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, September 22, 2020

IS PLAYING OR WINNING THE GAME MORE IMPORTANT IN LIFE?

Society has come to minimize the importance of competence – the rewards of accomplishment.  We do not want to single anyone out so we lessen the importance of succeeding (giving praise for results would make those unable to achieve feel inadequate).  We strive to make everyone “feel good” about trying...participating...for engaging in what they are doing  but recognizing an end result – acknowledging what someone may have individually accomplished might make people NOT reaching that pinnacle feel badly and left out.  We heighten positive self-esteem and emphasize equality (failing to acknowledge that “equity” is far more important in life than “equality” as everyone has gifts to leverage but not all gifts are equal) without considering that not all have the confidence, experience or abilities (OR the willingness) to take the risks required of success.  At times it seems that the concept of building a “positive self-esteem” has become the driving force in our homes, schools, sporting events and workplaces at the expense of success and individual accomplishment – which, in and of itself, could encourage those that are content to do the minimum to be happy with their efforts while those that excel could “slack off” and do less so that they, too, might be recognized.  Might it be time to stop the shifting of wealth, intellectual capital and reward for accomplishment from those that deserve it to those that wish they could have it BEFORE irreparable harm is done to the values of our youth, the development of our leaders OR the destruction of the “great American dream?”  We must first recognize the ways we are being blended and homogenized into a single entity before we can take intentional action to retain our individuality if we hope to reduce the appeal of “taking the easy way out.”

Our fervor to make people “feel good” often eliminates the motivation they innately have to achieve their full potential.  Students receive praise for working hard RATHER THAN for coming up with the right answer.  This point was driven home when my now grown boys were made to show all their work on tests so that even if the answer was wrong they could get partial credit for the thought processes they exhibited.  The problem with this concept, however, was that their work was marked as being totally wrong if they came up with the correct answer without showing their work – being penalized for mental computations that others might not have been able to do. 

An elementary teacher once told us that our son “could not advance until the rest of the class was ready.”  She felt it was her job to make everyone an equal contributor to classroom success – leaving nobody behind.  A major flaw exists in that thinking in that while we are all created equally, we do not all possess the same strengths, weaknesses, gifts and abilities.  We are all capable of accomplishing certain things but not equally able to accomplish all things.  While there is value in helping those who do not understand, the system fails us when that help comes at the expense of individual advancement and achievement rather than in a parallel advancement with it.  Some individuals within the educational system (providers AND/OR participants) give little attention to proper spelling (“spell check” will handle that) and do not worry about basic math concepts (“that is what calculators are for”).  


In sports (except at high levels of competitive sport and/or professional levels of activity), the focus is on the equality of playing time (regardless of an athlete’s ability) and sportsmanship (good but not necessarily the driver of participation) rather than on winning.  In moderation, these are not bad concepts but in practice, students (and young athletes who are told that the score does not matter but can tell you who won the game and by how much) often perceive they are being rewarded for effort rather than for accomplishment – for simply trying rather than for actually achieving – and parents seeking to bolster their child’s self-esteem tend to complain loudly when their child (whom may or may not deserve equal playing time) is not appropriately and adequately recognized for being part of the team.

 Business is not exempt from the “self-esteem” trap.  We reward “the masses” through the application of inconsistent employment policies and practices.  Many employers avoid confrontation by giving performance reviews that reinforce marginal results as being sufficient so that confrontation is not necessary.  Praising someone for “doing the best work within a certain area when they are here” (when an employee has an absenteeism problem) may be good for self-esteem but does nothing to improve a worker’s attendance.  Workers receiving a small “across the board increase” for doing the minimum (when they decided to show up for work), with the same recognition going to those that accomplished much (in order to avoid confrontation) is another example.  Giving an “across the board pay increase” may minimize direct confrontation but tends to reward mediocrity and drive your best employees to seek someone else that will recognize their value and contribution.  Adjusting an employee’s work schedule to “meet their situation” does not address their inability to show up on time or work as needed to accomplish the job.  The more we treat everyone the same, the harder it will be to retain the exceptional individuals who should be recognized for standing out – those given the gift to lead rather than follow (if given the resources, training, opportunity and appropriate recognition for the results they produce) and the easier it will be to retain mediocre individuals that can “do fine” by accomplishing exactly what they are told (no more and no less).

