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, January 24, 2022

SEVEN KEYS TO EFFECTIVELY INFLUENCING CHANGE

Books, blogs, or white papers are readily available for individuals seeking to manage people, relationships, situations, teams, products, or processes – even ways to control your temper, yourself, or another’s actions. Many are notable examples of how someone else has achieved success, become “rich and famous” or has become the person that everyone would like to be BUT far too often the self-help stories are biographies of someone’s success and what they were able to accomplish without really saying what should be done or who along the way made a difference. Since there are fewer managers than people being managed in this world – less leaders than those being led – why is so little attention given to INFLUENCING “from the bottom up” rather than to managing from “the top down?” Why do so many individuals seek to control a relationship rather than to share in it? Whether or not we manage (or aspire to manage), seven critical “keys” to becoming more influential in your interactions with others would include: 
  1. Recognize that it is your responsibility to SELL an idea, NOT someone else’s responsibility to BUY the concept. Good salespeople identify and relate to the needs of the buyer, not their own needs. While making a sale will obviously benefit the seller, a buyer must recognize why he or she will benefit from his or her decision to purchase before a sale will ever be consummated. Remain positive and upbeat, focusing on what YOU can do to “make things right” rather than upon what others could do to make things fail. Until you truly “sell” change, you will be but an implementer rather than an initiator. When you are in a position to contribute rather than to dictate (as many of us often find ourselves), focus on the results of your interaction rather than seeking praise, recognition, and credit for the idea.
  2. Consider how change will impact “the whole” rather than how it will meet your personal objectives. Since most people are hesitant to abandon the status quo, if you want something to be different than it is you must convince others that the promises and potential of change are better than the comforts of staying the same. If you wish to influence another’s actions you must clearly demonstrate how change will positively impact that individual, the organization, their environment, and their future. RATHER THAN imagining how much better your life might be or what personal gains change might provide, consider first how you might be able to influence the world around you so that all may benefit.
  3. Present a realistic cost-benefit analysis of your idea. Whether it be a major corporate decision, the way meetings are conducted, the prioritization of work or a family vacation, be prepared to have a realistic discussion on the cost of change as well as the results of change. Recognize that “cost” can be financial investment, “ego” adjustment, letting go of something that has become second nature or emotional upheaval so there is no one path that will lead to the acceptance of change. Acknowledge that implementing your idea will often means someone else’s idea was not used BUT discuss how the two (three or four) concepts might be blended to create one solution that is potentially more effective than any single idea. Whenever anything has changed in history, the benefits of change have outweighed the costs. It is your job to clearly communicate this if you expect to be heard (and wish your words to influence behavior that initiates action).
  4. Treat managers (or anyone else) to whom you are communicating with the same respect and courtesy you would treat a customer (OR would like to receive yourself). Recognizing that your manager IS your customer when presenting an idea or concept will help you to be a better salesperson. Within your personal relationships, “dictating” might be a quick remedy…but selling (rather than telling) and discussing (rather than imposing) will be much more effective over the long run. The trouble with always telling others what to do and how to do it is that eventually nobody may be left that chooses to listen.
  5. When a conclusion is reached, whether or not you fully agree with it, adopt the final decision as your own. Ineffective influencers will “own” decisions with which they agree and “credit others” with the ones they may not have wholeheartedly supported. Remember that you will not always “win” when influencing upwards, but you will gain tremendous credibility if, after all the discussions and debates, you own any solution that is not illegal, unethical, or immoral. We can always live to fight another day as long as we do not impale ourselves upon the sword of principle today. Fully embracing an initial direction DOES NOT commit us to the same straight and narrow path forever. Seeking continuous improvement will allow for the modification of an idea, concept, or direction as we move towards a final result AND provides change and (potentially) new beginnings within our relationships.
  6. NEVER advance an idea without having a sincere belief it will make a difference (NOR fail to advance an idea based on who may ultimately receive the credit).  If we lose sight of the result of our ideas, focusing instead on getting credit for the concept, we often discredit others to make ourselves come out on top. When we consciously make others feel that they are right or responsible, rather than continually elevating ourselves into a role of infallibility, our ideas have a better chance of being implemented. Ensuring that the best results are realized (rather than trying to get others to realize that ONLY your ideas are significant) will provide for more meaningful long-term rewards.
  7. Rather than focusing on what has (or has not) happened, focus on what has yet to occur. Far too many individuals are haunted by what went wrong rather than what went right. When we focus on what failed, we often lose sight of what may have led to a positive – the things that would never have occurred had we not taken our initial tentative steps (that may have failed) in an effort to bring ideas to fruition. When we focus on what did not happen (often beating ourselves up for what we did wrong rather than what we might have done right EVEN IF it did not work) it is difficult to consider what could be done differently to alter the process as we work to influence final results. When accepting “what is” as being finality, how can we ever realize “what could be” in our work, our attitudes, or our relationships? 

