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!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Individuals often succeed by “being in the right place at the right time,” making a mistake that turns out to be revolutionary (post-it notes, as an example) or “carrying on” a legacy handed down by someone else.  More often, however, much planning, analyzing, forecasting, modeling, and “sweat equity” go into bringing dreams to fruition.  We must selflessly invest our time, money and effort to realize the returns that inevitably come when sacrificing short-term leisure time for long-term opportunity.  While the creation of jobs and the return of wealth to a community may be offshoots of successful business, they are simply the byproducts of dreams, the results of hope and the culmination of focused (and intentional) effort.  In order to realize great accomplishment, individuals AND organizations must imagine the future, consider alternative options as to how it might be realized, then steadfastly advancing towards its ultimate accomplishment – recognizing that effort without goals are often fruitless and actions without intent regularly fall short of hoped for results. 

Once set, one must closely monitor progress and constantly identify obstacles that could hinder the accomplishment of goals – minimizing disruptions to the successful actualization of intended consequences – to help ensure success.  Changes to established plans and procedures should be considered carefully before initiating new processes or practices because intentional actions that foster anticipated results are more predictable and prone to replication than are reactive responses that resolve temporary conditions or situations.  A business will never reach its full potential should a leader focus too intently upon the path (particularly if the path is well traveled by others or often frequented by its competition) rather than the prize at its conclusion (recognizing that even “the prize” is but a resting point upon the continuum of time) NOR will an individual reach his or her full potential until the “ends” become the intended reason for the “means” (rather than a functional by-product of effort put forth to accomplish the assigned dreams of another).

Business success can be directly linked to Management’s ability to motivate and encourage employees to freely and creatively contribute to organizational growth (without fear of failure).  In order to leverage the power of people, an organization must foster and encourage personal development equipping individuals to contribute (rather than simply trained to listen and do what they are told).  An organization should continually challenge and encourage employees to imagine the future and consider where he or she may wish to fit.  Questions that should be asked should include what does one WANT to be, WANT to accomplish, or can realistically EXPECT to achieve (with AND without additional training)?  To taste success one must start with a conclusion - a goal or set of expectations – before starting down the path towards accomplishment.  Without an end point, one will never know when one chapter has concluded so that another can begin.  Life without purpose can be eventful but is rarely satisfying.  It may be full of new beginnings but is strangely at a loss for “ends.”  Taking stock of what has been done, what is in progress and what is but a thought should become a part of everyone’s daily routine IF he or she truly wishes to achieve success – for without a roadmap, how can we hope to move from where we are to where we wish to be?

After establishing a goal – organizationally or individually – we must determine how it can be best accomplished.  Must additional knowledge be attained or abilities be enhanced to achieve the goal?  Who must be brought into the solution to make it happen (and who should be excluded from its execution to minimize disruption)?  Must the power of a team be brought into play or is the goal more individualistic?  Too often, training is an afterthought to the accomplishment of a dream – our hopes taking us places where our abilities fear to tread.  When we start “doing” without thinking we may taste limited success but it will be realized in spite of ourselves rather than because of anything that was intentionally done or could be repeated.  Organizations can play an active role in this process by providing the time for employees to think, the environment in which they can experiment, the tools they may need to become accomplished, and the climate in which they can succeed.

To achieve greatness, people MUST steadfastly advance towards the realization of their dreams – recognizing that detours will arise (but are simply temporary disruptions rather than insurmountable obstacles) and that reaching a destination may require one to occasionally step back in order to move forward.  In order to enact meaningful change, however, with any degree of efficiency and urgency we must develop and utilize systems that allow us to anticipate and avoid obstacles that could hinder progress whenever possible while justifying the initiation of warranted changes when necessary (EVEN IF the change forces us to abandon tried and true activities that provide trusted and consistent results).  An individual will never reach their full potential should he or she focus too intently upon the path rather than the potential at the path’s conclusion.  An organization will NEVER leverage the power of its people if they are kept in the dark (expected to “do” rather than to question “why”), stifled through fear of reprisal (rather than being allowed to grow through healthy experimentation) and rewarded for doing things as they have always been done (rather than for challenging the status quo and being recognized for creating new alternative processes that produce better results).

