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!

Friday, May 31, 2013


Great leaders tend to display a fierce resolve to do whatever is necessary to create positive and sustainable change without caring who receives credit for the results. Is this not in conflict with what we see as being great qualities in the people we measure by “traditional standards?” We often focus on results when determining greatness rather than the “process” used to accomplish them – seeing the end without looking into the leadership characteristics that were ultimately responsible for the achievement.

Ask most people who they feel are great leaders and Steven Jobs or Jack Welch – outspoken champions of change who accomplished visible things – are often the first mentioned. While these individuals may have been change agents that created cultural transformation regardless of the cost, they are not as effective as a humble leader able to foster “buy in” to process change such as a teacher you once had whom you still remember or a spiritual leader that truly helped transform your life. Max DePree, a great West Michigan leader, wrote that “Leaders don’t inflict pain; they bear pain.” In order to lead effectively, one must consistently demonstrate humility, honesty and integrity so that people want to follow (noting that “following” should never be done blindly – it MUST include independent thought, analysis and consciously directed efforts) rather than being forced to follow and comply.

Sustainable leadership is built on a base of humility – a foundation that finds satisfaction in the happiness of others and seeks rewards without requiring recognition.  Humility is disciplined strength. Humble leaders are quick to give credit and slow to accept praise. While a
leader must be competitive in order to grow an organization, the manager who takes all the credit will find him/herself without a team to enact change. Think about how different a sporting event would be if the coaches took all the credit for their team’s success. What if a production manager took all the credit for his or her team’s productivity or a husband or wife took full credit for the strength of their relationship (OR assigned complete blame should it struggle)?

Honesty is living, speaking and acting with a truthful sincerity that is free from deceit or fraud. Communicating honestly means to speak plainly and pointedly – stating all facts and assumptions considered before a decision was made – so that people know what you are saying AND (perhaps more importantly) why you are saying it. Respect cannot be purchased from another NOR imposed as an expectation, it must be earned (often by actions as simple as stating one’s position so it can be clearly understood and acted upon). While we have the right to freely and openly express our beliefs (short of harming another), we ARE NOT given the right to be taken seriously in all that we say – unless we have earned it by consistently demonstrating a high level of integrity through our actions. Far too often we take ourselves more seriously than we should, assigning too much importance on what we do rather than paying attention to why (and how) we are doing it.

Integrity is the value one establishes when he or she adheres to moral and ethical principles as guiding factors in the decisions they make – when moral character and honesty is expressed within all their personal and business interactions. People respect individuals perceived as “having integrity,” trusting what they say and willingly following where they lead because they know “where they are coming from” in everything that is said or done. Nobody is perfect – we are all human, and humans make mistakes. The way we deal with those mistakes, however, will either insure our ascension within an organization or guarantee our fall. While leaders must provide a clear sense of direction, they must be honest in accepting the blame when efforts fail. An individual able to do so will have gained immense credibility within his or her organization – credibility that will translate exponentially into positive results. Rather than striving for acceptance and popularity, great leaders seek understanding of their thought processes and respect for their consistency.

While charismatic leaders may produce “quick fix” solutions with lower risks (cutting costs and making splashy, quick change usually saves money n the short term), sustained success is delivered through leaders providing stability, long-term growth, and coordinated group effort. Perhaps more of us should learn how to balance ego with humility – to put corporate and employee growth before our own – so that we might reap the rewards of organizational success.  Humility, honesty and integrity are leadership characteristics we should all strive to achieve. We should never say one thing and do another in ANY relationship. While compromise may be necessary to achieve a consensus decision, NEVER compromise the honesty, integrity or values that make you the unique person that you are.

When we care for others more than ourselves, we find our giving returned in multiples far greater than what we originally gave. When we are open and honest – expecting the same from those we work or deal with – we find our expectations fulfilled. When leading as we would like to be led we find ourselves carried upon the willing shoulders of those we are responsible for RATHER THAN having to push them places they would never seek on their own. What makes a leader powerful IS NOT what they do but rather HOW things were done, what results are sustainable and which values remain after the individual is no longer in a position to directly influence decisions or direction.