Until we learn to sell our ideas (thoughts and feelings) rather than expecting others to simply buy them from us (without discussion, debate, or input), our knowledge, abilities or best intentions will never influence others to initiate action that will result in positive (or long lasting) change.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

10 Hidden Truths That Can Help Us Thrive in Life

Everyone gets “stuck” occasionally…stopped dead in their tracks, unable to (or uninterested in) moving forward, wanting to do so much that just getting started seems like an impossible task or when not able to figure out where to begin simply stay where they are. It is not always a particular problem that knocks the train off its rails, it is sometimes an all-encompassing frustration – a massive mental block or perceived mountain that seemed to grow from a mole hill – that prevents us from accomplishing anything at all. Our attention gets scattered, our energy lessens, and we end up putting minimal effort into the accomplishment of our most important and critical activities. In order to “move beyond” the stagnant pool in which we find ourselves we must often identify what we are thinking that makes us feel so different, underachieving, or frustrated. When we are overwhelmed or confused, we often find ourselves ignoring several simple but hard truths about ourselves that must be accepted before we can move forward. Identifying what we want to change in order to alter or modify the results we will be able to accomplish then ACTING to make the changes happen are great points from which to step as you seek self-motivation and significant rewards.

When you decide that SOMETHING must change and focus first on YOURSELF before seeking to change others you do not have to think very hard for actionable answers. We all have a list of things that we should accept, must accomplish, or need to realize and more often than not the unwillingness to face one of these truths is what is keeping us stuck. Identifying and accepting the validity of these realities will almost always release the tension that holds us back so we can move forward with an anticipation of success. A typical list of “hidden truths” that might be identified would include:

