successfully:

·         Identify objectives
·         Communicate expectations
·         Monitor progress and modify processes and
·         Acknowledge results

We know that when someone moves into their first management role it is common to do what their favorite manager did OR intentionally act differently than their worst supervisor.  Far too often, however, employees are promoted into management because they were great “performers” and are expected to pass their exceptional abilities on to others (without being equipped with the tools necessary to make this transfer).  Managing tends to be accomplished through “carrot and stick” directives – with an emphasis on the stick and a minimization of the carrot.  These traditional methods of managing people at work, however, are being challenged by social and cultural factors within today’s workforce.  Some Managers get frustrated with this emerging reality as they keep behaving the way they always have (believing that if they show consistency of style and predictability of reactions employees will eventually adapt) expecting to motivate a different workforce. 

A leader accomplishes transformational change through people.  While great leaders are typically good managers, a strong manager does not necessarily have the ability to lead.  Leaders accomplish change by inspiring others to act (without fearing failure) rather than expecting them to act as directed.  Leaders are able to leverage the strengths of employees having diverse backgrounds, experiences, values and expectations to achieve a common goal or shared outcome.  A Leader must be willing to change course while keeping sight on the objective, recognizing that anything worth accomplishing often presents risks and challenges that must be overcome – that changing conditions, new information, or unexpected obstacles are temporary obstructions in life’s pathway to success.  Leaders who embrace change and welcome different perspectives are open to new ideas and often accomplish much more than could have been done individually.  Successful leaders must periodically reflect upon “how” things are done rather than focusing solely upon “what was done” and must work with (rather than through) others in order to achieve success.  A great leader accomplishes much by consistently:
  •         Building and maintaining relationships
  •         Identifying and satisfying the needs of all those invested in an outcome
  •         Motivating and rewarding individuals while acknowledging the contributions of a team
  •          Establishing trust and showing respect
  •          Setting goals, communicating expectations and providing feedback, and
  •          Allowing people to learn from (rather than punishing them for) failure

It is difficult to get employees to act independently and take accountability for their actions – embracing both the lessons of their shortcomings and the success of their accomplishments – if they are “told” how to do what they have been assigned rather than being “sold” on why something must be done and allowed to participate in choosing how it might be best accomplished.  The days of an autocratic and directive management style are long gone, replaced by a need for adaptability, responsiveness and oversight.  A good leader NEVER lessens the requirements or expectations of a job nor diminishes individual performance standards or overall results.  Today’s leader must, however, understand how to leverage (and acknowledge) individual strengths to accomplish corporate objectives.  Clearly communicating expectations then effectively engaging others to establish processes and procedures that will accomplish required objectives then monitoring and measuring activities while staying out of the way of progress are the keys to successful leadership.  While managers can still help to identify problems, strong and effective leaders become a vital part of most new and innovative solutions.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Why does it seem lately that when the “going gets tough…” many people start blaming rather than fulfilling the phrase (“…the tough get going”)?  It is rare that, during the heat of an argument, someone will stop the conversation to take responsibility for the misunderstanding by saying, “Stop worrying about it – it was not entirely (if at all) your fault.  This is my responsibility, not yours, and I totally take the blame for the problems we must not address.”  More often than not an argument is peppered with “It is your fault!” or “We never would have been in this position had it not been for what you did without asking!”  Many find it hard to accept responsibility for a mistake but far too easy to claim recognition for success (whether or not it is truly warranted) – a flaw that does little to demonstrate professionalism, ethical behavior, intrinsic values or help develop and mold impressionable individuals looking up to their leader for guidance and direction.  In today's world, far too many people live their lives "behind the curtains" as did the Wizard of Oz - dictating what others are to do rather than "showing them the way" to act, live and succeed. 