Potential achievement is not measured by what someone has done or an accounting of where they have been but rather by what they are capable of doing and an anticipation of where they are going.  While some may hold onto the dreams of their past, reveling in the memories of what was or has been accomplished, if we are to achieve our full potential we must transform our thinking to consider things that never were (or have yet to be realized) – asking “Why not?” rather than questioning “Why?”

Monday, August 8, 2016


When people perform individually, it is relatively easy to identify and measure the effort expended and the results achieved. It is human nature, however, that people prefer to accept credit without blame, exhibit authority without wanting accountability, and make decisions without assuming responsibility for potential negative consequences (but are more than willing to accept accolades for positive outcomes). Organizations embracing the formation of teams before recognizing these human characteristics may never fully achieve their anticipated results – often thinking that great things happen when all contribute equally without considering that every team needs focus, direction and a driving force. When building teams, we should ALWAYS consider the following:

Management should provide the “content” to be considered (overall direction that defines authority, scope of activity and any boundaries that may exist) without controlling the “context” of a team’s considerations (allowing it to operate independently within established parameters).  
An effective team must provide workable solutions that receive the group’s endorsement and “buy-in” if it seeks to make significant contributions yet it must also be empowered to move forward towards a solution (without necessarily needing to see a destination prior to beginning the journey) and be allowed to learn from failure (without fear of immediate negative repercussions).

Do not expect team members to take untested ideas through a non-monitored process OR make decisions based on a “risk vs. reward” litmus until they have been equipped with the appropriate team-building tools to maximize their chances of success.
Teams must receive training to understand how each member fits into the process – leveraging every member’s unique abilities to make the “sum of all parts” a greater contributor to the Organization’s bottom line than would have been their potentially conflicting individual efforts.  A single focus must also be identified prior to “releasing” the power of a team with someone (formally or informally) designated to keep all efforts directed appropriately – tolerating detours but keeping them from distracting or delaying progress.  A formal (or informal) leader will serve to keep teams “on task” and focused - to push through individual preferences and outspoken contributors as solutions are developed. While teams are great “action units,” they often need to rally behind a champion to accomplish their collective goals.

Work teams should enhance individual contributions and refine singular efforts by stretching the limitations of each person’s knowledge, experiences and abilities through the power of group thought and interaction.  
When properly leveraged, the power of diverse thoughts and an inclusive culture can create new solutions not previously considered by applying different ideas and perspectives to tried and true processes.

Think of an emerging team as a young bird having the ability to fly but not yet knowing how to accomplish that objective.  If raised within a cage, a bird can learn to fly but will do so ONLY to fulfill its natural purpose of flight but without reason or purposeful destination.  If allowed to fly freely, however, a bird will grow, strengthen and explore previously uncharted regions but may wander to new territories that seem more inviting than “home.”  If trained and nurtured properly before being allowed to leave the nest, the bird will soar to the heavens, explore and accomplish much then return home to celebrate what was done before embarking anew the next day. 

When properly assembled, trained, and allowed to function without disruptive outside interference (from management, policy, practice or established procedures), teams pay dividends to those investing in their development and success.  Allowing a team to run free without parameters, training or oversight control provides complete flexibility but often inhibits its ability to produce desired results UNLESS the collective spirit of individual entities can be leveraged towards a single objective by an internal filter (leader) who makes sure all interests are served.  An overly controlling or inadvertently disruptive leader, however, can hinder the growth of teams AND their ability to contribute.

