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, February 22, 2021

THE ALPHA PROTOCOL

 

Far too many people think that starting over means going back to the beginning and repeating everything they originally did while expecting different results than those that initiated the “re-do.”  While reviewing the actions or decisions that did not produce anticipated results is an admirable component of any “recovery” effort, perhaps more could be gained by focusing on was NOT ATTEMPTED OR CONSIDERED...what might have been LEFT OUT or OMITTED...then initiating different approaches starting from a new and fresh perspective to achieve improved results.  This method of continuous improvement in life – of establishing ongoing new beginnings to accomplish unexplainable results – can be defined as leveraging the “Alpha Protocol.”

 Alpha represents the beginning...the start...where we must launch our journey before we can hope or expect to reach an end – which would be called the Omega.  Before we can “undo” what has been “done” we must identify what (specifically) did we not like about the direction our journey was going.  Before we can start over, we must identify WHY we do not like where we are (even if we have not yet figured out what we must do differently to alter the direction of our travels) and WHAT we are willing to do to alter the course of our journey.  Did you begin your journey at the request of another – moving in the direction you were pointed using the tools, concepts and pre-conceived beliefs someone else provided – or did you consider where YOU wanted to go before walking down a path upon which (perhaps) nobody had ever wandered?  Did you begin your travels from a clearly defined Alpha then monitor progress towards an Omega OR did you do what felt good at the time and hoped to build upon that foundation to discover greatness?  While one can always improve and grow, if one is relatively comfortable with the “omega” they have landed upon there is no amount of discussion, collusion or convincing that will force the investment of energy needed to create a new “alpha.”

In order for your efforts to culminate in a logical conclusion – an answer in which you can believe and feel comfortable – you must consider where you wish to go, how you hope to get there and what you are willing to invest as you define what you are moving from and why you wish to leave it.  Full implementation of the Alpha Protocol requires that each identified new opportunity...every new path upon which we may travel...begins at a place from which we must move to accomplish anything.  We cannot seek safety or comfort “where we are” if we want to accomplish or enjoy those things that have not yet been achieved.  We must realize (and internalize) there are many paths leading from a starting point to a different destination – and that each stopping point is truly just a place to collect and gather strength prior to seeking the next opportunity not yet revealed.  Each fresh start becomes another new “alpha” from which the next steps originate rather than an “omega” that will stand as complete against the test of time.  If one is comfortable enough to endure the irritations within what they have or more comfortable living in the pain of lost opportunity than they might be in experiencing the potential suffering to which untested beginnings leading to not yet discovered destinations would expose them, then he or she should settle for the satisfaction that might be found in what is rather than living for what could be.  Alpha moments come and go in life – greatness enters the lives of those willing to let go of their bad omegas as they seek new opportunities.  Dissatisfaction, despondency and depression often descend upon those unable or unwilling to identify the need to move on...accepting the miserable life they might have rather than reaching out for something different – accepting all the blame for the way things are rather than opening their eyes (and hearts) to what might be.

When choosing to act by intentionally selecting a course of action after much study, review and discussion, allow your journey to reach a conclusion (even if the “end” is but a rest stop on the road to a final destination) before changing direction prior to allowing your decision to reach a logical conclusion.  There may be many “alpha moments” during the accomplishment of each objective – new beginnings from which opportunity blossoms.  There are truly few “omega moments” in our daily lives as each “end” is but a new beginning on the way to another temporary end (there are very few “finalities” in life – death and taxes being two – while each day dawns with a new beginning before concluding with a resting point allowing us to prepare for another fresh start).  Unless we choose to live our lives as they have always been - expecting (and being satisfied) to receive that which has always been provided - everything we do begins at a place which must necessarily be left behind if we hope to move forward in life. 