Leading by example – by being what you are rather than trying to absorb the accolades given to everything your team has accomplished – goes a long way to establishing credibility, respect and validating the values you express everyday as a leader.  Before taking credit (or assigning blame) for a success (or an opportunity to learn from our mistakes), take a moment to think about the world’s tendency to ask that we “do as it says, not as it does,” and seek ways that your actions (and words) might allow you to lead by example (encouraging others to follow you because they WANT to) rather than by edict (expecting others to follow you because they have been ordered or told to do so). 

It is hard to convince others to NOT do something when they see you do similar things yourself.  How can you expect your employees to adhere to an “eight to five” schedule if your own day frequently begins at eight fifteen or ends at four thirty?  People choosing the transparency of living life as if they were within a glass house without shades or blinds tend to be more aware of their actions (and the ramifications of the things they choose to do OR intentionally refuse to do).  People tend to believe what they SEE in their leaders - DOING what they observe (as it must be acceptable or “the boss” would not do it) rather than blindly responding to what they are told.  If a leader consistently comes to work late, leaves early or wastes time during the day, how can his/her employees be expected to think what they are told to do is more important than what has been demonstrated as being acceptable?  Parents tell their children to obey the rules (as they break the speed limit or are caught in a multitude of “white lies” not intended to hurt anyone).  We expect our kids (and employees) to listen to their teachers (or their “boss”) – often without giving them a valid or concrete reason to do so.  Rather than seeking and earning respect, far too many feel that it is their “birthright” to claim such a prize – declaring themselves to be “legitimate” without being tested or proving themselves qualified.  None of us are perfect so we need "rules" to help us successfully live within our glass houses - guidelines that would include:

1)        Recognize that words are but whispers when compared to the shouts of your actions.  Those close to us may be able to hear what we say (if they are inclined to listen and motivated to act) but anyone having an unobstructed view of what we do will be influenced (positively or negatively) by what they see.  As a child I was taught that “seeing is believing.”  Never was I told that “doing as you are told – without thought or hesitation – makes things right.”  Whether you interact with people as a manager, a peer, a friend, or as part of a family, what you do and how you act are the characteristics that help to identify your strengths and morale character – NOT the things you say about yourself or TELL others to do.

2)         Look for the good in others – loudly praising their positive actions, interactions and
results while quietly addressing their shortcomings, inadequacies or opportunities to learn.  People usually see what others do wrong but rarely recognize or acknowledge what they have done right.  Children are “expected” to be well behaved in public so we rarely hear a parent say, “You are really being a good shopper today – I am so proud of you!” to their child.  Rather it is “do not touch,” “wait until we get home,” and “I am never going to bring you shopping again!”  Though we need to identify negative behavior and act to minimize unwanted consequences as we correct it, we should also make an effort to acknowledge and verbalize appreciation for things done well.  The next time you are involved in a heated debate with someone you care about rather than saying “This is all your fault!” try to assume some of the responsibility yourself.  People tend to react better when they know not only what they should not do (or have done) but also what they did (or are about to do) well!

3)         Never cast the first stone – especially if you “live within a glass house.”  Even if you take the time to open a window before tossing your criticism out towards a friend or co-worker (intentionally saying EXACTLY what you wanted to say and do), an individual scorned (or addressed) rarely takes the time to open the door before returning fire (choosing to simply cast the rocks back towards where they came from as a means of self-preservation and defense.  I have often heard people defend their inappropriate actions by shifting focus and blame – by saying “…but you did such and such so do NOT blame me!”  When we view life as if we were living in a glass house – our thoughts and actions fully exposed to those around us providing us with no place to hide our own errors and secrets – we find ourselves more understanding not only of what others do but also of the REASONS they do things.  We are less apt to see fault in them when we first examine ourselves to make sure that we are without fault.

4)         Judge yourself using the same standards you apply to others.  The greatest leaders of our times would never ask others to do what they would not do themselves.  Truly great generals led their troops into battle rather than following them from behind.  Parents must “walk the talk” if they want their children to learn.  Managers cannot expect loyalty, efficiency and a good utilization of time from their employees without demonstrating it themselves.