In order to constructively establish and maintain an individual’s self-esteem, we must create an environment that encourages (and rewards) achievement while we avoid:

1)            Rewarding efforts (that may actually be contributing to failure) and/or the willingness to do only what is asked (however good that might be) rather than rewarding the end results, the risks taken or the processes that were improved

2)            Placing unqualified individuals into positions they think can be handled – rewarding their efforts and desires – but potentially breeding frustration and encouraging an acceptance of failure unless appropriate orientation and/or training is provided

3)            Praising an individual for trying hard hoping it will encourage better overall performance.  In reality, such praise may establish lower expectations as being acceptable since verbal (and monetary) rewards are often provided to those “not rocking the boat” regardless of how much they do or do not do.

4)            Rewarding everyone equally (providing the same pay increase) or treating all kids equally (rather than “equitably” as my boys became tired of hearing) to minimize confrontation.  This practice actually helps to reward and/or retain the under-qualified while reward the average (and sometimes mediocre) while de-motivating high achievers (who will seek appropriate rewards for their efforts elsewhere at work or possibly “act out” at home to get the same attention that their siblings seemingly receive).

Is building “self-esteem” as valuable as commonly accepted?  Some say that a good self-concept breeds success – I believe that success creates a good self-concept.  Some say students (workers and family members) need to work as equals within teams to accomplish anything – I believe all teams need a leader to champion the best cause and catalyze the troops to initiate and advance positive change.  Some say that rewarding efforts will enhance creativity and minimize the fear of failure.  I believe that rewarding an individual’s accomplishments and allowing them to learn from their mistakes rather than avoiding them at all costs while constructively addressing sub-standard efforts and providing corrective actions will foster creativity and encourage calculated risk-taking behavior that, in itself, reduces the fear of failure. 

While it is good to think about a person’s “self-esteem,” perhaps it is better to encourage individual accomplishment by providing the tools and resources that foster positive results and build self-esteem - elevating people to the highest possible standard rather than homogenizing them to the lowest possible denominator.  Perhaps it is time we once again gave to all according to their abilities rather than providing to all according to their needs to maximize individual contributions within our ever-changing world.   

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

ACCEPTING THE INEVITABLE ALLOWS CHANGE – INDIVIDUAL AND INFORMED ACTION INITIATES TRANSFORMATION


Fall seems to be upon us, burying the memories of summer under a blanket of colorful leaves (following the premature loss of leaves from so much dry heat) that will become but a wet and slippery slope towards the coming winter.  The lake has begun to take on the cold hues of winter as evenings cool the water and black migratory birds intrude upon its still surface as they seek food and rest during their long journey south.  Gone are the joyful sounds of children playing upon the beach and the throaty rumble of “go fast boats” as they glide across the surface of the early morning or late evening lake (though the incessant whining of jet skis still fills the evening air).  The mornings arrive later than before – and the night earlier – obscuring the beauty of the lake beneath a shroud of darkness.  The eerie sound of cool breezes moving the naked branches of trees having lost their leaves and of waves washing up onto the shore replace the desperate cry of gulls swarming for food left behind by humans returning from a weekend refuge to their regular lives.  This time of year is hard for a “lake lover” as the cooling water serves as a reminder that winter is coming – that a time of frozen life and suspended dreams is just around the corner – accentuated by this year’s pandemic, isolation and social distancing.  There are times that we must decide to worry about those things we can control and let go of those we cannot if we seek to retain our sanity and sense of purpose during seasonal transition.

Looking out the window this past weekend reinforced the reality that summer is quickly fading.  Plants that once thrived begin to wilt and trees that hid beneath an emerald green coat appear to be dying – IF you were able to see them without a flashlight as the sun has decided to stay in bed for a bit longer each morning as the moon earns the right to stay up later.  Fall signals a time of change within our lives (for winter enthusiasts perhaps a happier tone than for those that enjoy the summer) but transition is in the winds and transformation will not be delayed.

Along with the weather, autumn signals another opportunity for individual change.  One of the greatest freedoms our country offers is the unrestricted right to express our opinion within the voting booth – an opportunity that presents itself on November 3rd this year.  It seems that every time we turn around there is an election, whether for local, school, state or federal issues, giving us the opportunity to express ourselves often in this country.  Many feel their single voice does not make a difference so they choose to silence it by not voting – but when we do not speak, how can we claim victory (or complain when what we want is not implemented)?  Since our nation was founded on individual rights, freedoms AND responsibilities, perhaps we should make a concerted effort to be responsible this year by using some of the time we have available during this unusual time in our country (without blaming COVID on anyone or making up our mind on the facts presented by the loudest political analyst) to research the promises made by those seeking our vote, determining the reality (and practicality) of each promise and voting for individuals we deem qualified to lead our state and country rather than simply going dormant like the plants and trees of summer or voting against someone rather than for a set of principles or values.


