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, June 20, 2017

MOVING FROM “WHAT IS” TO “WHAT COULD BE” IN LIFE

Far too often we decide “what is possible” by default – by establishing what could not possibly be done by focusing upon what has (or has not) been done in the past.  We set our goals at (or just below) what we are pretty sure can be done to ensure success.  Rather than seeking to enter untested waters with unproven techniques to accomplish unconsidered objectives we tend to “be safe” in life by doing what we are certain can be done while avoiding those things that might expose us to unacceptable risk (seeing the potential rewards as insignificant when compared to the possible losses).  We often close our eyes to what could be, preferring to focus upon those things that have already been.  We seem to wear blinders as we focus on and pursue a destination rather than considering the journey – often worrying more about celebrating finality than experiencing the path we choose which leads to new beginnings along the way.

There are those, however, who find themselves reaching for the sky without thinking about falling to the ground.  They focus upon the sun without fearing the dark shadows cast behind them by their current realities.  These individuals often chase their wildest imaginings without regard to the practical limitations life tends to place upon them.  They rarely base what they feel can be accomplished on what has been previously done, choosing to follow paths that take them to places not yet discovered and roads not yet paved through the efforts of others in an attempt to accomplish things that were never considered possible.  When we lead from a position of “anything is possible” rather than one of “some things are too difficult to attempt” we must allow ourselves to learn much from our failures as we prepare to gain much from the vast opportunities that will present themselves to those refusing to be contained by the walls of mediocrity.

Ineffective leaders often worry so much about what they do not have or have not been given the authority to accomplish that they lose sight of their abilities and what they can do without permission.  Rather than wallowing in hardship and adversity, successful individuals often use trouble as a springboard to opportunity.  By refusing to accept the constraints of reality, a precious few individuals fulfill dreams that would never have surfaced had life treated them more tenderly – accomplish objectives that would never have been considered had they accepted what they were given in life as a fact rather than a starting point.  Looking forward rather than back, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as an opening on the other side rather than a train bearing down upon them – seeing “the possible” in a situation rather than focusing on its inherent realities – are signs of an optimist (whom is destined for greatness).

Understanding our abilities, capabilities and realistic potential can help to define success OR identify failure (which most may accept as an end but a select few will see as an opportunity for a fresh start).  Intentionally acting, even if the way is not clear or the destination not yet been identified, allows us to move forward with confidence towards the accomplishment of our dreams.  Changing directions or positions if situations or facts change is seen by many as being weak and un-convicted, preferring to hold firm regardless of what changes might occur (often to show stability and steadfastness to those around them).  Others would prefer to slowly fade away by clinging on to “what is” rather than seeking “what could be” in their efforts to hold on to what they have rather than reaching out for what has not yet become apparent.  Those seeking (and thriving upon) change find strength in their ability to adapt – willingly altering their direction (and the efforts of those working around them).  Should the facts change or an unexpected disruption occur, successful individuals make lemonade from the lemons they are presented – find ways to build upon the unanticipated to reach what has not yet been imagined.

Strong leaders rarely accept a single, concrete solution to resolve a problem or positively influence a situation.  Rather than limiting themselves to what may have worked in the past they seek several workable options, implementing the one that not only provides the best answer but also garners the most support.  Though it is human nature to take the easy road, great leaders seek the road less travelled – recognizing that uncharted pathways tend to lead to unimaginable rewards.  Their choices may not result in the instant gratification that so many crave in today’s society as tough decisions favor long-term solutions – nor will they minimize the hardship that life presents to all of us – but they may help transform that which was considered as being a distant possibility into something that becomes a definite probability (a transition that ALWAYS precedes major change).

Why is it that those dreaming of tomorrow as they run swiftly from the yesterday’s constraints seem to laugh more than those simply living one day at a time?  Why do they seem to move forward more often than they fall back?  Why do they always seem to reach for the possible rather than finding comfort in what has already been accomplished?  People who dwell on past accomplishments and thrive on outside recognition typically live within the limitations imposed upon them by their environment, their perceived position in life and the “permissions” they have been given by others to act.  Those seeking what has not yet been realized live within a world of temporary pauses on the way to new beginnings – of slowing down and speeding up without ever truly stopping – relentlessly moving forward to establish previously unconsidered levels of excellence and accomplishment.  Individuals perfecting the actions they have always performed find they have much time on their hands to watch the world go by.  Those seeking new realities every day have little time to dwell upon their past as so much has yet to be accomplished – so many new places they can enter having yet to be defined.

Had the creators and innovators of our past been content with their surroundings, seeking inspiration from what others had accomplished rather than reaching out to explore an unknown future, where would our world be today?  Rather than being inhabitants of a practical world – doing only what is assigned, anticipated or expected – strive to be a sojourner within a world full of possibilities.  Seek to expand your horizons each day you are given by seeking new perspectives from your experiences rather than simply experiencing the reality in which you live.  Only when we attempt what has not been accomplished will we accomplish what has not yet been imagined – will we achieve “the possible” rather than experience “the probable” in life.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

CELEBRATE SUCCESS TO RELEASE YOUR FULL POTENTIAL


One of the key principles in any relationship – be it professional or personal – is that much can be accomplished IF you do not care who receives the credit.  Though it is human nature to want recognition for successfully implementing an idea, an individual becomes a leader (OR truly contributes selflessly to a relationship) when he or she realizes that being responsible for advancing something – for seeing an anticipated result come to fruition – is often more important than receiving credit for its accomplishment.
 
