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, February 4, 2019

LOOK BEYOND WHAT YOU SEE TO REALIZE WHAT MAY BE…


First impressions influence our attitudes as we work with others – sometimes positively but far too often in a negative manner.  Until (and unless) we allow ourselves to view people with an open mind – seeking the value they could bring rather than limiting their contributions by pre-evaluating their abilities based on our initial thoughts and feelings – we will never be able to realize how much of an impact they might be able to make.  We must dig deeper when we work with others – continually seeking to identify the “method to their madness” as we deliberately limit the “madness our own methods” can sometimes create.  While being a good judge of character is a leadership strength, following ONLY the paths that our tunnel vision allows us to easily identify can create much distraction and confusion along our road to success.

Unfounded perceptions can negatively influence our thinking and our actions – potentially undermining another’s ability to contribute and the possibility of enhanced organizational success.  The owner of a small machine shop once stated that he “would like to have a whole shop full of employees like the 76-year old who had retired then come back to work.  He noted his perceived loyalty and leadership ability that was seemingly inspirational to other employees.  Employees revealed that they were always looking for other opportunities – not so much because they did not like the work but rather because they did not want to end up working until they died because they “could not afford to retire” like the 76-year old “role model” that still had to work.  The “individual in question” stated that he was aware of both the owner’s and his fellow worker’s thoughts but that the REAL reason he worked was that it gave him something to do on a regular basis AND that “if I ever met his wife I would know why he still came to work!”  Often our perceptions can taint our thinking – many times creating false perceptions or huge misconceptions.  When working with others we should ALWAYS take time to question, listen and learn before leaping to judgment.
  
When we act on available information (without first validating our position and/or asking for clarification) we often initiate disaster.  Many years ago, my wife and son were engaged in a heated discussion when I arrived home from work.  It seems that he had been sent to the principal’s office for “hitting a kid with leaves” on his very first day of kindergarten.  She could not understand why “throwing leaves at someone” was an offense worthy of a principal’s attention.  He could not understand why she kept asking him about the situation after he had clearly and concisely answered her question about hitting a fellow student with a bunch of leaves – agreeing that he should not have been punished for such a trivial infraction.  I looked at my tearful son and asked, “How big of a stick were the leaves attached to?”  Upon hearing the “right” question he brightened and made an inch wide circle with his fingers and said, “Oh, about this big – nobody asked me that!”  We often lose sight of where we are going because we are so focused on what we think we know as determined by where we have been, what we have heard and what we have experienced.  Never form an opinion without first thinking about all the things that COULD BE rather than simply focusing upon what we think IS or HAS TRANSPIRED.  Always take the next step to learn “the rest of the story” before committing to a course of action or changing what has always worked (and is still working) to something that has not been tested, tried or thought about.

In order to maximize our own potential (AND encourage others to reach theirs) we must recognize that others truly do matter in life.  We can lift each other up (or weigh each other down) depending on how we view the relationships we might be able to establish.  If we verify our perceptions before we pass judgment we can often avoid making assumptions that could lead us down the wrong path.  If we ask for help and opinions from others before acting on our own – particularly when they may have already “been there and done that” – our journey can become much easier (for we may not have to “reinvent the wheel” before rolling down the road).  If we truly seek what others can contribute and listen to their words when we see their mouths moving (rather than using their “talk time” as an opportunity to catch our breath before continuing to “have our way” or “impose our will” upon others) we may find support and affirmation coming from unexpected sources all around us. 

People tend to act and respond in the manner they are treated.  If we respect others and help them to elevate their ideas to the next level they will contribute in surprising ways.  If we assume that others are but pawns within the chessboard of life – foot soldiers whose only purpose is to “march into battle” as ordered without questioning the “why” of their actions or the “where” of their going – we will never come to appreciate the “hidden good” that others have within them – good that will bubble to the top making their NEXT employer or relationship great.  Look beyond the obvious to make sure you pay enough attention to what others say and do (and sometimes what they may NOT say or do because of fear or intimidation) that you can enjoy the difference their input makes in your life (AND you in theirs).