Those who accomplish much in life tend to live within their Alpha more frequently than they succumb to their Omega moments.  They see life as a series of new beginnings rather than ends – of fresh starts rather than conclusions.  While accomplishing much, they feel much has yet to be accomplished.  They find peace in the discovery of new moments in which they can live, breathe and grow rather than from resting upon the discoveries they may have made and finding satisfaction within the comfort that accomplishment can falsely provide.  Our omega moments often serve as resting points from which we can recharge, refocus and redirect our efforts before seeking another destination...recognizing them as new alphas from which different experiences blossom rather than as ends that might bring a new beginning to a halt...launching us to move courageously forward rather than being left behind in the safety of our unwanted realities.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

LIVING IN A COLORFUL WORLD WITH A BLACK AND WHITE MINDSET...

“Shades of grey” people can find more fulfillment in relative comparisons than in absolute positioning.  While there are several absolutes in this world, more often than not life is a series of subtleties that fall far short of the extremes demanded by a “black and white” perspective.   Far too often people view each situation they might come upon as being either fully and completely “right” or absolutely “wrong” as they apply a rigid set of standards to situations that have not yet fully been fully developed or implemented.  More often than not there is both right and wrong in every situation – parts of everything being both good potentially bad – the differences and applications being established by our experience, our perspective and our values.  When one shuts out the stark reality of black and white – the forced “go/no go” that we often face when operating within an absolute world - he or she can focus more on the possibilities of a situation rather than the reality of a closed door, an impractical possibility or an unconsidered potential.  Far too often we are distracted by the shades and hues of color within a setting or the starkness of either black or white when examining an image so much that we fail to find the soft relationships within the mist or the possibilities hidden on the other side of the fog.  Linking reality to the abstract pictures painted by grey-scaled photographs might be a better way to look at life – seeing things as being muted and shaded rather than sharp and undeniable.

A picture taken by Lake Michigan in winter – seen as a portal to the possible – is one example of focusing upon what might lay beyond what we see rather than seeing but a tunnel through the sand.  When we see but light and darkness rather than color and depth the wonders of the world can be revealed.  We can view an otherwise mundane tunnel through the sand as being our entrance into the vast horizons of opportunity.  Once through the gateway, rather than seeing but the harsh reality of a winter storm – with white covering the welcoming tan sands and blue waters – the removal of color from our lens provides a majestic beauty rather than a disappointing loss.  While striking as a colored photo, the lake seems frozen in time (figuratively as well as literally) when viewed through a black and white lens.  We often judge people, situations and opportunities by the “color they wear” or the expectations we have rather than the depth of their essence.  Perhaps we should all take the time to filter our initial impressions so we can identify and apply the value exposed through that sense of clarity.

Animals within the San Diego Zoo become a canvas upon which colors can logically be removed.  A panda within a tree provides a black and white perspective often lost within the green and brown foliage of its reality.  A resting tiger, majestic within its normal orange and black, becomes a powerful image of stark contrasts when stripped of its color.  (I avoided using the zebra that stood perfectly still – the reality of his world being black and white enough without being viewed through an altered filter.)  If only we could view others within our world through a muted filter – to see them for what they offer rather than losing ourselves within what we predetermine them to be – perhaps then the world would be less confrontational as the pride of plumage becomes but a muted blanket of comfort when we see each other as being the same rather than trying to “one up” each other. 

A neglected path in Kentucky becomes so much more focused when the colors of the autumn leaves highlighting the grass fading to brown as the sun sets upon the day are removed so as to reveal a winding trail which could lead to most anywhere IF one chose to take it.  While this path led to a mountain view, a similar path taken during a trip to Oregon led to a hidden waterfall near a wooden bridge.  We all must choose which road we will travel during this life.  Though many will follow highways that make their trip easier and their choices more defined, those seeking opportunities within shades of grey will often find beauty, peace and fulfillment when taking the road less travelled as they realize the subtle realities hidden within the paths that they take.