Any relationship – be it business or personal – will be strengthened by actively engaging in cooperative (two-way) reasoning – through openly discussing all possibilities before intentionally acting to travel upon the “best” road (not necessarily the “only” road or what you had considered the “right” road prior to your conversations).  Originating alternative ideas or concepts is critical to initiate change BUT the implementation of change can often be more effective if the “doers” are empowered to act so that the “dreamers” can more freely innovate.  Maturity within a relationship (or success in a managerial position) comes when the originators of ideas internalize the reality that while “doers” tend to receive credit for their performance in bringing ideas to fruition they would never have acted had not a new idea or direction been brought to the surface by a “dreamer.”  As Leaders (AND Dreamers) we far too often try to push everyone in the direction we want to go (you should realize that it is far easier to pull a string than it is to push it – so why do we try to push rather than pull people?) or walk over those that appear to be in our way (stepping on someone feels SO much more satisfying than taking the effort to circumvent the problem!) rather than leading them through our actions and lifting them up upon our shoulders (rather than climbing upon theirs).  Conversely, some misguided Leaders (or participants in a relationship) attempt to “overly involve” those around them in the “germinating” process hoping that a single great idea will grow from a collectively-generated seed (this may be how hybrid plants come into being but rarely can a single solution come from a fragmented collection of thoughts and suggestions).  Sometimes we must determine what is appropriate to share so that “group-think” can occur while recognizing that decisions must be made and/or direction established (often singularly) so that collective action can take place to reach planned objectives (allowing the group to take the credit).
 
We unleash the potential of those around us to create change when we formulate an idea, expand and enhance it through conversation with stakeholders (anyone involved in necessary change or the accomplishment of alternative results), determine the best possible course of action (which will produce the best answer having the most support to minimize detractor disruption) then communicate the course we have chosen to those that will be implementing the change, acknowledging their role and contribution to determining the path we will be taking (rather than telling them what to do and how to bring our thoughts to fruition).  We create dependency upon our oversight – validating and confirming our control over each and every situation and within our relationships – when we tell others what to do and when to do it (rather than by defining goals and/or expectations then monitoring progress towards their accomplishment).  A relationship constructed upon a foundation of dependent reliance on the thoughts and ideas of another cannot be healthy or meaningful.  Growth or success beyond that which one has already achieved cannot occur until a Leader equips those around him or her with the tools (talents, experiences, training and abilities) which will lead to and openly allow independent actions.

Great leaders originate ideas, communicate expectations then move on to consider new alternatives as they monitor the progress of those left to accomplish their initiatives.  They are rarely around when the initiated tasks are completed (they will have moved on to consider a new problem) so the Dreamers will not often receive direct recognition for the results.  They WILL celebrate in the accomplishments of others, however, recognizing that great rewards will ultimately come to those who can selflessly initiate change as they continuously seek new opportunities. 


Those that seek recognition for their ideas and actions often lose sight of their long-term objectives and fail to meet their ultimate goals.  To achieve greatness, seek it within the accomplishments of those with whom you have relationships.  Leverage the capabilities of those you have equipped to act upon their ideas rather than limiting your potential to only those things you can accomplish on your own.  Define yourself in the celebrations you share while leading others through their darkness so they can help light your way as they begin to utilize their gifts, abilities and talents – planted by you but nurtured through their own intentional actions - while discovering all that they can be, learning from their mistakes without fear of reprisal or being reminded of their failures.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

EXPANDED REFLECTIONS FROM “PATHWAYS AND PASSAGES TO LEADERSHIP”


Leaders inspire others to change.  Rather than telling another what must be done (or what has been done wrong) they show individuals a better way.  Rather than dwelling upon an individual’s negative behavior and their shortcomings they acknowledge positive efforts and reward positive results.  A leader paints a picture of “what if” or “what could be” rather than “what is” or “what always will be,” making sure that stakeholders within the process are included in the “painting” as easily recognized key contributors.  We cannot make an individual do what they choose not to do but we CAN provide positive reinforcement and identify potential negative consequences should they choose NOT to act appropriately.

Leaders typically demonstrate the ability to influence by example to gain the support of others that choose to follow them RATHER THAN forcing them to follow a lead they do not believe in or trust.  Successful leaders put more effort into selling than they do telling – into securing “buy-in” and sharing ownership than they do in making excuses or assigning blame – recognizing that people contribute more if they WANT to do something than if they HAVE to do it.  They anticipate “what might be possible” and preparing to advance that objective rather than reacting to “what did happen” and blaming others to avoid accepting the consequences.  Gaining respect and credibility in the eyes of those being led is far better than trying to be a friend of those being managed or protecting them from tasting defeat.

Leaders remain true to their values – transferring the skills and aptitudes they have learned onto others by saying what they believe and doing what they know to be right.  Great leaders tend to display a fierce resolve to do whatever is needed in order to accomplish their stated objectives without really caring who gets the credit for the work AS LONG AS the anticipated results are accomplished.  Saying what you mean (then doing what you say) are the two greatest attributes that a leader can exhibit.

Exceptional leaders (within a work or a personal setting) recognize that their actions speak far more loudly than do their words.  They look for the good in others, loudly praising their positive actions, interactions and attributes while quietly addressing their shortcomings privately and behind the scenes.  Though negative behavior needs to be addressed, they make an effort to acknowledge and verbalize appreciation for things done well along the road to accomplishment.  Great leaders would never ask another to do anything they would be unwilling to do themselves.

Words describe what one wishes to accomplish but actions lead to the results that define success.  An individual blessed with the gift of communication can paint a picture with the words he or she speaks.  An individual blessed with the gift of accomplishment can achieve great things with or without the help of others.  The rare individual possessing both gifts can accomplish things not yet imagined by engaging the abilities of others to raise both the floor (elevating those things once seen as minimally acceptable) and rip off the ceiling (allowing them to grasp for the things that were once beyond their reach).

When all is said and all is done our emphasis MUST be on recognizing accomplishment rather than rewarding effort OR people will continue to try tested and proven ways of doing things rather than attempting the unconsidered to achieve the unimaginable.  While all individuals SHOULD be able to play on a team – to share in the rewards of a group’s efforts and work together to accomplish more than any one individual could have done on their own – every team needs a leader to monitor its activities, measure its efforts and acknowledge its accomplishments or the “wins” will become insignificant events while the “tries” will become praiseworthy.

There is no limit to what can be achieved when one seeks results rather than recognition – when the goal becomes to accomplish our objective rather than making sure that we receive what we believe to be the appropriate credit for our individual (or our team’s) efforts.  While doing things “as they have always been done” will often result in an “acceptable” result, is it not better to strive for excellence (rather than to thrive on mediocrity) and to push the boundaries out towards the unexplored horizon (rather than living comfortably within defined silos and contained fields)?

