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, 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.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

DEMONSTRATING GOOD JUDGMENT IS THE KEY TO INDIVIDUAL (AND GROUP) ACCOMPLISHMENT


One of the most important things that a Leader does is to make decisions.  As much as we try to research and analyze the paths we travel, a good leader typically makes many decisions based on “what feels right” rather than some recipe of right and wrong choices, decisions or alternatives.  A high percentage of the “judgment calls” that people considered to be great leaders make turn out to be successful decisions while poor leaders tend to make poor decisions (often shifting the blame for failure to those that work for them).  How do good leaders “win more often than they lose” and how can their judgment be transferred to others?  THIS is the essence of leadership – not only knowing what to do and when to do it but also how to transfer actions (and accountability) to others - when to hold on AS WELL AS when to let go and get out of the way!

Good judgment is experience-based.  Leaders typically have a variety of experiences to draw upon when making decisions.  Rarely will a great leader step into a position of authority without having first experienced many different roles, responsibilities, successes and failures.  Visualizing how one situation applies to another – dealing with the practical application of situations and how they interact rather than only the theoretical facts that can be seen by anyone – is a transition many find difficult.  Great leaders not only apply their knowledge, they continually expose others within their organization to new and different situations (and appropriate levels of responsibility) – often allowing them to grow by failing (as long as it does not negatively and irreparably impact “innocents” or the organization) – so that they, too, can develop a variety of experiences from which future decisions will be based.

Good judgment is more often the result of many small decisions coming together to pave the road upon which major decisions must travel rather than the infamous “ah-ha” moment that trainers would lead you to expect.  Great inventions were rarely planned – often they are the culmination of many lesser ideas, failures, false-starts and misdirected accomplishments.  While great decisions are almost never made without careful analysis, thorough investigation, utilization of “cause/effect” processes (and a conscious, willful implementation of an action plan to move forward cautiously), they are often the result of our reacting to what has occurred because of the experience we have gained rather than us brilliantly anticipating a solution before experimenting our way through multiple levels of success.  While working to harness electricity, Edison once stated that he had never failed but rather discovered a thousand solutions that did not work on his way to discovering the one that would.  Leaders do not have all the answers (nor should they pretend to know all the right questions) but when moving forward it should be with confidence (having alternatives and options in mind) so that others will follow with faith rather than hold back due to warranted trepidation.

Decision-making is a process, not an event.  As situations change, so should one’s direction.  Good leaders make decisions then move on to other challenges.  Great leaders make decisions and monitor how they play out while moving on to other opportunities.  Great leaders NEVER lose sight of their objective nor abandon the process (EVEN IF others feel that a situation has been resolved) as they recognize that today’s destination is but a launching point for tomorrow’s opportunities.  They are willing to change their mind as factors and conditions change – recognizing that such mid-decision shifts are (when properly explained and  communicated) an indication of strength, intelligence and good judgment rather than a show of weakness, indecision or lack of knowledge.  While good decision-making begins with the realization that a need for change exists (NO change is usually good if made ONLY for the sake of change rather than to accomplish something different) it requires the application of good judgment to initiate positive action, it cannot produce results until a problem has been identified and a reasonable solution considered, tested, implemented, monitored, measured, validated and allowed to produce results prior to it being changed.

Great leaders make decisions by combining their practical experience with a well-developed knowledge of the situation, organization, problem, issue (OR people involved) while considering the context within which a decision must be made (urgency, importance, etc.).  He or she understands that all three factors influence any decision made – people, environment and urgency.  A great leader will engage the people needed to implement a decision in the decision-making process, allowing them to understand not only the “what” of actions but also the “why” as they add to their experience along the way.  Sharing thought processes to develop both “wins” and “losses” on the road to success will help others make better judgment calls in the future.  Great leaders think, consider, decide then intentionally act (while providing those around them with an opportunity to grow by allowing them to expand their own experiences) so that the organization, relationship or situation will continue to thrive and grow as it benefits from the application of good judgment in the future.  While many decisions must be made quickly, no decision should be made without thought, the development of alternative courses of action and the application of good judgment.  Even if the best decision is to intentionally decide NOT to act (which CAN be a good decision), never consider a lack of intentional action or the failure to implement because of time restraints, disinterest or inexperience a positive as it often is but an accident waiting to happen – a crisis waiting to be fully revealed.. 

Be a better leader in whatever situation you find yourself by helping others to grow.  Engage their minds (hopes and dreams) as fully as you engage your own, allowing them to act (as you monitor results and get out of the way of their progress).  Unless (and until) you prepare others to do what you typically are expected to do you will never achieve more than you have accomplished nor realize anything that has not already been experienced by someone else.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

DOES THE BEHAVIOR OF OTHERS REFLECT WHAT WE EXPECT OR WHAT WE ACCEPT?