Giving a new definition to “peer pressure” were pictures taken in Maine and Virginia Beach.  While one may have to be a bit convoluted to link “pier” pressure with “peer” pressure, seeing a sturdy platform reach into the ocean always provides testament as to what can be done if we persevere – of what power and might we can harness when we seek to transform “what is” into “what could be.”  A pier stands as testament to the storms it has weathered – of the sunrises (or sunsets) it has experienced – of how it greets each new day (on the East coast) or welcomes the night into lives “out West.”  Too often we see only the surface of each situation we face – only the “practical purpose” of things rather than the possibilities not yet defined or determined.  When we take the time to look beyond what we see in life (a structure extending into the sea) to uncover the opportunities it hides (what travels beneath its surface or could be observed at different times of day or night) we can discover secrets revealed to us ONLY when we choose to close the book on what is and open it to see what could be possible beyond its covers.  A pier can be a dock or a window to a new world – its reality limited by our minds rather than its functionality.

Traditional pictures of a colorful world – waterfalls, rivers, seascapes, sand sculptures, bridges and birds (I seem to have some kind of addiction to birds – perhaps it is the freedom their world provides them or the limitless opportunities their flight reveals) – reveal beauty and reality in many ways.  Beyond pictures, however, are subtle differences that a grey-scale world provides – the shades that exist between “what is” and “what could be” made brighter or less defined by the lens we use to filter what we capture.  Vacation pictures can provide a different perspective when the “color of reality” is stripped from them – a perspective we do not often use when living our lives.  Perhaps we could all gain from looking at the obstacles we face, the people we live or work with and the challenges we wish to overcome through a different lens.  If we were to take a less conventional path to reach an unconsidered destination from which we could build a brighter future (rather than seeing a tunnel and wishing to determine where it began and where it ends...if we could intentionally alter our perspective to see where we might go after emerging from it rather than focusing on but what we see as we enter the light) – perhaps THEN life might truly become what we make it to be rather than forcing us to be content with what it offers us. 

We all share a common world but look at life through vastly different lenses.  The same object or person can reveal a variety of beauty, complexity, values and worth depending on how one filters what is observed.  Perhaps we could make more of a difference if each one of us could change our perspective by altering or modifying the filters we consciously and intentionally use so that rather than seeing only the surface of things – the reality within life – we might find the vast possibilities life offers beyond the obvious.  In a world of grey we can seek the possibilities of what could be rather than settling for the reality of what is as we identify the similarities and complimentary interactions we might share by being color blind to the differences that tend to keep us apart. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

INCLUDE OTHERS ON YOUR ISLAND TO GROW AND THRIVE

We need others in our lives to challenge, validate and support our direction, decisions and aspirations.  While most of us are able to move forward through much of life on our own, we can find encouragement to keep moving when we might prefer to rest if others are walking beside us along the way.  I recently spoke with an individual that had “issues” with everyone else in their world – they were either bull-headed, set in their ways, did not know anything about the “real world” or just would not listen – but the individual’s solution was “if only they would listen to me, all would be a lot better.”  THAT is island logic at its best (or worst) and the kind of thinking that might make an individual’s personal “island” more a volcanic wasteland devoid of companionship than a lush, tropical escape that could be shared.

Before we can expect others to accept us – to care enough about us to invest their time in making us better – we must first accept ourselves as we are THEN accept others as they are rather than as we think they could (or should) be.  The first step in this acceptance is to discover our own potential – fully accepting and assimilating the beauty of that reality into every aspect of our lives – before we could ever realistically hope to have another see value or worth in us.  We must identify our individual strengths and weaknesses, realizing the role that each plays both in our development AND to our detriment, then apply the positives while addressing and correcting the negatives – leverage the strengths that make a positive difference in our lives and the lives of others while addressing the weaknesses that can bring ourselves or others down. 

When one looks for weaknesses, assigns fault, or emphasizes failure they tend to focus more on what “was not done” than on celebrating success.  They often attempt to change behavior by identifying deficiencies that need altering (thereby becoming important as the identifier of another’s problems) rather than by encouraging the “cloning” of healthy behaviors they choose to exhibit themselves (leading by example). People acknowledging only their strengths often enter relationships to “fix” those around them – never fully exposing themselves to the scrutiny that true friendship brings.  Those that limit themselves by accepting shortcomings as ceilings rather than floors often seek friendships that mask their deficiencies by making themselves feel “much better” than their friends.  Individuals that plant themselves on “solid ground” and diminish others so that they can feel better end up being the best mediocre individual within a melting pot of mediocrity.  Those that lift others up and take them to the top upon their shoulders – raising all to the most that they could be rather than making them accept a lesser position in life – tend to thrive rather than to simply survive. 