The opportunity we have to vote allows us to endorse the direction that our country (or state) is moving OR seek to change it.  This November offers us the opportunity to participate in an election that might truly make a difference in our daily lives – the problems and potential solutions have been laid out and are probably as far apart as they have ever been – both “sides” polarized and polarizing in their positions and each solution carrying with it distinctly different long-term ramifications.  Advertising has become more negative than positive as candidates from both parties provide information that “has been approved” by the person seeking your confidence.  Truth seems created (rather than reported) during campaigns – with responsible commentary a hope rather than an expectation. Solutions are offered but many (by both major parties) are laced with potential danger, economic ramifications, potential redistribution of wealth and/or disregard for a long-term impact caused by a short-term approach.  It seems that the cold harsh reality of winter has come sweeping into our political process – Congress cannot negotiate (but CAN dictate and demonstrate inflexibility), candidates cannot say what they HAVE done but choose to focus upon what “the other party” HAS NOT done, major and significant accomplishments are diminished or not spoken of (emerging peace agreements in the Middle East, Great Lakes Protection legislation, record high Stock Market results to name a few) while current negative events are sensationalized (many of which should be addressed but with solutions rather than a fanning of flames).  Political change is like a transition between seasons – but the political process is much more intentional, planned and potentially disruptive.

In order to participate in this opportunity to express your opinions and support the values and ideals lived by (not simply expressed by) the individual deemed worthy of your vote this year, study to reveal reality rather than simply reacting to an emotional appeal.  Do not act on the suggestion or recommendation of another – be it a friend, a union, a church or a news article – without checking things out for yourself.  The late President Reagan once stated it well when he said to “trust but verify,” a critical step that should be taken prior to casting your vote this year.   Do not take your responsibility lightly – the power of individual opinion can still establish the course of a nation when concerned and educated people base their actions upon solid information gathered through individual research, voting with their heads rather than their emotions.


Whether you consider yourself Democrat, Republican, or Independent – Liberal or Conservative – we are provided the right to express our personal opinions within the voting booth.  Far too many, however, choose not to exercise their right to voice an opinion OR fail to take the time to learn what is truly being offered by those seeking our vote.  Choosing not to vote is not a “silent protest” – it is a blatant disregard for the freedom we have been given to express our views within a system that, in many parts of the world, all too often closes out the opinions of private citizens.  While we cannot change or influence the weather as the seasons march on with or without our help (or approval), we CAN make a difference by voting this November.  When given the opportunity to speak, shout by casting your vote.  Do not remain a passive spectator to the action that is unfolding in front of you – be an active participant in the formation and implementation of life-changing decisions.


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Let the Past Flow through Your Fingers...

I once held many thoughts as gold within my hands - more precious than the air that I breathed, watching my accomplishments shine - rivaling the sun with their brilliance…

I hid behind them – holding them up to the world – to hide my shortcomings and inadequacies.

While we all face distractions and disappointments throughout our lives, holding onto what “once was” rather than reaching out for “what could be” is a recipe for disaster.  Things once held as valuable slip from our grasp as we grow older.  A bright and shining future put on hold because of “global competition” (or even our reactions to a global pandemic).  A secure job ripped from us by the economy.  A relationship tarnished by an unanticipated action (or an uncontrolled reaction) when individuals involved are unwilling to forgive.  Life happens…how we react to it can either advance or stagnate our existence – can either propel us towards new heights or drag us down to inescapable depths.

I reached out blindly, searching desperately for and grasping onto what once was but shall never be again…

My memories become as but water running through my hands - unable to be contained as they flowed through my fingers…

My memories provided but a flickering light within my darkened world – a dim presence incapable of providing the fire that once filled me – a diminished warmth that could not provide comfort within my new reality.

We can become absorbed by “what used to be” rather than seeking out “what is” or “what could be” when we live in the past.  Far too many individuals seek comfort in the belief that they will “be called back to work shortly” rather than seeking a new beginning or that “things are bound to change” rather than initiating actions that will make change happen.  We destine ourselves to failure (along with those around us) when we establish our value within the things we once did that were successful rather than in what might be accomplished from this point forward – when we create our identity from “what we were” rather than “who we are,” from what others might believe us to be rather than what we might truly become if we only believed more in ourselves.  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 prevent us from ever reaching our full potential.