We all live in a “glass house” of some kind.  Regardless of how much we may wish to hide our thoughts, actions and attitudes from the world while expressing our wishes, desires and orders, what others believe us to be is shaped by what they see when we think we are alone.  When we view our lives as being acted out within a glass house – one without shades or coverings to hide what we do (even if our voices are muffled beyond recognition by the walls we have built around us), we begin to concentrate on what we should be doing rather than focusing on what others should not be doing.  When our actions speak louder than our words – reinforcing the things we intentionally set out to do rather than expecting others to accomplish what we would not attempt ourselves – what we say becomes a clarification of what we expect rather than an initiator of action.  Much can be accomplished when others act by following a positive example rather than respond to fulfill unclear declarations – when they seek our approval rather than desperately trying to escape or avoid our criticism.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


People sometimes forget they were born with one mouth and two ears.  Might we not learn valuable lessons if only we listened twice as much as we talked?  We have two hands (so that we can lift and handle things), two feet (so that we can travel along the path which we choose), two hemispheres within our brain (some say for redundancy) and two eyes (allowing us focus while moving forward), and the aforementioned two ears – but only one mouth.  Might not this reality provide some significance regarding the importance of listening (as opposed to talking) – of hearing and considering (with both sides of our brain) rather than thoughtlessly interrupting others with words coming from our single mouth?  What would happen if people began to listen before speaking – or if our elected officials listened at all?  PERHAPS the world would become a very different place if we listened before speaking AND thought before opening our mouths.  Think about the power that silence could exhibit over our thoughts and minds if only we allowed it to inhibit our actions before committing to the path our words might lead us to travel – the validation it might bring to the intentional and fully developed actions we might make if only we were to look and listen before we leap.

Most people approach a situation directly, walking into it with their heads held high, their eyes open (with their mouths rarely closed) striving to establish a position or opinion in whatever the matter might be.  Too few people begin to resolve a situation by asking “why?”  Most prefer to state what they feel (know or understand) rather than seeking the sublime.  Perhaps we could resolve issues more effectively (and in a more lasting manner) by identifying their root cause (asking questions) before addressing them boldly (acting on what we hear) RATHER THAN by simply reacting to what appear to be obvious symptoms without understanding or consideration.  It has been stated that we retain only a small fraction of what we hear…think how much less we will retain if we are too busy talking (and reacting) to pay attention to what is being said by others!

It takes courage to listen.  In order to listen one often must be the first to ask questions – potentially putting themselves at risk of ridicule or second-guessing.  In order to ask, one admits (either directly or implicitly) that he or she does not know something – an admission that is difficult for many.  To be an effective listener we must recognize that gathering information in order to make a decision is a sign of strength rather than an admission of weakness.  When one goes about problem resolution in the correct manner, the only failure one can make is deciding to act before all the facts have been gathered and discussed.  Questioning should never simply validate one’s thoughts or preconceived conclusions but rather clarify, expand and refine a solution before implementation.  Remain receptive to what you might hear, however, while questioning others.  Far too many of us admit our small weaknesses and apprehensions in order to hide our greater flaws and insecurities from others RATHER THAN seeking to overcome our inadequacies by accomplishing great things.

A good listener knows not only when to encourage discussion but also when to end a conversation.  When facilitating a discussion group or work team meeting, good listening may involve asking open-ended questions (as opposed to giving close-ended solutions), encouraging others to expand on partially developed thoughts (rather than adding to it yourself), and drawing introspective individuals into the conversation.  When listening for effective solutions, the only “bad or dumb question” is one not asked (or that you either openly discourage or simply fail to encourage).  Asking questions with the understanding that you will wait for an answer before moving forward requires one to keep their mouth closed while opening both ears so that what is heard can be processed before something is said that might stifle an otherwise productive conversation. 

