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!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Life presents many opportunities, challenges and unique possibilities but what we gain depends almost entirely upon our perspective.

Many individuals seek to order their lives – to prioritize their activities in order to accomplish their self-imposed assignments one at a time, completing one before moving on to the next, until all the tasks on their list have been finished.  “Multi-tasking” is a process foreign to them – “focus” is the operative condition in which they live.  You can probably identify them in the workplace by their spotless desks, their appropriately labeled files, their orderly “in-basket” and their “out-basket” that is emptied on a daily basis.  At one time, they may have advocated the use of “Day Timers.”  They have now advanced to the “notes” section within their calendar (which is probably linked to every electronic device they “sync” with their office system).  They will probably list their activities each morning then track their progress each night – re-prioritizing their expectations as they head into a day and marking off their accomplishments as the day ends.  Some might say these focused (structured and ordered) individuals go through life wearing blinders – keeping their eyes focused upon the task immediately in front of them so they are not distracted as they accomplish each task before beginning another.  Perhaps these individuals simply see life through a tunnel – a contained and defined passage in which they can operate moving ahead or behind but never taking a wrong turn or ending up somewhere they did not intend to travel.

 Some live their lives as if they used a funnel to make every decision.  They feed all facts, factors, possibilities and choices in their lives into the top of the funnel – the most significant flowing to the bottom while all others trickle more slowly behind.  “Funnel-thinkers” ask many questions before beginning a task – often defining their choices and narrowing their direction by eliminating the “larger things” that flow more slowly so they can accomplish the “smaller things” first.  As with tunnel-thinkers, their actions and decisions are often focused as they accomplish one thing at a time BUT they often start with more opportunities (rather than simply following one to its conclusion) and may allow an activity to spin around in the funnel if an alternative task moves ahead of it on the way to the bottom.  These individuals acknowledge a variety of activities that must be accomplished then spin them through their “funnel-vision processes” so that tasks can be assigned to others (based on priority) and tracked to ensure the timely completion of all (rather than each singular activity being done before moving on).

A rare few choose to look through the wrong end of the funnel – to see only the exit of a tunnel rather than its entrance.  They expand their possibilities as they move forward in life, taking an initial limitation and blowing it into a world of opportunity by the time it leaves the large end of a funnel.  They see a tunnel as a launch pad (running through its walls in search of an exit) rather than a containment vessel – a place from which they constantly emerge rather than ever simply enter.  Their workplaces are identifiable by the stacks of paper on their desks and the piles of projects that are in some stage of accomplishment.  They do not “defer or delay,” they simply “set-aside” if they need a change throughout the day, always moving forward towards accomplishment but possibly focused more on progress and process than immediate accomplishment.  These individuals would die within a tunnel and drown within a funnel – they need a pool of many opportunities in which to swim and a field of many dreams in which they can wander.  Using the wrong end of their funnel as a telescope, they can often see the “big picture” which helps to guide their decisions and order their activities.  Lists, to these individuals, are a measure of what will be accomplished rather than a history of what has been done or a timetable in which it must be finished.

The world needs all types of people – those comfortable within their tunnels, others seeking satisfaction as they accomplish things in an orderly fashion as they progress through a funnel, and some that see the big picture while looking through the bottom of a funnel or peering out the exit of a tunnel.  Recognizing who YOU are is only half the battle.  Understanding that everyone does not think and act like you while learning to accept the strengths of others who think, act and accomplish things differently allows us to thrive within a world that provides (and demands) a plethora of individual differences.

Friday, April 11, 2014


Some would suggest that one must be an extrovert to be a good manager – that one must be heard (clearly and frequently) to be followed.  We often think that highly effective managers must be able to speak flawlessly (and persuasively) to crowds or mingle effortlessly at events with public officials and other executives.  Extroverts having KNOWLEDGE, EXPERIENCE AND ABILITY are able to mobilize individuals to follow them when they step into the spotlight but introverts often become excellent (and highly respected) leaders if they can overcome the tendency to hide (or downplay) their strengths.

During my 25 years of promoting operational excellence and business sustainability through the efforts of The Employers’ Association, I have met a number of successful leaders who are successful, universally admired and respected.  Many of the better leaders have been more “introverted” than “extroverted” in their actions, communications and ways they influence those around them.  Though extroverts can often motivate individuals with ease and inspire them to do things they might not have otherwise considered, some extremely introverted individuals have become excellent leaders when they exhibit basic characteristics not typically associated with extroverts.  These tendencies would include:

