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!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON CAREER ADVANCEMENT





In today’s competitive environment, employees cannot be stagnant within their job…cannot do only what has been assigned…if success, fulfillment and growth are realistic expectations. Looking back (instead of ahead), remaining content with the present (rather than building upon the present as a step into the future), and doing what works (as opposed to seeking what might work better) are all signs of terminal stagnation. To grow we should identify and nurture “the possible” rather than accepting and hiding within “the probable” AND avoid a few pitfalls that could limit your potential!

Continually upgrade your skills...refuse to accept “what is” as “what will always be.” What was once necessary to maintain a life-long job is no longer sufficient in today’s ever-changing world. An HR Professional will not survive without updating his or her understanding of current employment legislation. A production worker probably cannot be blind to automation and statistical process control techniques. Employees who “fail to know” typically fail to grow.
Do not confuse efficiency with effectiveness…or worse, keeping busy with being productive. An e-mail may be efficient, but a conversation could more effectively resolve an issue without extended “replies and clarifications.” Effective employees make sure that every investment of time and/or energy has a direct and measurable impact on their organization’s ability to conduct business.
NEVER believe you are irreplaceable. If an employee feels that nobody could EVER do what he or she does, that employee has probably limited what he or she can accomplish. If nobody else can do your job, then you never get time to do anything other than your assigned tasks. Individuals who believe they are “critical” to the Organization within their limited and specialized role do not foster growth, they simply reinforce stagnation and the acceptance of mediocrity.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you know all the answers. Employees who know all the questions are perhaps more valuable than those who feel they know all the answers. One can truly contribute to their organization ONLY after identifying the limitations of current systems, policies and procedures, asking questions as to how they might be improved, then moving forward towards more effective solutions.
NEVER forget (or refuse) to give credit to others…particularly when blame is assigned to others should they fail. Employees who recognize and acknowledge the ideas and actions of those who make things happen – and take the blame if things go wrong – will win loyalty, be recognized as leaders, and become vital contributors to their Organization’s growth.

Take time to plan where you are going, think about how you will get there, and maintain a realistic perspective along the way. We rarely rise to the top without occasionally sinking towards the bottom but will NEVER float upon the surface unless we are willing to enter the water.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

THE COURAGE TO CONTINUE BRINGS SUCCESS







“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Sir Winston Churchill

Success often comes to those willing to think “outside of the box.” New directions, products, goals, destinations, partnerships and alliances never before thought possible have emerged from the sluggish economy. We all do things differently – the degree of success achieved often directly linked to the amount of risk we are willing to take and the confidence we have in the gifts we are given.

Some of us experienced failure to varying degrees this past year. Our comfortable existences (built upon personal dreams that came to fruition through hard work and determined actions) crashed upon rocky shores – dismantled by a stormy world and its altered expectations. Stories about plant closings and personal loss became more the norm than the exception – the negative overshadowing news about business expansions and individual gain.

Let us learn from the lessons of yesterday as we experience today and move relentlessly towards a brighter tomorrow. Limit your future ONLY by its potential rather than by imaginary restraints constructed from beliefs and conditions within your past. Once achieved, view each success as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Success can lead to insignificant obsolescence without continuous attention and improvement.

Failure is not fatal UNLESS we accept it as a conclusion to our actions rather than an unplanned stop along the way. Let us not look into the face of failure only to find that “it is us.” Move forward with courage to establish lofty goals – never resting on the laurels of past successes. Seek new mountains to climb – refusing to be lost in the dark valleys of missed opportunity.

Though we are emerging from the mists that have slowed our journey, our road to recovery has not yet ended – our destination not yet fully revealed. Failure can only become success when we exhibit the courage to continue. While we all assume our share of blame in this world, never allow yourself to be accused of following the crowd you were destined to lead – of becoming but an “accepted” part of the problem rather than an essential part of the solution. Our dreams will be realized only when we continuously move forward in our quest for new realities.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

THANKSGIVING THOUGHTS



America was built upon the belief that individuals can realize unlimited opportunity through hard work and the effective utilization of resources. Thanksgiving recognizes the sacrifice made by so many AND the relationships developed within a new land in celebrating the sweat equity invested to make the harvest possible. Some farmed, some hunted, some cooked, some served – but all shared in the feast they helped prepare. Implied within this basic tenant is that while we ARE created equally, we possess different gifts, abilities and competencies so we ARE NOT presumed to be equal in our ability to produce or achieve results.

Our “roots” establish within each of us a moral and ethical duty to PROVIDE for all – but that does not mean all are entitled to receive EQUAL treatment. While we all taste success, life is an environment of equitability rather than of equality. Our efforts do not create EQUAL results - they produce results that reflect EQUITABLY against the abilities we have developed, the intelligence we apply, and outcomes we achieve.

Our country has survived many challenges from outside our borders. We have overcome adversity, established ourselves as world leaders in almost any endeavor we chose to pursue, and shared our riches with many having less. If the greatness of our country is to survive, we must brace ourselves to overcome attacks from within – attacks on an individual’s ability to demonstrate excellence, the opportunity to reap the rewards of individual efforts, and the belief that one is limited by something other than his or her own shortcomings – by embracing the freedoms and unlimited possibilities we currently share.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, consider not only the harvest but also the work that went into preparing for it. Celebrate the effort as much as the rewards. Recognize the investor as much as you do the return on his or her investment. Enjoy your time with family and friends but hold dear the hard work that made the dreams of those who came before us reality – and pray our efforts can help them continue for those who will follow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

ARE STORMS BREWING OVER WASHINGTON?

I recently returned from a Healthcare Reform Meeting in Washington – taking with me a plethora of thoughts and considerations. As part of the Aligning Forces For Quality initiative we discussed changing the way treatment is paid for, how insurance can be designed to cover all individuals equally, and what can be done to make treatment information (with outcomes) readily available to consumers. (It is interesting how change can create jobs, advance careers and provide a vacuum in which so many people choose to live.)

I talked to an individual charged with researching “how things are” so that papers can be created saying “how things should be” in an attempt to educate legislators about how to vote – yet the individual vehemently denied having any role in the policy-making process (her organization has increased from 6 employees to 136 in the past two years).

I heard a “reformed doctor” who has “seen the light” after being treated for a serious illness. Much like an individual who has quit smoking, the doctor has seen the “error in his previous ways” and is now advocating that patients serve a critical role in their own treatment.

It seems like most conventional wisdom is leaning towards changing the way medical care is paid for (by bundling payment under a single bill that encompasses all treatment, follow-up and potential complications). A heavy emphasis is being placed on “common” medical record systems that communicate to each other (though everyone currently having electronic systems wants their current system to communicate in a secure way with everyone else’s system) so that a patient can receive “portable” care. Further, more collaboration is being sought – eliminating some of the competitive mindset that healthcare providers now possess by focusing on regional solutions.

Most at the conference have concluded that a “single payer system” is inevitable – but there was very little common ground as to who would administer such a system, what it would cover and whether or not it would be a “base program” to which people could add should they have the means OR an all-encompassing system that would not create “levels” of healthcare. There were many questions with very few answers – but progress is being made towards discussing some of the best practices that are beginning to emerge.