As with a young bird, when the team is trained, developed and allowed to explore within an area having defined parameters – knowing its potential AND its limitations – it will grow, contribute and find comfort “at home.”  If allowed to seek its own rewards for non-monitored activities that enter uncharted areas without at least passive oversight and control, a team MAY become successful but will often be without loyalty to its originator, accountability to organizational expectations or responsibility for the intended (or unintended) consequences of its actions – flying freely upon the wings you intended it to utilize for the accomplishment of a common good and a corporate objective.  Take time to nurture and build your team BEFORE setting it free IF you seek to harvest the fruits of your labor and share the resultant rewards with an empowered and effective team.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


When opportunity knocks, some refuse to open the door, excusing themselves from any responsibility for the challenges that life might place before them. They prefer living within the status quo – taking the familiar “easy path” to any the destination that might appear beyond the horizon – implicitly declaring that change and opportunity may be great for others but should be avoided at all costs when personally confronted.  Rarely will you find an individual wishing to initiate change – to face opportunity head on so they might reap the potential rewards their risk might provide – travelling only upon the straight and narrow road.  Conversely, one seeking the comfort of “what is” rather than the opportunities that “what could be” might present will avoid the twists and turns that an unimproved path presents as they will spend so much of their time blaming each bump on the inadequacy of another and perceiving every detour as a dead end rather than unrealized possibility – that little forward progress will be accomplished.  People refusing to put forth more than minimal effort while expecting exceptional results are unrealistic in their beliefs.
Far too many individuals seek to rise to the top upon the backs of others, expecting to receive the same rewards simply because they share the same space and breathe the same air, rather than opening the door when opportunity knocks.  Those seeking to leverage their individual abilities, attitudes and desires eagerly open the door to new opportunities.  They immerse themselves in the identification of “root causes” that may have initiated the disruptive events in their lives, seeking to become an indispensable part of innovative solutions rather than an ongoing contributor to seemingly unresolvable issues and unreasonable expectations. They move forward upon paths defined by the conditions – considering not only the situation as it is but also what it might project to become – before beginning their journey, ALWAYS willing to adjust their travels should any motivating or influencing factors change. Individuals answering the knock of opportunity typically identify paths not yet imagined as they take roads not yet improved while seeking destinations not previously explored or defined. Those willing to take risks in life visualize where they might go once they step through the door of opportunity. They do not hide behind the safety of a closed existence, they absolutely refuse to accept the loss of “what might be possible.”

Sharing our workload and the results of our efforts has become an expectation as we seek to magnify and enhance our individual contributions by blending them with the unique gifts others have been given to accomplish collectively more than could have been completed on our own.  Might our emphasis on sharing and “teamwork”, however, be inadvertently discouraging individuals from “answering the knock of opportunity” by dissuading them from expressing their personal thoughts, feelings and expectations – encouraging them to find comfort and security in “group think,” fearing failure rather than embracing the learning that it can bring? Within a world that rewards results rather than encouraging discovery, do we allow people to bring their dreams to fruition or do we contain their imaginations within well-defined parameters and highly structured “acceptable” processes?  Do we actually keep the door closed by convincing people it is alright to find comfort in the way things are (and that they will never change) rather than encouraging them to take intentional risks that MIGHT produce exceptional rewards?  Perhaps the opportunity that knocks in life should be welcomed as a dream that has yet to become reality rather than a reality that has established itself as a dream.

Dreams are thoughts not yet realized – aspirations not yet brought to fruition. Dreams are the basis of our goals and the foundation of our good intentions. We can LIVE life without dreams BUT cannot EMBRACE life’s full potential (or become all we hope to be or realize all we might wish to accomplish) without first visualizing what we want to become or what we desire to do BEFORE we begin to travel through life.  Those that perform to the standards and expectations of others may be great contributors (as they add value to society) but until they identify their individual aspirations and work towards accomplishing them, people rarely discover new horizons or identify unknown paths that would allow them to travel beyond the door of opportunity once it has been opened – to cross the threshold from “what is” to “what has yet been imagined.”  To accomplish our dreams we must be willing to open the door that holds us captive within the safety and security of our “present” so we can embrace the unknown opportunities of a “future” yet to be fully identified, realized or finalized. When opportunity knocks, you can ignore it, consciously turn it away or embrace it as you move towards its unrealized potential. You can answer its call or hide within the safety and security of what you know to be real – leaving the opportunity for someone else to invest the time and energy you are unable (or unwilling) to expend – but must then accept the results they accomplish rather than the possibilities you could have attained.