Before we can move from “what we have” to “what we hope for” we must realize that one journey must begin before another can begin – that before we can wrestle with new opportunities we must free ourselves from the constraints (and restrictions) that hold us back.  We must acknowledge that, before taking a new path to an unknown destination, we must abandon the old and familiar roads that have taken us safely to places in which we have found comfort.  All change begins with the deliberate consideration of an intentional action that, if initiated, will forever alter where we are as it redefines where we are going.

Without a goal – an aspiration to accomplish that which has not yet been achieved and to imagine that which has yet to be considered – and a way to measure progress towards its accomplishment, one will never know how far they have come nor how far they have yet to travel.  The secret to being all that you can be is in setting realistic goals that stretch your reality from what it is to what it has not yet been accomplished.  How can one move forward if they do not know when to begin their journey NOR where to cease their wandering?

In order to MAKE a difference in life we must be willing to BE different.  We cannot remain “one of the crowd” doing things the same way that have always been done if we expect change to occur.  We all choose which path we wish to travel – neither path being totally “right” or completely “wrong.”  We all live with our choices – holding fast to the possibilities (or the probabilities) that our actions dictate or choosing to pursue the unknown.  Whether you are a seeker or a planter – a dreamer or a doer – you will receive back in direct proportion to what you have invested in – limited ONLY by your own acceptance of (or refusal to accept) reality.


Before we seek safe passage, we must first dream – for without dreams we cannot establish goals and targets that have not yet been considered so that we might be able to achieve that which has not yet been discovered.  Before we determine which path we will follow we must immerse ourselves in all things that could be possible rather than seeking only those things of which we can be assured.  Allow each pathway you take provide safe passage to the fulfillment of your dreams – never giving in or giving up no matter what obstacle may block your way.  Seek greatness (rather than settling for adequacy).  Reach for the stars (rather than being content to bump against the ceiling).  Live within your potential (rather than limiting your success to those things that have previously been achieved or engaging only in the things you know how to do).  Success is not measured by how many times you have tried nor even how much you have accomplished but rather by what you learned each time you stumbled – by the number of times you have gotten up after being knocked down – as you positively influence the lives of those around you while persevering to do those things once thought to be beyond your reach.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

CHOOSE TO SEEK THE POSSIBLE IN LIFE


Every individual makes choices in life.  We choose to look at each obstacle or disruption as either an opportunity or a roadblock – something that keeps us from achieving our goals or something that strengthens us as we overcome adversity.  We make intentional decisions to live in the past, to be content with the present or to seek a not yet defined future – but nothing can be achieved without a decision being made and an action being taken (even if the decision or action is to do nothing).  While environment and upbringing may have much to do with how we view things, perspective, ambition and values tend to define what we believe is possible while comfort, ambivalence and acceptance keeps us from reaching for more than has been accomplished.

Much of who we are, what we accomplish and how successful we will be is defined by our perspective in life.  The way we look at things – see the potential rather than the probable, the possible rather than the obvious – helps to establish the kind of life we lead, the relationships we maintain and the future we can expect to realize.  Consider the following:
  • Do you measure what you have gained or what you have lost in life?  Some people look at life as being a series of accomplishments and a list of opportunities that have yet to be realized.  Far too many focus upon what “could have” or “should have” been – wallowing in jealousy, self-pity and the unfairness of life.  When we begin to measure life by counting our losses rather than by celebrating our gains – by relying upon what we know to be reality rather than seeking to establish new realities – we become but a participant in history rather than a part of its creation.
  •  Do you look ahead towards what has yet to be realized or find comfort in what you have accomplished?  Individuals finding comfort in what they have done tend to live in the past.  They find value in the things they do – often establishing their identity in what they are rather than who they are.  Those looking towards what has yet to be revealed – leveraging their knowledge, abilities and experience to solve new problems and reach new plateaus as they fearlessly walk where nobody has yet wandered – will lead by example rather than being led by others.
  •  Is your world one of endless beginnings or the beginning of constant ends?  Some look at accomplishments as the end of a successful journey.  They see effort, hard work and sacrifice as the raw materials from which rewards are created – often finding comfort in their destination without wishing (or needing) to leave the “safe haven” they built.  Others see each “end” as but a beginning to something new.  They pause to catch their breath before starting a new climb – finding contentment in reaching new heights.  These individuals draw lines in the sand so they can cross them as they move forward rather than using them to establish boundaries or limits to keep them safe.  They find joy in the journey – pride in their progress – rather than needing to identify an end to their efforts or building a harbor from which they will never sail.
  • When you see a shadow do you focus on the lack of light or on the light that created the darkness?  Too many people see (and are satisfied with) the symptoms or results of a situation rather than asking “Why?” or seeking the root cause of an issue.  It is good to recognize that something exists – be it an obstacle, an attitude or even a shadow – but it is something else altogether to seek a reason for its existence.  Treating a symptom may provide temporary relief but it will not resolve the reason the symptom exists.  Ignoring a grinding noise in your car (or turning the radio up so you cannot hear it) will not resolve the problem UNTIL you are no longer able to stop because your brakes have failed (though that WILL stop the grinding).  Choosing NOT to talk to someone that bothers you may reduce your interactions with them but will not help establish a healthy, productive environment.

Life is full of alternative perspectives.  Two people seeing or experiencing the same thing will often realize different realities.  The key to life – to determining whether the “glass is half empty or half full” when observing a conflict or choice situation – can be found within each individual’s attitudes, aptitudes and motivation.  More than being an optimist or a pessimist, our intentional actions (and intended reactions) determine the likelihood of our success – of our ability to lead or be led and our acceptance of “what is” or our insistence upon “what could be.”   Become who you CAN be (rather than being content with who you were before you became who you are) if you seek to advance – to make a difference in your life AND the lives of those around you.  Do not hide in the shadows – become the light that creates opportunity out of darkness.  Do not find comfort in your efforts – seek the potential your abilities offer.  Measure all that you have gained (rather than marking and recording all you have lost) and you will find that the glass is not only half full – it can actually be filled to overflowing so that others can benefit from your excess (rather than suffering from your limitations).