I met with and experienced good people trying their best to wrestle with a problem out of control – but my return to “West Michigan reality” allowed me to reflect upon some thoughts about government, freedom and how things do (and often do not) get done. While I recognize and acknowledge that I am able to seek and publish quotes that define some of the feelings I experienced in Washington ONLY because our country allows us the freedom to express our thoughts and opinions more freely than any other, my visit was measured with a mix of both cynicism and optimism.

I found several quotes that serve to define feelings about Washington that linger from my most recent visit...please pause to consider them!

• You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered. (Lyndon B. Johnson)

• The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of government power, not the increase of it. (Woodrow Wilson)

• Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it's the only one you have. (Emile Chartier)

• When I was a boy, I was told that anybody could become President. Now I'm beginning to believe it. (Clarence Darrow)

• Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even when there is no river. (Nikita Krushchev)

• A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have. (Gerald Ford)

• A Committee - The unwilling, selected from the unfit, to do the unnecessary. (Margaret Thatcher)

AND, a last but hopefully not least consideration…

• Due to recent cutbacks, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off until further notice.

Friday, November 4, 2011

THE ART OF LISTENING





In order to accomplish great things we must listen and learn so we can build our knowledge and experience base to initiate responsible actions. Good listening, however, involves more than waiting patiently to hear your owner's voice (as this now famous RCA dog once did) - it involves asking open-ended questions (as opposed to giving close-ended solutions), encouraging others to expand on a partially developed thought (rather than adding to it yourself), and drawing reserved individuals into the conversation (rather than accepting their silence as support). The only bad question is the question not asked – but we are often too busy listening to ourselves to hear what others have to say. We often “covertly omit” the wisdom of others more than we “overtly deny” it because we cannot act upon that which we do not hear.

It takes courage to listen. We imply a lack of knowledge when seeking input from others. We must accept that gathering information in order to make a decision is not a sign of weakness or of failure. A major failure often made is deciding on a course of action before accumulating all data and considering all opinions on the matter. We should not "question" only to seek validation of our own great ideas - to listen effectively we must wait for input from our inquiries before deciding where we want to go and how we intend to get there. If we act without listening it is better to have never asked - people will not continue to contribute when they see no personal value or gain in their contributions.

Listening involves more than simply hearing. It requires one to communicate openly and honestly, responding not only to what is being said but also inquiring into what was not fully revealed. It requires us to “hear” what is being physically communicated beyond what is being verbally stated. In life, actions speak louder than words. People say, “I care…I’m interested…I’m listening…” yet continue writing or talking on the phone without making eye contact should someone enter their office. We may actually ask the right questions but wait quietly for the answer with our arms crossed, our foot tapping, and a vacant look in our eyes. Our words seek input while our body language screams, “I don’t hear you, nor do I care!” Pay attention to the “tone” of body language when listening – we can often “hear” more with our eyes than we do with our ears.

When we ask, listen, analyze and then act, we are harnessing the collective power of those tasked to make things happen. Talk can be cheap – results, however, are priceless!

Friday, October 21, 2011

ANTICIPATE AND PLAN TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS




One must closely monitor progress and constantly identify obstacles that could hinder the accomplishment of goals if he or she wishes to succeed. Consider carefully changes to established plans or your current situation before acting, but remember that the worst possible alternative many take is unintentional inaction.

The game of chess requires many of the same thought processes as life – well planned, intentional actions (rather than "knee jerk" responses to temporary conditions) that limit potential repercussions. I remember playing chess with my dad years ago when he asked how I could respond so quickly after he had agonized over a move for nearly ten minutes. I told him he was good enough to know the few moves he could logically make that made sense – and since he reacted in a predictable and rational manner I was immediately ready with another move.

We need to plan our lives in much the same way. An individual will never reach his or her full potential should too much focus be placed upon the path taken rather than the prize at its conclusion. To taste significant success one must start with an expectation of significant accomplishment.

A rather shortsighted fellow once told me, “If you never dream, you will never fail. If you set your bar low, you will never be disappointed.” I would challenge that without an endpoint you will never know when you have arrived. While you may never be lost when you do not know where you are going, you will never know when you have found what you seek without identifying your destination in advance. Life without purpose can be eventful but is rarely satisfying. It may be full of new beginnings but is strangely at a loss for successful “ends.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

MAKE CHANGES THAT WILL TURN YOUR WORLD UPSIDE DOWN!


Were we to live in an ideal world, everyone would focus more on new beginnings than on conclusions or endings. “Drawing a line in the sand” would define more our intent to move forward than to keeping us from stepping back – to establish that we are initiating a new path or direction rather than highlighting where we would prefer to leave. Far too often, however, people think that closing one chapter as more important than opening the next – that finding closure is somehow more critical than initiating change. I would disagree, preferring to think that drawing a line in the sand should serve as a springboard that launches you into the not-yet realized reality existing deeply within your imagination.

We should reflect upon the past, embrace the present, seek to clearly differentiate our dreams and/or goals, then (and only then) act intentionally to bring them to fruition as we make and (seek to make) a difference. Rather than artificially ending each activity before starting another, allow each day’s sunset to bring closure to life so that morning might offer a fresh new beginning. Far too many good-intentioned individuals stagnate just across their line in the sand because they were more concerned with enacting change than they were with charting a new path and moving forward in a new direction.

The next time you draw a line in the sand, think about the new realities that will be established through the actions you will be taking rather than focusing upon what will no longer be done because you stopped performing or acting. We build the future upon dreams that become reality – not on the actions taken to avoid negative consequences. Refuse to live in a world of “what is” and you just might find yourself firmly rooted in “what if” or “what could be.”

What intentional acts have you taken lately to initiate change? Were you successful in moving forward towards the unknown or were your more motivated by a fear of falling back? Were you more hesitant to let go of “what is” than you were excited to reach out for “what could be? Draw your line, step over it, then move steadfastly ahead – refusing to limit your potential by focusing upon what you wish to leave behind – and you will become a major part of the solution rather than an insignificant portion of the problem.

Friday, October 7, 2011

COMPETENT COMPLIANCE TO STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP: HR CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE – CAN YOU?





Human Resources MAY once have been a field where individuals having a true love for people could serve their organizations well by acting as an advocate for employees and a conduit in expressing Management’s expectations. Having been “seasoned” by nearly 30 years of experience, I would suggest a “people person” stay as far from this critically strategic role as possible! The role of HR Professional has become much more than making and keeping people happy (if ever it truly were that simple!). A strategic HR Professional makes decisions requiring logical consistency and a reasonable sense of right and wrong – made to minimize risk as an organization moves towards the accomplishment of its goals and objectives rather than out of a concern for acceptance.

Today’s HR Professional must become an integral part of his or her organization.

• We should not limit our impact to finding and hiring people to fill available openings – it must be expanded to identifying and cultivating a talent pool that will be ready when needed (which assumes an intimate knowledge of operations and company direction to know who will be needed and when they will be required).
• We should not simply track turnover – we should analyze trends, anticipate turnover and act to avoid it before it becomes a factor.
• We should not become the “police” in regards to issuing discipline for rules infractions or safety violations – we must be the developer of practical policies that can be “owned” and enforced by managers recognizing their value in maintaining sound operations.
• People simply WANTING to make a difference often avoid “correcting the boss or Owner” for fear of reprisal. Professionals truly MAKING a difference will not compromise their integrity or values by treating individuals differently – regardless of the position held within the Organization.