Should you seek to make a difference in the world – to expand your horizons beyond “here and now” towards dreams not yet realized (or, in some cases, not yet imagined), open YOUR door when you hear someone knocking.  When opportunity knocks, some accomplish much because they sacrifice all, holding back nothing as they seek “the prize” rather than worrying about “the cost.”  They picture life as a series of surmountable hills rather than a single insurmountable mountain.  They see obstacles in life being temporary detours rather than permanent closures, finding “the good” in every situation they encounter rather than dwelling upon “the bad” in what might come their way.  People answering the knock of opportunity see where they wish to be and envision what they wish to become the intentionally acting to make those things reality rather than holding back or maintaining the status quo. While accomplishing much for themselves, they allow others to taste success by paving the way for them to follow once they the door has been opened (understanding and knowing that leaving the door closed would prohibit new discoveries and eliminate new accomplishments – sentencing the world to stagnation and decline rather than hope and prosperity). 

Friday, July 22, 2016


Many people feel they can “go it alone” rather than needing to prove themselves to others (or convincing others their way is wrong).  In order to establish and maintain accountability for our thoughts and actions, however, we need others in our lives (to challenge, validate and support our direction, decisions and aspirations).  While most of us are able to move forward through much of life on our own, we can find encouragement to keep moving when we might prefer to rest if others are walking beside us along the way.  Before we can expect others to accept us, however – to care enough about us to invest their time in making us better – we must first accept ourselves (though accepting is never easy as we can ALWAYS second guess our initial reactions, thoughts or decisions).

The first step in this acceptance is to discover our own potential – fully assimilating the beauty of what is possible into the reality of our lives – before we could hope to have another see value or worth in us.  We must identify our individual strengths and weaknesses, realizing the role that each plays both in our development AND to our detriment.  We must recognize and accept what is possible (or not realistic), what is highly probable (or unlikely) and what is fiscally irresponsible (or within our means to create a way).  When one looks for weaknesses, assigns fault, or emphasizes failure they tend to focus more on what “was not done” than on celebrating success.  They often attempt to change behavior by identifying deficiencies that need altering (thereby becoming important as the identifier of another’s problems) rather than by encouraging the “cloning” of healthy behaviors.  Far too often we ensure our own success by pointing out and/or guaranteeing another to fail rather than by elevating our own “game” to bring others along with us.

People acknowledging only their strengths often enter relationships to “fix” those around them – never fully exposing themselves to the scrutiny that true friendship (or “community” brings).  Those that limit themselves by accepting their shortcomings and deficiencies as ceilings rather than floors often sell themselves short when it comes to achieving success.  These individuals often avoid their own emptiness or darkness by reflecting another’s light or fullness through the pronouncement of a relationship. They seek to find personal success through the accomplishments of others – or to elevate their own minor successes by minimizing another.  They tend to deflect attention from themselves by directing it to another - often negatively influencing the way others are perceived while appearing to be “above it all” in their personal interrelationships.   

No relationship – whether it be in business or in your personal life – will grow unless we establish an expectation of what we hope it might become then work hard to bring the dream to fruition.  Some say that setting low expectations will keep them from ever being disappointed.  What kind of a meaningful relationship could develop from the premise that what “is” will never change – that wherever a relationship began is where it will eventually end – exhibiting no growth.  A relationship serves no valuable purpose if the melding of beliefs, values, ideals and accomplishments are intended to advance each individual more that it enhances the group.  If one benefits from the input of another, think how much could be accomplished should several come together, openly sharing thoughts and ideas without fearing loss, reprisal or repercussion.  

Dreams are the “pots of gold” found at the end of the rainbows we choose to follow.  Choice is the key here – unless and until we CHOOSE to move forward, to leave behind or to seek new pastures, we live our lives more by fearing the pain of failure than by truly expecting and anticipating the rewards of success – we may survive but will rarely thrive.  Relationships focusing on why things did not work or how they could have been done differently are destined to fail.  Those using (accepting and learning from) failure as a springboard towards implementing new and different solutions are more likely to succeed.  Believing that the “light at the end of a tunnel” is an opportunity yet to be realized rather than a train heading towards you on a collision course reflects the assimilation of dreams into your daily relationships – the acceptance of “what has yet to become” a precursor of reality rather than a harbinger of never-ending turmoil.

