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, October 27, 2014


As we approach this year’s general elections – listening to the negative remarks, innuendo and just enough truth to make an exaggeration believable – it might be time to consider what makes a leader great.  It IS NOT bringing others down to make someone else appear better – it is being saying what one plans to do then doing whatever it takes to accomplish what was promised.  It IS NOT blaming others for a situation or unfortunate event – it is taking responsibility for your own involvement with a problem then moving forward to resolve it.  It IS NOT doing what is popular – it is doing what is right.  Sadly, more deflection and avoidance tends to happen during this time of year – more scary negative images painted than positive solutions developed.
A great leader should be able to shine as a beacon of truth through the storms of discontent to bring others to safety.  He or she should be able to stand upon his or her own accomplishments without needing to highlight them for they should serve as self-evident truths.  When a great leader speaks, others listen – not because they “have to” but because they “choose to.”  Great leaders make a difference because of what they do (consistently and without hesitation) rather than what they say (publicly OR privately).
While many think their one vote will not make a difference, only one fact can be absolutely guaranteed – that a mute voice will never be heard above the din of an emotional crowd.  A “silent protest” allows others to speak for you, minimizing your ability to determine your own destiny.  For those who take this time of year seriously – who see it as a chance to initiate change where necessary and “stay the course” when warranted – several thoughts to help cast your ballot most effectively (by choosing an exceptional leader to help chart the course) would include:

  • Great leaders are often deliberate and measured in their response to situations. They are not
    slow nor overly focused in their thinking processes - they typically consider the “pros and cons” of most decisions and formulate several alternative courses of action should their initial direction prove untenable.
  • Great leaders are not prone to bursts of temper or extreme reactions. They are thoughtful in how they sift through and process information, rarely acting until they have considered thoroughly what might happen when they act – and what might have to be “done” to “undo” anything that goes wrong. 
  • Great leaders think analytically. Their “comfort in their own skin” helps them to become expert at finding their way through reams of data quickly and reaching the core of the matter. 
  • Great leaders are decisive (not derisive). Subdued in words and actions, a great leader spends as much time “thinking” as they do “acting.” Perceived delays in action usually result from the need to view issues from all sides rather than a fear of failure or “losing face.”
  • Great leaders are good listeners. They let others do most of the talking (soliciting and eliciting ideas) then meld diverse suggestions into workable solutions. Great leaders act on what they hear after filtering “what will work” from “what will not” so their direction is more likely to be accepted by “the team” than rejected as being a “top-down” or “mandated” decision.  
  • Good leaders are risk averse – great leaders willingly take calculated risks if they advance the cause and accomplish the mission.  When we do things as they have always been done we cannot expect to produce results that are different from what they have always been. Great leaders take risk wisely when others depend on the decisions they make while trying to grow – for to remain “as they are” will prevent them from becoming “all they could be.”
  • Great leaders often become the voice of reason within any situation or environment.  While a great leader’s voice may not be the loudest or most convincing, it often becomes most clearly heard and persuasive as it reaches out above the noise of a crowd. Influenced more by rationality than charisma – by self-confidence than the need for external validation – a great leader is “heard” because
    people know something reasonable is being said in a rational and thoughtful way.

Do not let this year’s election results become more of a “trick” than a “treat.”  While we “fall back” this time of year to implement daylight savings time, do not allow your political leadership to become a “fall back” candidate elected through default, apathy or emotion rather than careful consideration.  Consider (thoughtfully and carefully) the kind of leader you prefer to follow in your daily life – then do everything within your power to put that kind of individual into office when you are given the privilege

Monday, October 20, 2014


Fall seems to be passing quickly, burying the memories of summer under a blanket of colorful leaves that have become but a wet and slippery slope towards the coming winter.  The lake has taken on the cold hues of winter – covered with black migratory birds quietly seeking food and rest during their long journey south. Gone are the joyful sounds of children playing upon the beach and the throaty rumble of “go fast boats” as they glide across the surface of the early morning or late evening lake.  The mornings arrive later than before – and the night earlier – obscuring the beauty of the lake beneath a shroud of darkness.  The eerie sound of cool breezes moving the naked branches of trees having lost their leaves and of whitecaps crashing upon the shore replace the desperate cry of gulls swarming for food.  This time of year is hard for a “lake lover” for the cooling water serves as a reminder that a time of frozen life and suspended dreams is just around the corner.