  1. No person is an island. While people can be independent, rely upon their own experiences and abilities, seek self-actualization and internal validation rather than depending upon encouragement or support from others and be happy doing what they have always done while accomplishing what they have always received, individuals grow through community. When we recognize that others can challenge us and hone our abilities rather than seeing the input of others as a roadblock or barricade to progress, we will be able to enhance “what is” in unexpected ways as we openly seek “what could be” or “what is best.” 
  2. People are self-absorbed and tend to think “me first” when interacting with others. We all spend much of our mental energy thinking about ourselves which, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. Self-reflection is how we become stronger, which in turn makes us better equipped to help others. What IS wrong is if our thoughts become entirely centered around ourselves rather than seeking to accomplish good for the whole. 
  3. Most people will not understand us and that is really okay. If we can get comfortable within our own boundaries and possibilities — comfortable enough to present the truest version of who and what we are to the world — the acceptance found in living a genuine life will be far more valuable than needing others to accept us. When we are “comfortable in our own skin” those that support and validate us will become the ones who matter most while those choosing not to will experience a loss from our absence rather than enhancing their gain.
  4. Knowing all the answers might be the recognition that many seek. Knowing the questions to ask that might help to clarify (or identify new) answers is probably much more significant when developing a sense of accomplishment. Knowing it all does not lend itself to happiness…applying what you know to new situations and learning from the success or failure of the questions that rise to the top does.
  5. We only get stronger by doing hard things. When life is easy, we become complacent. Growth comes from doing things that require serious effort – that often end in failure before ultimately providing new and unanticipated results.
  6.  Living requires us to make difficult choices. Anything we do is a choice about how our abilities are invested in order to realize the best possible return. Will we catch up on emails or meet friends for a drink? Will we spend an extra hour at the office or go catch a movie? When we think about the choices, we must make in both our personal and our professional lives we understand how huge it is to identify, consider, plan, anticipate and act as we take one day at a time within this life we lead.
  7. Free things are often worthless. When you give away all your time or work for free – your thoughts, feelings, emotions and passion without care or expectation – others may not always value what you give. While not necessarily a bad thing, those giving anything with the requirement that it be repaid in full are often disappointed. When one truly gives more than they can or will ever expect to receive in return, he/she often gets back more than could ever be anticipated.
  8. Maintaining relationships takes effort. Never take people for granted or they might walk away. If one INTENTIONALLY allows or accepts a relationship to end it is one thing but if it dissolves out of a lack of attention, care or due to self-serving ambition it may not only be gone but will probably never be re-established.
  9. Suffering can be a good thing. A little bit of pain can bring a lot of perspective and empathy. Do not be afraid to experience pain BUT do not dwell within it as it can keep you from incorporating life’s lessons into the growth that can be experienced by learning (and moving on) from its mistakes.
  10. It is okay to stand alone. We do not have to be around people 24/7 NOR do we need to be friends with EVERYONE including people we do not enjoy spending time with OR maintain a relationship with someone who does not make us happy. While we WANT to be successful, socially accepted and acceptable to others we NEED to be comfortable with ourselves, confident in who we are and happy in what we are becoming.

It is painful — and helpful — to live within our discomfort at times. We can learn from trials AND grow from past tribulations as long as we truly value the “getting up” more than the “staying down” while seeking a world teeming with possibilities rather than one stagnant in its complacency.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

BETTER WAYS TO BUILD POSITIVE SELF-ESTEEM

Our 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. A recent news article about a parent in Texas claiming her son was “bullied” by the coach of an opposing high school football team because he “mercilessly and relentlessly ran up the score” against her son’s team (90+ to nothing). The score seems lopsided on the surface BUT the winning team was first in the state while the losing team had not won a game all season. The winning team had won by more than 70 points per game this season – the losing team scoring very few points even against lesser opponents. The coach of the winning team began substituting during the first quarter and had players in positions they had never played throughout the game. Short of telling his players to stop scoring or to fumble the ball away (which would have been unfair to the winning team), what else could he have done? Neither coach was surprised with the final score. The players on the losing team admitted a better team beat them. Why is it that when parents begin to live their lives through their children all sorts of negative things begin to happen?

Has the concept of building a “positive self-esteem” and “hovering” over our children to protect them from failing become the driving force in both our schools and workplaces (at the expense of success and accomplishment)? Do you stifle those you care about – negatively influence their ability to learn and grow through their own mistakes – by sheltering and protecting them from failure to the point that they feel unable to thrive (or survive) on their own? It may be time to think about the ways self-esteem can be positively influenced without negatively affecting the development of individuals OR the outcomes that we hope to achieve.

Intentionally or accidentally, schools sometimes elevate “self-esteem” to one of the more important aspects of a student’s education – putting student feelings about their self-concept above what they might be able to accomplish. While a teacher has a huge responsibility to help mold the developing minds of students, the diverse levels and abilities each child in a class demonstrates can sometimes discourage equitable treatment of their abilities in favor of an easier to address equality. When the default becomes “nobody will be left behind” rather than “all will be moved ahead,” should the job of teaching ever become making everyone feel as though they were an equal contributor to the classes’ success, we lose a valuable reality that everyone IS equal in their potential, everyone IS NOT equal in their abilities, motivations or goals. While there is value in helping those who do not understand, education becomes dysfunctional when that help comes at the expense of individual advancement and achievement. Some schools give little attention to proper spelling (“spell check” will manage that) and do not worry about basic math concepts (“that is what calculators are for”). In sporting events, schools tend to focus on equality of playing time (regardless of ability) and sportsmanship (not a bad thing but not the primary objective of competitive sports) rather than on winning. In moderation, these are not bad concepts. In practice, however, students rewarded for effort rather than accomplishment – for simply trying rather than actually achieving – will have a tough time adapting to a workplace environment. How can such an ingrained attitude be changed when these sheltered children leave their protected setting and enter the “real world” where performance drives pay and the ability to contribute defines job security?