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

VALUE THE TIME IT TAKES TO ACHIEVE GREAT THINGS


Why is it that people tend to rush to judgment, hurry up only to wait, and do ANYTHING just to keep moving rather than “stopping to smell the roses?” Though time is seemingly in abundance when we have nothing to do, it passes far too quickly when we would prefer it to stand still.  We always have time to do something over when we could have simply done it right the first time. We seem to worry more about how quickly we can finish the race than we do about the results that our practice produce or the joy found along the way. People far too often worry needlessly about things outside of their control rather than identifying the things over which they have (and are able to exhibit) influence THEN intentionally acting upon them.  Individuals too often fear they do not have the time to slow down so they can appreciate the things around them because of the expectations they have placed upon themselves for unrealistic or unreasonable results. We often find ourselves slaves to the very clock we so desperately seek to master as we keep ourselves busy to the point of exhaustion so that we can complete a journey in as little time as possible only to find we are too tired to enjoy the destination once we arrive.  We live our lives thinking that once we have achieved something we can move on rather than realizing that life is a series of “beginnings and endings” which overlap, run concurrently and exist in perpetuity as we move from one event to the next.  We must learn to value our time as we seek results or we will find that our time slips from us without our consent as we chase concepts rather than realizing dreams.

Many people complain about their lemons rather than celebrating the opportunity to make lemonade. The weather is too hot – or too cold – but rarely do we find it ideal. We are too busy to exercise but complain that we do not like what we have become. We do not find satisfaction in what we have accomplished as we tend to dwell upon only what has not been finished – refusing to acknowledge the progress we have made while moving towards an end goal until it has been reached.  We spend more time wishing we had something rather than being grateful for what we actually possess. We have become a nation of complainers and criticizers as we seem to derive more satisfaction from bringing others down in order to make ourselves look better RATHER THAN elevating ourselves in order to pull others up with us.  We must learn to accept that we ARE NOT equal in our gifts, talents or abilities so we should not expect equality in our results.  We must recognize that time spent wisely will lead to the accomplishment of great things while time wasted will result in doing what has always been done and achieving what has already been mastered.

Perhaps we should take the time to ask WHY someone acted in a way we might feel foolish or ill-advised.  Rather than expediting our condemnation while attempting to elevate ourselves in the eyes and ears of those beholding our ranting we should take time to see if OUR perspective might be the cause of exasperation rather than another’s actions – to look towards ourselves first to identify what we may have done to contribute to the problem rather than blaming others to cover up any role we may have played.  Think of how much our words might matter if we offered advice and counsel rather than critically dismissing another’s action as being worthless, wrong or misguided. Doing something for another or telling them how badly they performed because they may have done something wrong (or differently than you might have) provides a short term “fix” as it changes the immediate results BUT it does not alter individual thought processes or behaviors. Rather, telling someone what to do, how to do it and when to act creates dependency (rather than innovation) and compliance (rather than creativity) while creating an environment that caters to the cautious – to those willing to do what they are told – rather than rewarding those applying their experience to accomplish things not yet considered possible.  Removing the time that others might use to learn can resolve a problem quickly but does nothing to foster problem-solving by those directly involved.  Correcting a “wrong” by stepping in and taking over may expedite a solution but will not prevent the problem from recurring in the future.
  
When people rush to see how much they can do or see they often minimize the enjoyment of what they actually saw or accomplished – always thinking what else could have been done rather than finding satisfaction in what they did. We recently vacationed in the West Indies where people tend to live a different pace and find as much joy in their journey as they do in reaching their destination.  Houses are built from the top down (rather than the bottom up), living quarters being constructed upon “stilts” leaving the lower level open until it is needed for more housing, a business or enclosed storage.  People do not seem to “miss” what they do not have as they find joy in those around them and satisfaction in what they DO have.  Far too often we are unhappy with our lives and our accomplishments as we seek the things others have (only to find they do not satisfy us should we be able to claim another’s results as our own).  We can be far too quick to blame (and too slow to seek responsibility) should we choose to play the “hurry up and wait game,” often too busy assigning “fault” and transferring blame to seek a workable solution and ensure its timely implementation.

Though we cannot alter the seasons or slow life’s progress, we can stop chasing blindly the hands of time as they race relentlessly around the clock. The sands of time will not bury us if we become the master of our own universe by taking the time to appreciate not only where we are going but also how, when and IF we chose to arrive.  To accomplish great things we must recognize and reward progress – both our own and that of those around us – rather than simply focusing upon what did (or did not) happen.  When we value our time – and consider the time spent by others to be just as valuable – we are able to focus our efforts on not only the “ends” but also the “means” as we realize our dreams and make them our realities.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

FORGE YOUR OWN PATH


Have you ever met someone who set a course in life based on how many others are doing the same thing?  Such individuals rarely seek to MAKE a difference – rather they tend to AVOID being “different” as much as possible.  They do not seek alternative solutions (often failing to even attempt identifying problems, investigating their root cause and acting to resolve them IF they even admit to there being something amiss), they tend to take the path of least resistance and “go where others are going” or focus on the “wrongs” of others so their questionable actions seem much more “right.”  Some feel that the ONLY way to travel somewhere is along paved superhighways, seeking the most direct route to a destination rather than finding “joy in the journey” along a scenic back road or unimproved path.  To those of you finding comfort in the familiar – being content to travel upon roads previously discovered while refusing to challenge the status quo – the rest of this article may hold little value.  To those, however, seeking to forge their own path as they investigate new opportunities and discover alternative rewards, these thoughts are written as testimony to your creativity and innovation – to your insatiable spirit of adventure and love for life.

Far too many people diminish their potential by following the crowd (and even, perhaps, being seen as doing what is “right and prudent”) rather than following their own beliefs (intentionally acting upon their thoughts and feelings rather than refusing to acknowledge their existence).  They do what is popular rather than standing strong on their own values, judgments and decisions.  They choose acceptance by the majority rather than the criticism that standing alone might initiate.  “Followers” accept that “things are as they should be” rather that seeking what “could be.”  They feel validated by thinking, “I am no different than anyone else” rather than believing, “I am a unique individual whose potential is limited only by my own actions and behaviors.”