Life has but birth as a beginning and death as an end - forcing us to travel upon the borders of an endless circle of circumstance as we seek meaning to the existence flowing through our fingers…

We must build upon (rather than clinging to) our accomplishments if we are to identify possibilities not yet realized…to realize dreams not yet imagined...

We must recognize the security our past once provided is gone as it flows through our hands like a river’s water into a never-ending sea as we focus upon the pool it forms rather than the place from which it has come...

Though our parents and grandparents may have found security within the four walls of one company or had one home their whole life, few of us will experience life without unexpected or unplanned change – with change being the only certainty in life.  We must prepare for change and plan on how we will deal with it rather than waiting for it to overtake us, forcing us to deal with the burden of unexpected transition.  People anticipating change intentionally set their course knowing that much time will pass and many considerations will flow through their fingers before one’s path has been paved or one’s future has been temporarily solidified. 

We must sail into the unknown horizon leading those willing to follow as we allow those not yet willing to let go of their past the opportunity to realize their potential…

We must open our hands to let go of all that has been so we have room within our grasp for what has yet to be or we shall never become more than what we have accomplished upon this earth we call home...

Since you cannot hold back the waters as they flow through your hands – hold onto the hope that your dreams provide.  Maximize the potential of that hope by preparing yourself to handle change as it enters your life.  Gain knowledge through lifelong education and training – then utilize it through intentional application.  Learn how to lead and motivate others so you can transform your individual actions into a group’s concerted activity to maximize results.  Most importantly, act intentionally (rather than waiting passively for others to act) so you can make a difference in your life and become a major part of life’s differences in the world around you (rather than dust carried about aimlessly by the wind).  If one seeks the future it will be found – but only if he or she is not grasping so tightly to the past that there is no room in their current (or emerging) reality in which that which has yet to be realized can take root and thrive.  Allow the past to flow through your fingers so that your hands – reaching out to bring reality to your thoughts and dreams – can take the intentional action necessary for your future to grow.

Monday, August 3, 2020

STEPPING BEYOND YOUR BOUNDARIES

What forms a boundary for you?  Is it your life experience?  Things you did (or did not do) as a child?  Perhaps you have too much respect and reverence for the past...having become so comfortable with things the way they are that you feel no need (or desire) to change.  Might fear of the unknown keep you from traveling an unfamiliar path or seeking a new direction?  Are you holding yourself back from fully contributing to your world by immersing yourself in all you have (OR have done) – content with “what is” at the expense of being able to experience “what could be?”  Whatever reasons you may have – be they real or imagined – one must continue to learn and apply knowledge to new and often never before imagined situations within today’s world unless you would choose to wither and die.  Waiting for life to come to us is no longer an option - we must constantly seek the outer limits of our self-imposed boundaries if we are to taste success (accomplishment and fulfillment) in today’s highly competitive world.  Should we choose not to stretch we become obstacles sitting idly in the way of others as they move forward – roadblocks in the path of another’s success – becoming insignificant observers that sit silently and blindly watch the world go by. 

How can we inject fresh perspective into the things we do, the thoughts we think, and the way we approach the future?  How can you recognize that “what is” may not always be – that something different (sometimes ANYTHING different) might be an appropriate course of action to intentionally take?  Living within one’s past is like sitting on the couch tightly wrapped in a blanket – comfortably remaining dormant in a relaxed state of satisfaction content to live in a world that can be seen, felt and predictably experienced.  Rather than settling for a life of recycled accomplishments and recreated past adventures would life not be more rewarding if we were to climb to heights not yet imagined and reach for the stars – to cross the lines we mentally draw in the sand and move forward towards new adventures and accomplishments not yet realized?  Unless (and until) we DO things differently we can never expect to EXPERIENCE different results.

Far too many people hide behind a sense of tradition, heritage or established methodology rather than seeking new possibilities – settling for what they feel they have always done or been rather than building upon their present existence to become a truly unique individual.  Traditions, basic values and experiential learning should be rich and valuable reminders of where we have been and what we have accomplished but should not become the destination we seek as an end goal nor an excuse to keep us from reaching beyond our achieved reality.  Recognizing and valuing the past is a good thing.  Grasping onto or hiding behind our past to the point that we cannot move beyond it for fear of losing what has already been accomplished prohibits us from trying anything and our inability to go forward becomes a detriment to our future success.