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 marginal work patterns as being proficient. They often inflate ratings so that everyone “meets or exceeds expectations” regardless of the actual work performed or how much they contributed to the organization’s success. Praising someone for “doing the best work within a certain area when they are here” (especially if the person has an absenteeism problem) may be good for self-esteem but does nothing to improve a worker’s attendance. 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. Some organizations attempt to develop workplace teams so that nobody is “left out” of the decision-making process but such teams can often weaken the leadership hierarchy and decision-making structure within the organization. If consensus thinking is required, it may help a decision be more readily implemented BUT it can also cause unnecessary delay (AND the adoption of a “workable solution” that may not be the best possible solution).

In relationships we sometimes shelter those we care for at the expense of their personal growth and development. We so want to keep someone special from suffering or to be “less than we know they could be” but often impose our personal standards of “what should be” or who someone might be to another, effectively keeping them from discovering themselves or learning from their own mistakes. Our fervor to make people “feel good” often removes the motivation to achieve their full potential. Students receiving praise for working hard to “almost get the right answer,” workers receiving a small raise for doing “most of an assigned project” or “special people” placed upon a pedestal and protected from any and all disappointment or frustration tend to adopt the level of expectations placed upon them as being acceptable. Why should they reach beyond if they can receive praise and recognition for achieving the minimum? When entrusted to lead an organization (a team, a family or a relationship) we should avoid:

·    Rewarding efforts (which may actually be leading towards failure) and/or the willingness to accept new responsibilities rather than rewarding the end results.

·    Placing unqualified individuals into positions they want (rewarding their self-concept) while potentially breeding frustration and failure (unless appropriate tools, resources and/or training is available). We should not doom an individual to failure NOR keep another individual more likely to succeed from trying just to avoid saying “no” when it needs to be said.

·    Praising an individual for “trying hard” or “working as hard as he or she can” hoping a small compliment will encourage better performance. In reality such praise may establish a lower expectation as being acceptable.

·    Giving everyone an “across the board increase” to minimize confrontation. This practice actually helps to retain the under-performing worker (who could not find employment elsewhere) and “reward the average” (who wants a workforce comprised of low achievers?) while de-motivating high achievers (who see that others are compensated well for doing less).

·    Inhibiting growth by being overly protective within a relationship. It is not wrong to share in the decision-making process, but it IS wrong to impose your personal thoughts and concepts of well-being upon another purely for the sake of protecting them from potential harm (or learning). While “letting someone go” is not the only way to show that you care for them, allowing them to grow (and supporting them when needed) will allow for healthy growth and a much stronger self-concept.

We are told a good self-concept breeds happiness and success. I would offer that happiness and success creates a good self-concept. We are told students (and employees) need to work as equals within teams to accomplish anything. I would offer that all teams need a leader – a collector of ideas or a champion – to facilitate change. We are told that rewarding the process will enhance creativity, thereby minimizing the fear of failure. I would offer that rewarding an individual’s accomplishments and encouraging them to learn from correcting their failures – while constructively improving sub-standard efforts – will foster creativity and encourage risk-taking behavior, potentially eliminating the fear of failure. We are told that opposites attract in a good relationship – that those who are too much alike may actually be bad unless one is able to lead while the other follows. I would offer lasting relationships are built through hard work, complimentary characteristics and shared communication – traits that build self-esteem and worth within both halves of a relationship where one is not always right, and the other is not forever wrong. It is good to think about a person’s “self-esteem.”  It is better to encourage their success, worth and value.