Looking out the window this past weekend reinforced the reality that summer is behind us – a hard frost left
the ground blanketed beneath a delicate white sheet – far too thin to be snow but a harsh reminder of the transformation about to begin.  Plants that once thrived begin to wilt and trees that hid beneath an emerald green coat appear thoroughly dead rather than simply dormant.  Fall signals a time of change within our lives (for winter enthusiasts perhaps a happier tone than for me) but transition is in the winds and transformation will not be delayed.

Along with the weather, autumn signals another opportunity for individual change.  One of the greatest freedoms our country offers is the unrestricted right to express our opinion within the voting booth – an opportunity that presents itself on November 4 this year.  It seems that every time we turn around there is an election, whether for local, school, state or federal issues, giving us the opportunity to express ourselves often in this country.  Many feel their single voice does not make a difference so they chose to silence it by not voting – but when we do not speak, how can we claim victory (or complain when what we want is not implemented)?  Since our nation was founded on individual rights, freedoms AND responsibilities, perhaps we should make a concerted effort to be responsible this year by voting for individuals we deem qualified to lead our state and country rather than simply going dormant like the plants and trees of summer.

The opportunity we have to vote allows us to endorse the direction that our country (or state) is moving OR seek to change it.  This November offers us the opportunity to participate in a rare “mid-term election” that might truly make a difference in our daily lives.  Primaries throughout the country indicate that “the people” want change they thought they were getting in the last general election.  Whether an incumbent speaks for the people or not seems not to matter this year – it is a year of transition in which being in the right place at the wrong time may result in a “clean sweep” of those in office.  Advertising has become more negative than positive as candidates from both parties provide information that “has been approved” by the person seeking your confidence.  Truth seems created (rather than reported) during campaigns – with responsible advertising a hope rather than an expectation.

In order to participate in this opportunity to create intentional change, study to reveal reality rather than simply reacting to an emotional appeal.  Do not act on the suggestion or recommendation of another – be it a friend, a union, a church or a newspaper article.   Do not take your responsibility lightly – the power of individual opinion can still establish the course of a nation when concerned and educated people base their actions upon solid information gathered through individual research, voting with their heads rather than their hearts!

Whether you consider yourself Democrat, Republican, or Independent – Liberal or Conservative – we are
provided the right to express our personal opinions within the voting booth.  Far too many of us, however, choose not to exercise our right to voice an opinion.  Choosing not to vote is not a “silent protest” – it is a blatant disregard for the freedom we have been given to express our views within a system that, in many parts of the world, all too often closes out the opinions of private citizens.  When given the opportunity to speak this November, shout with your vote.  Do not remain a passive spectator to the action that is unfolding in front of you – be an active participant in the formation and implementation of life-changing agendas.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Society tends to minimize the importance of learning from failure, encouraging positive self-esteem and equality within all individuals, in order for them to be confident in taking the risks required of success.  Unfortunately, life is not always fair – and people should look to receive “equitable consideration” (based on their individual needs) rather than “equal treatment” (as “one size does not fit all”).  What is good for one IS NOT necessarily good for all – we must focus on what will help each individual with whom we interact rather than what is good for the majority.  Rather than making everyone feel good by trying to meet the lowest common denominator in all that is said or done, we could gain far more by focusing on the development of strengths rather than holding back our leaders until the followers catch up.

Schools have elevated “self-esteem” to one of the more important aspects of a student’s education, wanting students to feel better about their self-concept than about what they can accomplish.  An elementary teacher once said it was her job to make everyone an equal contributor to the classes’ success – leaving nobody behind.  While there is immense value in helping those who do not understand, perhaps the system should provide help to those that need it without holding back those that might be able to perform at a higher level.  Having seen some of the work students perform today only reinforces the need for transformation.  Little attention is paid to proper spelling (“spell check” will handle that) and basic math concepts are not emphasized enough in the lower grades (“that is what calculators are for”).  Some high school teachers retest multiple times (allowing students to study their test so the right answers can be found) in an effort to have students pass rather than focusing on their learning.  In sporting events, schools tend to focus on the equality of playing time (regardless of an athlete’s ability), effort and sportsmanship rather than on winning.  In moderation, these are not bad concepts.  In practice, however, our future leaders are being rewarded for simply trying rather than for actually achieving.