Some people set low expectations to avoid ever being disappointed should they fail.  What kind of a meaningful relationship could develop from the premise that what “is” will never change – that wherever a relationship began is as far as it will ever go?  A relationship serves no valuable purpose if the melding of beliefs, values, ideals and accomplishments advances one individual more that it enhances the other – or the leader of a team more than the group to which he or she may lead.  If one can benefit from the input of another, how much could be accomplished when several come together to openly share thoughts and ideas without fear of reprisal as they seek to advance the interests of the whole – if the interests of the group were to be advanced by the efforts of the whole rather than by the selected options of a single individual.

Dreams are the destinations found at the end of the roads we choose to follow.  If we set no expectations – fearing the pain of failure more than we anticipate the rewards of success – we survive but will rarely thrive.  Those using failure as a springboard towards implementing a solution are more likely to succeed.  In order to assimilate dreams into daily relationships we must ALWAYS believe that the “light at the end of a tunnel” is a door opening to opportunity not yet realized rather than a train heading towards us on a collision course.

Relationships are the foundation upon which life’s accomplishments are constructed.  A relationship becomes successful when “we” becomes a given rather than “me” being the rule.  While one thinks he (or she) is an island, life will not be fully experienced or appreciated until the reality that to live we must share life has been realized – and that we are only as strong individually as is the group of close friends and confidantes we have around us.  We lose much that life has to offer when we focus only upon where we want to be rather than thinking about where we might want to go and considering how to get there and with whom we might wish to travel. Living on an island can be a peaceful place BUT living there alone can limit not only our contributions and ability to make a difference to others but also to our own ability to grow and thrive in our own lives.

Monday, January 25, 2021

RANDOM THOUGHTS AND REALITIES ON LEADERSHIP (AND RELATIONSHIPS)

Many troubles, failures, shortcomings and inconveniences we experience in life can be boiled down to intentional actions (or a deliberate withholding of actions) that individuals use as a way to accomplish their personal ends.  Far too many individuals would prefer to elevate themselves by standing still – content to remain within their self-imagined importance and fragile sense of worth – by removing “the competition” and diminishing the spirits of those around them RATHER THAN by lifting others up to a higher level we should all seek.  Avoiding accountability or responsibility within a relationship by bringing those around you down rather than lifting them up – by seemingly elevating oneself as others falter – does not result in gain but rather in standing firmly on ground that has been previously walked yet feeling yourself much better than those floundering in troubled waters (into which you – intentionally or unintentionally – banished them).  This destructive demotivation can happen at work, in life and even within relationships when one (or both) parties exaggerate their self-importance and perceived contributions to a controlling level above those of the engaged partner (team or group).  While many of our shortcomings are a result of our personal actions (or inactions), others are a result of personality issues (strengths and flaws) that interfere with our ability to interact with others.

It has been said that someone perpetually late for meetings is driven by one of three characteristics.  They are either controlling (wanting to make sure that others know their importance), overly focused on details (not wanting to leave a project until a stopping point is reached) or are insecure (needing the attention and validation from others that being late brings).  None of these are good reasons to keep others from working, contributing or problem-solving but all focus more on an individual (their wants, needs, desires or personality characteristics) than on the good of all involved.  Whenever an individual NEEDS to finish one project before moving on to the next (or, alternatively, has NO INTEREST OR DESIRE to look into all the facts before making a decision OR cannot make a decision until ALL the facts have been reviewed and all the remote possibilities explored), talk more than they listen (or speak as if with a sturdy stick rather than a gentle voice), personality factors may be in play.  While it is difficult to change “who we are” it is possible to alter “how we look and act” to and towards others as long as we have a good reason to alter our perspectives or a worthwhile reward (or punishment) is linked to actions our actions.  Whenever we change ourselves to accomplish something we would not normally set as a high priority, however, we should recognize that no matter how successful we are in changing ourselves into something that seems to be different we will ALWAYS revert back to who we are should we experience stress or be pushed beyond our limits.