Friday, January 7, 2022

PERCEPTION SHOUTS BUT REALITY WHISPERS…Which Will YOU Hear?

A person can show great proficiency without exhibiting any personal imagination, but an individual will never discover their true potential by simply accomplishing the work assigned or expected by others without asking “why?” before blindly marching forward. Delivering a standard or anticipated response to a directive often satisfies those giving the orders and avoids conflict for those willing to do nothing more than the minimum but will rarely elevate what we do, how we feel or what we MIGHT be able to accomplish beyond a predictable (and often mundane) outcome. An understanding of what must be done as well as a conceptualization of what might be realized BEYOND the minimum is demonstrated when one researches enough – or is interested enough – to ask, “why not?”  It seems that we often believe what we see, hear or are directed to do is the “gospel truth” without ever looking beneath the surface to identify “the other side of the story.”  Why is it that reality can seem so distant – so removed from our everyday existence – while what we think and feel (intentionally or seemingly naturally due to our beliefs, ideals and environment) 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 and our ability to take the risk needed to exceed our expectations.

A realist often 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 without being disruptive, appearing to be confrontational or challenging the status quo. When life is contained within established expectations 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?” Can one ever reach beyond their reality without seeking new the beginnings and opportunities that may lie just beyond the next turn should they strike out to travel an uncharted path? When our perceptions of comfort, success and accomplishment become a destination rather than a starting point for a new journey – the only things we see, hear or feel becoming the only options we believe possible - how can we acknowledge the quiet whispers that may come upon the shifting and gentle winds of a changing reality? True innovation (and success) springs from the imagination of those who seek what has not yet been proven for they will accept nothing less than the great things they know can be accomplished in this world when the past is considered, the present recognize and the possible becomes an ever-evolving reality.

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 reality. As we leave behind the safety and stability that yesterday may have provided, we find new shelter and comfort in which to rest as we prepare to move forward to each next new adventure. Only when we cast off the limitations of “what is” or “what was,” when we walk 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 potential new 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. The world requires individuals to do the “heavy lifting” as directed for the work we have in front of us to be accomplished without conflict, confrontation or conversation. 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” or predictable – the expected or anticipated – 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 realizing and managing the risk that prevents us from reaching an unimagined reality.

A brave new world awaits those willing to question the things that are held as “uncontested truth” 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 that often create new opportunities and fresh challenges which can transform things once considered yesterday’s possibilities into probable advances as we move towards tomorrow – allowing us to move from a perceived sense of reality to one that is quietly pulling us into immerse ourselves into a reality that has yet to be fully identified, harnessed or explored.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Take Time to Enjoy Christmas by Doing Less and Living More

It seems that the Holiday Season takes on a life of its own as the year winds down. Far too often we find ourselves hurrying to finish shopping for a special gift (rather than simply being with the person for whom it is intended). We struggle to find the time to do everything we need done and to buy everything we want (not need) to buy. Unless we are careful we can find ourselves working twice as hard in what little time we have left before the year ends to accomplish the lofty goals we set at for ourselves last January (often carrying a load of guilt on our shoulders along with the fifteen pounds we planned to lose). Perhaps slowing down, taking a deep breath, and exhibiting a dose of “Holiday tolerance” would help us all make it through this busy time of year.

When we become so busy accomplishing and addressing the “duties” of the Holidays we lose out on the restful time we could be spending with family and friends. We tend to get so busy that we forget to take care of ourselves during the “downtime” from work - often thinking too much about what needs to be done that we have no time to enjoy people (places or things) that might add to the season. Perhaps life would be better for us (and those around us) if we did a few relatively simple things to keep our lives in order:

1)            Exercise regularly. Take the time for a regular period of physical activity – whether it is walking, running, or being involved with a sporting activity (as a participant rather than sitting on the couch and watching OTHERS play) – as often as possible. An hour a day for even 3 – 4 days per week will make you feel better about yourself – providing both the energy and confidence needed to take on the additional projects we typically assume this time of year AND the ones we promise ourselves will be accomplished during the coming year. 

