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!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

GREAT LEADERS MAKE INTENTIONAL DECISIONS


Everyone makes decisions throughout their life.  Whether meaningful or insignificant, life is an ongoing realization of the possibilities we consider, the decisions we make and the actions we take.  As much as we try to research and analyze our destination before beginning a journey, people typically take multiple detours along the way by making decisions based on “what feels right” rather than on an inflexible course of action and a reaction to current events or conditions rather than an analytical weighing of all that the facts.  Good leaders win more than they lose when faced with making quick decisions based on incomplete data.  Great leaders gain the respect of others by making a high percentage of “judgment calls” that turn out to be successful decisions.  In seeking to understand how great decisions are made, some thought processes that come into play would include:

Great decision-making requires us to utilize experience-based judgment when determining the likelihood that the road we choose will lead us towards our destination.  An inexperienced driver may think he or she knows what to do when encountering a patch of black ice on the road because of the study they went through during a driver’s training class but lose control before being able to intentionally act.  An individual having experience driving in winter may react more quickly – out of a “conditioned response” to the situation – taking control of the situation without really thinking about what to do if presented with the same challenge.  Experience allows us to act without having to consider all the ramifications of our actions before taking them because we already know (without thinking) what will be more likely to lead us to success.  Rarely will a truly exceptional leader step into a position of authority until he or she has performed many different jobs within an organization, demonstrated competency in a wide array of responsibilities and experienced (and taken credit/responsibility for) both success and failure.  Gaining life experience through watching, seeing and participating in a variety of different activities is critical to the decision-making process. 

Many individuals rush to act without thoroughly investigating all potential ramifications of their action so they will not lose what they see as a potential opportunity to excel.  Truly successful people take the time to consider the “possible” as they move forward to accomplish the “probable” before attempting what others might see as being “highly unlikely” or presenting too much risk.  Conceptualizing as many possible outcomes that could occur as a result of the actions we take – being willing to accept or respond to them appropriately using knowledge we have gained through experience – establishes a far greater potential than would doing what we know works in an environment that we know breeds success.  Before acting, great leaders tend to (quickly and without hesitation) ask not only “what should be done” but, more importantly, seek to determine “why” action should (or should not be) taken, CONSTANTLY weighing the potential benefits of doing something against the repercussions (or ramifications) of doing nothing.  A validation of any decision is whether one is in a “better place” after acting than they were before.  If doing nothing provides a preferable result, it is often more advantageous to intentionally hold back rather than to foolishly rush forward.

Great leaders ensure that the organization will continue to benefit from good judgment in the future by developing it in those with whom they work today.  They involve others in the decision-making process by leading them to a solution rather than pushing them to a conclusion, allowing them to see both the benefits and the potential pitfalls of any action taken.  They allow others to make mistakes so that they can experience resolving them rather than continually sheltering them from harm’s way by removing the risk of loss from the equation.  Unless (and until) an individual is given the opportunity to overcome the limitations of today’s reality by moving beyond “what works” towards “what has yet to be attempted,” developing a variety of experiences from which future decisions will be based, he or she may never be able to make important or significant decisions.  Involving the people needed for implementation in the decision-making process, adding to and gaining from their experience along the way, will allow them to make better judgment calls in the future.  Helping others to make better decisions will minimize the number of critical calls we must make ourselves.

Great leaders gain credibility and respect by allowing those around them to grow through exposure to new and different situations (often allowing them to grow by failing), rewarding progress as they move towards success (always monitoring the decisions they make to minimize catastrophic disruption) and encouraging others to analyze risk before acting (to recognize both the rewards of accomplishment and the ramifications of failure). 

The key to making great decisions is to maintain “mental flexibility.”  It is OK to change your mind if the conditions or situations driving your initial decision change.  It is never wrong to act UNLESS you act without first considering all the ramifications involved with the actions you take.  It is never wrong to INTENTIONALLY CHOOSE not to act UNLESS your failure to act is due to a fear of the unknown or an unintentionally missed opportunity.  Being unafraid to make a mistake from which you can ultimately learn is critical as our greatest rewards are often born through the painful experiences of our losses.
 
 As you move forward in decision-making skills, seek that which is possible rather than settling for what might seem probable.  Do not limit yourself to what you can see – reach for what you dream.  Recognize that dreams and imaginings often initiate great discoveries if we allow them to lead us to action.  Avoid, however, pushing others ahead as you go.  Pull them along with you as you discover new and exciting opportunities – allow them to reap the benefits of your work as they seek to establish the courage of their own convictions.  Take control of your life by deciding to act (or intentionally choosing NOT to act) – inspiring (or getting out of the way of) those seeking to advance.