When one takes more pride in what has been accomplished or accumulated – in where they come from than in who they are – they risk becoming disconnected with their true potential, losing the ability to capture the winds of change within their sails.  When one holds tightly onto the past OR relives their past accomplishments there is little room left to create a new “present” and their expectations become more accommodating (what has been) than assimilating (what has yet to be realized).  Rather than seeking new ways to utilize their gifts they rarely venture out to experience the unknown (and are afraid to learn from failing) and become an impediment to change instead of a contributor to incremental growth.  When one expects more than they can ever hope to accomplish – when they seek more than they know they deserve – when they contribute more than they believe they will receive in return – that individual has stepped beyond the boundaries that limit them in this reality into a world of possibilities having no ceiling and no floor.  When one gives fully without expectation or condition of receiving it allows that person to escape their dark and dying past and enter into a potentially bright future.

We should not judge our lives by the number of “completions” we experience but rather by the number of “starts” we initiate.  We should not seek glory only in finishing the race for there are unlimited opportunities for growth, new experiences and alternative destinations that we might find along the way IF we are not so locked into our past that we cannot imagine a future.  When the known or  “traditional way of doing things” is the only one that is considered we limit our chances of discovery – of innovation – of new tomorrows rising from the ashes of today. 

Recognize that what you have accomplished is valuable as a foundation from which you can sail into the future and achieve things that have never been done (rather than allowing your past successes to become an anchor holding you safely within a sheltered harbor but keeping you from realizing the heights you were destined to reach).  Do not limit yourself by establishing today as a destination – leverage what you have done and accomplished as a springboard into an unknown world filled with possibilities.   Learn from your past so you might gain strength and confidence within your present while preparing to leap forward into a future of unlimited possibilities.  Seek to stretch and expand your boundaries in everything that you do and you will come to realize how much more is possible than you ever thought probable...you will grow to be someone you never believed could be real...as you realize the possibilities that will become reality only when you recognize and step beyond your artificial boundaries by seeking new horizons.


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

OUR WORDS ARE OFTEN HEARD AS WHISPERS WHILE OUR ACTIONS BECOME DEAFENING ROARS


It is hard to convince others that something is wrong (EVEN IF you tell them not to and talk about the dire consequences their actions may bring) when they see you doing something similar (“Do as I say, not as I do” is not a precursor to credibility and respect).  How can you expect employees that work for you to adhere to an “eight to five” schedule if your own day frequently begins at eight fifteen or ends at four thirty?  (Forget about the fact that you might have been doing company business the previous night, or that lunch was more of a thought than an action, or that breaks are not part of the daily routine.)  People SEEING you come to work late or WATCHING you leave early – or seeing you take an hour and a half lunch tend to assume the same casual attitude themselves.  Parents tell their children to obey the rules (as they break the speed limit driving them somewhere) and to listen to their teachers (as they complain about their boss who “does not know anything”).  We want others to treat us with respect (while we actively dis-respect elected officials or people who think differently than we do) and to look up to leadership (while we look down upon those we lead).  We want those we care about to listen to our ideas (while we close our minds to their suggestions and ideas) and to share (when our actions say we would be happy to give if we were sure we would receive back in return). 

While people often try to speak with confidence – trying to be straightforward in what they say (whether they feel convicted or not) – we all, in varying degrees based on our position, our relationship or our visibility, live in glass houses having no shades or way to hide what we do "inside" from those looking at us from "the outside."  No matter how much we try to control our conversation so others hear only what we want them to hear, they will look into our "house" through its many open windows to see how we truly act (rather than listening only to what we say). Since the truth we live (the observable and often silent reality we demonstrate through our actions) is louder than the tales we tell, some observations for living in a glass house might include:
           
           Our actions speak far more loudly than do our words.  Others may hear what we say but they see what we do.  As a child I was taught that “seeing is believing” but never was I told that “hearing makes things right.”  Whether you deal with people as a manager, a peer, a friend, or as part of a family, those around you establish their perception of you – their beliefs, values, understanding and respect (or lack of it) – by what you do and how you act (either in a crowd OR alone when you think nobody is watching) rather than by the things you say (about yourself or the way you wish to be seen).  To be viewed as credible you must ACT incredibly.