2)            Take time to focus your thoughts regularly. Begin each day with a time of reflective organization, “escape” and recharge during the day as needed to make sure you are on track to accomplish what needs doing then end the day by summarizing and re-prioritizing. Bring purpose and “intentionality” to your actions by keeping your life in order to avoid wasting energy that could be better invested in meeting you own goals and expectations. 

3)             Learn to say “NO” when appropriate. Recognize your internal limitations and learn to delay, re-direct, or reassign activities as necessary in order to maintain your sanity. We should never simply ignore an issue or project to “make it go away.”  Accepting numerous assignments or tasks, however, when you know that they will not be accomplished establishes false expectations and can contribute to a sense of personal failure (as well as disappointment from those expecting results). Actively saying NO, however, is not an act of neglect. When one considers the alternatives, minimizes the risks, and accepts the ramifications, saying NO may be one of the healthiest things you can do. 

4)              Identify an “accountability partner” with whom to share your goals and aspirations. Too often we promise ourselves something only to find that we allow ourselves to become too busy to accomplish it. We make excuses to ourselves saying that what we are doing INSTEAD of what we had intended to do is more important and critical – but we often simply lose sight of where we want to be and have nobody we trust to validate our reality. Something else can ALWAYS be more important (if we allow it) but knowing what we want and knowing who will hold us to that path can minimize our excuses and maximize our successes. 

5)             Immerse yourself in moments that take your breath away rather than focusing on the breaths you take each moment. Take time to make time – for yourself, for others around you, for those that depend upon you and for those that may not yet know how much you could mean to them. The moments we spend HELPING others rather than ourselves should be cherished as it is those times that truly make a difference in the world around us. 

Celebrate the season by embracing the thoughts behind a Holiday wish rather than being offended by the way in which it was expressed. The words on a card become but whispers in a noisy room when one considers the message of warmth, friendship, or appreciation they are meant to convey. 

We should always worry less about the “little stuff” that might get under our skin. Particularly during this hectic time of year, however, many of the things that make us angry are insignificant in the big picture. How much difference does it really make if someone is driving 50 mph instead of 55 mph in front of us? How much extra time is the person having fifteen items in the twelve-item express checkout really stealing from your day? If you remember that “fast food” really means it does not take long to eat it rather than it does not take long to make it, life will be far less stressed. Make a resolution this coming year to invest your time in managing the big things in life rather than allowing yourself to be managed by the little things. Remember, though, when establishing your resolutions that every "finished" thought or project begins with an idea...each decorated tree had to start as but a bare set of branches.  Resolutions begin as seeds which germinate into reality if nurtured, monitored and cared for. You will be amazed how much of a difference simply focusing on those things that are significant in life can have in maintaining your sense of humanity throughout both the Holidays and the rest of the year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

SIX TENDANCIES OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE (INTROVERTED) LEADERS

Some would suggest that one must be an extrovert to be a good leader – that to be followed, one must be heard clearly (and frequently) and exhibit (as well as proclaiming) self-confidence, experience and expectations. We often think that highly effective leaders must be able to speak flawlessly and persuasively to crowds or mingle effortlessly at events to establish influence and credibility – demonstrating their accomplishments for all to see. Extroverts having knowledge, strong communications skills and the ability to influence others often step forward to “lead the charge” as they expect (and assume) others will follow without questioning intent, direction or anticipated outcomes. Introverts, however, often become excellent and highly respected leaders if they can overcome the tendency to hide or downplay their strengths and seek opportunities to demonstrate “through their actions” what extroverts often express with their words. While true in business, introverts can also be excellent leaders within relationships IF they are willing to express their sincere beliefs and desires without fear or threat of being overrun by more extroverted individuals that may or may not possess the same knowledge, experience or desires. In reality, while an overbearing extrovert is able to project his or her competence, success or accomplishments upon a situation or relationship, an introvert often imposes his or her will simply by demonstrating abilities through the results that are achieved.