Monday, January 21, 2019

WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL MISSION STATEMENT?


Every organization must have a mission – a vision – a reason for “being.”  Though a business can (and does) impact society by providing jobs, work is a necessary part of the process of producing results NOT the result of an organization’s efforts to create meaningful activity.  Work without purpose may keep an organization busy (for a time) but may not produce the income needed to sustain its activities unless it is fulfilling a need better than anyone else.  Without a mission, an organization cannot focus its resources towards the accomplishment of an identified purpose, choose the direction it should go or qualify the decisions it must make to be a vital and contributing part of the business community.

In order to be effective, an organization’s mission statement must clearly (and concisely) define why a business exists, what it does, and (sometimes) who it serves in a way that can be easily remembered and communicated.  Nike has established the phrase, "To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world" as its mission statement – implying what it does by who it serves (they have also become well established by the tag line “Do It” over the years).  "Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time" is the stated purpose of Starbucks Company as it references the inspirational experience it hopes to provide consumers.  Coca Cola’s mission, “To refresh the world - in mind, body and spirit; To inspire moments of optimism - through our brands and actions; To create value and make a difference everywhere we engage” states what the company does (again focusing upon the inspirational) without ever saying what it produces.  Kohl’s mission, “To be the leading family-focused, value-oriented, specialty department store offering quality exclusive and national brand merchandise to the customer in an environment that is convenient, friendly and exciting” says what it is without limiting itself to any particular product or brand – but, even with such a broad statement of purpose it is finding that the battle against on-line competition is great.  While no two mission statements are the same, each successful enterprise must be able to state why it exists by communicating what is being provided in a way that people understand – whether it be the primary product, an emotional or inspirational reaction to the product or the change / difference that results from their being in existence.

We often accept that business needs a mission – a purpose and reason to exist – but fail to transfer that essential reality to our own lives.  In order to establish value in ourselves, everyone needs to establish a PERSONAL mission statement to guide their individual actions, efforts, activities and the way their values are expressed.  A personal mission statement is a bit different from a company mission statement, but the fundamental principles are the same – it should provide clarity and a sense of purpose (whether people see what is being done or not – as a Mission Statement should be internally self-guiding rather than externally validating).  It should define who you are and how you live – not necessarily what you may do (or not do) when others are watching. 

When we drift without purpose towards an unidentified objective we often take a long time to accomplish very little.  Though we cannot miss a target unless it has been clearly identified and posted, cannot fail unless we establish goals and objectives and will never be disappointed if we do not seek to be something more than we have already become, life without purpose (objectives and challenges) becomes meaningless.  A sailboat needs a sail (to capture the wind) and a rudder (to set a course) if it is to move forward.  It needs a keel to stabilize its journey and an anchor to hold it in place during times of rest.  Though there are many parts and pieces that work together to make a sailboat move ahead, unless a destination has been identified and deliberate action is taken to move towards it, the best wind, the most favorable seas and the mildest conditions will be wasted unless a “reason to sail” has been established.  A boat does not need sails, rudder or keel if it is content to float upon the sea – to simply bob upon the water – but it will never be more than a useless hull without a defined purpose and a planned destination.  Unless we (personally) know what we wish to accomplish through the actions we take and the decisions we make, we will never learn what we need to know (do or understand) in order to add value (to ourselves, our friends or our society) – becoming more of a burden to those around us rather than truly making a difference in this life.  We must dedicate our actions, our efforts and our thoughts towards the accomplishment of SOMETHING if we hope to accomplish ANYTHING – and must identify what that “something” might be if we hope to focus our efforts, abilities and aspirations upon its realization.  Drifting through life without purpose is like building a boat without balance, power or a way to steer its course – you can become a functional “barge” able to carry the load of another but cannot choose where to go, how to get there or how the burden you carry can be removed without the active assistance of others.