Building relationships and accomplishing dreams are not easy (nor straightforward) tasks.  We often discover alternative paths leading to destinations that are more desirable (AND that we may never have considered) when we include the ideas of others as part of our decision-making process.  We miss much along the way when we build straight and narrow paths upon which to travel – leaving no room for exploration, discovery or wandering – when we focus only upon where we wish to go and how we envision getting there without allowing ourselves the time (or giving ourselves the permission) to take detours along the way.  Avoid the interstate highways of life (paths that provide only limited access or entrance), choosing instead to travel the “country roads” (trails that allow unrestricted ingress and egress of ideas, thoughts and methodologies) if you wish to achieve all that you believe possible (rather than accepting only what you could reasonably and responsibly identify as having a high likelihood of succeeding).

When people lose sight of their goals, coming to rest upon the side of the road before accomplishing their dreams, they cannot find fulfillment and often fail to persevere.  When we travel alone we are more likely to lose our way – why should it be any different as we live life?  The realization of dreams is linked to how effectively our strengths can be focused as we travel unfamiliar paths that encourage new ideas – and unless our thoughts are challenged by others holding us accountable for the results promised, how can we ever achieve anything beyond what we already know and accept as being possible?  Accepting that our own (or another individual’s) weaknesses are insurmountable often results in our believing that failure is not just a possibility but rather a foregone conclusion.  When we truly believe that the accomplishment of anything is possible – and that nothing can diminish or replace the unwavering power borne through a strong and trusting relationship – only then will we be able to experience the presence of others on our island – of others working together to achieve more than any one individual might accomplish. 

Relationships are the foundation upon which life’s accomplishments are constructed.  A relationship becomes successful when “we” becomes a given rather than “me” being the rule.  While one man (or woman) may think he (or she) is an island, they will not experience all life has to offer until accepting that to live we must share life – and that we are only as strong individually as is the group of close friends we have around us.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


I once held all that I had as gold within my trembling hands…
More precious than even the air that I breathed…
Watching it sparkle and shine…
Rivaling the sun with the brilliance my accomplishments spilled upon me.
I buried them within my heart, holding them deeply as part of my essence within my soul…
Touching the heights of my journey with my searching fingers…
Embracing the efforts that produced results others could but observe…
Hiding the inadequacies of failure behind a tough shell that sheltered me from the world but inadvertently inhibited my growth…

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 stagnation, mediocrity and a minimalist future.  Things once held as valuable slip from our grasp as we grow older – as we gain new experiences the things once seen as being valuable become less significant, replaced with new and improved processes, alternative solutions and previously unimagined possibilities.  We must remain vigilant lest our safe shore becomes overcome by a rising tide.  If we rest upon our laurels, a once-secure occupational choice may become obsolete – a victim of technological growth or productivity improvement.  Unless constantly nurtured, a secure and comfortable relationship can be tarnished by an unanticipated action (or an uncontrolled reaction).  Life happens – how we react and respond to it will either advance our potential or limit our possibilities.

Unknowingly, I took from those around me – from my world – all that was offered…
            In my naivety seeing little need for thanks or appreciation in return.
I held onto what I felt was mine far too tightly…
Secure in all my abilities provided yet unwilling to grow.
When forced to expand my horizons beyond what could be controlled – finally yielding to      the relentless march of time…
My course was irreversibly altered – changed in ways never dreamed of nor imagined…as past memories failed to sustain a comfortable existence…
Dreams not yet solidified were launched from an unstable foundation that beckoned me to hold on until the very end – until there would be no base from which to move forward – rather than looking ahead.