Have you ever heard that “actions speak louder than words?”  People often say things like “I care…I’m interested…I’m listening…” as they continue writing or working when someone comes into their office to speak.  They might ask all the right questions but discourage an engaged response by quietly sitting with their arms crossed, their foot tapping, and a vacant look in their eyes that screams, “I do not hear you nor do I care!”  While we have 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 than does our silence or feigned interest.  Make an effort to keep your mind receptive to the words spoken when others answer your questions (or ask questions of their own).  Listening involves more than simply hearing - it requires the processing of information and the generation (and delivery) of solutions.  It requires open and honest communication by two (or more) individuals refusing to hear simply the words used in a discussion – for there is always more left unsaid than is said during any conversation.  We must concentrate to hear the subtleties beyond the words used to converse if we hope to discern the underlying thoughts that are being withheld. Paying attention to the “tone” of another’s body language when listening will often allow us to “hear” more by watching (we were given two eyes as well as two ears…we can see twice as much as we say) than by listening.

Listening is a complex task.  Some people listen far too much, acting far too infrequently (back to the elected official reference?).  Others act too quickly without taking the time to hear alternative possibilities.  A patient listener can be a great addition to any work team BUT too many listeners can impede progress – particularly when strong individuals who speak before listening (or thinking) mistakenly view good listeners as being “weak” or “followers.” 

In order to work with and through people we must act on what they say as well as on what may be implied but not said.   We must link listening skills to intentional actions in order to accomplish specific tasks.  How much more might be accomplished in our world if only people would “listen more loudly than they speak” while acting boldly on what they hear?  Unless we learn to listen – then to act intentionally in order to bring about change – we may never know what could possibly be accomplished when we move relentlessly forward under the banner of “why not” (rather than being content with all that has been done and all that has been said).

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Far too often people focus on how their day starts, how their task is being accomplished or what must be done first RATHER THAN on how their day ends, what progress was actually made or what must be done 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 start and what kind of “pace” we should maintain to complete each “race” we run rather than focusing all of our efforts and energies to a strong finish.  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 works (as opposed to seeking what might work better) are all signs of stagnation.  An acorn cannot become an oak tree without the proper conditions and nourishment present to define a path for its future growth.  What kind of a butterfly would a caterpillar become if it were not to finish the race?  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.”  Our sights must be firmly focused upon that which has yet to be considered or accomplished if we are to run the race as never before run – to climb mountains not yet conquered rather than being content to perform those things that have been tried, tested and found to be safe.  In order to focus on the ends (rather than being caught in the means) – to accomplish and achieve (rather than simply to perform and comply) – we must strive to:

1)            Clarify the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.  Efficient individuals make sure that every investment of time and/or energy has a direct and measurable impact.  They rarely waste time or energy doing unnecessary things that “could be done or might be nice” but are not related to the accomplishment of their objectives.  Effective individuals are focused – accomplishing things that need doing in order to move forward – now.  Effective individuals accomplish all things well as long as they advance their cause or move them towards the accomplishment of defined objectives.  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.
2)            Stop believing that we 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.  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.
3)            Quit believing we know all the answers.  People who know the right answers in life often find themselves thrust into management roles.  Those that ask the right questions are much more valuable than those who can give all the right answers – often becoming well respected leaders rather than successful managers.  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 or procedures (by asking questions as to how they might be improved) then intentionally acting to implement 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).
4)            ALWAYS give credit to others (when deserved) and accept responsibility for “learning experiences” (when blame should 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.  Those that take credit for the ideas of others (and assign blame for failure or shift focus to deflect accountability) may not have supportive friends, relationships or peers to prop them up in the future. 
5)            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.  Employees who “fail to know” typically fail to grow – those who refuse to retrain typically will not remain.  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.