Writing a personal mission statement offers the opportunity to establish what is important to us, often allowing us to make a decision that will focus our thoughts and establish a course of action rather than wasting energy and resources without knowing where we might want to go or how we might want to make a difference.  As we establish a personal mission statement, we should seek to ask the right questions rather than trying to provide the correct answers – to expand our horizons to regions we have not yet explored rather than limiting them to our “known and comfortable” universe.  An individual mission may be as simple as “I will make a difference in all I say or do,” or “I will live everyday with Integrity and vow to make a positive difference in the lives of others by exercising my abilities for the good of all people.” It may a “short term” objective like, “I will complete my education so that I can pursue a new career.”  It may be as complex (and convoluted) as, “I will apply wisdom to advance myself (and others around me) while seeking and establishing new opportunities that add value to my community.  I will never give up (though I may occasionally give in) while seeking to bring to fruition all that I might hope or imagine myself to be.”
  
Make your dreams become reality by “memorializing” them in writing – by telling another about them so they can hold you accountable for their fulfillment – to establish a Personal Mission Statement.  While establishing your mission statement, make sure it connects your own unique purpose with the profound satisfaction that comes from that purpose being fulfilled (or you may lose interest in “moving on” when the going gets tough or “following through” when popular opinion is against you).  As for me, I would seek to contribute more than I take from life, to help more than I need assistance and to leave this world a better place (having seen and experienced its fullness) by leveraging the gifts I have been given to accomplish all that I have the ability to influence (and accept what I cannot).  Do not live another day (or take another breath) without establishing a purpose for your existence so that you can not only enjoy what you have accomplished but that you might also become all that you might be.

Friday, October 26, 2018

THE BASIS FOR EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP


Great leaders tend to be humble individuals that do not take credit for things done well by others and often assume the blame for experiments that fail.  They tend to be self-effacing individuals who display a fierce resolve to do whatever is needed to get the job done right (and well) while channeling their ego needs from themselves to building their department (organization or company).  Strangely this description seems to go against the way that companies have traditionally chosen their managers – promoting the most competent, highly skilled achievers into positions that should allow others to emulate their competence and accomplishments (unfortunately often without any tools or training that might make this possible).

Ask most people who they feel are the true leaders of industry and you will probably hear names like Jack Welch, Donald Trump (at one time – perhaps not so much by not so many people now), the founders of Google, Amazon or McDonald’s - or some other outspoken champion of change.  While these individuals may be change agents, they may not be effective in the “long term” as they tend to initiate change or create new markets WITHOUT having the patience (or interest) in “seeing things through” to their logical conclusion.  They may not be as able to foster employee “buy in to change” as would a humble leader willing to lead others and pass on accountability (as well as responsibility) to others.  An effective sports leader once said that it “was not his responsibility to BE stressed but rather his duty to CREATE stress in others that would help them to grow.”  Perhaps it could be better put that respected leaders do not inflict pain but rather they bear the pain of others so that organizational gain can rise from the growth achieved by overcoming individual pain.  Perhaps greatness could be better measured by the magnitude and efficiency of change – the number of people involved as active participants in making the change happen and the impact of change on an organization’s bottom line – rather than simply from doing things differently or changing the “status quo” to make a mark on the world.

Humility is disciplined strength.  Humble leaders are quick to give credit and slow to accept praise.  While a leader must be competitive in order to grow an organization, the manager who takes all the credit will find him/herself without a team to enact change.  If two coaches were to take all the credit for their team’s success (and blame their losses on the team’s an inability to listen or learn), the “thrill of victory” and the “agony of defeat” would be reduced to words and claims spoken without action – to a debate (that would surely become a debacle) rather than an event worth watching.

Whenever we seek the cooperation of other people, whether from a position of authority or not, we should speak honestly and directly.  Communications should be plain, pointed and specific.  Facts should be stated, with any assumptions taken in arriving at the facts clearly explained.  After establishing one’s frame of reference, the conclusions derived from the facts should be detailed and discussion and/or dissension allowed in order to gain the support of others required to initiate action. The best communications are spoken (in simple and direct language that everyone understands) rather than written (within text messages) or relayed through intermediaries.  Respect is not purchased by cashing in an astounding vocabulary – it is earned by simply stating one’s position so that it can be clearly understood (discussed, enhanced and explained fully) prior to its being acted upon.  Leaders must recognize and understand that the right to be heard (and the expectation to be listened to) is never automatically given to anyone – and when assumed it does not (in and of itself) give us the right to be taken seriously.