Have you ever noticed that people tend to blame others much more frequently than they accept blame when something goes wrong?  Our children do it ("It wasn't my fault!"), our employees do it ("I could have had it finished if only I'd received it on time from..."), and we often even do it ourselves ("Had I done it by myself it would have been finished long ago…").  Blaming is easy.  One must only open his or her mouth, shoot off a couple of random statements that shift responsibility to another, then sit back and stay low (to keep out of the crossfire).  While blame can be deferred, it does not change the fact that someone did (or did not do) something that derailed a project, process or activity.  Unless (or until) we address or correct the behavior that caused the mishap it will most likely continue to happen – each time becoming more acceptable than the last because someone will always do something to “work around” the problem and a change of direction may never be needed.   

Learning from the mistakes of others is easy (since there is no personal pain from their thwarted gain).  Assuming accountability for our own shortcomings or failures is far more difficult.  Though most people would say it is ridiculous to think that one would subject themselves to the added pressure of constantly assuming another's mistakes, think about the way that our culture has evolved.  We come to the rescue of those in need.  We try to create an “equal playing field” whenever possible.  We reward effort rather than results.  We provide all with the opportunity to learn and succeed (EVEN IF an individual may need to learn differently than we think or their idea of success is not the same as ours). 

Our schools have taken the major step towards "inclusiveness" when educating children.  We teach to the masses, trying to bring all to a defined level of competency rather than pushing those capable of more to their maximum potential.  Rather than grouping kids by learning (and achievement) level, classrooms are "blended to better reflect the environment that will be experienced in real life."  We make sure that kids are SOCIALLY adjusted so they can get along with others - but at what cost?  Why be the "good kid" when those creating havoc are the ones receiving all the attention in an attempt to bolster their self-esteem or show them that someone cares?  Why do we reward improvement, progress and attempts rather than achievement, conclusion or results?  Are we rewarding bad behavior when we lavish praise on the disrupters trying to get them to change or are we encouraging good behavior when we do not pay attention to those achieving on their own (since they do not need the help)?  Who gets most of your time and attention – the one doing all that is expected or the one needing constant attention and continuous reminders as to what needs doing next?  Our continuous excusing bad behavior (or accepting a marginal result) is possibly the worst behavior we could display – and it seems to run rampant in the name of equality (rather than equity), living wages (rather than competitive market rates),  and relative worth (rather than absolute value).

We tend to reward bad behavior in business, too.  Sometimes individuals rise to their highest level of incompetence because we are unwilling to identify and address inadequacies along the way (sometimes out of fear of discrimination, unequal treatment or just plain aversion to confrontation).  I once knew of an employee who had excellent technical skills but could not supervise people (he continued to be the doer rather than the leader after he was promoted to supervision).  Rather than providing him with the tools needed to perform his job then holding him accountable for his performance, he was promoted into an upper management position so the company could retain his knowledge of the industry but “insulate him from making daily supervisory mistakes.”  Failing to evaluate performance honestly – not communicating expectations and establishing consequences – often allows a person to rise within an organization by moving from one frustrated supervisor to the next – leaving behind a sigh of relief but inflicting an undocumented problem upon the next individual expected to lead the person.  Though we may not intentionally reward someone for acting poorly, accepting the results of negative behavior without consequences is no different than rewarding the negative behavior – in some cases “omission” is the same as “commission.”  Supervisors often look the other way when employees make mistakes because it is far easier to accept and “cover” for another than it is to correct and establish firm expectations.  Employees (or people) do not, however, initiate behavioral change without first feeling a little pain of reproach – a conundrum created by silent acceptance of inadequate behavior rather than specific correction of unacceptable actions.

Everyone has rules designed to control actions, increase productivity or quality, reduce losses or provide a safe, socially acceptable environment in which to work.  When writing or implementing rules, however, we should identify the intent of the policy and any behavioral change expected to embrace a change of culture.  Before publishing the restriction, consider the “why” of a rule more than what the rule says (allows or disallows).  Should a rule violation occur, we must address inappropriate or unacceptable behavior, point out what was done wrong AND detail how it could have been done correctly (AND that the correct course of action will become the norm of the future).  Do not excuse bad behavior - embrace the learning that comes from making mistakes.  We must acknowledge that nobody can stand up without first falling down and nobody can run without first walking.  When actions are overly regulated, we penalize individuals making a mistake by removing their opportunity to change – to learn from failure.  We must allow individuals to recognize and acknowledge the obstacles that stand between where they are and where they wish to be – and to address them (rather than simply moving around them).  Pure avoidance rarely results in lasting change – the very action you wished altered often reinforced when there are no consequences.  We must not, however, allow an inappropriate action or unacceptable result to continue once corrected.