While we may be able to start a race (or a project) on our own, we need the help, support and efforts of those around us to finish it in the best possible manner.  Life is not a sprint run within a vacuum – it is a marathon that requires a team of runners each relying upon the 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 the most possible people.  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 other’s abilities while allowing them to learn from their mistakes (rather than making them fear failure) – encouraging the individuals around us to make personal contributions to the resolution of an issue THEN recognize the importance of their input by giving them appropriate credit (and rewards) when due.  Leaders able to mobilize the thoughts, abilities, capabilities and experiences of those around them achieve objectives not yet imagined and reach heights not previously considered possible.

Friday, January 6, 2017


When working with people, our first impressions often influence the way we respond to and react with them - they presuppose what another’s strengths or weaknesses might be because of the way they look, act or present themselves.  We limit (or elevate) their ability to contribute solely upon what WE THINK they might be able to accomplish.  When we rush to judgment, defining the capabilities of others based on what we perceive rather than through an analysis of their proven abilities or and examination of the results they produce, we predispose their performance to rise only to the level of competence our minds have established.  Some dangers inherent in giving in to our first impressions – particularly for those privileged to lead or manage others – would include:

Pre-conceived judgments, opinions or basing “today’s reality” on “yesterday’s history” about a person can negatively influence our thoughts and actions – often encouraging us to make inappropriate and potentially harmful decisions.

Our perceptions can cause us to act more on what we feel than what may actually be fact – a dangerous and unreliable driver when making significant decisions.  The way others look, dress or speak can indicate much about their actions, reactions and thoughts BUT it can also mislead us into limiting (or elevating) their capabilities.  When we label an individual based on what they look like, sound like or appear to be we potentially lose the potential they might bring to our organization – then wonder why the person did not blossom as we hoped they would have when hired.  People tend to make judgments based on first impressions but must look beneath the surface when determining the true value of an individual.  Acting on what we think or feel can also mask the “root causes” of a situation or hide the value of an individual.  Delving into today’s political world, MUCH is being said about “who hacked whom” in our most recent election and who valued most from the secrets that were disclosed.  Focusing on the perception that “hacking is wrong” tends to minimize the fact that what was “revealed” was wrong – that we are more concerned with HOW our secrets are exposed than with the fact that they were questionable actions in the first place.  Great leaders take the time needed to identify (and grow) the strengths of those working for them while nurturing (and developing) their areas of weakness.  Unless (and until) we look to leverage the abilities of those we lead we will never be able to overcome the disabilities that we all bring to the workplace.

We miss much in life when we assume what another is thinking or why they act as they do.  We limit what they can contribute by rendering it unnecessary for them to speak, express their opinion or contribute their experience when we pre-judge what they bring to the party by who they are or what they have done.

We have all heard someone interrupt another by saying, “I know what you are thinking…” or simply complete another’s sentence only to hear, “That is not what I was going to say.”  When we assume what another thinks (or can contribute), we discount anything they might say or do to improve a situation.  Rather than defining another’s abilities through a potentially inaccurate first impression it is better to ask questions, listen to responses, and drill down to establish capabilities.  Finding out what someone can contribute by providing an environment allowing him or her to utilize their knowledge as they leverage their experiences to realize their potential will accomplish much.  Good managers like to win and often utilize the capabilities of others to accomplish their defined objectives.  Great leaders provide support and encouragement to individuals as they seek to define and establish their own reality within a broad framework which has been communicated as being safe and acceptable – allowing them to learn from (rather than trying to prevent them from) failure as they exceed established expectations..

We tend to fulfill our own prophecies when we allow our first impressions to determine our expectations of others.  We limit those around us when we establish ceilings that define what we feel is their full potential and build floors that establish how far they might be able to fall.  Keeping others safely wrapped within a cocoon of expectations may protect them but will never allow them to transform from a caterpillar to the butterfly they were meant to become.