Though HR is intended to be the lifeline between employee and employer – the advocate that insures employees are treated with respect – an HR Professional must also advance and defend those things that are best for the business REGARDLESS of how fair (or unfair) they may seem to employees. The Human Resource profession, having emerged from the shadows of “personnel management,” serves as a vital watchdog for business AS WELL AS an essential advocate for employees. People accepting this critical role must be consistent in their actions (and unafraid to act) as they anticipate obstacles that might detour success while minimizing risk by insuring compliance with a plethora of employment-related legislation and ever-increasing regulatory activities. HR is not for the weak of heart – or for the “lover of people” anymore (if it ever were).

We all share space within the HR Universe – yet assume vastly different roles. Are you more of a “doer” (focused upon the road you must travel) or a “dreamer” (focused more on where you are going than how you will get there)? How has your world changed during the past several years? Have you embraced the opportunities change has presented or fought to minimize the disruptions? Your honest answers define the role you will play as your organization moves into the future!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

LIVING IN A GLASS HOUSE


It is hard to convince others NOT to do something when they see you do similar things yourself. How can you expect your employees to adhere to an “eight to five” schedule if your own day frequently begins at eight fifteen or ends at four thirty? Forget that you might have been doing company business the previous night, that you were at a meeting before work, that lunch was more of a thought than a action, or that breaks are not part of your daily routine - people SEE you coming in late or leaving early and follow the example they observe. Parents tell their children to obey the rules (as they break the speed limit driving them somewhere), to respect their teachers (as they complain the “boss does not know anything”), and to enjoy life (when they are “too busy doing their own thing” to play catch in the yard).

We all tend to live in glass houses having no shades. It might be wise to concentrate on what we should be doing rather than focusing on what others should not be doing since others can clearly see our thoughts expressed through unfiltered actions. When our actions speak louder than our words – when they begin to reinforce the things we intentionally set out to do – others will follow our example rather than our edict. They will seek our approval rather than seeking to escape our criticism. They will absorb our praise and grow towards the light rather than seeking shelter from reality in the shadows fearing their failures will be displayed in the openness of a glass house.

Our thoughts, actions and attitudes are constantly on public display for the world to see. Do you spend more time trying to put up shades to hide what you do OR do you keep your windows open so others can see your sincerity and follow your lead? The more light we let into our lives, the more we can shed on those around us. Be a shining example in a shadow world by practicing what you preach - fully embracing the results of our actions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

INTEGRITY ALWAYS FILTERS THROUGH THE SHADOWS


During today’s competitive market, choosing right over wrong, ethics over convenience, and truth over popularity are difficult measures of life. Business leaders must continually use consistency, fairness and equity as the litmus test for decisions they make in regards to product offerings, finances and employment-related issues. Employees (or those seeking work) must identify and present truth over fiction, reality over desires and an honest appraisal of what they can do over what they feel they could be capable of doing when seeking advancement or fulfillment. Far too many of the ethical shortcomings in today’s world have their roots in a lack of open and honest communication – people or business seeing what they can get away with rather than doing what they know is right – as they seek the fulfillment of self-serving values.

We often find ourselves in a difficult position after communicating a partial truth, remaining silent on an important aspect or condition, or failing to tell the “why” when issuing instruction or correction. I once spent nearly half an hour explaining to a supervisor what HE should say when disciplining two employees for a serious rules infraction (so he could take ownership of the corrective action). I was surprised and disappointed when he brought both employees into his office then pointed accusingly at me before proclaiming that “I don’t want to do this but Dave says I have to…” The issue was resolved, the supervisor lost all credibility, and we created an opportunity to train a new supervisor to replace the one demoted shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, many situations in life do not allow “demotions” once a misstep has been made. Honesty and integrity must be the benchmark of all communication – fairness and equity the litmus – for an individual to earn and maintain respect.

Several years ago, business leaders made a number of questionable decisions resulting in their VERY public convictions – and onerous laws to prevent the recurrence of their actions were created. Today, many professional athletes are paying the price that making “popular” decisions have wrought but seem to be given a “return to society free pass” once they have fulfilled their punishment. Coaches seem to fall into the same realm of invincibility believing that nothing could happen to them (but seem to avoid scandal by taking the “apology path” perfected by our elected officials when caught in a questionable situation).

Perhaps a return to accountability and total disclosure in all the actions we take – and an application of that same attitude by the officials we elect - would be a good step to take as we return to “business as usual” this fall. When we choose to travel the path of integrity – without looking back – there is never a wrong time to do the right thing!

Friday, August 12, 2011

DOES “EVERYONE DOING IT” MAKE IT RIGHT?



Have you ever met someone who sets a course in life based on how many others are doing the same thing? Rather than identifying problems, investigating their root cause and acting to resolve them they tend to take the path of least resistance and “go where others are going” or focus on the “wrongs” of others so their questionable actions seem much more “right.”

The travesty in life is that far too many people diminish their potential by following the crowd. They do what is popular rather than standing strong on their own values, judgments and decisions. They choose acceptance by the majority rather than the criticism that standing alone often brings. They accept the stagnation of “what is” rather than seeking the opportunities of “what could be.” Their mantra might be “I am no different than anyone else” rather than “I am a unique individual whose potential is limited only by my own actions and behaviors.”

Following the crowd is easy – you do what others accept, go where others are going, act as others act and find a sense of community by blending in. Only when one recognizes and acknowledges that much can come from seeking a different reality than that chosen by the crowd will he or she begin to realize that loss can become gain, failure can breed success, and the decision to stop can either be an end OR the impetus to move ahead. Followers of a crowd tend to accept the group’s vision as a final destination. Individuals having confidence in themselves envision a future built upon the foundation of their dreams.

Had Fulton listened to “common wisdom” would he ever have invented the steam engine? Would the Wright brothers launched their dreams into the air had “the crowd” determined the way? Is our nation stronger and more stable because our leaders make decisions based on polls that measure what the majority think they should do – taking the more acceptable route rather than seeking potentially unpopular counsel? Might we be in a better place if our leaders simply acted to bring the promises made to the people that elected them to fruition?

What might YOU be able to accomplish – what potential might you be able to realize – if you “marched to your own drummer” rather than listening to the tunes sung by others? Make the most of your individuality in whatever you may say or do – for while many people try to be something or someone they are not, there is only one you in the world.

Monday, July 25, 2011

WHERE HAVE ALL THE LEADERS GONE?


Business needs strong, unwavering leadership more than ever. Parents want to be their children’s friends rather than their spiritual and emotional leaders. People overlook critical issues within their relationships, preferring to avoid confrontation and resolution by staying away from each other or being too busy to talk. Partisan politicians are more committed to identifying who is at fault than to recognizing the problems and acting to resolve them. An equal sharing of “the burden” seems to be the rhetoric as a disproportionate helping of “cure” comes from job creators while a more than equitable share of “spoils” go to those not seeking to contribute. I fear that our leaders have taken leave – or are at least staying so far below the radar screen (and out of fire) that their effectiveness may be compromised Where have the leaders gone…and how can we bring them back?