Friday, May 24, 2013


One cannot do ONLY what is expected (regardless of how well that minimal assignment is performed) if one wishes to gain as much from a relationship (business, personal or professional) as one contributes. Looking back (finding comfort in what once was rather than seeking it in what has not yet materialized), remaining content within the present (rather than using the present as a springboard to the future), and doing only what works (as opposed to seeking what might work better) are all signs of relationship stagnation. In order to assure that life-changing relationships are being developed and maintained, we should strive to:

• Clarify the difference between efficient and effective communication. 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 – for if it were not so, why would they be necessary? Effective relationships begin with a foundation of sharing – one of giving more than you would ever expect to take in order to receive more than you could ever dream possible.

• Avoid the misguided concept of being irreplaceable. No individual is irreplaceable BUT it should be our aspiration to become important. If an individual feels that nobody could EVER do what he or she does, that person has probably limited what he or she will ever be able to accomplish. Individuals who believe they are “critical” to another person OR an organization because of their limited and specialized role simply reinforce stagnation and the acceptance of the status quo.

• Quit believing you know all the answers. People who know to ask the right questions are much more valuable (and desirable) than those who try to give all the right answers. One must always be open to new ideas, techniques, and ways of doing things. We can truly contribute to a meaningful relationship ONLY after identifying the limitations of current processes, practices, systems and procedures by asking questions that identify and isolate deficiencies – then by taking intentional action in a manner that defines a new direction and establishes a better destination.

• ALWAYS give credit to others. Individuals who recognize and acknowledge the ideas and actions of others – rather than taking credit for thoughts that may not be their own – tend to rise more rapidly to the top and find more satisfaction in close relationships. Those taking credit for another’s ideas better like themselves a lot because they may find their once supportive friends will not be around to prop them up in the future. When credit is freely given (with accountability being assigned and accepted should mistakes occur), people learn from their mistakes (rather than being flogged for them). Ultimately, the individual initiating the thoughts and the person allowing their development will jointly own the benefits of another’s ideas allowed to grow and prosper.

A continuous source of water – of ideas – must be available if we wish a pond to become a lake – and an even greater source must exist if we seek to expand a lake into an ocean. For one to realize “what could be” rather than simply bringing to fruition “what is,” a variety of ideas and abilities must be channeled into a single solution rather than being diverted into unrelated tributaries that flow uncontrolled away from the goal. It is only by giving without expectation that we will ever receive without limitation.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


A successful business must establish an organizational mission and focus its resources towards the mission’s fulfillment. It must remain true to its mission regardless of the unrelated opportunities that might present themselves or the potentially negative consequences that might emerge while following the planned path. Successful organizations are usually “birthed” to fulfill a specific need that is not being adequately met by anyone else. They are “fed and sustained” by the organization’s ability to continue to meet the need – to improve on quality and functionality while minimizing cost. If an organization becomes complacent by neglecting to make innovate improvements, continually improve on product quality or fail to maintain competitive price points, competitors may (if the business is significant and profitable) take over by paying better attention to those details. Should an organization stray from its mission rather than focusing on its core competencies – chasing unrelated “business rabbits” down unplanned “rabbit holes” (regardless of the potential income opportunities) – growth will be deflected or delayed. Not surprisingly, business is a microcosm of life – which cannot be lived to its fullest without a mission (purpose) or goals (aspirations) clearly identified and established.

Some people claim they will never fail if they set the bar low in life. They feel that happiness can be found by avoiding disappointment – questioning why one would ever establish lofty goals that present the risk of failure (regardless of the potential reward should the goal be attained). These individuals drift through life without ever realizing all they could be because they are content with being only enough to get by. They look to grasp onto things easily attained rather than looking towards the heavens and reaching out to touch the stars. They take what is available rather than seeking that which could be but has not yet materialized. They choose to travel the highways in life – the roads that lead to a defined destination in the most expeditious and direct route possible – rather than seeking new opportunities or finding undiscovered treasures along the roads less travelled.