Some individuals prefer to experience success ONLY by achieving a specified result rather than by measuring progress – by finding satisfaction ONLY in reaching the destination rather than experiencing pleasure in every step along the way.  They find fulfillment in performing as directed rather than seeking new and innovative solutions.  Rather than focusing only upon our end results, successful leaders measure progress to identify how far they have come and how far they have yet to go – progress that can help determine how close we are to the accomplishment of a goal while moving from past success, previous failures or finding satisfaction in how far we may have advanced (rather than looking ahead to what mountain we may yet climb).  Great leaders leverage singular accomplishments (their own as well as those of the people they lead) as springboards propelling them towards future success (rather than as resting places from ongoing change).  Had someone not imagined flight then sought results through practical efforts (rather than stopping when their thoughts had materialized), we would never have joined the birds in the sky after applying the dynamics of upward lift and power.  The first impression teachers had of Albert Einstein was his being a distracted individual having poor math skills who would never fit into society – an impression he did not accept as a final definition of his worth and value.  He chose to use the “label” as a springboard to accomplish what he dreamed possible rather than settling for what others thought probable. 

When working with people, if we establish high expectations, great things happen.  We may find comfort but will rarely experience satisfaction should we settle for something less than the best. Since individuals tend to rise to the level they are expected to reach – to accomplish the objectives that have been established for them (but not often much more than that) – it is important that we overcome our tendency to label people when we meet them, choosing instead to maintain an open mind as we seek astonishing results.  While someone labeled “mediocre” or “lacking” during a first impression does not often realize excellence, mediocrity will not find a place in the world when we truly believe that all people are capable of accomplishing great things.  IF we feel that our first impressions are infallible – and seek to determine our direction based on our pre-conceived values of others – we will thrive ONLY if we can accept that our initial judgments may change and that what was once considered to be a reasonable expectation may, in fact, be but a foundation for future growth.  Should we choose to limit the contributions of others through our unfounded first impressions, we actually hinder our own success (as well as the worth and value of whomever we lead).

Great leaders find that it is easier to work with the strengths of individuals than it is to develop their weaknesses – and that communicating lofty goals and expectations is a precursor to their becoming valued contributors.  Do not let your first impressions (be they overly positive as they may set others up to fail OR too minimal as they may limit individual contributions) and misconceptions be the driving force in determining success.  Looking at what those working for us can accomplish (rather than what they have done) – then equipping them to achieve greatness by fulfilling their unique and individual potential – will allow us all to grow and thrive.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Knowledge is the key to success. If we learn we will achieve. If we set our sights high when establishing our goals and objectives, and work hard to equip ourselves with the knowledge to accomplish our goals, great things will happen. In front of each of us lies an endless number of possibilities as long as we pay attention in to what was taught in school, apply what we learned then “never stop learning” throughout life. Knowledge IS essential to our being able to make informed, intentional choices as it helps us to understand how something can be (or has been) done.  It is hard to be original and innovative unless we understand WHY things are done the way they are (so that we can retain the good and replace the bad when we take action to initiate resolution or change).  Knowledge is but the key, however, that helps to open the lock – it takes Wisdom to open the door and courage to cross over the threshold.

Wisdom is the application of knowledge. Knowing facts, details or information does not guarantee success.  An individual can memorize information, demonstrate subject-matter awareness and seemingly “know all the answers” but be incapable of APPLYING the information they know when confronted with an unfamiliar or unknown situation.  Individuals chosen to participate on the TV game show Jeopardy demonstrate vast familiarity with all sorts of knowledge – an unending ability to recall what many would consider useless facts while demonstrating an astounding grasp of history, trivia and culture – but are rarely more successful than any of the rest of us because KNOWING (about things, situations or life) does not necessarily translate to SUCCESSFULLY ACCOMPLISHING the development and initiation of solutions.  The application of knowledge through wise choices, decisions and actions that anticipate consequences (both planned and unintended) is what truly defines success – particularly if we do not care who gets the credit for the results that are achieved. Knowledge allows us to think about issues, topics and challenges from many different perspectives. Wisdom (the application of knowledge) allows us to succeed by putting what we know into action by applying the information we have acquired to resolve a variety of issues, situations and concerns that we have not previously witnessed, experienced or studied.