While managers can be (and often are) appointed, promoted or anointed, leadership is expressed through an individual’s actions and revealed through his or her character. A manager assigns blame – a leader assumes it. A director deflects criticism – a leader addresses it. Far too many individuals seem to be looking for excuses as to why something happened rather than accepting the present as reality and intentionally moving towards a resolution. It seems that everyone ELSE did things wrong and nothing is anyone’s own fault. Far too many are seeking someone or something to rescue them from financial ruin rather than taking charge of their own situation and finding a long-term solution. The government tries to “bring up” those having less by “taking from” those that have more – but in so doing the motivation, desire and ability of those able to make a difference is reduced. While life-long learning is a good and desirable thing, learning from books does not provide the experience that learning from one’s past failures does.

A Manager can lead but:

• Often gains a following through false or misleading promises
• Creates a sense of “having to do work” through fear of the consequences
• Could care less what others think as long as his or her needs are met

Leaders can be identified by their ability to:

• Influence by example gaining the support of others wanting to follow
• Pull others along as they rise to the top
• Understand his or her “audience” when speaking or communicating

Our region AND our nation needs confident, competent leaders willing to take risks and to grow from their consequences. We need fair and honest leaders willing to lead by example rather than by edict – seeking to motivate rather than intimidate. Are you a part of the solution or are you a major part of the problem? Do you lead by example or by manage through edict? Do you anticipate “what might happen” and prepare for it or react to “what has happened” by blaming others and accepting the consequences? Do your actions inspire others or encourage them to conspire against you? A society that expects others to “do as I say rather than as I do” is one that may “get by” but will rarely thrive.

Where have the leaders gone? Look in the mirror – we all lead someone or something, be it a business, a family or simply our own existence. Don’t let your mirror be clouded with the promise of something for nothing. Step out of the shadows and let your intentional actions reflect positively upon someone else as you fulfill your own destiny. When individuals are given the tools with which to work (education/knowledge/mentoring) and the environment in which to operate (honest, open, accepting and forgiving) with leadership that encourages growth, there will be no limit to our possibilities.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

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...
I watched my accomplishments shine - rivaling the sun with their brilliance…
I hid behind them – holding them up to the world – to hide my shortcoming 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.” A secure job ripped from us by the economy. A relationship tarnished by an unanticipated action (or an uncontrolled reaction). Life happens…how we react to it can either advance or stagnate our existence.

I reach out blindly, searching desperately for and grasping onto what once was but shall never be again…
My memories became as but water running through my hands - unable to be contained as they flowed through the grasp of my fingers…
My thoughts provide but a flickering light within my darkened world – a dim presence incapable of providing the fire that once filled me.


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 stagnate ourselves (and those around us) when we establish our value within the things we once did that were successful rather than in what might be possible from this point forward – when we create our identity from “what we were” rather than “who we are.” 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 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…
We must acknowledge the security our past once provided is gone as new opportunities flow from our hands like a river’s water into a never-ending sea…
We must sail into the unknown horizon leading those willing to follow as we wait for those not yet willing to let go of their past…
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.


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. People anticipating change intentionally set their course knowing that much time will pass and many considerations will flow through their fingers before anything if accomplished. Since you cannot hold back the waters as they flow through your hands – hold onto the hope that your dreams provide!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

THE POWER OF POSSIBLITY


Far too often people determine “what is possible” by defining what cannot be done based upon what they have (or have not) done in the past. They set their goal just below what they think MIGHT BE accomplished as they determine where they are going by extending where they have been.

Individuals often close their eyes to what could be, preferring to focus upon those things that have already been. They are often far too concerned that the ends justify the means – doggedly pursuing the destination rather than considering the journey – to think about celebrating progress or enjoying new beginnings along the way.

There are those, however, who find themselves reaching for the sky without thinking about falling to the ground. They focus upon the sun without looking towards the shadows cast behind them by their current realities. These individuals often chase their wildest imaginings without regard to the practical limitations life places upon them. They rarely base their comings and goings upon what has been, choosing to follow a path that takes them where they have yet to go so they can accomplish those things they have not yet attempted. Rather than wallowing in hardship and adversity, these individuals often use trouble as a springboard to opportunity. One can bring dreams to fruition when refusing to accept the negatives of reality. Had history’s creators and innovators been content to seek inspiration from their past rather than reaching out to an undetermined future, where would our world be today?

Looking forward rather than back, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as an opening on the other side rather than a train bearing down upon them, and seeing “the possible” in a situation rather than focusing on its inherent realities are signs of an optimistic leader. Strong leaders rarely accept a single, concrete solution – they seek several workable options, implementing the one that not only provides the best answer but also garners the most support. Though it is human nature to take the easy road, the people of whom I speak typically seek the road less travelled as it eventually leads to longer-lasting solutions.

Personally, I would prefer to surround myself with people who live for today, dream of tomorrow, and run swiftly from yesterday. They seem to laugh more often than they cry – to smile more often than they frown – moving forward more swiftly than they fall behind. I would prefer to be in the company of those seeking solutions rather than offering excuses – taking ownership rather than placing blame. These seekers of the possible are whom I seek to become part of my life – hoping they will allow me, in return, to become a part of theirs.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A LIMITATION OF CLASS ACTION POWERS…




The United States Supreme Court ruled recently that a group of individuals who felt discriminated against by Wal-Mart could not file a class action against their employer. It was determined that each member of the class had to demonstrate an adverse impact by the organization’s misapplication or violation of a stated policy. Two significant issues addressed by this ruling were:

1) A “class” of employees (female in this case) claiming to have similar skills and abilities as male employees claim they were collectively and intentionally overlooked for promotion (or as a group given less pay if promoted) cannot file a claim “for the whole” without specific data proving such a willful act or violation occurred to each individual within the group.

2) A group of individuals cannot file a class action against an employer without citing a specific policy violation in each individual case.

The ruling does not establish Wal-Mart’s innocence, nor does it say that some individuals were not wrongly treated. It does establish that an individual’s claims must result from an organization’s intentional (or unintentional) documentable actions and identifiable demonstrations of acts that are against stated policy. As an employer advocate, though the action was dismissed on a technicality I would say the court “got it more right than wrong” this time.

The Court DID NOT say an individual having documentable evidence of unfair treatment (proof that pay was different than another having the same set of skills and experience or proof that a disproportionate number of males were promoted than were females having the same set of skills or experience, etc.) could not file against an employer for discrimination. The ruling simply clarified that just because you are a member of a class (female in this case) that worked for an organization (Wal-Mart) you should not be able to join a blanket action claiming discrimination without stating the policy that was violated and demonstrating how that violation impacted your potential.

By eliminating the “class action” component of this case the Court extended the period of relief an individual whom was truly discriminated against will experience should they choose to file an individual action BUT dismissed the “me too” additions whom may not have been negatively impacted by any specific action OTHER THAN being “like” the others within the “class action." It establishes that an individual discriminated against due to the willful violation of an established policy has individual recourse BUT will employers take this ruling as an indicator that it is better to make decisions based on the situation rather than to base them on established policy? What kinds of unfair and unreasonable issues would THAT create? Whatever happened to reasonable management exercising ethical judgment in the administration of fair practices for all employees?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WHAT IS OR WHAT COULD BE...WHICH PERSPECTIVE IS YOURS?