Following the crowd is easy as you do what others accept, go where others are going, act as others expect and find a sense of community by blending in. Travelling familiar roads and doing “politically correct” or “acceptable things” can take the bumps and turns out of one’s journey BUT when we do things as they have always been done we can expect nothing more than has already been accomplished.  Only when we accept that unexpected results will come ONLY when we seek to create a different reality than that chosen by the crowd will we realize that loss can become gain, failure can breed success, and the decision to stop can be both a conclusion and a beginning.  Followers of a crowd tend to accept the group’s vision as a final destination rather than as a foundation upon which an unrealized future could be built.

Too many supervisors seek acceptance from those they lead rather than respect.  Too many parents seek to be friends with their children rather than to be role models.  Too many teachers want to be “liked” by their students rather than viewed as being “tough but fair.”  Inventors and creators DO NOT accept “common knowledge” as being an ultimate end – rather they see what is (and what has been) as but the beginning of what could be or has not yet come to fruition.  Had Fulton listened to “common wisdom” he would never have invented the steam engine.  Could the Wright brothers have launched their dreams had “the crowd” influenced their actions by inhibiting their souls?  Is our nation stronger and more stable because our leaders make decisions based on polls that measure what the majority thinks should be done – often choosing the more acceptable route rather than doing what might negatively affect those not fully contributing but best for the nation?  Might we be in a better place if our leaders simply governed by bringing the promises made to the people that elected them to fruition rather than acting in a “politically correct” manner that would re-elect them? 


What might YOU be able to accomplish – what potential might you be able to realize – if you “marched to your own drummer” rather than listening to the tunes sung by others?  Make the most of your individuality in whatever you may say or do by taking “the plunge” this summer!  Though not as refreshing a jump as entering a cool lake on a hot day, you will find “being all you can be” is much more fulfilling (and rewarding) than being “all that your friends wish you were.”  Forging your own path may require more work than taking the road of least resistance BUT the rewards will more than offset the increased effort as you achieve greatness in both your dreams AND your reality.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR DESTINY...


I recently spoke with an individual ready to pursue additional education so that she could switch fields completely and move as quickly away from her current job situation as possible.  While she enjoyed the WORK she did, she did not respect her boss, was disappointed that an excellent co-worker recently left the organization, and felt the Organization’s Board of Directors had “no clue” as to what was happening within the company NOR did anyone care about its future.  Her choice was to leave what she enjoyed to seek a greener pasture (as she had done before) – flowing freely from one situation to the next without considering any collateral damage that may have been left in her wake.  Far too often we find that the easy way out is not necessarily the best choice BUT choose to follow the path of least resistance rather than working to change what we do not like – prefer to leave a “known” set of problems without considering the entirely different set we will most likely encounter.  When facing major life-changing decisions, looking into the “what can I do to alter this situation” rather than focusing on the “what is wrong and why should I tolerate it” might help identify alternative solutions.

When an individual is brought in from the “outside” to run an organization, the Board (or hiring authority) should make sure that the person’s skill, ability, experience and proven track record are much stronger than any internal candidate may have possessed.  In this case, the individual’s boss (new to the organization) did not (in her opinion) have the proven experience or demonstrated ability to do his job.  While she had not been a candidate for his job – nor did she want to do it - she was so wrapped up in her own frustrations that she never asked him how he felt, what he wanted to do (or needed help doing), or where he saw the organization going.  She had talked herself into running away from the work she liked because of things she did not know (she knew nothing about her new boss’ plans or the Board’s desires for the organization’s future – which may have been different than those expressed by the previous Director).  She was like a river flowing rapidly towards a fall from which there would be no return – building momentum as she moved forward without identifying why she was moving, what she was objecting to or what part of the “blame” for her unhappiness could be directly attributed to herself.  She felt that SOMETHING was wrong, could not really identify what it was BUT recognized she must act (rather than intentionally deciding NOT to act) in an effort to resolve the issue.

After talking to this individual a bit about her expectations and how she saw herself fitting into a new (but less significant) role she was able to move past the turbulent rapids into an area of relative calm.  She began to examine what she liked about the job (AND the organization), what she disliked, what she would be leaving should she move on, and what she would need from a different employer to overcome the issues she was facing (while providing similar opportunities and challenges).  Many of the things she was seeking were deeply imbedded within her current position but she had been so busy looking at “what was not” that she lost sight of “what was.” 

Many of us become disillusioned with our jobs (and our lives) at times.  Unless we step back and look at the “big picture,” however, we may base our actions (and assumptions) on part of the puzzle – trying to treat the symptoms rather than attempting to root out the disease itself.  We can miss out on the opportunity to “win the war” when we become overly consumed with our focus on winning each and every single battle.  The story of three blind men describing an elephant comes to mind when thinking in such a short-sighted fashion.  One feeling a leg may think the elephant to be a tree.  One feeling the tail may describe it as a rope.  One feeling the trunk may imagine a snake.  All might be right but not one of them will be able to identify the nature of the beast by focusing on a single component – as no one individual can possibly see all aspects of a situation without fully investigating and analyzing the results of his or her studies.

There are many ways to move from one situation to another – but often we embark upon the most obvious escape route before seeking alternatives resolutions.  We do not simply draw a line in the sand from which we can begin anew – we excavate a trench that will isolate us from our situation once we have crossed the line (sometimes the trench becomes an obstacle in and of itself as we fall to its bottom and have a difficult time regaining our footing.).  While such tactics WILL move us forward, they often create pain and close the door on any possibility of returning – or of improving our position. 

Perhaps there are “kinder and gentler ways” to move from a bad situation to a better one than to burn our bridges – no matter how good that might feel in the heat of the moment.  Before “moving on” we should identify ways to maximize the “good” things about where we are while minimizing the “bad.”  Many new supervisors or leaders wish to make instant changes – to put their mark upon the organization – without first seeing what works (and does not need to be fixed) and what is truly broken (needing immediate attention).  Often we seek to mandate change rather than trying to influence it – to “tell” rather than “sell” our ideas.  We rush headlong into situations that require skills we do not possess (without seeking the training that might equip us to handle them) or have “legacy” status (that must be identified prior to making a change).  Patience, tolerance and not caring who gets the credit for changes that are made are major factors that influence our reactions to situations. 