Being positive is always more effective in the long run than being negative.  Being direct and honest, however, does not mean one is entitled to be demanding or degrading.  Had you worked on a project for several months only to have it “put on hold,” would you rather be told that you wasted your time and efforts or that they helped to keep the organization from making a serious mistake?  Being positive with others, even when putting something on hold or dismissing it, helps to maintain an individual’s dignity and establish their worth.  A leader’s integrity is not something that can be given to or “bestowed” upon another – it must be earned by the words spoken, the actions taken and the attitudes expressed every moment of every day.

People respect individuals having integrity.  Saying what you mean then doing what you say are two of the greatest attributes that a leader could possess.  Nobody is perfect – we are all human, and humans make mistakes.  The way we deal with those mistakes, however, will either insure our ascension within an organization or guarantee our fall. While leaders must provide a clear sense of direction for their organization, they must also be honest in accepting not only the credit for success but also the blame for failure.  An individual able to do so will have gained immense credibility within his or her organization – credibility that will translate exponentially into positive results.

While charismatic or forceful leaders may produce “quick fix” solutions with lower risks (cutting costs and making splashy, quick change usually saves money in the short term), organizations are probably better off to seek stability, long-term growth, and sustained success.  In today’s environment of corporate (leadership) distrust, perhaps more of us should learn how to balance ego with humility, put corporate and employee growth before our own, then reap the rewards of organizational success. 

Humility in management should be one goal we all strive to achieve.  Once achieved, there would be no greater way to recognize its assimilation than to honestly and selflessly thank those around us for making it happen!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Not So Dirty Secrets Effective Leaders Tend to Keep

If you listen to the radio, search the internet or read a newspaper, every politician, local or civic leader, sports celebrity (and even many church leaders) seem to have expressed an unpopular opinion, have made a “politically incorrect” comment, behaved in an inappropriate manner or has kept some “dirty little secret” from the public (which, either accidentally or purposefully has “leaked” or become exposed to the public).  We are left with tarnished heroes, questionable leaders, shaky relationships and a plethora of “conspiracy theories” from which we must filter the accusations, investigate the claims and make our own value judgments.  

It seems we rarely are able to “judge a book by its cover” or “take someone at face value” anymore as “what we see is no longer what we get” from many individuals we once trusted.  Rather than “building others up” we seem to have an increasing number of individuals being given leadership roles who would prefer to bring others down (so they can look better or at least rationalize that they are not “so” bad).  It is an exception that individuals lift others up (rising to the top upon their accomplishments) – that they manage others using the same standards they might apply to themselves – rather than the “rule” it once was.  Though business does not typically examine its leaders with the same level of scrutiny we do our political candidates (nor do we apply the same standard to our personal relationships as we seek comfort in the current rather than challenging ourselves to change), many individual “secrets” kept will affect our effectiveness when given the opportunity to take action or make decisions in ANY leadership role we may assume.

To manage others (or effectively navigate through situations) we typically develop and communicate well-defined expectations identifying what must be done (sometimes HOW it must be done), when it must be accomplished, what rewards will be given (if success is achieved) and what might be the negative impact if “good intentions” and “supreme efforts” fail to produce acceptable results.  Effective leaders initiate processes (after ensuring that individuals expected to perform are qualified, trained and capable) by clearly stating what must be accomplished THEN getting out of the way so that work can be accomplished (while monitoring progress, helping to guide efforts and maintaining control of the time-frame, not the specific actions or activities).  Linking rewards to the level of performance demonstrated are invaluable components in the management of people. An effective leader allows others to exhibit their strengths, learn from their mistakes and grow by realizing their own capabilities.  While controlling and overbearing managers MAY accomplish what is expected in the time allotted, the “dirty little secret” that is often ignored is that they rarely build loyalty, create independent thinkers or help others grow.