Rather than being a part of the problem, address the negative actions of others (in a positive way) to become a major factor in the implementation of a solution.  Learn from personal failure while remaining tolerant of the shortcomings of others – and allow others to do the same.  We tend to receive no more than we expect of others nor ultimately achieve any more than we believe possible.  When we accept poor behavior (and its resulting poor performance), how can we ever expect to achieve greatness? 

Identify inappropriate actions, correct them, then monitor behavior to make sure a mistake becomes “the exception” rather than the “rule.”  People can learn from their mistakes and move forward IF confronted when the behavior occurs.  They can contribute mightily to their personal growth and success when given acceptable alternatives and their actions are monitored to make sure change happens.

Friday, April 27, 2018

VALUE YOUR TIME FOR IT MARCHES RELENTLESSLY FORWARD


Yesterday is but a memory – regardless of how sweet or sad, it has passed us by and become history.  Today is nearly done – who we are and what we experience will soon be a part of our past as it cannot become tomorrow.  Only what we build for – what is in our “not yet accomplished” bucket – will inevitably (and undeniably) become today at some point in time, pausing only long enough for us to accomplish that which we intentionally act upon before it, too, fades into the past.  Time is a precious (and valuable) commodity that far too many take for granted.  We must value the time we have (recognizing and understanding that we have no guarantee of time) and use it to make a difference in the lives of others if we hope our time can be measured in more than minutes, hours and days.

Why is it that people tend to rush to judgment, hurry up to wait, and do ANYTHING but “stop to smell the roses?”  Though time is seemingly in abundance when we have nothing to do, it passes far too quickly when we would prefer it to stand still.  We seem to worry more about how quickly we can finish the race than we do about the joy found along the way – or even the satisfaction derived from simply crossing the finish line.  People far too often worry needlessly about things outside of their control rather than identifying the things over which they have influence and acting upon them.  We fear we do not have the time to slow down so, instead of appreciating the things around us we ignore them while driving relentlessly to some vague and often unidentified goal.  We often find ourselves slaves to the very clock we so desperately seek to master when we keep ourselves busy to the point of exhaustion – confusing “busy” with “productive” as we measure efforts rather than results.

Many people complain about their lemons rather than celebrating their opportunity to make lemonade.  The weather is too hot (yet the long winter will almost certainly bring complaints about it being too cold).  I am too busy to exercise (several acquaintances were in accidents this past year that took from them the ability to freely move about – I am sure they wish “being busy” was all that kept them from exercising).  Rather than finding satisfaction in all they have accomplished, some see only what has not been finished (excusing indecisiveness or inaction as being a lack of time) or what they wish they had (rather celebrating than what they actually possess).  We have become a nation of complainers – bringing others down in order to make ourselves look better RATHER THAN elevating ourselves in order to pull others up with us.

Rather than rushing to judge others, take time to ask WHY someone acted a certain way (particularly if “that way” is different than your way so you immediately judge it as being “wrong”).  Rather than expediting (and articulating) your condemnation of another’s unique, untested or unusual idea take time to see if YOUR perspective might be the root cause of your exasperation.  Offer advice and counsel rather than critically dismissing another’s action as being worthless, wrong or misguided.  Doing something for another because they may have done it wrong (or differently than you might have) provides but a short term “fix” as it changes only results rather than altering behavior.  Providing fish gives someone a meal – teaching them how to catch fish provides a long-term solution.  Spending time to make time is ALWAYS a good investment.  Making time at the expense of another’s time is questionable at best.

Why hurry up to wait?  If you are going to have to wait anyway, use the time preparing for the journey.  You cannot control another’s behavior – only your own.  If someone else is frustrating you by being late, use the time productively to think about how YOU might be able to change the situation.  Is there something you can do that the person you are waiting for feels the need to accomplish before leaving?  If YOU are the one who is late, call ahead to say when you will arrive.  It will not make you early but at least your tardiness will not be holding others up.  We are far too quick to blame and too slow to seek responsibility when we play the hurry up and wait game – often too busy assigning “fault” to seek a workable (and timely) solution. 