           Look for the good in others rather than ALWAYS identifying (and correcting) the bad.   Most people can see what others do wrong (and are quick to point those shortcomings out) but rarely recognize or acknowledge what they do right.  A stressed parent rarely tells their child that he or she is “being a good shopper” when rushing through the store, but the pleas of “NO!” or, “just wait until we get home...” or, “I am never bringing you to the store again!” can be heard throughout a busy store.  Though we need to confront negative behavior if it is to be corrected, we should also make an effort to acknowledge and verbalize appreciation for things done well.  We must also model the behavior we want (or wish to have happen) by doing it the things that we ask others to do ourselves (rather than holding ourselves above the laws that apply to others).

           Never throw bricks when you live in a glass house.  Though you may open the window before tossing your criticism out at a friend or co-worker, they rarely take the time to open the door before returning fire.  Many people defend their inappropriate actions by shifting focus and blame – deferring their own “wrong” by positioning it as being “less serious” than the misstep of another – rather than admitting to the mistake and taking intentional action to correct it (and resolve any negative consequences that it may have put into motion).  When we view life as if we were living in a glass house – with our actions, thoughts and intentions fully revealed and exposed to those around us leaving no place to hide our own errors and secrets – we find ourselves more understanding of the shortcomings of others, the reasons they might (or might not) do things, and less apt to see fault without first making sure we are without blame ourselves.

           Judge yourself first 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.  Strong relationships are built upon the backs (and shoulders) of individuals putting the needs, feelings and desires of OTHERS in front of their own.  Truly great generals led their troops into battle rather than following them from behind.  Parents must “walk the talk” for their children.  Managers cannot expect full productivity, efficiency and dedication to the organization without first giving it themselves.  Friends must first BE a friend before they can EXPECT to have friends. 

           Focus on results or specific actions that could have contributed to undesired results when addressing individual inadequacies rather than the person who created the problem or failed to produce the result.  It is far easier to change results by providing an alternative pathway than it is to modify behavior by telling someone what you do not like and what did not work.  Judge yourself by identifying your role within the relationship or your contribution to the situation – your own action (or inaction) that may have been partially responsible for the shortcoming – before judging others.

When we live as though we are in a glass house without shades or curtains to hide what we are we begin to focus on what we should be doing rather than on what others should not be doing.  We open not only windows to look out but also doors to invite others in.  We start leading by example rather than by edict as we expect others to do as we do rather than how we tell them to act.  Instead of trying to hide within the filtered darkness of a dirty glass house, take the time to “wash the windows clean” by speaking and acting with integrity.  We all achieve more when we let the light of truth shine brightly within our lives, our words and our actions.  We accomplish much when throwing praise (rather than bricks) and freely giving (rather than seeking) credit for positive things that are done.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

PROVIDING PATHWAYS AND PASSAGES TO OTHERS

People face crossroads throughout their lives.  Many stressful situations are caused by unavoidable circumstances within our daily lives.  Within the workplace, personal issues are frequently identified as being a major “cause” of inefficiency and lost time but employers should share the blame for creating crisis in people’s lives.  An optimist might work on helping to create positive choices for others while a pessimist would question whether or not choices actually exist within a life that cannot be controlled.  We each are major contributors to the happiness (or sadness) of others – whether it is due to things that we intentionally (or unintentionally) do (or choose NOT to do).  When dealing with others there are usually two courses of action that will either “make or break you” as a leader, mentor of friend.  Consider the following approaches and think about which better fits into YOUR relationship style (and probably defines the effectiveness of your decisions and the quality of your results) as you provide pathways to others seeking safe passage through life:

1)      I know what I want and expect others to do things the way I want them done.  I should not have to tell others why things need to be done a certain way all the time – it would be so much better for all of us if they just did what I asked without question so that we could all move on to other challenges.
OR...
Knowing what I want is half the battle.  Expressing what I want WITHOUT stifling creativity by saying how to do it is the other half.  People should not be told exactly how to do everything but they MUST be told what outcome is expected and given both the ability to experiment and the freedom to fail if they are to achieve any personal fulfillment from their contribution to successful results (OR if they are expected to contribute in the future).

2)      Others bring experience and professionalism to the table.  I expect them to utilize their skills to identify issues and resolve them, not to ask me the same question over and over just wasting everybody’s time.
OR...
People bring experience and abilities to what they do at work, at home or in relationships.  We must remember that the only “stupid” question is usually the one not asked (because an individual is afraid to bring it up or does not understand enough about what is expected to seek clarifying information).  As soon as I express (or even think) that a question (person or action) is a waste of time I have lost the respect and support of the individual being minimized.  When I focus upon reasonable expectations and never ask an individual to do anything without some form of feedback or direction being provided we will typically accomplish great things togetherExpecting (or allowing) someone to run on their own all the time without direction, encouragement or support is simply encouraging them to run away.