Sometimes we take from our present circumstance all it offers, not ever planning for a time when it might end.  Few individuals find a single employer, line of work, or career to last them a lifetime.  Whether due to fear of the unknown, fear of failure, or fear of becoming “something or someone different,” some people tend to hold on to what they have for far too long.  Today’s world demands life-long learning – be it within business, industry or personal relationships.  Education (not necessarily college – Trade education or the ongoing attainment of specialized skills is also education.) is no longer “preferred” within today’s workforce – it is required.  Computer skills are not a luxury – they are essential.  Literacy (knowing how to read, comprehend and communicate) can act as a sail to one’s career – leading one to worlds unknown and unexplored – or a millstone around one’s neck as the lack of mental exercise and imagining bring growth to a standstill.  While one may be able to “stand his or her ground” for a short period of time, it is rare that life allows us to live on “cruise control.”  Unless we are moving forward we are either falling backwards OR standing in another’s way.  It is far better that we position ourselves to anticipate what might happen before it occurs – to influence our destiny rather than allowing uncontrollable situations to force our hand – while melding our thoughts, dreams and possibilities into an intentionally planned and ever-changing reality.
Though I still remember and reach for my past…
Searching desperately for what has passed me by...
Grasping for what once was but shall never be again…
Those very memories now seem as but water running through my fingers…
Their substance un-contained within my hands…
                        Their memories flowing through my grasp as if they were never there…
Leaving but occasional thoughts of what once was casting light into my darkened world.
I desperately seek the comfort that once encompassed my soul – the thoughts that once defined my path…
The possibilities that being one with my potential rather than limited by my reality provided…
            Finding substance within my existence…meaning within the shadows of my emerging world.

When we live in the past we can be absorbed by “what used to be” rather than seeking out “what is.”  Far too many individuals seek comfort in the belief that they will “be called back to work shortly” rather than seeking a new beginning.  We tend to stagnate ourselves (and all those around us) when we seek to establish our value within past memories – when we create an identity in “what we were” rather than in “who we are” or “what we might yet become.”  Seeking comfort in what once was may not be a fatal flaw – but finding shelter from our present reality within the confines of the past will never allow us to grow.

Yet life goes on for time does not stand still.
To secure a future we must reach out to grasp what has yet to be offered.
We must build bridges to traverse the waters flowing freely through our fingers…
We must acknowledge that the security our past once provided has been washed away…
            A new beginning spreading before us like a never-ending sea…
We must sail into the unblemished horizon seeking others willing to share it…
But we must first let go of what has been…of what we were and who we are…
Before we can reach confidently for what has yet to be.

While our parents and grandparents may have found security within the four walls of one company or lived in one house forever, few of us will experience life without unexpected or unplanned change.  Change is the only thing constant in life and, while it is only natural for people to step back when they face uncertain times or unpredictable challenges, we must not step back so far that we fall over the cliff while we are not looking.  Though getting to the bottom quickly MAY emphasize that there is no way left to go but up, there is no guarantee that we would survive a free-fall through our past when seeking our future.  People who anticipate changes intentionally set their course upon the waters left behind by “melted memories” rather than being washed away by them – thriving as they sail ahead rather than being becalmed on calm and untroubled seas.  Before moving forward, most successful individuals examine the past, take from it (and build upon) what is valuable, leave behind what may be detrimental, then move forward with confidence that what could be is worth whatever it might cost to leave behind what will never change.  Do not drown in the waters as they flow through your fingers, rather hold tightly only to those things that will bring hope to your future and help you realize your dreams.                                         

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Most books about leadership portray the stellar qualities and personality traits individuals have leveraged to bring them success with the expectation that others having the desire but not yet exhibiting the ability can emulate their thoughts and actions to create similar success.  Many of these books rail to recognize that knowledge alone does not guarantee success.  Only when we APPLY our knowledge to change an unacceptable situation by systematically identifying and eliminating those things keeping us from success (then replacing them with transformational thoughts and actions that create and establish alternative behaviors) will an environment that provides the opportunity to succeed be established.  Few “management experts” address the small, commonsense, practical things that often lead to management failure – thoughts, actions or characteristics that MUST be avoided if we are to realize our full potential.  Some of the mistakes a manager often makes that virtually GUARANTEES failure (yet seems to repeat expecting different results) would include:


Successful managers take the time to hone and develop their people.  Individuals perform better when they have a high self –concept – knowing they are fully equipped to perform any job that is assigned.  Managers of excellence recognize that elevating the skills of those working for them will enhance their own ability to contribute more to their organization (and realize the rewards of growth).  Individuals working for you should be capable of assuming more than their basic job responsibilities so that you have time to seek new challenges.  Unless (and until) a Leader’s work can be done by another – the basic aspects and expectations accomplished so that unexpected results can be shown – very little growth will be realized and success will be limited to what is being done rather than expanded to what might be possible.