Friday, March 10, 2017

PERCEPTION SHOUTS – reality whispers…


A person can show great proficiency without exhibiting imagination but an individual will never exercise their imagination by simply accomplishing the work assigned without asking “why” (or, “why not”).  Delivering a standard or anticipated response to a directive often satisfies those willing to do nothing more than the minimum. An understanding of what must be done as well as a verbalization of what might yet be accomplished is demonstrated when one researches enough – or is interested enough – to ask “why not?”  It seems that we often believe what we see without ever looking beneath the surface to identify “the other side of the story.”  Why is it that reality can seem so distant and removed from our everyday existence while what we think and feel - what we perceive - can become such an overpowering force in our lives?

Given the choice between being a “doer” or a “visionary,” between being “realistic” or  “lost in dreams,” many would prefer to hold tightly to the concrete – to those things that can be seen, touched, considered and accomplished.  I would prefer to live within my imagination than within my reality – to do those things that I might conceptualize rather than those that have been previously accomplished – yet in life our imagination is often tempered by our perceived sense of reality. 

A realist accepts what can be defined and demonstrated – rarely “making waves” or disrupting the status quo – being content to accomplish the dreams and desires of others.  Many people live within a sheltered world of previous accomplishments, dwelling in thoughts of the safe places that brought them happiness and security RATHER THAN seeking new beginnings and opportunities upon an uncharted path. When life is contained within established thoughts of “what is” and memories of “what has been,” can one ever realize his or her full potential – can he or she even identify “what could be but has not yet been considered?”  When our perceptions of comfort, success and accomplishment become a destination rather than a starting point for a new journey, how can we acknowledge the quiet whispers of a changing reality?  True innovation (and success) springs from those who imagine what has not yet been proven for they will accept nothing less than the great things they know can be accomplished in this world.

While our memories are necessary to remind us of what we have accomplished – of the things we can do – our dreams provide an indication of what has yet to be, leading us to places not yet discovered. As we bring today’s dreams to fruition, they become tomorrow’s memories, leaving behind the safety and stability that yesterday provided.  Only when we cast off the limitations of “what is” or “what was,” walking away from the perceptions of reality that we construct by choosing to reach for the promise and possibility of things not yet imagined, will we be able to bring to fruition our dreams.  When we truly consider how things might be different, believing that just because something “was” or “is” does not mean it will “always be,” the soft call of a reality far removed from the oppressive perceptions that dominate our everyday lives will begin to be heard.

For you who find fulfillment within the "way things are" and travel obediently upon the straight and narrow path that leads to a defined destination – good for you!  The world needs individuals that will “do without questioning” as it seeks to fulfill the mundane tasks required to close out each day while moving towards a new and predictable tomorrow.  The world needs people to fulfill the expectations of others and find comfort in the perceptions of peace and tranquility that a complacent life can create.  For those unwilling to live another’s vision or accept another’s explanation of “why” as they seek their own “why not,” however, endless possibilities that have yet to be imagined are waiting to become reality.  In whatever you do, look beyond the obvious to experience all that life might provide.  Seek what might be “possible” rather than settling for what might be the “probable” solution.  We need only our eyes to see that what we perceive as being real – and our ears to hear what others say is acceptable – but casting and pursuing a vision which defines a new reality requires our imagination.  We must imagine what might be possible THEN act intentionally to bring that vision to fruition IF we are to rise above our perceptions of accomplishment by managing the risk that prevents us from identifying, reaching for and realizing the potential of new realities in life.
 

A brave new world awaits those willing to question the things that are held as true because of past practice or long-accepted policy - those courageous enough to act in a manner not yet imagined by others to accomplish things not yet considered possible. While known actions result in predictable results, untested and unproven actions cause equal and opposite reactions - creating new opportunities and fresh challenges that will transform things once considered only possible yesterday into probable advances as we move towards tomorrow – allowing us to move from a perceived sense of reality to one that is quietly (and confidently) new.

