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!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


I have found that several kinds of leaders exist – all effective in their own way yet all very different in the way they lead.  I have seen those that lead from behind – that push others to where they wish them to be – often hiding behind the throng as if they are seeking protection from the resistance that comes when new initiatives are advanced against a traditional, “set in its ways” establishment.  I have seen those that interact with their team but fail to provide direction or initiate change as they share successes and blame equally – often driving decisions down to the lowest common denominator so that no one individual will be held responsible for failure (insuring that no one individual will receive recognition or praise).  I have seen those that lead from the front – that cast a vision as to where the team should go, move ahead to clear the path of potential hazards, and wait for the group to catch up before proceeding forward – living the example that they would like to see assumed by those they lead.

Leading from behind is like trying to push a string uphill.  It is almost impossible to keep a string straight and moving in one direction when applying pressure from behind (unless one adds a wire or some other outside strength to keep the string from bending).  Try dumping a glass of water on a marble counter and pushing it water towards a sink.  The water spreads out uncontrollably in all directions, eventually making it to a final destination only after it has moved far outside of its initial path and spread far afield from its initial and inevitable end.  Leading from behind is like trying to herd cats – you may move a group forward but it will be from a point of chaos rather than in a structured order – from uncontrolled havoc rather than anticipated and planned intentional actions.

Joining the group to lead is OK if you are a goose – for the lead to a migrating flock changes as if with the wind – but such interchangeable leadership is rarely synonymous with greatness within society.  In order advance as a unit, someone must step away from the pack.  Someone must be willing to step forward so that others might follow or the things that have always been done will continue to be accomplished (though, perhaps, more efficiently due to repetition) and the roads that have always been travelled will continue to be taken (though, perhaps, with less risk as all the twists and turns are anticipated).  Pack leaders tend to hold on to security but rarely realize innovation.  They tend to find comfort within their temporary “known” rather than stepping towards a yet to be defined “unknown.”  They may share a common goal and objective with those they lead but often find their successes are but mediocrity as they seek to avoid failure (rather than seeking to grasp success.)

Groups that move ahead as a singular unit due to the intentional actions of a leader who identifies goals, sounds the charge, then pulls the troops forward as they follow his or her lead find great success.  When objectives are clearly defined and communicated - with responsibility and accountability assigned to individuals willing to embrace failure’s fall–out while liberally sharing the praise from success, no objective is impossible – no mountain too high to climb nor valley from which to rise.  A group can model and assimilate the successful behavior of a leader much more easily than it can assume success from imposed directives coming up from the rear.

We must “lead, follow or get out of the way” as we move through life.  Following rarely makes waves and does not produce new or innovative things but can accomplishes those basic things that need to be done in society that provide security, consistency and (often) rewards for those setting the goals and leading.  Getting out of the way simply removes a barrier to success – it rarely allows one to enjoy individual rewards or accomplishments as stepping aside simply avoids or delays our confrontation of obstacles placed in front of us that keep us from those things we wish to achieve.  Leading allows us to determine our own path – to find our own way (be it good or bad, positive or negative) as we seek to accomplish great things.

It takes a village to raise a child.  Perhaps we would all be better leaders (and ultimately lead better lives) if we realized it takes more than a village – it takes the cumulative efforts of all those around us being focused into a singular point of energy – to achieve greatness.    Greatness comes to those willing to lead – success often comes to those willing to learn as they follow.  

Monday, March 11, 2013


The sequence of words within the lyrics of a ‘60’s era song (Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds) are rearranged from their original order but taken almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 – traditionally ascribed to King Solomon. Far too often we see life as a series of dead ends, lost opportunities and hidden darkness rather than emerging light shed upon unlimited potential.  The song, often used to promote peace while denouncing war during the Vietnam era, tells us there is… 
  • A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted
  • A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up
  • A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance
  • A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away
  • A time to rend, and a time to sow; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak
  • A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together
  • A time to embrace, and time to refrain from embracing
  • A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace, and, above all
  • To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens
I recognize that I think differently than most so should not be surprised that, among other thoughts and emotions, these words came crashing down upon me recently as I wandered through a large retail store about to close. The nearly empty racks – their substance stripped from them by customers eager to find a bargain – stand as barren as the carcass of a living creature pounced upon by scavengers seeking sustenance. The organization – once a provider of jobs for many – is but a final resting place for the few left behind to shutter its doors. The sight of an enterprise shutting saddens me because it brings to an end what were once fresh starts and new beginnings – darkening the bright promise of a dream as it mirrors the finality changing seasons bring as the time progresses.