Effective Leaders often operate more in the world of what could be possible rather than what is probable.  They tend to identify their successes and measure their accomplishments against a “fluid and flexible” set of values, standards and expectations.  A list of “secrets” managers should consider to ensure their success (AND that could be applied liberally to any personal situation or relationship to make it successful) would include:
  • It is OK and natural not to like everything you must do to accomplish your job (or be successful within a personal relationship).  It is NOT OK to avoid, refuse to do, or ignore the parts you dislike (or to remain “painfully silent” within a martyrs role to keep from talking about an issue or concern).
  •  It is OK to make a mistake AND to make a wrong decision as long as you learn from the error, can correct its negative ramifications and grow in the future.  It is NOT OK to keep making the same mistake or to expect to grow by taking the path of least resistance – the road well-traveled upon which everyone else goes – if you hope to achieve different results than everyone else experiences.
  • One must ACT on the things that can be controlled while IDENTIFYING obstacles outside of your sphere of influence that might prevent you from achieving your objectives.  Once identified, either act to eliminate the hurdles OR actively seek the help of someone who DOES have the ability to overcome the inevitable so that you can move on to accomplish the improbable.
  • Lying, cheating, or stealing is intolerable.  Great performers whose high results come through dishonesty or at someone else’s expense will be discredited and lose the respect of others.  Respect is a value that is sometimes difficult to earn and hard to define or assign but easily lost and almost impossible to restore.
  • Effective leaders truly believe that there is nothing that “cannot be done.”  While some solutions MAY be cost-prohibitive, impractical, or beyond our ability to implement, “I can’t,” “It’s not possible,” or “don’t try it” are attitudes that are not part of successful conversations. 
  • Well thought-out solutions that resolve issues encountered while doing your job are not reasons for celebration – rather they are expectations of the way you should continually exhibit and apply your abilities.  Achieving a milestone within a relationship should not be “the end” but rather simply a “new beginning.”  Effective leaders tend to be eternally optimistic – believing that while “Rome may not have been built in a day” it was definitely constructed through the work and efforts of many committed to accomplishing a seemingly impossible dream.
In order to be successful we must say what we mean, mean what we say, live as we would want
others to live, wear our values on our sleeves and BE all that we proclaim (or profess) to be.  When we live transparently (not perfectly) our secrets become revealed as the values we choose to live by and the standards we expect others to apply as they reach for their own stars (with a little help from their leadership friend).

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Let The Past Flow Through Your Fingers as You Hold On to the Hope of a Better World…


I once held my thoughts and aspirations as gold within my hands – seemingly more precious than even the air that I breathed…
I watched my accomplishments shine, rivaling the sun with their brilliance…
I displayed my abilities as I hid my weaknesses, masking them behind the strength I projected…

While we all face distractions and disappointments throughout our lives, holding onto what “once was” rather than reaching out for “what could be” is a recipe for disaster.  Things once held as valuable slip from our grasp as we gain experience.  A bright and shining future put on hold because of seemingly uncontrollable circumstances.  A secure job ripped from us due no fault of our own.  A relationship tarnished by an unanticipated action (or an uncontrolled reaction).  Life happens – how we react to it can either advance or standings or stagnate our existence.  When we try to control life by our own actions and capabilities without any help from others or guidance from those potentially more knowledgeable or experienced we often realize “the best we could expect” rather than enjoying the “most we could possibly imagine.”

I reached out blindly, searching desperately for what had passed me by - grasping what once was but could never be again…
My memories become but water running through my fingers - unable to be contained within my hands as they flowed freely from my grasp…
Accomplishments of the past provide but a flickering light within my darkened world – those things that were once so important now incapable of providing the fire that once flamed within my soul…

When we live in the past we become absorbed by “what used to be” rather than seeking out “what is” or “what could yet be.”  Far too many individuals seek comfort in the belief that things will eventually return to what they once were rather than seeking new beginnings within the activities in which they are engaged.  We tend to stagnate ourselves (and the hopes and dreams of all those around us) when we continually reinforce the value of our memories – when we create our identity from “what we were” rather than “who we are” or “what we might yet become.”  Seeking shelter in the past may not be a fatal flaw but relying upon past accomplishments to provide a refuge from our current realities will never allow us to face the present (or seek the future) as we grow.  Finding comfort in what we once did, accomplished or created rather than in what we may be able to do if only we applied the lessons learned in the past to overcome current obstacles will never fully satisfy our hunger for advancement.