When people rush to see how much they can do or see they often lessen the enjoyment of what they actually saw or accomplished.  A better utilization of the limited time we have might be to find joy in the journey rather than accepting nothing but the accomplishment of a defined goal.  Investing time in the discovery of a solution rather than seeking ONLY the satisfaction of accomplishment of a task or assignment will allow you to apply “lessons learned” to other situations in the future.

Some measure life by the number of breaths they take.  Might not a better measure be the number sunrises (or sunsets) we can see as a testimony of our reality?  Walk occasionally rather than running all the time.  Seek solace in the cry of a gull or find joy in the laughter of a child.  Though we cannot stop the passing of time we can stop chasing blindly the hands of time as they race relentlessly around the clock.  The sands of time will not bury us if we become the master of our own universe by taking the time to appreciate not only where we are going but also how – and if – we chose to arrive. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

THE ROAD TO RELEVANCE

People yearn for recognition – to contribute to the success of whatever they do – seeking to become an integral part of their organization, their relationships or their interaction with others – hoping that their ideas and opinions will help make a difference.  If we fail to establish a “case” for our inclusion by doing the same things that have always been done in “tried and true” ways that may be effective but lack innovation, we will probably be seen as important but not critical – a necessary evil or potentially an identifier of the problem but not an essential part of the solution.  The first step to relevance – to becoming integral – should start with some serious thought about the things that DO NOT create personal credibility. 

Information is rampant in today’s society.  Electronic communications, on-line searches, magazines, newsletters, trade journals (even newspapers, believe it or not) are available to anyone opening their mail or turning on their computer or subscribing to a news or information resource.  There has been a proliferation of “personal coaches” and “relationship managers” seeking individuals that can be convinced they need to be led down a narrow road to success.  The market is flooded with “self-help” books and “how to” manuals attempting to provide wisdom, experience or role models to a searching public.  With all this data, information and opinion available, why would anyone need someone to interpret the material so that it can be appropriately used?  Unfortunately, merely finding material, data or examples of how others have become successful will NOT add to personal or professional credibility in today’s information age.  In order to become integral we must help learn how to APPLY the information available in a manner that will effectively promote excellence – knowing what to use, what to minimize, what will “work” and what will not be acceptable – if we are to become relevant in our relationships.

To become a part of the solution (rather than simply an ongoing part of the problem) one must learn how to ANTICIPATE THE NEED for a solution by knowing enough about a situation to predict what might go wrong (OR what could actually “go right” and needs to be advanced).  Just “doing” your job, or filling in space and time with conversational words rarely provides the insight to become an integral partner.  One must delve deeply into the inner-workings of an operation to fully understand it – to give more than they might receive in a relationship to fully appreciate it – if he or she is to become a trusted and valued partner.  Do not recruit from a job requisition or job description – learn about the job as if YOU were going to perform it.  Do not generate policy simply because someone feels it is needed – find out why the need has been perceived and make sure the policy being requested really addresses the root cause of the problem (rather than treating an annoying or highly visible symptom).  Do not be the first to say “I am sorry” or “It was my fault” (unless that is the truth) – be honest and open with your admissions, always seeking how to fix what may have gone wrong and how to keep it from recurrence rather than assigning (or assuming) blame if you seek a sincere relationship between equals.  The first step towards “becoming integral” is to become knowledgeable of situations, environmental influences, cultural impediments and value requirements before acting.

If information, data or examples of successful behavior were all that the world needed, why would it need you?  Whenever you are asked to give advice or answer a question, ALWAYS respond in a way that adds value to the data you find and the information you give by interpreting it into something that can be understood and applied to resolve an issue recognizing the cultural, ethical and situational parameters of your audience.  This interpretation may differ depending on whom you are dealing with – be it an hourly work team, an executive management group OR a personal (or family) situation of significance – but YOUR relevance will be based upon the value you give those to whom you communicate and the RESULTS (intentional action) your advice initiates.  Since your success is often dependent upon another’s ability to implement, NEVER give information (examples or advice) and walk away.  We must equip others with the tools needed to successfully take action after identifying a path upon which they will travel if we are to be seen as effective contributors.  If we are not actively leading we must “get out of the way” so that others can succeed – we must monitor and observe (rather than telling and directing), honestly “not caring” who gets the credit as long as an appropriate solutions comes to fruition. 

In order to be seen as integral to anyone or any process we must identify root causes and seek workable (acceptable) solutions while focusing on the “ends” (as we seek to acknowledge and influence the “means”).  Information without application is like a tire without air – it may be “there” but not really useful to anyone (UNLESS you are a tire swing manufacturer or you design/install boat bumpers).  When we put air in the tire it becomes a tool.  Showing others how applying information to resolve a problem or advance an effort helps create an invaluable tool that can become a repeatable process “owned” by others (so you can move on to identify and resolve other issues or concerns).  Your investment in developing others to identify issues, apply their abilities (or expand their knowledge so their impact might increase) and initiate intentional action will provide unparalleled returns. Becoming a part of another’s solution (rather than a solution to another’s problems) will help you to gain (and retain) credibility, integrity and respect.

