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.