Life has but one beginning and one end - forcing us to travel upon an endless circle of circumstance as we seek meaning to the existence we far too often allow to flow through our fingers…
We must reach out to grasp those things not yet offered – leaving behind what has been accomplished as we seek possibilities yet to be realized in a never-ending quest for fulfillment…
We must acknowledge that the security our past once provided erodes as each new beginning flows through our hands…
We must sail with confidence into each unknown horizon, encouraging those willing to follow as they seek a future while helping those not yet willing to let go of their precarious present…
We must open our hands to let go of all that has been – all we have tried to capture and control through our individual efforts – so we have room within our grasp for what has not yet been revealed.

Though some may find a degree of comfort and security within the confines of their individualized existence, few of us will experience life without unexpected or unplanned change.  Change is the only certainty in life.  People survive by anticipating change, setting their course upon the waters flowing through their hands.  People struggle when they seek to find (or create) “sameness” within an ever changing world.  They tend to thrive when riding freely upon life’s rapids, immersing themselves within currents placed before them within the river of life. 

Good leaders recognize that they cannot hope to hold back the waters of change as they flow through their fingers.  Rather than trying to hold back the waters, Great leaders tend to hold onto their hopes for a brighter tomorrow and their dreams for a future made better by their thoughts, abilities, desires and intentional actions.

Monday, June 18, 2018

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION IS MORE THAN AUTHORITATIVE CONVERSATION


Far too many people – whether it be in their personal or their work life – believe that TALKING to someone is the same as COMMUNICATING with them.  They believe that conversation (whether it is one or two sided) is enough – that “saying something” and acknowledging a response is sufficient – that sending an e-mail or leaving a voicemail message is equivalent to (if not more efficient than) spending time in two-way discussion.  People often think that if they speak authoritatively they will be able to influence the behavior of others (because individuals do not argue with someone who seems to know what they are doing) – that “give and take” conversations serve only to delay the decision-making process.  These individuals are firm believers in the principle that “he/she who speaks first, last and loudest is right” so they often will talk an issue to death (or send a declaratory note or leave a one-sided voicemail) rather than allowing someone else to have the “final say” (or, sometimes, any “say” at all).  Rather than accepting that individuals have two ears and one mouth (might that not indicate that someone SHOULD listen twice as much as they talk?) they think since the words (and the volume in which they are spoken) are of greater significance and importance than are thoughts and sentences expressed by others (heard rather than expressed – considered rather than imposed).  If we wish to communicate effectively we must listen before expressing ourselves – think before verbalizing our thoughts.
 
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION is a sum of several important parts – not simply words spoken or actions deferred.  Communication is the act of thinking about what we wish to say BEFORE uttering words – of organizing the thoughts we wish others to hear and discuss so they will initiate appropriate (and intentional) actions.  Conversation is an exchange of words meant to create a meaningful relationship – communication is the transformation of thoughts and words into meaningful (and intentional) action.  Conversation typically involves what you wish to share with another – communication focuses more on what you wish to accomplish.  In order to communicate effectively we must:

·         Identify our objectives and organize our thoughts before we express our wishes or desires
·         Listen actively to others
·         Speak ONLY after considering the ramifications of our words
·         Establish and assign ownership to a shared vision or idea while transferring accountability with responsibility to individuals assuming the risk (and receiving the credit)
·         Intentionally follow-through to make sure expectations are met and objectives are accomplished (while avoiding our natural tendency to “rescue” or “save” another from mistakes or failures)
·         Allow mistakes (our own and those of others) to become learning experiences rather than death sentences – discuss alternatives without imposing “capital punishment” on anyone making a mistake
·         Praise openly and honestly – criticize privately and quietly.