Treating everyone the same will result in everyone BEING the same.  All organizations need people to “do” and perform BUT must also identify, encourage and retain leaders, dreamers, visionaries and risk-takers to propose new and untested pathways that create safe passage to previously unconsidered destinations and rewards.  Successful managers will reward excellence rather than celebrating mediocrity – identifying and recognizing individuals and their specific contributions to the greater good rather than defaulting to the “easy” way to go.  Treating all employees the same tends to encourage those who can truly contribute to take their talents elsewhere, leaving behind only those who are happy to receive good money for producing adequate (but average) results.  Nobody has ever ascended the corporate ladder while being weighted down by an anchor.  One must climb from a solid base of support in order to grow. 


Finding out who caused a major loss and addressing him/her publicly may serve to make sure that a mistake is not repeated – and the example will help to make sure that nobody else will make a similar mistake – but what is really gained by addressing the individual WITHOUT correcting the action that caused the problem?  We tend to protect and insulate people from the repercussions of their actions far too often in our “politically correct” lives, making excuses for them or forgiving them without consequence.  While people learn from their mistakes, they must be given the tools and the opportunity to change their behavior if they are to become the foundation of an organization’s success.  Weak managers critique and criticize – effective managers identify root causes and provide tools that minimize the chances of reoccurrence.  Good leaders NEVER attack the offender NOR do they ignore the offense.


Life is not static – it is a continuum of change.  The sun rises and sets each day.  Life begins and ends.  Relationships come and go.  Managers who expect their accomplishments to withstand the test of time without moving forward – viewing their successes as destinations rather than steps along the road to success – will be forgotten as quickly as their contributions fade or their successes are equaled by another.  Great leaders never accept the status quo as being sufficient – they seek to expand it.  They never accept “good enough” as adequate.  They see today’s end as tomorrow’s beginning – leveraging what has been finished as the starting point for what has yet to be accomplished rather than accepting it as an temporary pause within an ongoing concentric story.  While good things may come to those who wait, successful leaders often create their own future by acting in ways that are noticed by others – their results gaining them recognition without having to raise their own banner inviting praise.  

A leader’s success in not measured by what he or she is able to accomplish alone but rather by how much can be accomplished through the power of the team.  Leaders lead – plain and simple.  Unless (and until) the individual talent within an organization works together for the “common good,” creating a unified solution that is exponentially better than any individual’s singular contribution, goodness may be achieved but greatness will be allusive. 

I recently published PATHWAYS AND PASSAGES TO LEADERSHIP, a book encouraging and supporting leadership excellence by helping individuals:
·         Identify and achieve success
·         Proactively anticipate and work through change
·         Accept the responsibilities of leadership, and
·         Recognize the need for life and relationships outside of work.

Available on Amazon or through Barnes & Noble, Pathways and Passages to Leadership (by David J. Smith) identifies pathways (through pictures) that will provide safe passage (in words) through life’s challenges and opportunities.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


As summer returns, we are filled with the hopes of warm (but not too hot) days, peaceful nights lit by the flickering of fireflies, the sounds of laughter upon our plentiful Michigan beaches and a bit more free time to enjoy the environment in which we live.  If only life could remain as simple as our seemingly endless vacations portrayed it to be when we were young.  Perhaps we make life more difficult than it needs to be because we have abandoned some of the lessons we learned while running carelessly along a sandy shoreline – that if we were to look at life through our “inner child’s eyes” we might be able to accept things as they are while seeking what they could be rather than dwelling upon what went wrong or could never be accomplished.