I have met a number of leaders who are successful, universally admired and respected. Many of the best leaders (both within business and in relationships that I have seen or observed) 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 (often due to pressure, cajoling or intimidation), some extremely introverted individuals have become excellent leaders by exhibiting several basic characteristics not typically associated with their more flamboyant peers:

1.       Introverts are deliberate and measured in their response to situations. They are not slow nor overly focused on their thinking processes – many process things quickly – they typically consider the “pros and cons” of most decisions and formulate several alternative courses of action should their initial direction prove untenable BEFORE acting or making a decision.

2.       Introverts are not prone to bursts of temper or extreme reactions to personal attacks or potentially unwarranted criticism. They are thoughtful in how they sift through and process information, rarely acting until they have considered thoroughly what might happen should they act and what might have to be done to “undo” anything that might go wrong should they respond without thinking. Introverts often ask first what they may have done to cause a problem or what they might be able to do to resolve it BEFORE they shift blame or accuse others.

3.       Introverts respond strategically to most situations rather than emotionally. They establish trust and confidence from those that choose to follow their lead because they place far less importance upon what others think than they do upon their results and personal satisfaction. Introverts tend to share credit for the accomplishments of “the whole” rather than seeking credit for their contributions (OR proclaiming personal responsibility for their results).

4.       Introverts are typically highly analytical. 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. Seeking favorable results and outcomes, introverts tend to look into existing operations with a more open mind than do extroverts – willing to “keep” what works while modifying “what is broken” rather than having to break new ground and develop entirely new systems that attract attention and provide recognition.

5.       Introverts are good listeners. They let others do most of the talking then meld diverse suggestions into workable solutions. Introverts act on what they hear after filtering “what will work” from “what will not” so their recommendations are more likely to be accepted by “the team” rather than rejected as being “top-down” decisions. Within relationships, introverts tend to listen and observe – may find comfort and peace in silence – but are typically more sensitive to the needs of others as they chart a path that will provide appropriate satisfaction.

6.       Introverts are naturally risk averse – a critical characteristic in avoiding potentially disastrous decisions. 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. The ramifications of intentionally changing a product, process or service must be anticipated and planned for should “our worst nightmare” come to fruition. Being “risk averse” helps to minimize nightmares but measured change is necessary for growth. We must take risk wisely when others depend on the decisions we make. Remaining “as we are” will prevent us from ever becoming “what we could be.”

Practically speaking, introverted leaders often become the voice of reason within any situation or environment. While an introvert’s voice is not typically loudest or most convincing it often becomes most clearly heard and persuasive as it stands above the noise of a crowd due to its succinct messaging. Influenced more by rationality than charisma – by self-confidence than the need for external validation from others – an introverted leader is “heard” because people know something reasonable is being said in a rational and thoughtful way rather than being seen as a “clanging symbol” that never remains quiet.

Extroverts often become leaders through self-proclamation of their abilities and accomplishments – providing those unwilling to take personal risk a “point person” to follow as they “live and die” by the outcomes of another’s actions. They prefer expressing their thoughts, experiences and abilities loudly and convincingly...to be accepted as true without discussion or argument. They often hide behind the perceived protection of “it is not my fault” or “it was not my idea” should something fail (and remember only those things that “went right” rather than may have “gone wrong”). Those looking to follow extroverted leaders often seek to avoid personal trauma by following blindly on the paths defined and developed by others. The compliant actions and attitudes of these followers often helps extroverts elevate themselves into leadership positions as they lift themselves above the crowds around them. Great leaders, alternatively, tend to be lifted up on the shoulders of those able to understand their strong internal values and understated personal characteristics that benefit “the whole” rather than “the self.”

Though introverts COULD become great leaders, they must be willing and able to leave their “comfort zone,” entering the world of “what if?” while leaving that of “what is” behind. An introverted leader must be willing to make him- or herself stand up for their values and speak confidently in front of people – potentially facilitating large and contentious meetings while wading into the resolution of 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). Introverted leaders are typically “drafted” by others to show the way because of the exceptional results emanating from their understated methods. They rarely shine a light on their own accomplishments or seek recognition for what they do, preferring to bask in the glory their results produce. In relationships, introverts tend to listen, validate and influence rather than talk, act and control.