To communicate well we must identify what we wish to accomplish – figure out what we want our words to change, alter or enhance – before we begin to talk, write or “tweet.”  Politicians often seem to say whatever they think you want to hear – in a manner convincing enough to make us forget what they may have said yesterday or what they will be saying tomorrow – often abandoning their principles or core values in order to appease the masses.  A conversationalist enters a debate with his or her ears (and mouth) wide open, clearly identifying and discussing the “means” but often failing to bring to fruition an “end.”  An effective communicator plans his or her outcome before speaking, listens (and considers) responses then works towards mutually satisfactory and actionable results.  Ineffective communication is often expressed by “telling” others what to do and how to do it.  Effective communication is a participative process – not an event but a series of ongoing compromises.  A conversationalist can “talk ‘til the cows come home.” A communicator will first ask (or somehow identify) where the cows live, determine what obstacles might prevent them from returning home, then encourage (facilitate and initiate) their safe return to the barn.  Conversing is often socially and politically correct – an everyday part of life lived in co-existence with others.  Effective communication is often more focused (with a purpose in mind), specific (to the point and directed towards a clearly-identified outcome), intentional (less casual, never entered into without thought, consideration and two-way participation) and result-oriented (NEVER done without rhyme, reason or rationale).

One of the most overlooked aspects of effective communication is intentional and measured silence – when listening becomes active and saying nothing helps to formulate direction.  When one is speaking, he or she is not actively (OR inactively) listening.  When planting thoughts, unless they are given the time to germinate and the conditions to thrive it is hard to harvest their full bounty.  When we speak loudly and forcefully to be heard above the noise around us, we often lose sight of the fact that a whisper can be much more effective in a quiet, listening room than can be a shout in a crowded building.  Silence often creates discomfort – but it is not YOUR responsibility to fill every void with the sound of your own voice.  In order to communicate effectively we must allow silence to be deafening at times – echoing within the conversational void as if it were an angry sea pounding upon an unforgiving rocky shore.  Allow your thoughts and ideas to fill the moments of silence that listening (rather than talking) creates – encouraging and allowing others to enhance your ideas and contribute their own – then EXPRESS shared and mutual thoughts into encouraging words that initiate, communicate and motivate change.

Effective Communication is transforming words into actions through carefully directed compromise that produces “win-win” situations (rather than telling others to do something within a “win-lose” mentality).  Converse with others if you wish to share experiences, thoughts, feelings or dreams.  While one needs to converse in order to communicate, not all conversation becomes effective communication.  Communication is conversation on steroids – an exchange of thoughts and ideas that results in an investment of time and resources focused towards the accomplishment of an intended (and intentional) consequence. People who “can” tend to talk (often about what they intend to do or hope to accomplish)…people who “do” communicate (directing their conversation towards tangible accomplishment and deferring the credit for success to those involved) in order to produce results.

Talk is cheap.  It fills time and space with words (but does not necessarily require an investment of resources to create an intended intentional result).  While conversation is a necessary part of living within a community, communication is the key to creating change.  When you need to accomplish something – when an action must result in an equal and opposite reaction that alters or modifies a condition or behavior – communicate your thoughts, your intents and your expectations clearly by stating the facts then listening for (and encouraging) buy-in from all involved.  We should all strive to be better conversationalists (as good two-way conversation can improve relationships and help support one another).  When we make a conscious effort to communicate more effectively by gathering our thoughts, listening to those around us and allowing others to contribute to “corporate” success we not only enhance and improve relationships but (possibly more significantly) we can help to change the world.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