3)      When someone does something wrong they will know it – and if they do not recognize their mistake (and if nobody else is brave enough to do it) I feel it is my responsibility to point it out so that it will not happen again.
OR...
People must receive appropriate praise for (or effective guidance to correct) the things they do and the results they achieve but they must first be fully equipped to contribute and to act before they can be held individually accountable for their actions.  Expecting others to “self-discover” their value and “self-reward” their worth discourages active engagement and interactive sharing – two critical factors in the development of good relationships and productive teams.  Expecting good decisions without providing guidance and decision-making tools is like thinking that a baby will walk the day he or she is born – a wishful hope but without foundation.

4)      I worry enough about myself and what my tomorrow looks like – I really cannot take the time to worry about others or put my problems on their plate – I must be “an island” to show strength if I am to be respected in my relationships.
OR...
Worrying about myself is a prudent thing BUT it should not come at the expense of being concerned for others.  Sharing appropriate personal concerns or worries is not necessarily a bad thing or a sign of weakness.  While supporting others cannot easily be done from a position of weakness, it can often be most easily accomplished by engaging all interested parties to come up with the best solution that can be actively supported and advanced rather than trying to impose the ONLY solution that I KNOW is right before moving forward.  Unless (and until) others recognize that their worries and concerns are just as important to me as are my own they will remain a part of the problem rather than a contributor to the solution.

5)      In order to be successful in a relationship I must first be successful myself.  Once I fully accomplish what needs to be done and I am comfortable in my life, THEN I can take the time to share with others and we will all be happier.
OR...
It is good to seek success and demonstrate accomplishment BUT not at the expense of those who rely upon me for physical, emotional or silent support.  Gaining the world but losing my place within it is a travesty rather than a success.  Helping others to discover their role in our mutually safe passage is a parallel path rather than a cumulative journey – I must work with others to bring them alongside me rather than finishing what I feel necessary before focusing upon their needs, wants or desires.  In order to provide others direction, support and pathways to success I must learn to live and thrive within the world in which we all live (rather than simply operating within my own world or expecting them to live fully and without question within theirs) or we could find that when all is said and done we may have achieved our objectives only to find that we have built a lonely place within which we have nobody but ourselves to share our accomplishments.

Sometimes a “definite maybe” or even a “let me get back to you” is the best way to build relationships and successfully work with people – but we must ALWAYS take time to make time for others within our busy lives.  We can provide safe passage by glancing back while moving forward but should never lead while looking too intently in the rear view mirror or we will miss the critical signs of change ahead.   We can establish effective pathways by reaching out while holding back – seeking the input and thoughts of others then considering their value and intentionally discarding (or actively incorporating) them into the formation of a mutually acceptable direction rather than mandating our opinions or solutions as being the “only way.”  We lead by moving ahead slowly enough that others are able to follow – continually moving forward even if we might fall back briefly, intentionally allowing others to contribute, participate and become a big part of any solution rather than seeking to prove how smart or intelligent we might be and how little we feel the need for anyone else’s opinion or input.  Effective relationships of any type involve creating pathways that are clearly defined and closely monitored to ensure safe passage RATHER THAN being tracks that cannot be altered or roads that run only one way. 

For those seeking to learn more about leadership and relationships, check out PATHWAYS AND PASSAGES TO LEADERSHIP – a collection of thoughts for those willing to dream the impossible while seeking the improbable...to settle for nothing less than what could be from life rather than accepting what currently is – that was published several years ago and is available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Pathways-Passages-Leadership-David-Smith/dp/1524601721.

Friday, July 10, 2020

CELEBRATING INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTIONS TOWARDS THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF A GROUP


In a world too often filled with “appealing to the majority” and “elevating the whole rather than recognizing its parts,” rewards for “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” have been minimized – a sad testimony that the voice of the individual has succumbed to the shouts of the masses.  We were recently able to celebrate the birth of our country but in a manner much different than ever before – in a world of “social distancing” and equity sensitivity...of an awareness of what “others do not have” rather than of what was sacrificed by all to create our country and a focus upon what we do not have rather than focusing upon what must be done to allow each to accomplish things individually (rather than providing the results of effort without building sustainability).
 