In the case of the person originally discussed, a change in HER attitude made all the difference in her situation.  Rather than focusing on what was wrong around her she began to identify areas that she could make a difference.  She began leveraging her experience to help others change.  She used her organizational knowledge to help identify “sacred cows” that would be difficult to change so that those in a position to set priorities would be able to maximize their success.  She became a champion of change rather than a detractor of new ideas within the organization – a part of the solution rather than a major part of the problem within her department.  She was allowed more freedom to do what she liked – what she was good at – as she demonstrated how it positively impacted the organization.  Rather than leaving a questionable situation she became an integral part of the company – without having to “pick up her tent” to move to a new campsite.
 

While seemingly difficult, changing our perspective will often make all the difference in the world.  When we identify (and utilize) our strengths, acknowledge (but commit to strengthen) our weaknesses, realize what we can (and cannot) change and intentionally act to resolve (rather than run away from) our challenges we will be able to fully realize our potential.  Rather than looking “outside” to resolve your problems, perhaps the first step towards success should be to look at yourself – at what you are, what you are doing, what you are saying and what you expect.  To “be all that you can be” you must identify how to communicate your ideas, influence your peers and initiate change.  Unless (and until) you do, escape may be the path of least resistance but it is often the first of many detours in life we face before eventually stumbling upon the road we should have originally taken.   

LEAD BY EXAMPLE


Though words and promises can be compelling, the true measure of a person is not what they say but rather what they do.  Following a leader’s actions is much easier than believing promises – especially if they change based on the audience.  We must measure our leaders NOT by what they say but rather by what they do (or what their actions initiate) – and recognize that those we lead will use the same litmus to measure our decisions, actions and thoughts.  A zebra does not lose its stripes nor does a leopard lose its spots.  Why do so many leaders believe that they can get away with a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude?

How can you expect your employees to adhere to an “eight to five” schedule if your own day frequently begins at eight fifteen or ends at four thirty?  (Forget about the fact that you might have been doing company business the previous night, or that lunch was more of a thought than an action or that breaks are not part of the daily routine…people SEE you coming in late, or leaving early, and expect that to apply to them, too.)  I once worked for an organization whose engineering group participated in a Thursday afternoon golf league.  When things were going smoothly and all was running well, this was not a real problem BUT if an engineering problem on Thursday afternoon caused a disruption in production that forced employees to work over the weekend it was PERCEIVED that “engineers were never around and did not care if production employees had to give up their private lives just so that they could play golf.”  Perception often becomes reality when we choose a leadership role – and we must be vigilant to consider our integrity and how our choices might be viewed prior to taking any actions.  Parents tell their children to obey the rules (as they break the speed limit driving them somewhere), to respect their teachers (as they complain about the “boss that does not know anything”), and to take time to enjoy life (when they are “too busy doing their own thing” to play catch in the yard). 

True leaders do not worry about what they say to one group when speaking to another – they portray a consistent, predictable “story” to whomever they address.  They are not “flavor of the month” thinkers – rather they are grounded in their principles, driven by their values and willing to reveal themselves to anyone seeking to know more about them.  Individuals striving to become leaders (rather than struggling to be managers) would be wise to remember:

1)                  Words are but whispers when compared to the shouts of our actions.  We more often believe what we see than what we hear.  Regardless how you work with people, those around you establish their perception of you by what you do – by how you act – not by the things you say.  We may try to reinvent ourselves with words, polish and packaging – to sound intelligent or authoritative, to discourage challenges to what we want to do through our projected confidence – but we are no more than we appear to be to others – often unable to accomplish anything more than we are willing to do ourselves.
2)                  Look for the good in others, publicly praising their positive actions and interactions while privately addressing their attitude and enhancing their abilities.  People usually see what others do wrong – rarely recognizing or acknowledging what they do right.  Unfortunately, teachers rarely say to their students, “You are really extending your thinking today!”  Rather it is, “Do not bother the student next to you as he/she is trying to work,” “Could you help ‘Jamie’ with his work when you have done?” or “If you have finished, find something quiet to do while I work with the rest of the class.”  While we need to provide help to those requiring it – and to address and constructively correct negative behavior – we should ALSO make an effort to acknowledge and verbalize appreciation for things done well through our words AND our actions.
3)                  It is better to compromise than to criticize – to live in the house you have built through your actions than in the rubble of another’s house you destroyed with your words.  Criticism is destructive.  Competent leaders do not tear others down to make themselves look better.  One cannot lead if pushing from behind – leadership leverages the abilities of all to move the group into a singular direction that benefits the whole upon a road planned with good intentions and paved with sweat equity.
4)                  Look inwardly when assigning blame.  People often defend their inappropriate actions by shifting blame to others.  Rarely does an individual come out and say, “It was my fault.”  Far more often it is, “Sam over there did something much worse than I would ever do.  Address him before you talk to me.”  If speeding, how often do we rationalize our actions by saying, “I was going the same speed as everyone else” rather than recognizing that doing something wrong cannot be “made right” JUST BECAUSE everyone else was doing it.  When we measure ourselves against the actions of others, we will never truly see value in what we may have done (nor the full cost of what we may have done wrong) – we see only the relative value of how our actions compare to another’s.    
5)                  Judge yourself using the same standards you apply to others.  The greatest leaders of our times would never ask others to do what they would not do themselves.  Truly great generals lead their troops into battle rather than following them from behind.  Parents must “walk the talk” for their children – allowing them to follow the example of a role model rather than try to be someone or something they can only imagine possible.  Managers cannot expect full productivity without giving it themselves.


Rather than distributing consequences, we should seek truth.  We should focus more on what we are doing than on what others may not be doing.  We should lead by example rather than by edict – expecting others to do as we do rather than as we tell them to act.  Viewing life through the lens of relativity will never provide personal fulfillment – only a sense of “better than” whomever we are comparing ourselves to (or possibly worse than someone else).