WE MUST LET GO BEFORE WE CAN MOVE ON…


Why is it that when “all has been said and all has been done,” when there is nothing left to say that will make a difference, many continue to seek what more they might say and what else they can do to achieve the accomplishment they feel should happen?  People often seem unwilling to close the door – to move on once a decision has been made or a situation has been tentatively resolved – continuously second guessing themselves to the point that “all that was said” becomes meaningless noise and “all that was been done” loses its significance as nothing “right” has been accomplished and the proper words were not spoken (or at least not heard).  What may have been a great solution to a tough problem becomes a rest stop rather than a destination to those seeking “perfection” rather than resolution.  Rather than dousing the flames they smolder – ready to reignite as they devour our time like an untended fire spreading out upon the dry leaves in a forest.  Rather than calling something finished so their talents can be channeled towards the resolution of other issues, some cannot “let go” (because of their sense of perfection or their need to have all the details right before being convince to move on) so very little “new” is ever accomplished (though much “tried and true” can be validated, confirmed and completed).   Two vital and critical steps to letting go and moving on would be that when you feel “all has been said,” quit speaking and start acting – when you sense that “all has been done,” turn away from the closed doors so you can begin opening new ones.

It is never wrong to change your mind or shift direction IF the conditions or factors that led to your decision change.  It IS wrong to avoid making a decision or setting a course of action because you fear you may have to change your mind at some point in  time – that we become paralyzed by our analysis of a situation, unable (or unwilling) to accept the validity of our thought processes once an issue has been identified and a resolution formulated.  Unless we accept resolution (even if for a short period of time until situations, circumstances or conditions change) we establish insurmountable artificial roadblocks that prevent us from moving in any direction or accomplishing anything.  We become pawns to the process rather than stewards of the solution.  We become bound by a need for absolute certainty, losing sight of “the possible” that provides with the freedom to consider new opportunities and challenges rather than doing ONLY what has always been done before (to achieve the same outcomes that have always been achieved).  When we focus on finality rather than simply seeking temporary and acceptable closure we stifle our ability to innovate, motivate and shift directions as needed to identify new frontiers and sail upon uncharted waters.  When living under the cloak of “fearing failure” we limit our ability to take calculated risks that may open new doors moving forward (which remain out of our reach if we expend all our energy trying to nail shut the doors behind us).  We must shift our focus from where we have been (and are comfortable) to where we wish to be (regardless of the risk or anxiety change may cause) if we wish to let go of the past so we can move towards a new (and potentially bright) future – allowing ourselves the luxury of turning around to face forward rather than walking backwards towards an unseen cliff.

Everyone wants “change” but few take the time to define what “change” truly looks like.  Is the light at the end of the tunnel one of Hope or is it one of unavoidable Disaster?   Listening to promises of change is never a bad thing in and of itself.  Such promises, however, should always identify what is being left behind along with what the alternative might be.  Seeking change just to alter the present is hollow unless we are willing to accept the differences that are expected when we decide to change (OR embrace the consequences that will necessarily follow should we choose NOT to change).

Whenever we decide to change we must identify where we want to be – intentionally thinking about what must be changed (and what should be left the same) – before seeking the promise an unrealized future may hold (or worse, accepting only the reality of an already fulfilled past).  We must embrace the opportunities that an uncertain future offers, moving deliberately forward in an effort to grow from them rather than worrying about things you cannot control or obsessing over change that is going to happen regardless of what you may (or may not) do.  Individuals either embrace the opportunity of a new tomorrow by consciously (and intentionally) leaving behind what is not working as they seek what might work OR they are swept up in someone else’s vision without thinking about its ramifications.  Do not fear change – fear only those things AND individuals that refuse to change as you seek to expand your present-day reality into a fresh new tomorrow.  Closing one door usually opens another – but it does not eliminate the opportunity to reopen the door should conditions or circumstances change.

In order to thrive we must learn to innovate rather than finding comfort in what has always been (because today will never become tomorrow).  We must learn to think of alternatives (rather than simply “doing what is expected") if we wish to taste success.  We must apply our knowledge to new situations (rather than memorizing answers to questions that have already been asked and answered).  When all is said and all is done, our emphasis must be on recognizing accomplishment rather than rewarding effort – or we will continue to answer questions with proven solutions rather than accomplishing great and not-yet realized things.  In order to initiate change we must recognize that one must move forward if he or she ever hopes to hear what has yet to be said or experience what has not yet been initiated – and that holding on to what we do (know or are comfortable with) MAY keep us from realizing our full potential or accomplishing what was once thought impossible.