The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Monday, January 31, 2011


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


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


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


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.