  • Introverts are often deliberate and measured in their responses to situations.  This does not mean they are slow (many process things quickly) but rather that they have considered the “pros and cons” of most decisions and formulated several alternative courses of action should their initial direction prove untenable.  They are not prone to bursts of temper or extreme reactions as they are more thoughtful in how they sift through and process information – rarely acting until they know (or have considered) what might happen should they act.  Introverts respond strategically to most situations rather than emotionally – establishing trust and confidence in those that choose to follow their lead.
  • Introverts are analytical in their thought processes – experts at finding their way through reams of data quickly and reaching the core of the matter.   Subdued in words and actions (allowing more time to be spent “thinking” than “acting”), introverts are surprisingly decisive – any perceived delays in action being caused by an introvert’s need to view issues from all sides rather than their fear of acting to resolve issues.
  • Introverted leaders are good listeners.  Being naturally quiet, they let others do most of the talking BUT listen closely to everything said around them.  Being deliberate and intentional in their actions, introverts act on what they hear after filtering “what will work” from “what will not” so their decisions are likely to be accepted by “the team” rather than rejected as being a “top-down” proclamation.  
  • Introverts are naturally risk averse – a critical management function in avoiding potentially disastrous risk.   While new ideas, products or services must be considered when charting an organization’s future, the ramifications of intentionally changing a product, process or service must be anticipated
    (and alternative directions be developed) should “our worst nightmare” come true.  Being “risk averse” helps to minimize nightmares but to remain “as we are” insures nothing but certain death. While we must change to grow, we must take risk wisely when others depend on the decisions we make (or choose not to make).
  • Introverted leaders often become the voice of reason within any situation or environment.  While an introvert’s voice is not typically loudest, it often becomes the one to which most listen.  Influenced more by rationality than charisma, an introverted leader is “heard” because people know something reasonable is being said in a rational and thoughtful way.

To be successful as an introvert in management, you have to be willing to force yourself out of your comfort zone. (I can speak from experience on this factor.  A Board member once told me I would have to become more involved in the community if I were to lead this organization.  Having served on more than twenty Boards and/or committees – typically 12 to 15 at any given time – I thank (or blame) this Director for his wisdom!)  An introverted leader must be willing to make him- or herself get up and speak in front of people, run large and contentious meetings, and wade into interpersonal conflict when their natural inclination might be to go home and read a good book or be “an island” rather than a part of a larger society.

While extroverted individuals are often thought to be the best leaders (perhaps because they proclaim themselves as such), many qualities that make people more “introverted” are exhibited by great leaders. Listening before acting, analyzing before deciding and determining direction on the magnitude of risk (rather than the aversion of it) are characteristics of an introvert – AND of a great leader.  Perhaps at no time in history has it been truer than today that we can become anything that we would like – regardless of our natural tendencies or reactions to things – as long as we take intentional action and “own” our failures (as well as our successes) while we act to decide by deciding to act.

Friday, April 4, 2014


Our world 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.  Is it possible (or even worthwhile) to differentiate “management” from “leadership?” I sometimes 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.  IF that is the case, where have the leaders gone – and how can we bring them back?

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 our inevitable weaknesses.  While this might prove to be a big challenge, several consistent differences between strong leaders and those who wish they could lead would include:

  • 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 tend to “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 when excluded from the decision-making process.  They seek recognition but avoid the ownership of failure yet the absence of their input prevents them from ever claiming the fruits of success.
  • 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 towards the accomplishment of a goal AND informing top management (not necessarily seeking permission) of their progress.
  • 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 the team by learning as much about the organization as possible and leveraging this knowledge to make significant, profitable decisions.

While managers are often appointed, promoted or anointed, leaders assume responsibility through their actions and gain credibility through an honest and unwavering expression of their character.  A manager may assign blame – a leader assumes it.  A manager often deflects criticism – a leader addresses it.  A Manager can lead but tends to focus on how things “must be done” rather than on what “must be accomplished.”  Putting his or her own needs above those of others, a manager often creates a sense of “having to do work” through fear of the consequences rather than creating an environment that encourages others to perform.

Leaders typically demonstrate the ability to influence by example to gain the support of others that choose to follow.  They pull others up while rising to the top rather than climbing on top of them as if they were rungs on a ladder.  Leaders understand their “audience” when speaking or communicating – incorporating the needs and desires of the group into the message delivered and the results expected.  Leaders recognize there is no limit as to how much can be accomplished IF they do not care who receives the credit for the work being done.  Further, 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.  They tend to recognize that people (both in the workplace AND within society) contribute more if they WANT to do something than if they HAVE to do something.

Our region needs confident, competent leaders willing to take risks and to grow from their consequences. We need fair and honest individuals 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 anticipate “what might happen” and prepare for it or react to “what has happened” by blaming others rather than accepting the consequences?  Do your actions inspire others to action 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.  Let your intentional actions reflect positively upon someone else as you fulfill your own destiny.  When individuals receive the tools with which to work (education, experience and/or 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.