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

GREAT LEADERS MAKE INTENTIONAL DECISIONS


Everyone makes decisions throughout their life.  Whether meaningful or insignificant, life is an ongoing realization of the possibilities we consider, the decisions we make and the actions we take.  As much as we try to research and analyze our destination before beginning a journey, people typically take multiple detours along the way by making decisions based on “what feels right” rather than on an inflexible course of action and a reaction to current events or conditions rather than an analytical weighing of all that the facts.  Good leaders win more than they lose when faced with making quick decisions based on incomplete data.  Great leaders gain the respect of others by making a high percentage of “judgment calls” that turn out to be successful decisions.  In seeking to understand how great decisions are made, some thought processes that come into play would include:

Great decision-making requires us to utilize experience-based judgment when determining the likelihood that the road we choose will lead us towards our destination.  An inexperienced driver may think he or she knows what to do when encountering a patch of black ice on the road because of the study they went through during a driver’s training class but lose control before being able to intentionally act.  An individual having experience driving in winter may react more quickly – out of a “conditioned response” to the situation – taking control of the situation without really thinking about what to do if presented with the same challenge.  Experience allows us to act without having to consider all the ramifications of our actions before taking them because we already know (without thinking) what will be more likely to lead us to success.  Rarely will a truly exceptional leader step into a position of authority until he or she has performed many different jobs within an organization, demonstrated competency in a wide array of responsibilities and experienced (and taken credit/responsibility for) both success and failure.  Gaining life experience through watching, seeing and participating in a variety of different activities is critical to the decision-making process. 

Many individuals rush to act without thoroughly investigating all potential ramifications of their action so they will not lose what they see as a potential opportunity to excel.  Truly successful people take the time to consider the “possible” as they move forward to accomplish the “probable” before attempting what others might see as being “highly unlikely” or presenting too much risk.  Conceptualizing as many possible outcomes that could occur as a result of the actions we take – being willing to accept or respond to them appropriately using knowledge we have gained through experience – establishes a far greater potential than would doing what we know works in an environment that we know breeds success.  Before acting, great leaders tend to (quickly and without hesitation) ask not only “what should be done” but, more importantly, seek to determine “why” action should (or should not be) taken, CONSTANTLY weighing the potential benefits of doing something against the repercussions (or ramifications) of doing nothing.  A validation of any decision is whether one is in a “better place” after acting than they were before.  If doing nothing provides a preferable result, it is often more advantageous to intentionally hold back rather than to foolishly rush forward.

Great leaders ensure that the organization will continue to benefit from good judgment in the future by developing it in those with whom they work today.  They involve others in the decision-making process by leading them to a solution rather than pushing them to a conclusion, allowing them to see both the benefits and the potential pitfalls of any action taken.  They allow others to make mistakes so that they can experience resolving them rather than continually sheltering them from harm’s way by removing the risk of loss from the equation.  Unless (and until) an individual is given the opportunity to overcome the limitations of today’s reality by moving beyond “what works” towards “what has yet to be attempted,” developing a variety of experiences from which future decisions will be based, he or she may never be able to make important or significant decisions.  Involving the people needed for implementation in the decision-making process, adding to and gaining from their experience along the way, will allow them to make better judgment calls in the future.  Helping others to make better decisions will minimize the number of critical calls we must make ourselves.

Great leaders gain credibility and respect by allowing those around them to grow through exposure to new and different situations (often allowing them to grow by failing), rewarding progress as they move towards success (always monitoring the decisions they make to minimize catastrophic disruption) and encouraging others to analyze risk before acting (to recognize both the rewards of accomplishment and the ramifications of failure). 

The key to making great decisions is to maintain “mental flexibility.”  It is OK to change your mind if the conditions or situations driving your initial decision change.  It is never wrong to act UNLESS you act without first considering all the ramifications involved with the actions you take.  It is never wrong to INTENTIONALLY CHOOSE not to act UNLESS your failure to act is due to a fear of the unknown or an unintentionally missed opportunity.  Being unafraid to make a mistake from which you can ultimately learn is critical as our greatest rewards are often born through the painful experiences of our losses.
 
 As you move forward in decision-making skills, seek that which is possible rather than settling for what might seem probable.  Do not limit yourself to what you can see – reach for what you dream.  Recognize that dreams and imaginings often initiate great discoveries if we allow them to lead us to action.  Avoid, however, pushing others ahead as you go.  Pull them along with you as you discover new and exciting opportunities – allow them to reap the benefits of your work as they seek to establish the courage of their own convictions.  Take control of your life by deciding to act (or intentionally choosing NOT to act) – inspiring (or getting out of the way of) those seeking to advance.

Friday, March 10, 2017

PERCEPTION SHOUTS – reality whispers…


A person can show great proficiency without exhibiting imagination but an individual will never exercise their imagination by simply accomplishing the work assigned without asking “why” (or, “why not”).  Delivering a standard or anticipated response to a directive often satisfies those willing to do nothing more than the minimum. An understanding of what must be done as well as a verbalization of what might yet be accomplished is demonstrated when one researches enough – or is interested enough – to ask “why not?”  It seems that we often believe what we see without ever looking beneath the surface to identify “the other side of the story.”  Why is it that reality can seem so distant and removed from our everyday existence while what we think and feel - what we perceive - can become such an overpowering force in our lives?

Given the choice between being a “doer” or a “visionary,” between being “realistic” or  “lost in dreams,” many would prefer to hold tightly to the concrete – to those things that can be seen, touched, considered and accomplished.  I would prefer to live within my imagination than within my reality – to do those things that I might conceptualize rather than those that have been previously accomplished – yet in life our imagination is often tempered by our perceived sense of reality. 