Our country – formed by a dream of individuality which (though not perfect) still provides greater opportunity for individual success than does any other country in the world.  While equality would be nice in a “perfect world,” all individuals are different – having different skills, abilities, knowledge, experience and upbringing.  Equity (the ability of each to rise because of their individual gifts and abilities – to not be held back because of another’s inability to or disinterest in contributing) still tends to drive the success of our country – attracting and retaining talented individuals that can become co-partners in our accomplishments, their “reward” being the alignment of their “contributions” in life, work and/or relationships to the results they are able to achieve.

Business leaders have the ability to leverage the talents of others – bringing together diverse thoughts, abilities and cultures – to generate success by focusing individual strengths into a common good to accomplish a single goal.  Coaches have the ability to maximize the contributions of individuals – highlighting what they can contribute while compensating for their weaknesses – in order to win.  Politicians are able to motivate the majority – identifying and speaking to the needs of a diverse electorate – as they seek to attract a majority of electors as they talk about (and hopefully carry out if elected) their Party platform.  Teachers must bring enough of the class to an acceptable level of proficiency so that test scores reflect grade-level expectations (BUT far too few carry “the gifted” to their full potential because they are too busy bringing up those not yet meeting standards to reward those exceeding them).  There are many examples of how effective teams or groups of people are when properly aligned BUT in many of those accounts we often lose the power of one...of the individual willing to risk more than others feel comfortable considering in order to achieve more than others might even imagine (let alone expect).  While “the power of team” is an important component within today’s world, the “power of the individual” is far more critical.  Teams carry the burden but individuals often identify the path upon which they must travel.  A group can work together to find or enact a workable solution but an individual often identifies the problem and offers alternatives to its resolution.  A team can win a war but victory would not be possible were it not for a multitude of individual “wins” and a similar number of individual “losses.”
 
It is refreshing to land upon an island of individuality when sailing the seas of mediocrity – to find a land that acknowledges and rewards the achievements of dedicated individuals facing insurmountable odds rather than making excuses for their failure to compete or shifting the blame to others should outcomes not be as expected.  Most life situations that are eventually resolved focus upon an ideal we once held true – that hard work and dedication will pay off in the end.  We see the dreams and aspirations of individuals either brought to fruition OR dashed upon a rocky shore – either celebrated in victory or shattered beyond all recognition – either initiating additional hard work to “repeat the victory” or “snatch victory from the jaws of defeat” next time around.  Only an individual can take full accountability for his or her actions to produce significant results – which is often far more difficult to do than to hide behind the mask of a group and find anonymity within the safety of numbers.

In order to celebrate the individual we must refuse to believe that another person (group or team) is responsible for our success.  Every individual makes a conscious decision using their mind and will to apply their unique talents and abilities towards identifying and enacting a solution OR letting their talents lie dormant (allowing themselves to become more a part of the ongoing problem).  Within a team, a group or a relationship, refuse to accept the concept that you must give more just because you can – that you must always “do for others” rather than teaching them how to “do for themselves.”  We are a society founded not upon “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” but rather upon “TO each according to their ability (and their dedicated efforts to contribute) in order to meet their individual needs.”
   
Celebrate individuality – immerse yourself in the results of your personal accomplishments as you advance the team (group or relationship) RATHER THAN seeking first the acceptance of the team without acknowledging your contribution to its growth and success.  In order to BE SPECIAL we must ACCEPT OURSELVES as being unique, individual, capable and accomplished.  We must recognize that being an individual can be a good thing (rather than a “squeaky wheel” seeking grease).  We must celebrate our capabilities – the individual strengths that we have developed and the person that we have become – if we are to become an equal and contributing part of the solution (team or relationship) rather than a major part of the problem (obstacle or disruption).
 
It is good to belong to a unique and talented group of people (or a close personal relationship) that can accomplish great things through the power of many (or of two).  We will be able to accomplish so much more, however, when we acknowledge that our individual contribution helps to create the outcome rather than allowing the outcome to define us.  Celebrate yourself and your capabilities (perhaps more than ever during these “troubled waters” in which we currently live) – for “If not now, when? If not you, who?” Exercise the individuality within you to advance your teams, your relationships AND yourself to become all that you were meant to be.  Fully develop and use the gifts and abilities you were given then freely celebrate the unique and special person you are (within a world of teams, groups and relationships needing humble individual contributors to accomplish the best possible outcome for all).