All individuals are capable of learning (if they apply themselves).  Some learn through books, observation and study.  Others are more tactile than cognitive in their learning, though, understanding by doing, experiencing and experimenting rather than reading, studying and visualizing.  College – for far too long considered the ONLY way to advance and achieve success – is a good learning environment for some (but not all).  Trade schools provide knowledge that can be applied within technical careers (manufacturing, tool and die, machinists, carpenters, mechanics, technicians, IT professionals, healthcare support positions, etc.) that contribute greatly to society. Certificate programs can focus learning to a narrow slice of knowledge that can be directly applied to a defined situation or a specific career. Our grade schools and high schools equip us with vital and necessary information but it is often “static learning” that applies to defined situations requiring specific responses based on known history and anticipated results.  In order to APPLY knowledge to a variety of situations (many we may never have previously seen or experienced) it is vital and necessary to continually stretch our knowledge base throughout life.  If we are to assume new responsibilities and overcome new challenges we must continuously increase our knowledge so it can be applied to the elimination of roadblocks or the realization of our possibilities. 

While all should seek knowledge, “the wise” among us will strive to apply what they have learned to better ourselves and those around them.  We should establish goals and seek to accomplish them while recognizing that success is not measured by what we have or what we do but rather by what we are able to accomplish with the gifts we are given and how we can apply the knowledge we attain.  Demonstrating wisdom requires that we apply (rather than memorize) knowledge to fully leverage the resources available to us that impact, influence or enlighten others while understanding what “has been done” and anticipating “what has yet to be.”  Wisdom is not elevating oneself NOR is it enabling or providing for others – it is fulfilling our own potential so we move forward in life allowing others to travel behind us after we pave the way.  Knowing is nothing unless it is associated with action, responsibility, accountability and focused follow-through. We can know much but never make a difference unless (and until) we put our knowledge into action – until we take responsibility for our actions by learning from our mistakes so we can move on to accomplish our next objective.  We must demonstrate wisdom by helping others learn without having to experience the same mistake or disruption.

Knowledge provides us with the foundation upon which we can build our house of dreams BUT we must apply what we know (without requiring the praise or credit for what we have done) to reach our full potential.  Knowledge does not become wisdom unless (and until) we are willing to apply what we know in ways that have not previously been used to resolve issues that have not yet been resolved.  Wisdom cannot be claimed until we are able to accept and learn from failure (learning from our shortcomings and moving on without regret) OR celebrate unimagined success (without becoming complacent or comfortable in the moment) when initiating that which has not yet been tested.  We cannot expect our anticipated outcomes to be anything different than they have always been until we change our approach, our expectations or our attitudes.

When we seek knowledge it should be purposeful – intentionally directing our learning towards the accomplishment of an objective or the realization of a dream (or possibly an appearance on Jeopardy).  When we apply our learned attitudes, behaviors and knowledge to resolve abstract, unanticipated or unique problems, however, we become wise.  We demonstrate wisdom (rather than knowledge) as we lead others by doing (rather than saying), by showing (rather than directing) and by encouraging them to follow our lead (rather than demanding or insisting upon their loyalty).  In order to move from knowledgeable to wise – from smart to intelligent – one must realize that life is NOT knowing all the right answers (rather it is knowing the right questions to ask) and accepting that learning from failure and moving forward is often better than always being right (whether real or imagined) in life.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Every team needs a leader – but rarely can one individual set the course, trim the sails, maintain course and stabilize the ship by him or herself without the help or assistance of others.  True leaders emerge during times of trouble, turmoil and strife – riding the strength of their convictions to success – as they leverage the abilities of others to accomplish exponential multiples of what they could have achieved by themselves.  While there should be very little difference in one’s leadership style when facing success OR unexpected hurdles (whether at work, at home or in a relationship), far too many “competent” individuals take full responsibility for accomplishments and excuse their action (or inaction) by blaming them on or deferring them to others rather than sharing credit for things done well and accepting responsibility for actions that may have led to unwanted consequences.  A good leader bends to fit into their surroundings rather than standing firmly against life’s storms.  An exceptional leader utilizes all the resources at his or her disposal to ensure success, safety and continued progress rather than seeking personal praise and short term-gain (popularity, acceptance, being “liked”) while pursuing excellence. 