People tend to see things (and other individuals) as they are. We live “in the moment” during our daily lives. We deal with issues and situations as they come up. We resolve conflicts as they occur. We form our opinions and establish our perspectives based on what we see, hear or experience. A phrase originating during my misguided youth (“What you see is what you get!”) appropriately identifies the level of introspection many use to chart their path through life.

What if, rather than seeing “what is” we were to focus more upon “what could be?” What if we stopped seeing individuals “as they are,” instead seeing them as “how they were, what has changed and who might they become?” If we assume that today’s reality is but a temporary bump in the road to an as yet undetermined future RATHER THAN a dead end or a destination – that it is but a sign or indicator of what is to become RATHER THAN a definitive predictor of the future – how much more could be accomplished in our lives?

When we focus upon fixing what we think “is” we tend to react rather than plan. We seek to make situations “go away” rather than trying to identify their root cause. We tend to worry about today more than we do tomorrow. We focus on the obvious reality of the moment rather than considering what once was and projecting that into what could be. When dealing with individuals we do the same thing – we see who a person is (often because of what they did or who chose to be with) but rarely focus on what they COULD BE. When we shut someone out because of what they have done in the past or who they seem to be in the present – removing from them an opportunity to change and grow – do they lose more (due to a loss of opportunity) or do we (because we lost the opportunity to make a difference)?

Refuse to believe that “what you see is what you get.” Today sets the stage for tomorrow – serving as a precursor of what could potentially become a reality NOT a definitive predictor of the future. Today identifies those things that have not yet been brought to fruition – the things that fade quickly into yesterday as we focus upon new tomorrows. Live in “today” only long enough to put it behind you as you move into “tomorrow.” You will be surprised how quickly “the moment” will pass as you live life seeking “what could be!”

Friday, June 3, 2011

A TIME FOR EACH SEASON


There is a time for every season and for every season there is a time. Spring ushers hope into the world – prying life from the icy fingers of winter. Summer is a time to bask in the warmth and to grow – to reach deeply into the ground so we might be able to find nourishment in the soil as we gain strength to weather the coming times. Fall is a time of respite – of preparing for the long cold season ahead as we remember the pace left behind. Winter shrouds us under a cold, dark blanket – curtailing our growth as we seek shelter from the storms.

Harry Chapin sang a tale of life being a circle. He noted that the sun seems to chase the moon from the sky during the daytime while, at night, the sun and moon reverse their roles. We experience new beginnings each day as we chase the circle of life – with false starts and dead ends being either bumps in our road or a terrible end to our progress. We can celebrate the opportunities that lie ahead of us or we can suffer the pain that comes from holding on too tightly to what has gone. We can stand tall against the storms of life or we can hide in the shelter of another’s shadow as we seek to avoid the turmoil. Life is truly a circular reality – one in which all things are possible for they have all been seen and done. It is a reality where nothing is impossible for we will inevitably move.

Embrace opportunity this summer. Reach towards the heavens as you plant your feet firmly on the ground. Do not be deterred by temporary inconvenience nor derailed by unexpected concerns. Every day that we live and breathe is truly a uniquely circular opportunity – the chance to move forward towards new opportunity as we move from the limitations of our present reality. Take the time to prepare for a long winter of reflection after passing through the autumn of rest – knowing that time and space will return you to a season of renewal.

In Michigan – perhaps as in no other place – we can experience all the seasons at one time. Embrace the opportunity to be unique and different as you pass through your seasons for while you may experience other summers – just as you do multiple falls and winters – once passed, you will never experience another exactly like this again.

Friday, May 27, 2011

MEMORIAL DAY...



Memorial Day has become the long weekend that kicks off summer. Children look forward to school ending soon so they can explore new horizons outdoors (hopefully) rather than inside a classroom (though some are already looking forward to returning in the fall to see friends they might not otherwise see). Some (though not all) parents see the weekend as “the beginning of the end” as they must scramble to find qualified caregivers to watch over their children whom are so looking forward to their time off.

Some employees are beginning to plan vacations – time away from both the job and the home – in an effort to “refresh and recharge.” Others are planning their escape from the tight economic times that have surrounded them – seeking a place of sanity (or at least where they can “leave it all behind”). What the private sector has lived through (and from which it is beginning to emerge), the public sector is just now beginning to experience.

The weekend has become a time to do lawn work, spend time on the golf course, swim in a lake – to simply enjoy time off (which began for many at least a day early if you look at the traffic!). With predictions of high temperatures and only light rain, what could be missing from this holiday weekend? ONLY, perhaps, why the Holiday exists!

During your time away this weekend, enjoy your gifts and blessings but make time to thank those who sacrificed much so that we could have what we so often take for granted. Take a moment to honor those who gave their time, their freedom – even their lives – so that we might have a “daily life” from which to escape. Thank someone who lost a loved one so that you might continue to live in this great country or actively support someone currently fighting for the concept of freedom – whether it be through a note or within a prayer.

This weekend, even if just for a moment, be a living memorial to those that have passed before AND those now sacrificing for us. Let us all rightly and appropriately recognize them for all they have given. Reflect upon all that our country stands for – all that you have ONLY because someone else considered it valuable enough to defend.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

DREAM BIG



One can only become what he or she perceives as being achievable. If one “dreams big,” great things can happen. If one chooses to live within their present abilities, he or she may never realize the fullness of their potential. When we stretch our goals – reaching for fruit from the highest branches rather than accepting only low hanging fruit – we will taste success far beyond that shared by the masses.

I would guess that few individuals could have imagined the impact a river could have on the landscape prior to the Grand Canyon’s formation. Who would have imagined that the Wright Brother’s first flight could have taken us to where we are today? So many conveniences in life began as a dream but materialized because someone had faith their idea could become reality. If we can work towards a cure for cancer, why do so many find it impossible to find fulfillment in their life’s work?

I have spoken to several individuals recently about career changes – about becoming something they wish to be rather than what they are. The conversation typically focuses on things they do not like about their present job RATHER THAN around those aspects they enjoy. They speak of things they would “rather do” instead of building upon the things they do well. They seek to avoid their weaknesses rather than maximizing their strengths. Should they choose to “run away” from a current situation RATHER THAN running towards a better one, will they ever be truly happy?

Use the talents you were given – leveraging your strengths as you strengthen your weaknesses – and you will never work a day in your life. Dream big – the seemingly insignificant streams that course through your life may take on the power of waterfalls (if only you believe)!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

ACT BEFORE YOU FALL...


I recently spoke with an individual ready to pursue additional education so that she could switch fields completely and move as quickly away from her current job situation as possible. While she enjoyed the WORK she did, she did not respect her boss, was disappointed that an excellent co-worker recently left the organization, and felt the Organization’s Board of Directors had “no clue” as to what was happening within the company NOR did anyone care about its future. Her choice was to leave what she enjoyed to seek a greener pasture (as she had done before) – to be as but water over the dam, flowing freely from one situation to the next. Before talking about these issues, however, we talked about several different things when we met.