Listening before acting, analyzing before deciding and determining direction only after considering the magnitude and ramifications of risk (rather than only how to avoid it) are characteristics of great leaders. Perhaps more introverts (who tend to display these characteristics) should be encouraged (and given the opportunity) to lead – allowing their actions to speak louder than their words.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Life Goes Softly…

Life is a gift – but we often feel we should be able to hold it in our own hands, unwrap it whenever we want and play selfishly with it so that we might find gain even if others feel pain. It seems that far too many people leave this life more suddenly – more unexpectedly – than we might hope for, leaving behind them the seeds of doubt, the pain of loneliness and an unfathomable feeling of loss. We are told that God will not give us a challenge greater than what we are able to endure. During the Holiday season (for many) it often seems that He has more confidence in us than we do in ourselves. Anyone can steer a ship through calm seas but it takes a master – perhaps The Master being given control of the helm – to find safety within a storm.

No matter the season we must learn that while life provides us with a plethora of opportunities it also gives us a multitude of challenges. We must find peace in the reality there are some things we can control and others that will only frustrate us should we seek to fully understand them. Loss is one of these things – something that everyone experiences at some point in their life…something that will either help to build or destroy the very foundation of all that we are or hope to become.

When we compartmentalize and restrict ourselves by focusing upon how many breaths we (or those around us) are given in life (or how unfair it might be that one we care for was taken from us before their breath should have ceased…before their time was up…before we were ready to let them go) we tend to think more about what we lost than how much the presence of another helped us to grow – to become who and what we are..  When we hold too tightly onto could have been rather than reliving and celebrating all that was…when we see only loss rather than embracing the way another may have helped us become who we are…we minimize the reality and significance of those who have gone before us.


The Breath of the Night…

She came lightly upon the breath of the night…

            Dancing with reckless abandon through the meadows within other’s minds…

                        Flying carelessly through the shadows of their seeking souls…

            Wanting only to bring joy to those who would know her…

Sharing herself freely with any who might care.

 

He came lightly upon the breath of the night…

            Lighting but for a moment before moving on…

                        Touching down but long enough to hint of his presence…

            Leaving those who missed him searching for meaning…

And those he touched during his far too brief stay wanting for more.

 

She came lightly upon the breath of the night…

            Blending with the quiet whispers of the ocean…

                        Warming the cool, damp evening air…

            Making each morning a new beginning to an adventure not yet realized…

Opening the eyes of those too blind to otherwise see.

 

He came lightly upon the breath of the night…

            Dreams of his laughter filling the now silent air with music…

                        Thoughts of his smile making the brightest of stars seem pale…

            His brief reality lifting the veil from a world of sorrow…

Shining brightly within a troubled night trying to hide dread within its darkness.

 

She came lightly upon the breath of the night…

            Her brightness a contrast to the world’s muted shades of grey…

                        Her presence a vital part within the hearts of all who knew her…

            Forever changing a world into which she was able to but briefly reside…

Now looking down upon us held tightly within the arms of God.

 

For they left seemingly as suddenly as they came…

            Not given the time to accomplish all that had been intended…

                        Not fulfilling the promise of their physical presence…

            Not touching the lives that may have thrived in their presence…

Leaving as lightly upon the breath of the night as they came.


For all who have experienced loss, felt loneliness or sought answers to unanswered questions about life…let thoughts of those drifting lightly upon the breath of the night open you to a world of possibilities rather than narrowing you to a place of loneliness and loss. Perhaps if we could find purpose in each passing – find joy in each moment rather than holding on so tightly to our losses that we are stifled and destroyed - we might become stronger instead of being overcome by the burden of loss. Only when we cherish the moments that take our breath away – enjoy time within our thoughts and memories that should have been (but will never be) our reality – will we be able to embrace those that have come and gone softly upon the breath of the night, leaving us different (and perhaps someday better) than we could ever have been without them.