Leadership (and life) could be thought of as a ship at sea – needing a form of propulsion, a means of stabilization, a method to control direction and a way to hold fast in order to safely travel a charted course in the pursuit of a not yet discovered destination.  When setting and communicating a course of action, a Leader must take responsibility for his or her actions AND the consequences of the team’s actions by taking ownership of a situation rather than blaming another for an unfortunate circumstance – accepting and facing reality while constantly pushing towards an anticipated destination.   He or she must act as a sail by capturing the wind to push the team forward – anticipating and avoiding changes in the winds that could disrupt progress.  Without a sail (or motor, for the less classical thinker), a ship will drift endlessly upon the currents without intentional motion or expected results.  A sail pushes a ship forward much as a good leader encourages forward progress by recognizing and anticipating the contributions of each member as the team progresses towards a final destination.  When propulsion is removed, a ship will stall.  When leadership is missing, a team may wallow and a relationship may drift aimlessly and before eventually (possibly) reaching a destination (which is often unplanned, unexpected and less than ideal). 

A ship needs both a rudder and a keel in order to “stay the course” as it progresses forward.  Without some form of steering a ship cannot turn – and while the quickest path between two points IS a straight line, life rarely provides unobstructed access to our goals.  Without some kind of stability – a keel or ballast beneath the surface – a ship will tilt, lean and possibly capsize before it reaches its destination.  A Leader must ask the right questions when investigating a situation – listening for useful input from others – while steering around obstacles (or correcting missteps) in the pursuit of a final objective.  A Leader takes his or her personal obligations (and credibility) more seriously than his or her personal work expectations.  Anticipated or planned objectives invariably change but a course charted by intentional thought and navigated with integrity can lead a team through any unexpected obstacle or unwanted disruption.  Trust is not earned easily but MUST be attained through consistent demonstration within an individual’s life as it often becomes the stability that keeps a team on course.  While taking the easy road that needs no navigation or situational stabilization (ignoring a situation or partially concealing a truth) may be less painful and create fewer short-term disruptions or distractions, individuals preferring to dodge responsibility for their choices and actions will never be seen as credible leaders when they are provided the opportunity to lead – and straight and narrow paths through waters having no turbulence are rarely encountered in life.

A ship cannot travel forever without stopping for replenishment.  While a sailboat needs only the wind to move forward and a nuclear-powered ship could theoretically travel nearly forever, both have to stop at some point to resupply.  A ship does not typically reach its final destination by accident and without an adequate anchor (or anchorage) holding the ship steady – providing safety from the elements – a crew could not rest (causing the journey to become dangerous).  Ships need an anchor to secure them while considering a new course BEFORE venturing forth if a destination is to be reached with maximum efficiency.  Likewise, a team needs “an anchor” to hold it back long enough to examine how it must proceed as it seeks new and innovative resolutions.  Fools rush in – leaders step back so they can understand what was done, why it happened and what could be done differently BEFORE pushing relentlessly forward.  UNLESS a leader can identify sails, rudders, keels and anchors within his or her team – accepting each part’s abilities and limitations – the path to success will never be traveled without tragic mishap.  Life Leadership requires us to acknowledge sails, stability, direction and time for reevaluation if we are to be successful as we move towards effective problem resolution and the intentional accomplishment of our objectives.