In our personal relationships or the business interactions in which we participate, we need not dwell upon the loss each season’s passing brings for within each end we are offered hope of a new beginning. We can hold on to what will no longer be OR reach out to identify new dreams that will provide us with an opportunity to succeed anew. We can stay silent in our suffering as we mourn the past or speak out in anticipation of those things that have yet to be realized. We can cast away those things holding us back or gather up new opportunities upon which we can establish a new foundation. Our perspective determines how we embrace opportunities in life – how we “Turn, Turn, Turn” when given the chance to begin anew – and what will become of our dreams and aspirations as we move forward towards each new beginning.

The closing of a business can be much like the end of a relationship. No matter how much we may seek comfort in “what was” we cannot hide from the fact that changing seasons bring new tomorrows – an unknown that can result in either crippling anxiety or exhilarating opportunity. Our world is filled with choices that bring us new beginnings – that allow us to either “keep or to cast away” as we “plant or reap.” It is up to us to make the most of our opportunities – to continue turning from one to the next – if we are to thrive in the life we have been given.

Make the most of your life as you “Turn, Turn, Turn” from the close of each seemingly final chapter towards the opportunities you will find if you but open your eyes to the potential within each new horizon!

Monday, March 4, 2013


Far too often we become disillusioned with what we have – seeking other rewards or greener pastures – without first identifying OUR OWN role in the disappointment we feel. People confronted with occupational crisis or personal catastrophe rarely ask themselves what they did (or did not do) to contribute to their situation. We tend to walk away from problems by blaming others rather than facing the reality that our own actions or decisions may be (or have caused) a major share of the problem. We turn our backs on relationships that have cooled rather than trying to feed the fire only to find that the smoldering embers we thought had died can often provide a much hotter flame when fanned than the roaring fire built and fed with kindling. We walk away from jobs in which we have proven ourselves to seek the opportunities provided by an unknown employer – often running from what we are leaving behind rather than anxiously seeking what we are about to find.

Some people seek something for nothing – asking not what they can do to contribute to the well-being of others but rather what others can do to elevate their own well-being. They expect others to provide for them – be it income, a job, an opportunity, comfort, warmth, security or a plethora of other things. They seek all that others have without working to possess it. They want all that others enjoy without saving or investing the sweat equity needed to earn it. They want all things possible handed to them without putting forth the effort needed to initiate change. Rather than lifting themselves up they seek to bring others down – to take what they feel they deserve from the efforts of others rather than contributing to what they receive through their own initiative. They seek change and acceptance from others when they have failed rather than trying to lift themselves up after acknowledging and owning their shortcoming. These people are part of the problem with this world rather than part of the solution – part of the illness we fight rather than part of the cure.

Some people seek to build upon “what is” as they pursue what is not yet theirs – often seeking to realize things or situations not yet fully imagined. They see life as opportunity rather than entitlement. They may fall two steps back with every step they take BUT never stop moving as they seek to accomplish their clearly established goals. These people accept responsibility for their actions should they contribute to failure, either learning from the mistake so that it will not be repeated or correcting the problem by addressing their individual shortcomings. They see a relationship as a living, breathing organism – something that needs to be nurtured through constant attention and feeding rather than allowed to drift aimlessly on its own without constant caring and sharing. They see our land of freedom and opportunity as a place where extreme individual efforts results in unprecedented reward – where nothing is outside the reach of those willing to work hard to bring possibilities to fruition. These people are part of the solution in life – part of what “could be” rather than rooted in “what is.” They seek (and eventually achieve) what is possible rather than being content to live out the probability that life holds for those willing to wait for what may eventually come.

In order to MAKE a difference in life, you must be willing to BE different. You cannot remain “one of the crowd” doing things the same way they have always been done if you expect change. If you feel the world owes you something you do not currently receive you should look to see what effort you have invested to deserve the reward you seek. If you think others are receiving the rewards you deserve you should try to duplicate their investment or replicate their efforts so you, too, might generate a favorable return (rather than expecting it to be provided to you by another).

Your future lies firmly within your own control, but the picture it holds may be vastly different based on where you cast your vision. Those looking over their shoulder tend to live in the past – finding comfort in what was but never realizing what could be. Those seeing their present as all they could ever need or want will rest on their accomplishments without reaching out to grasp the attainable rewards that might not yet be available. Those casting their vision forward – seeing the potential of where they are going as being well worth the risks – accept the challenges an unknown future presents as opportunities rather than threats. To make a difference, dwell upon “what was” only long enough to recognize the value your past contributes to the decisions you must make and the actions you must intentionally take to bring your future to fruition. Reach up as you reach out – lifting others with you as you climb the ladder of success – and the difference you make will be felt through all of time.