Business often tends to reward “the masses” through the application of inconsistent employment policies and practices.  Many employers avoid confrontation by giving performance reviews that establish “average” work as being proficient.  Giving an “across the board” pay increase minimizes friction but rewards mediocrity.  Adjusting an employee’s work schedule to “meet their situation” does not necessarily address their inability to show up on time or work as needed to accomplish the job.  We tend to reward the good that people bring to the organization but ignore their negative characteristics until they become more hurtful to the group than they are helpful – at which time it is often too late to salvage any positive value.  Allowing everyone to participate in each decision-making process is a noble intention – but the tactic could cause unnecessary delay or the adoption of workable solutions that may be popular but not the best possible.

Our fervor to make people “feel good” often removes the motivation for individuals to achieve their full potential.  In order to constructively establish and maintain an individual’s self-esteem – whether in business, education or personal relationships – we should always try to create situations that maximize the chances of another’s success if we wish to reward and build upon results.  Things that often stand in the way of recognizing accomplishment include:

  1. Rewarding efforts, good intentions, hard work and/or the willingness to accept new responsibilities
    rather than the actual work accomplished
  2. Placing unqualified individuals into a positions they want or think they can handle without providing the tools required to accomplish their new expectations – a move often made to reward an individual’s past performance that will potentially breed frustration and failure
  3. Praising an individual for “trying hard,” hoping that such attention will encourage better performance down the road.  In reality, recognizing effort as a result tends to establish progress (rather than results) as the driver of success
  4. Providing equal pay adjustments to all rather than paying for individual performance in an attempt to minimize confrontation with employees.  “Across the board” pay adjustments actually help to retain under-qualified workers (who may not be able to achieve elsewhere) by rewarding mediocrity while demotivating high achievers (who can easily find recognition from someone else)
  5. Treating all people the same in any given situation or expressed expectation.  Each of us have unique and individual skills, abilities, aptitudes, attitudes, strengths and weakness – to maximize contributions we must recognize our differences
  6. Distancing ourselves from all associations with failure rather than acknowledging and recognizing them while growing from the experience.  When we live upon a pedestal – whether intended or inconsequential – we spend so much time and effort maintaining the expectations of others that we have little left to bring to fruition our own realities

Some would say that a good self-concept breeds success.  I would offer that success creates a good self-concept.  We have been told that students (and workers) need to work as equals within teams to accomplish anything.  I would offer that all teams need a leader – a collector of ideas or champion – to accomplish change.  We have been told that rewarding the process will enhance creativity, thereby minimizing the fear of failure.  I would offer that rewarding accomplishment, while constructively addressing sub-standard effort, fosters creativity and encourages risk-taking behavior that can eliminate the fear of failure.  Some might say that failure should be avoided at all cost – that we should catch others before they fall so they can focus on all things positive rather than having to face negative consequences.  I would offer that seeing failure as a new beginning rather than an end result allows us to achieve much (Edison never failed while inventing the light bulb – he simply refined his attempts by recognizing why something did not work and correcting it until he reached a satisfactory conclusion).  Some say that individuals involved in a relationship must contribute equally to its success or it will fail.  I would offer that each individual must contribute equitably – based on their individual strengths and abilities – and the ability (or inability) to communicate expectations, hopes, dreams and desires predicates failure more than equal contribution to results.

Which is more critical – self-esteem or success?  This “chicken or the egg coming first” conundrum has been around since the beginning of time.  While we should acknowledge the work needed to achieve results, we must reward successful outcomes.  Rather than praising each attempt – regardless of its significance – sustainable self-esteem emerges when we reward accomplishment.  All organizations need willing and capable team members, good interpersonal relationships, and an adaptive learning environment BUT they also need leadership.  We should recognize and support effort but NEVER should it be rewarded at the expense of results!