The road to “becoming integral” is not a path for the weak-spirited – for anyone unable (or unwilling) to interpret data, create solutions, intentionally act then measure results (and reset as necessary).  Become integral by seeking workable answers that help resolve seemingly impossible situations when implemented through intentional actions taken to make observable (sometimes unexpected) differences.  Change is not often simple – nor is it predictable – so initiating and/or contributing to it (particularly to the transformation of others) is not an easy road to travel.  Striving to MAKE a difference (rather than BEING the difference) will help you discover the path towards relevance sought by many but traveled by few.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

BOUNDARIES AND BARRIERS

What forms a boundary for you?  Is it your life experience?  Things you did (or did not do) as a child?  Your respect and reverence (OR disrespect and irreverence) for the past – for the way things have always been (or could have been different)?  Perhaps you find comfort in predictability – your actions driven by the fear of travelling down a new and unknown path – preferring to live within the secure understanding that things should be as they have always been.  Far too many people live within the confines of their “known worlds,” excusing their inability to reach beyond where they are by claiming satisfaction with “the way things are” rather than reaching for what has yet to materialize (or potentially has not yet been imagined).  Do you live inside of your boundary waters – safe from the trouble and turmoil of life and everyone or everything that is different from you – or do you live seek to experience life as it could be rather than as it is?  Might you face stagnation in your life if your waters rarely flow from here to there – becoming nothing but a catch basin for ideas entering your universe but never letting them pass through or move on?  Without a constant flow of water – in with the new and out with the old – life will eventually die.  Unless we continually refresh the boundary waters of our minds, our hopes, dreams and aspirations will also wither and die – yet the delicate balance between holding on and moving on must be intentionally addressed to ensure our success.  When is “holding on” too much and when might “letting go” be too drastic?  We must learn from our past AND our present if we are to build a dynamic future.

We sometimes steep ourselves in heritage, immerse ourselves in history and surround ourselves with the accomplishments of those who came before us as we seek safe passage through life upon a trail that was blazed for us.  Our safety and comfort, however, should we choose the path well-traveled may come at the expense of meeting people new to us and accomplishing things not yet considered possible.  Though we may find peace and tranquility when drifting upon calm waters that have been contained by the limitations established by the efforts of others, should we intentionally release our boundary waters by opening the floodgates and stepping out of the basin built by others – turning from what we are towards what has yet to be considered – the possibilities that we might discover are limitless.  We do not need to eliminate the dam that holds our waters back but we do need to allow a flow of thoughts and ideas to escape from our pond to minimize stagnation.  We do not need to build new bridges each time we face a difficult task but we do need to seek alternative ways to span our troubled waters lest we find ourselves captive within the tributaries meant to keep others out.

People should cherish tradition yet continually seek new and better ways to do things (that may become someone else’s tradition in the future) if they wish to move beyond their current realities to accept new possibilities.  Tradition can be the basis for action taken but should never become a destination in and of itself.  Far too many individuals hide within the richness of their traditions, holding on to the past rather than reaching out for their future.  We must determine the course that sets our direction – that defines the ultimate destination to which our paths may lead – by considering those that came before us while bringing to fruition the reality that sets the stage for those who will follow.

One must continually give in order to gain.  While knowing we often receive back much more than we give, such a return should be a bonus rather than an expectation.  We should, however, be prepared to give more than we ever imagined possible when seeking more than we thought might be attainable should we choose to step beyond the boundaries (and barriers) of an established and comfortable past into the unlimited world of future possibilities.  The greatest possibilities that have yet to be accomplished in our lives arise from expanding our current reality into an unlimited tomorrow by applying the lessons we have learned from every action we have taken towards the resolution of problems not yet defined or fully realized.  As we let loose the boundary waters to flood beyond our surroundings into the spillways of life we will be exposed to opportunities previously beyond our imaginations and possibilities never before considered.  Only when we identify our potential will we be able to realize it – when we look past the pages that have been written in our book of life towards a future without rhyme, reason (or restriction) – will we be able to accomplish all that life holds for us.  Only when we tap into our boundary waters and release them to feed and nurture the ideas around us will great things begin to happen – will the fruits of our labor bring to fruition those things in our lives we previously chose not to accept or refused to imagine as being possible.