As a child, dreams are built with and upon shifting sands.  Children spend hours building intricate castles upon the shore only to have them swept away in an instant by the tide – or plowed over during an impromptu game of football on the sand.  Though the fruits of their labor are washed out to sea or destroyed by an uncontrolled act, children tend to pick up the pieces quickly and rebuild their dreams as if they had never been taken from them.  Why is it that as we become older (and more experienced) we worry so much about WHY our efforts failed and what we might have been able to accomplish IF ONLY our dreams had not been squashed rather than moving on like a child to recapture the magic and make our efforts even more productive?  Much could be learned from rebounding like a child – from drawing a line in the sand as we move forward rather than trying to draw a boundary to keep others away from our creations.

“A line in the sand” can initiate a plethora of new beginnings for a child.  Asking someone to step over a line in the sand can be either an act of acceptance or an invitation to aggression.  It can be either a new beginning or the beginning of an end.  Drawing a line in the sand often implies that things are about to begin fresh with no holding on to unpleasant memories UNLESS we use it to isolate our belongings or represent a wall around us within a milling sea of humanity.  The pure innocence of acceptance is often lost as we age.  Adults often talk about drawing a line in the sand but rarely empty the memories and concerns that weigh them down like a millstone around their necks.  If our actions could return to those of a child – accepting another for what he or she is (rather than for what we remember or wish them to be), for how they act (rather than how we think they might act based on their past performances) and for what they seek to become as they cross the line (rather than what they may have been before it was drawn) – perhaps then we could truly “draw our lines in the sand” and move forward rather than continually falling back or holding on to things long past rather than seeking those yet to come.

While walking along the shore a child will find many lost and forgotten objects floating upon the waters – learning at a young age that one person’s waste can become the basis for another’s wonderment – that something considered to be trash by one can, with a little imagination, be another’s treasure.  The clutter left upon the shore at the end of the day tends to be gathered up by swarms of gulls during the evening, swept away by the pounding surf at night, then scavenged by early-rising treasure seekers in the early morning.  By the time afternoon comes, even the most cluttered beach has returned to its pristine splendor.  We need to recognize that even the biggest mess we can make in life will be swept clean over time – and that good will usually emerge from our failures UNLESS we dwell upon the loss rather than seeking the potential gains..

Children dream of what they might want to become “when they grow up” then engage in play that (they believe) will bring their dreams to fruition.  They do not grasp on to one destination nor activity, however, moving from doctor to policeman to nurse to teacher (though I’ve never heard of a child dreaming to go into Human Resources…imagine that!) – seeking to expand their horizons by stimulating their minds.  As adults, far too many wish to ESCAPE what they have and who they are during vacation rather than attempting to ENHANCE their careers (lives or accomplishments) or “recharging their batteries” so that they can return to their chosen occupation refreshed and ready to thrive.  As you seek to accomplish your dreams during the coming year, recognize that forces outside of your control may take them from you, as a child’s castle may be swept to sea, before they are fulfilled BUT the same forces that could be seen as destroying your dreams are working to provide a pristine surface upon which you can begin your travels anew.  Rather than dwelling upon your hardships of life, embrace the opportunities you have been given to chart a fresh path upon life’s shifting sands. 

As you look forward to summer this year – to enjoying time with family and friends while drawing your line firmly upon life’s shifting sands, remember that such an act can represent two perspectives.  You can either reflect upon what you have done and who you are OR you can relentlessly rebuild what was accomplished before being washed out to sea – seeking what has yet to materialize rather than dwelling upon what has passed.  Refuse to accept defeat when your castles are swept away – rebuild them!  Seek what may be found upon the deserted morning beach while continuously moving forward towards your future rather than taking refuge upon a seemingly safe shelter upon a continuously shifting shore. 

A child learns quickly that those who linger too long on the beach without moving tend to get burned (a lesson many adults forget) and gives meaning to life by seeking to fulfill their dreams (rather than blindly running from their reality).  Live your life through the eyes of a child this summer – seeking the pleasure (rather than the pain) and the possible (instead of accepting that which has already been proven real) in whatever you say or do.