Her boss (new to the organization) did not have the proven experience or demonstrated ability to do his job. She was so wrapped up in her own feelings and frustrations, however, that she had never asked him how he felt, what he wanted to do (or needed help doing), or where he saw the organization going. She had talked herself into running away from what she liked to do (she liked “the work”) because of things she did not know OR seek to influence (she knew nothing about either her boss’ or the Board’s plans for the organization’s future). She was like a river flowing rapidly along its banks – blindly moving towards a fall from which there would be no return.

We eventually moved her past the rapids into an area of relative calm. She began to examine what she liked about the job (AND the organization), what she disliked, what she would need to see from a different position should she move. Many of the things she was seeking were deeply imbedded within her current position but she had been so busy looking at “what was not” that she lost sight of “what was.” We then discussed what (if anything) she could do to help maximize the “good” things about where she was while minimizing the “bad.”

There are many ways to move from one situation to another – but often we embark upon the most obvious escape route before seeking alternative resolutions. We do not simply draw a line in the sand from which we can begin anew – we call in the heavy equipment to excavate a trench that will isolate us from our situation once we have crossed the line. While such tactics WILL move us forward, they often create pain and close the door on any possibility of returning. Perhaps there are “kinder and gentler ways” to move from a bad situation to a better one than to burn our bridges – no matter how good that might feel in the heat of the moment.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

GAMES CHILDREN PLAY...

We learn to play many games as children – unfortunately resulting in us learning as much how to follow as to lead. “Simon Says…” is a game played by many a child where creativity and originality are discouraged in favor of doing exactly what is asked, allowed or permitted. Many lessons in life MAY be learned by doing what we are told but far more can be gained through experience. My wife and I took dance lessons several years ago in preparation for a family wedding and an anniversary cruise where I found myself being told “that is not what we worked on…” or “where did you learn that?” often during the learning process. While the instructor tried diligently to transform me into a graceful instrument of dance, she probably became as frustrated with my asking “Why WON’T this work?” as I was by her saying “You are not yet ready for that!”

“Follow the leader” is another childhood game that discourages individuality in favor of simply blending in with a following throng. There can be only one leader while, by necessity and design, there are a multitude of followers. If you are fortunate enough to “lead”, you can pretty much choose your road to success by deciding where the group will go and how it will get there. If you are among the many followers, however, it is hard to have much say in where you are going because you become too busy watching those ahead of you while trying to stay out of the way of those behind you.

In order to grow and develop we must take the principles of what “Simon says…” by watching to see what works THEN building on the learned concepts by expanding them beyond their original intent. We must “follow the leader” BUT only long enough to learn what direction we are going so we do not become lost when going there. It has been said that one learns all there is to know in life by the end of the kindergarten. While I do not believe this (entirely, I DO feel that paying attention to some of the principles taught through children’s games can help us to overcome many of the challenges and opportunities presented by life as we grow older.

I wonder what “ring around the rosy” or “duck, duck, goose” might teach us if we looked at them from a learning (rather than from a playing) perspective…

Thursday, March 24, 2011

DREAMS TO DESTINY


Some people sleep without dreaming and awaken rested. Others dream while sleeping and awaken inspired. We must dream what we wish to accomplish before we can expect anything to happen. What kind of life could be based on the premise that what “is” will never change – that bringing the beliefs, values, ideals and accomplishments of several together would serve only to advance each individually rather than collectively enhance the group’s abilities?

People have said that setting low expectations will keep you from ever being disappointed. If we set no expectations – fearing the pain of failure more than anticipating the rewards of success – we may survive but will rarely thrive. We de-energize our relationships when we focus upon shortcomings or why something failed. Rather, we should use failure as a springboard towards implementing a solution. Believing that the “light at the end of a tunnel” is actually an opportunity not yet realized rather than a train heading towards us on a collision course reflects the assimilation of dreams into daily reality.

Destiny is a result of how effectively we balance our dreams with our abilities as we travel an unfamiliar path paved with not-yet-realized thoughts and ideas. Sadly, truth can often keep us from accomplishing our dreams. Far too often we allow our present reality – the knowledge we have about the world in which we live – to stop us from trying new things and entering into situations.

Accepting that our own (or another individual’s) weaknesses are insurmountable results in our believing failure is a probability. If, however, we merely acknowledge deficiencies as bumps in the road, relentlessly moving forward as we seek to accomplish our dreams, we will invariably find a way to make things happen. Destiny becomes reality only when we truly believe that “the things dreamed of” can become as much “probability” as they are “possibility” – when they become the things we anticipate and expect rather than simply things held tightly within the privacy of our individual hearts.

Friday, March 18, 2011

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT IS BENEATH THE SURFACE...until you look...


A Human Resource professional was recently reviewing his organization’s turnover report at a Board of Directors meeting. One of the group’s divisions had experienced an increase in turnover (from 15 to 20 employees representing more than a 5% increase). The turnover, attributed to unreasonable work schedules and a non-competitive pay structure, had many on the Board concerned that a continued exodus of good people might cripple the Organization in the middle of its transition to a new business model. While the “surface” seemed to be turbulent based on his summary analysis, the answers to several questions helped still the waters a bit:

  • How many of the 20 individuals leaving were “truly valued” employees? (Answer: 5)
  • What was the average tenure of those leaving? (Answer: 7 Years)
  • Did the switch in business model have anything to do with increased turnover? (Answer: We DO expect more from our employees and put more pay at risk than ever before but they have not complained much about it.)
  • Have you compared your BENEFITS and PERSONAL TIME OFF POLICIES with the organizations to which your employees went? (Answer: We cannot compete with (fill in the blank) organization. They pay whatever it takes so we do not have the slightest chance to retain people.)

Unmitigated turnover can cripple an organization BUT the insidious problems caused by “wrongful hiring” can poison an organization from the inside. Pay is often the easiest thing to blame for turnover BUT working conditions, management/supervisory leadership style, work schedules and even a shift from “stable income” to “pay at risk” often causes more turnover than does pay. A high turnover rate among employees having 7 years service should focus us more on what is different with where we have been than on the bright promise of where we might be going.

It is amazing how many “negative” issues have a positive aspect – how many dark clouds have a silver lining. Never take issues at face value without first seeking clarification or expansion. We can usually find the “cause” for any “effect” – but we must first seek or we will never find!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

OVERCOMING FIRST IMPRESSIONS AND MISCONCEPTIONS


When working with people, our “first impressions” often inaccurately influence the way we react to others UNLESS we take time to identify their origins. I have found that:

Unfounded perceptions can negatively influence thoughts and actions. I once worked with the owner of a small machine shop that was struggling financially. A 76-year old machinist became a “source of conflict” within the shop. The owner wished all his employees were as loyal and undemanding – seeing him as a great role model for others. Employees “did not want to end up working until they died because they could not afford to retire,” viewing him as great motivation to seek other employment. Perceptions, however, not reality as the worker in question told me he really did not have to work NOR was he particularly loyal – but that “if I ever met his wife I’d know why he was still working!” Often our perceptions can taint our thinking…always learn all the facts before making a judgment.