A realist accepts what can be defined and demonstrated – rarely “making waves” or disrupting the status quo – being content to accomplish the dreams and desires of others.  Many people live within a sheltered world of previous accomplishments, dwelling in thoughts of the safe places that brought them happiness and security RATHER THAN seeking new beginnings and opportunities upon an uncharted path. When life is contained within established thoughts of “what is” and memories of “what has been,” can one ever realize his or her full potential – can he or she even identify “what could be but has not yet been considered?”  When our perceptions of comfort, success and accomplishment become a destination rather than a starting point for a new journey, how can we acknowledge the quiet whispers of a changing reality?  True innovation (and success) springs from those who imagine what has not yet been proven for they will accept nothing less than the great things they know can be accomplished in this world.

While our memories are necessary to remind us of what we have accomplished – of the things we can do – our dreams provide an indication of what has yet to be, leading us to places not yet discovered. As we bring today’s dreams to fruition, they become tomorrow’s memories, leaving behind the safety and stability that yesterday provided.  Only when we cast off the limitations of “what is” or “what was,” walking away from the perceptions of reality that we construct by choosing to reach for the promise and possibility of things not yet imagined, will we be able to bring to fruition our dreams.  When we truly consider how things might be different, believing that just because something “was” or “is” does not mean it will “always be,” the soft call of a reality far removed from the oppressive perceptions that dominate our everyday lives will begin to be heard.

For you who find fulfillment within the "way things are" and travel obediently upon the straight and narrow path that leads to a defined destination – good for you!  The world needs individuals that will “do without questioning” as it seeks to fulfill the mundane tasks required to close out each day while moving towards a new and predictable tomorrow.  The world needs people to fulfill the expectations of others and find comfort in the perceptions of peace and tranquility that a complacent life can create.  For those unwilling to live another’s vision or accept another’s explanation of “why” as they seek their own “why not,” however, endless possibilities that have yet to be imagined are waiting to become reality.  In whatever you do, look beyond the obvious to experience all that life might provide.  Seek what might be “possible” rather than settling for what might be the “probable” solution.  We need only our eyes to see that what we perceive as being real – and our ears to hear what others say is acceptable – but casting and pursuing a vision which defines a new reality requires our imagination.  We must imagine what might be possible THEN act intentionally to bring that vision to fruition IF we are to rise above our perceptions of accomplishment by managing the risk that prevents us from identifying, reaching for and realizing the potential of new realities in life.
 

A brave new world awaits those willing to question the things that are held as true because of past practice or long-accepted policy - those courageous enough to act in a manner not yet imagined by others to accomplish things not yet considered possible. While known actions result in predictable results, untested and unproven actions cause equal and opposite reactions - creating new opportunities and fresh challenges that will transform things once considered only possible yesterday into probable advances as we move towards tomorrow – allowing us to move from a perceived sense of reality to one that is quietly (and confidently) new.

Friday, March 3, 2017

CHANGE IS OFTEN FINAL BUT RARELY FATAL


Whenever a significant change in life occurs – whether it is something personal, professional or as seemingly insignificant as a store closing or a company being sold, the lyrics of a ‘60’s era song performed by The Byrds (Turn, Turn, Turn) comes to mind.  Though rearranged slightly, the words were taken almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 – traditionally ascribed to King Solomon, the recipient of great wisdom as evidenced by his insights into human nature, change and moving forward through adversity.  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, and, above all,
·         To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens

Though probably not intended to stir feelings of remorse or deep thoughts during a closeout sale, these words came crashing down upon me recently as heard about the closing of stores that were around to help me grow.  Sears, Family Christian Stores, MC Sports – all West Michigan landmarks that provided clothes, tools, toys and food for thought – are closing.  Our landscape is changing – what was once significant has lost its value and things not imagined have rushed to replace them.  We face the choice of holding on to the past by immersing ourselves in the memories of what was OR of reaching towards the future by discovering the opportunities that have yet to be revealed.

While life does go on – everything having its season, time and purpose with new ideas and concepts replacing the old (which will eventually be replaced by other new ideas and concepts) – a sadness cloaks us whenever a landmark business or store must shutter its doors forever.  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 turn out the lights before locking the doors upon their last exit. 

Whenever an enterprise shuts down or a relationship ends, a cloak of darkness covers what were once fresh starts and new beginnings.  Even when the bright promise of a dream is replaced by another, it was seemingly discarded after losing its significance.  Life mirrors the finality that changing seasons bring to time – every end ushering in a new beginning, often from an incomplete perspective that shows us only the beginning of a new journey rather than the whole trip that is ahead.  It is hard to fathom a Phoenix rising from the ashes to fly once more if we dwell upon the decline and ultimate decimation of an organization (or of a person or relationship) that helped to form our beliefs, values and lives rather than on what could become of a new organization, opportunity or relationship IF ONLY we looked ahead rather than back.

Though it is hard to let go of our past familiarity when forced to enter an unknown and unexpected chapter in our life – whether it might be a change in personal relationships or the business interactions in which we participate – it is unhealthy to dwell upon the loss each season’s passing brings.   When faced with the reality of change, some choose to hold on to what will no longer be while others prefer reaching out to identify dreams that will provide opportunities to succeed anew.  We can stay silent in our suffering as we mourn the past or speak out in anticipation of events not yet realized – focusing our energies on what might become rather than clinging to what has been but will be no more.  If we hope to turn towards a better tomorrow we must cast away those things holding us back as we 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.  Our willingness to accept what has been as history and look ahead to what could be possible as our emerging future will transform our dreams and aspirations into reality as long as we truly believe that each end is but the beginning to a new sense of purpose.
 
The closing of a business can feel 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 each new season brings change.  How we react and respond to change determines whether an unanticipated event or action will result in 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 each end towards each new beginning – if we are to thrive in the life we have ahead of us (rather than seeking refuge as we hide in our past success).
 

In regards to Sears, MC Sports and Family Christian Stores (and others that have closed or are yet to face change), remember the impact they had upon your life yet move beyond the past to express your hope the next time you witness the misfortune of others by reaching out to cushion their fall.  Make the most of your life as you close each chapter you have experienced to begin anew – as you turn the pages within the growing book of your life!  See in each void the light of hope – in each fall the chance to rise – as you turn from one season to another by embracing the finality of change and welcoming the opportunity to achieve a fresh start that each new beginning brings.