Successful individuals plan their futures based on both their current abilities AND their attainable skills and capabilities. They establish goals not easily accomplished as they move from their “present reality” to a state of “future possibility.” Rather than accepting “what is” as being “all that will ever be,” they seek opportunities not yet identified as their next resting place while they travel towards an ever-changing target upon a long and winding road. They find success in making a difference – a difference not only in their own life but also in the lives of those they touch along the way. While setting the bar high may create temporary delays as they travel life’s path, they learn from their failures so they will be avoided in the future – paving the road to success with the knowledge gained from overcoming bumps in the road. Successful individuals continually fill their lives with new beginnings rather than being content to live lives filled with predictable and identifiable “ends.”

Successful business needs to identify a purpose and clearly communicate its commitment to invest all available resources into the accomplishment of its mission. A business cannot attain its full measure of success without establishing expectations and measuring progress towards the accomplishment of “baby steps” along the way. Likewise, one cannot realize their full potential without establishing a reason to exist that encompasses more than living one day at a time – that defines a purpose, goals, expectations, outcomes and ways to measure progress. Rather than defining “success” ONLY as being the ultimate accomplishment of a task, thought or process, successful individuals take stock of their actions as the move TOWARDS (and beyond) their goals .

Monday, May 6, 2013


Everyone should “make a difference” in life – but what “making a difference” means is not the same to everyone. Some would think that making a difference means to change the world while others might think getting through the day by helping to provide the needs those depending upon them might have is the greatest difference they might make. Some might think they can make a difference by fulfilling their dreams – by bringing to fruition their boldest imaginings – while others might wish only to dream without being awakened by the nightmare of things outside their control. Some might wish for fame, fortune or other recognition – to be “that person” the world places upon the pedestal of success. Others might hope to survive the darkness that shrouds their day – to see a tomorrow brighter than today.

Making a difference is the foundation upon which we build self-confidence and values – the base from which we establish who we are and what we wish to become. Building upon a firm and solid foundation can help us make a lasting difference – allow us to carry a heavy load without losing stability or drifting aimlessly without purpose. Far too many people, however, prefer to build upon shifting sands and untested principles – seeking monumental results with minimal effort.

Some people dream of success – of being something or somewhere else – preferring to remain in the comfort of their sleep without investing the sweat equity or emotional capital needed to bring transformation. Others wake from their dreams and begin working to bring them to fruition – to put into action the thoughts that came to them while sleeping by taking intentional action to move them forward. We can lead, follow or get out of the way in life – but standing (without moving) often results in our being run down by seemingly undeterred forces then abandoned along side the road, left in the wake of those truly making a difference. Taking action – ANY action – provides us the opportunity to make a difference. When trying to make a difference, the only “wrong” decision is one not made – the only “inadequate” action is one not taken.

We can all make a difference in life – but not all of us will make the same difference. Some are working on becoming all they might become – having very little energy (or inclination) to make a difference in the life of another. They take one day at a time – living a life that seemingly offers more redundancy than reward, more sense of survival than source of stimulation. Others seem always to give back far more than they could ever receive – finding more joy in the journey than delight in the destination.

Making a difference is affecting the lives of those around you SO THAT your life might change. It is pulling others up with you rather than crawling over their backs as you reach for the top. It is adding value to the lives of others, knowing that doing so will make a difference in their own life. It is bringing a smile to the face of another – of sharing another’s troubles so that you can join them in their joy.

To make a difference you must BE different. When you begin to THINK differently, you will find yourself floating to the top as those around you rise to the surface rather than trying to swim against the current while ascending on your own. You will embrace change rather than fearing failure – seeking the possible rather than accepting the probable. Make a difference in others – the return on your investment will make a difference in you!