We miss much in life when we assume what another is thinking or doing – or limit what we feel they can contribute. One of the most critical components in the development of a Compensation Program is to ask employees what they actually do (rather than assuming we know what their job entails). An hourly employee once told me that the purpose of his job was to “bring to fruition the dreams of the owner so that we can share in his rewards.” While this answer did nothing to define job responsibilities, it DID speak volumes to the owner about how employees viewed their work. He began to pose questions to employees and include them in decisions he would not have discussed when thinking that they “did only what they were told” rather than believing they could “contribute positively to his dream.” Once he began to view employees more as partners than as workers his company began to grow and prosper exponentially – with increased efficiency and a reduced turnover rate.

People (and our thoughts about them) can contribute positively to us OR weigh us down. If we take the time to verify our perceptions before we pass judgment we can often avoid making assumptions that could lead us down the wrong path. If we ask for help and opinions from others before acting they can often make our journey easier. If we listen to what others say, we often find we are not so alone in the world – which support and affirmation can come from unexpected sources. People will always say (and do) the strangest things. Make sure you pay enough attention to what they are saying or doing (and sometimes what they are NOT saying or doing) that they can truly make a difference in your life!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

ARE YOU PLANNING (OR HOPING) FOR YOUR FUTURE?


People used to work hard for most of their lives before stepping aside to enjoy the fruits of their labor in a seemingly short period of retirement. They gladly left others to fill the void their absence created – seeking the time to do what they wanted to do rather than what they had to do. Health insurance, an inexpensive benefit meant to prevent financial disaster caused by a serious health condition, was readily available at a reasonable cost upon retirement. Designed to provide a source of income that would “give back” the money workers put into it to augment the responsibilities families shared with their aging relatives, Social Security became the primary resource for many aging individuals. Employees fortunate enough to receive a pension while working often entered retirement with the thought of “living high” rather than of simply “getting by.” Others planned to fund their golden years using equity from their home. People focused more on “when” retirement was going to happen than “if” it could ever occur.

Today, things have changed. More workers are leaving the workforce than are entering it. Family is taking a diminished role in caring for its aging members, often relying upon facilities that can provide appropriate medical care rather than putting their life on hold to help a relative in need. Healthcare Insurance provides cradle to grave coverage for all conditions (or potential conditions – or lifestyle choices made to improve their perceived quality of life). Our social welfare system takes care of individuals in ways that family and/or churches once did – with the responsibility to finance these services resting upon a minority of the population to support an ever-increasing majority. Our safety net is no longer sustainable yet most solutions disqualify those that contributed most to its formation while providing for those that contributed least. People COGNITIVELY understand that saving early in life for retirement makes sense yet few young people have the PRACTICAL ABILITY to begin saving when they really should.

Are YOU planning (and saving) for retirement or are you expecting a system that faces bankruptcy to care for you? A recent survey found that the average retirement-aged American worker has savings of less than $50,000. Mortgages are upside-down for many that refinanced (or over-bought) their homes so anticipated equity is not available to help fund retirement. The cost of living continues to escalate – led by energy and healthcare. While one might be able to drive less, the cost of heating a home is unavoidable and it now costs nearly $800 per month to insure a single individual IF they are healthy enough to be medically underwritten for coverage (i.e., healthy enough that they will probably do not really need the insurance). Are you planning now to handle retirement expenses and healthcare costs on your own or are you waiting for the government to print more money to provide such programs?

What color is YOUR parachute? What are you relying upon to help cushion your landing should you choose to escape the regularity of your work world and venture into the unchartered waters of retirement? If we were to declare a “fiscal responsibility week,” would you join in to prepare for the future or sit passively on the sidelines waiting for life to happen? Make an open comment so that others might be able to learn what they can do to prepare for the future by learning from your planning today.

Monday, February 14, 2011

LOOK (AND LEARN) BEFORE YOU LEAP


We often lose sight of where we are going because we focus on what we think we know. We make assumptions within relationships that tend to establish their depth and direction (whether they are personal, professional or parental). Some actions are nearly impossible to alter once set into motion so it might be wise to avoid forming opinions or setting sail upon a specific course without first thinking about what COULD BE rather than focusing only upon what we think IS or SHOULD BE.

Acting on available information without asking for clarification can often lead to disaster. Many years ago, my son found himself in a bit of trouble (after his first day of kindergarten). He had been sent to the principal’s office for “hitting another child with leaves” on his way to the school. My wife and he were discussing the issue as I came home. She could not understand why he had to go to the office for throwing leaves at someone, and he could not figure out why she kept asking him about the situation after he had clearly and concisely answered her specific questions. Her questions (and increasing frustration) focused upon the information she had available – that he had hit someone with leaves. My son was answering her questions without offering any more than asked – trying not to provide any more information than was requested. After listening for a couple of minutes to their exchange I looked at my son and asked him, “How big a stick were the leaves attached to?” Upon hearing the “right” question he brightened and made a circle with his fingers and said, “Oh, about this big, Dad…nobody asked me that!”

We often seek opinions meant only to validate our own thinking rather than trying to test and improve our thoughts. We assume that the information available to us is sufficient without seeking “the rest of the story.” We leap before we look – believing that any action is better than inaction – and find ourselves taking many wrong turns before arriving at our final destination. We could still much of life’s turbulence by digging deeper to understand more about what we think we know prior to acting – and by allowing the experience of others who already tested (and survived) our waters to guide our actions. Much can be accomplished through the collective reasoning of an invested group of friends!

Friday, February 4, 2011

WINTER THOUGHTS


OK…we have had winter for the snowmobilers, skiers and ice skaters. It was beautiful to see the earth covered with its blanket of pristine white snow, with a rare day of sunshine creating a blindingly stark contrast to our normal grey days of February. I said that I wanted one good storm before we moved on – and we had it! Let us move forward into spring and summer!

The groundhog (if he was smart) decided to stay underground rather than burrowing up through three feet of snow SO he did not see his shadow. I would guess that even the photographer’s floodlights could not penetrate the snow-covered surface. We can look forward to an early spring (which is it, winter is going to end in six weeks or spring is going to begin in six weeks – I could never figure out just what the groundhog had to do with anything!)

Birds are fluttering frantically around feeders. Do they not know that spring is just around the corner so they should not depend on us humans to feed them (since our storm has passed)? Cars seem to be nesting in mounds of snow piled up along the roadway. Do people not know that nesting is for the birds (now that spring is on the way) rather than for their cars?

Should we not begin to dream thoughts of summer now that we have had our winter storm? Is it too early to put the boat in the water? Can you build a sandcastle from snow or will the water freezing within its moat serve as a reminder we have once again rushed the seasons? Maybe I should go out to the storage barn to start the convertible! One never knows when winter will let go so we can drive through the countryside with the top down (without the heater on!).

Perhaps I will refuse to acknowledge the radio and its warnings of coming snow. After all, when have weather forecasters been right? What do they know about arctic cold fronts approaching our shores? Oh, that is right! We have no shores right now. Some foreign white substance seems to be blanketing our beautiful sandy beaches!

All kidding aside, how did YOU survive this month’s reminder that our state provides us with four beautiful seasons? Let me know what you like most (and least) about winter (now that we seem settled to have six more weeks of it!). It will give you something to do (between cleaning off the driveway and unburying the deck!).