Friday, March 3, 2017

CHANGE IS OFTEN FINAL BUT RARELY FATAL


Whenever a significant change in life occurs – whether it is something personal, professional or as seemingly insignificant as a store closing or a company being sold, the lyrics of a ‘60’s era song performed by The Byrds (Turn, Turn, Turn) comes to mind.  Though rearranged slightly, the words were taken almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 – traditionally ascribed to King Solomon, the recipient of great wisdom as evidenced by his insights into human nature, change and moving forward through adversity.  The song, often used to promote peace while denouncing war during the Vietnam era, tells us there is…

·         A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted
·         A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up
·         A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance
·         A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away, and, above all,
·         To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens

Though probably not intended to stir feelings of remorse or deep thoughts during a closeout sale, these words came crashing down upon me recently as heard about the closing of stores that were around to help me grow.  Sears, Family Christian Stores, MC Sports – all West Michigan landmarks that provided clothes, tools, toys and food for thought – are closing.  Our landscape is changing – what was once significant has lost its value and things not imagined have rushed to replace them.  We face the choice of holding on to the past by immersing ourselves in the memories of what was OR of reaching towards the future by discovering the opportunities that have yet to be revealed.

While life does go on – everything having its season, time and purpose with new ideas and concepts replacing the old (which will eventually be replaced by other new ideas and concepts) – a sadness cloaks us whenever a landmark business or store must shutter its doors forever.  The nearly empty racks – their substance stripped from them by customers eager to find a bargain – stand as barren as the carcass of a living creature pounced upon by scavengers seeking sustenance.  The organization – once a provider of jobs for many – is but a final resting place for the few left behind to turn out the lights before locking the doors upon their last exit. 

Whenever an enterprise shuts down or a relationship ends, a cloak of darkness covers what were once fresh starts and new beginnings.  Even when the bright promise of a dream is replaced by another, it was seemingly discarded after losing its significance.  Life mirrors the finality that changing seasons bring to time – every end ushering in a new beginning, often from an incomplete perspective that shows us only the beginning of a new journey rather than the whole trip that is ahead.  It is hard to fathom a Phoenix rising from the ashes to fly once more if we dwell upon the decline and ultimate decimation of an organization (or of a person or relationship) that helped to form our beliefs, values and lives rather than on what could become of a new organization, opportunity or relationship IF ONLY we looked ahead rather than back.

Though it is hard to let go of our past familiarity when forced to enter an unknown and unexpected chapter in our life – whether it might be a change in personal relationships or the business interactions in which we participate – it is unhealthy to dwell upon the loss each season’s passing brings.   When faced with the reality of change, some choose to hold on to what will no longer be while others prefer reaching out to identify dreams that will provide opportunities to succeed anew.  We can stay silent in our suffering as we mourn the past or speak out in anticipation of events not yet realized – focusing our energies on what might become rather than clinging to what has been but will be no more.  If we hope to turn towards a better tomorrow we must cast away those things holding us back as we gather up new opportunities upon which we can establish a new foundation.  Our perspective determines how we embrace opportunities in life – how we “Turn, Turn, Turn” when given the chance to begin anew.  Our willingness to accept what has been as history and look ahead to what could be possible as our emerging future will transform our dreams and aspirations into reality as long as we truly believe that each end is but the beginning to a new sense of purpose.
 
The closing of a business can feel much like the end of a relationship.  No matter how much we may seek comfort in “what was” we cannot hide from the fact that each new season brings change.  How we react and respond to change determines whether an unanticipated event or action will result in crippling anxiety or exhilarating opportunity.  Our world is filled with choices that bring us new beginnings – that allow us to either “keep or to cast away” as we “plant or reap.”  It is up to us to make the most of our opportunities – to continue turning from each end towards each new beginning – if we are to thrive in the life we have ahead of us (rather than seeking refuge as we hide in our past success).
 

In regards to Sears, MC Sports and Family Christian Stores (and others that have closed or are yet to face change), remember the impact they had upon your life yet move beyond the past to express your hope the next time you witness the misfortune of others by reaching out to cushion their fall.  Make the most of your life as you close each chapter you have experienced to begin anew – as you turn the pages within the growing book of your life!  See in each void the light of hope – in each fall the chance to rise – as you turn from one season to another by embracing the finality of change and welcoming the opportunity to achieve a fresh start that each new beginning brings.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

TO MANAGE OR TO LEAD? THAT IS THE QUESTION...


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

THE POWER OF A GOOD EXAMPLE


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

ACTIVE LISTENING ACCOMPLISHES GREAT THINGS


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

TURNING ACCOMPLISHMENT INTO ACHIEVEMENT


Far too often people focus on how their day starts, how their task is being accomplished or what must be done first RATHER THAN 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.