Monday, January 31, 2011

WHAT MAKES A LEADER EXCEPTIONAL?


If someone could develop a “one size fits all” leadership style that was “guaranteed to produce positive results” they would make a fortune. We all bring unique and individual characteristics to the leadership party so such an approach could not work. To maximize results we must identify and accentuate strengths, meld them into the fabric and culture of our workplace, then find ways to make up for their inevitable weaknesses. While this might prove to be a big challenge, I have found consistent differences between strong leaders and those who wish they could lead.

• Leaders who struggle to gain respect often “deliver” news as being “from Management” rather than “owning it” and seek credit for things that “go right” while assigning blame for things that “go wrong.”

• True leaders leave their reservations about communications in the meeting room – expressing opinions and concerns behind closed doors – then take ownership for the news they deliver. They also “own” their department’s failures while deferring the ownership of success to others.

• Leaders who struggle to make a difference often wait for direction and guidance (so they do not do something that might be “wrong”) then openly express resentment that decisions are made without their input or suggestions.

• Strong leaders make decisions based on the information they have at their disposal (recognizing that if the information changes, so might their decision). They then take action, guiding employees AND informing top management (not necessarily seeking permission) before they are surprised to hear about it from someone else.

• Ineffective leaders tend to ask, “Why am I not part of the management team?” Strong leaders step forward to make themselves an invaluable part of it by learning as much about the organization as possible and leveraging this knowledge to make significant, profitable decisions.

Everyone has his or her own idea about what makes an individual effective at pulling others along the right path rather than pushing them (kicking and fighting) up it. My two most significant observations are:

• There is no limit as to how much can be done IF we do not care whom receives the credit for doing it.

• People (both in the workplace AND within society) contribute more if they WANT to do something than if they HAVE to do something. Great leaders put more effort into selling than they do into telling – into securing “buy-in” and sharing ownership than they do making excuses or assigning blame.


What are YOUR observations about leaders? Add your thoughts through comments to this posting!

Friday, January 21, 2011

STAND STRONG ABOVE THE CROWD


One of my favorite authors, Ayn Rand, wrote books celebrating the power of individuals within a fictional world embracing societal equality (The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged). Her novels depict individuals whose unique and special gifts are stolen (without guilt or appreciation) by a society seeking ownership of all ideas and concepts as it seeks to impose equality (as opposed to equity) on men. Ayn’s documents the problems created when society takes from those who have, gives to those who choose not to contribute and punishes anyone foolish enough to think they have the right to place their own needs or desire above those of a needy public.

In The Fountainhead, Ayn writes of an architect who overcomes societies’ destructive expectations of mediocrity by forming a fragile alliance with one of its spokespeople (a newspaper publisher) who was one of his strongest critics. In sticking to his principles (and even breaking several laws), Roark was able to stand tall in the end (literally), with “right” overcoming “might” (though at an almost impossible cost).

In Atlas Shrugged (by far my favorite book), several individuals having unique talents are “sacrificed” (i.e., destroyed) by society because they refuse to release their work to others incapable of developing OR sustaining it. (This book should be a “must read” for Human Resource professionals wishing to see the results of effective recruiting!) Ayn portrays a society that has progressed so far down its socialistic path it is incapable of acknowledging the worth of an individual – an injustice that can be resolved ONLY when the world’s innovators escape from the grasp of human mediocrity, undeserved success and a widespread “handout” mentality by literally disappearing into a new world.

Why should I write of such things within my BLOG? Take the time to read both of these books and you may understand. We live dangerously close to the times described within both writings. If we are to avoid the “end” Ayn predicts, we must open our eyes, express our outrage and act before we can no longer “swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

To quote another of my favorite authors, the recently deceased James Kavanaugh, our world is full of “men too gentle to live among wolves.” Let us embrace the value these individuals bring – giving them the credit and recognition they deserve – rather than taking from men (and women) based on their perceived ability to give while giving to others based solely upon their needs (without regard to their abilities).

Monday, January 17, 2011

THOUGHTS ABOUT CHANGE


The only way an individual will thrive is by learning to accept the previously unacceptable - to innovate rather than finding comfort in what always was (because it may never again be)! We once sought knowledge so we could perform a job by applying our "learning" to known, well-defined situations. We must now learn to think (rather than simply thinking that we can "do as expected") within an ever-changing world.

Our educational institutions must reinvent themselves to make sure that students grasp core concepts and how they are applied rather than memorizing answers to questions that may never be asked. (If we continue to teach only the answers, who will know what questions to ask once the teachers are gone?) We must move away from rewarding effort towards recognizing accomplishment. Life-long learning has become practical reality for those hoping to advance in (or even retain) their job. We must either intentionally move forward towards new opportunity OR we will be left behind to pick up the pieces of "life as we knew it."

Lost in the call for change is the definition of reality. Is the light at the end of the tunnel one of Hope or is it one of unavoidable Disaster? Embracing the opportunities that an uncertain future offers is much more productive than worrying about things we cannot control or obsessing over change that is going to happen with or without us! The easiest way to prepare for the future has always been to study the past in an effort to avoid previously made mistakes. We should look back just long enough, however, to acknowledge shortcomings, analyze why actions may (or may not) have created desired outcomes, then move forward understanding yesterday’s mistakes should be no more than tomorrow’s memories (rather than a predictor of future action). Individuals tend to embrace the opportunity of a new tomorrow by consciously (and intentionally) leaving behind what is not working as they seek what might be OR are swept up in someone else’s vision without considering its ramifications – by drawing a line in the sand over which they will not retreat.

Change, while necessary, should not become our focus. Focus upon the process of change (rather than on change itself). Think about what might be rather than what will not work. Elevate individuals to a level of equality rather than seeking ways to “meet in the middle,” taking from those that “have” and giving it to those that need. We should provide for those “who do not have” by teaching them to fish (rather than by “redistributing” someone else’s catch). Lasting change will always focus on resolution – drastic (and extreme) disruption finds its roots in revolution!

Monday, January 3, 2011

A NEW YEAR...


If I were to make a New Year's Resolution this year it would be to "be the wind beneath another's wings" whenever possible - lifting others to their own new heights rather than pulling them along towards my new horizons.

Other thoughts for a successful New Year...

Avoid the complacency of status quo. Even if it might be easier and result in acceptable conclusions, we live in a world where “keeping pace” equates to being left behind.

Clearly define your personal and professional goals. Do not keep them secret - share them with a friend to establish accountability and help assure their accomplishment.

Assume that success is a foregone conclusion. Merely thinking something might be accomplished allows doubt to enter your mind. Knowing that it will be done, even if unanticipated issues arise, allows us to focus more on the “ends” than the “means.”

Never forget that the only wrong action is inaction…the only poor decision is one that is never made.

Replicate the positive actions that “made a difference” last year. Dwell upon your failures just long enough to understand what went wrong so you can avoid repeating them.

Be the wind beneath another's wings during 2011 - lifting someone to new heights through your intentional, unacknowledged actions. Help another succeed, possibly allowing them to take the credit that arguably could have been given to you.

Accomplish great things this year - through selfless acts of kindness and intentional acts of quiet strength.