Doing things the same way they have always been done rarely produces results different than what has already been accomplished.  While not always a bad thing, progress is jeopardized and results minimized when someone perceived to be “large and in charge” shifts all the blame to others while seeking to claim all the positive praise for themselves.  Leadership should be seen as credible, trusted and wise (wisdom being the appropriate application of knowledge and experience to accomplish a task through others or build others up to accomplish great things)...as fallible and sincere...as honest and approachable.  Far too often a new leader sits back and takes comfort in the misconception that he or she “has arrived” when receiving their promotion rather than realizing that the opportunity is only the first step on their journey towards continued growth.  Far too many relationships have been destroyed by a self-seeking and self-serving partner feeling that he or she is THE reason for success, THE financial driver, THE only one with any needs and THE only one to set the relationship’s agenda.  The same holds true within a work setting...those IN CHARGE often find that the only one listening is themselves (as they carry on about how good they might be) and that those around them have become strangely distant (why compete with another’s self-perception?).

Some would say that rules are made to be broken – that the ends justify the means...that it does not matter how something transpired as long as it ended in a result that was satisfactory to the individual(s) who benefit from the actions.  An issue with this perception is that far too often it results in winners and losers.  Leveraging “win/win” solutions (approaching something in a shared decision-making process) could meld the talents and abilities of many to move forward in a manner that would allow all to win. 

Leaders recognize and respect rules – and typically seek to understand WHY they might be in existence and WHAT they might be accomplishing before doing anything to alter or change the rule by focusing on its origination and intent rather than its results and repercussions.  Supervisors or Managers often use rules as a weapon – relying upon them regardless of the circumstance and blaming them for any problem, discipline or termination.  “I would love to work with you but the rules are pretty clear on what I must do” is such a transfer of power that the manager might as well forfeit his or her authority.  A great leader (in any setting) should be able to explain the “why” of rules and recognize not only the absolute value of word meanings but also their intent.  Compromise (consistent and fair) tends to be most practical within any relationship (be it at work or at home).  There are very few “bright lines” as to “what cannot be done” unless it impacts life, livelihood, safety, trust or an organization’s bottom line.

Leadership within organizations or within a relationship (service group or body of individuals) is not that much different.  One must establish credibility in order to lead (OR to be heard) – a leader who does not know what is being done by those he or she leads and fails to identify the reason they enjoy (hopefully) their work will not be able to command the respect needed to motivate performance or maintain engagement.  A leader within any setting must be able to communicate clearly and effectively – and communication is not telling, ordering or dictating that something be done in a certain way within a given timeframe allowing for no independent thoughts.  Sometimes, in fact, silence and intent concentration on what another might be thinking, saying or feeling shouts much more loudly than words ever could. 

While a leader is responsible for results, he or she must also ensure that all interested parties within the team, the group or the relationship are able to express an opinion that is discussed and considered prior to a decision being made.  A relationship that is controlled (not shared) by one individual doing what he or she thinks is right (without considering the thoughts, feelings or opinions of the theoretically equal partner) will not remain strong unless an unhealthy emotional dependency exists in which one party takes joy while the other provides subservience.  An individual might be able to supervise or manage others by telling them what is needed and how to do it but will never be able to LEAD through trust, credibility and respect unless he or she actively engages team members and discusses their thoughts and suggestions.  A government entity will not be able to provide fair and democratic leadership if all blame for dissension or disagreement is dumped upon “the other folks” that “obviously caused the problems” while excusing or ignoring the role those seeking unity might have played.

Leadership is a “many splendid thing” no matter what way one looks at it.  It can be the highest peak in an individual’s life or the lowest valley within their existence – which, unfortunately, carries over to the individuals being led.  Learn to lead by taking the time to listen, to think, to analyze and to act.  Pick yourself up should you fall – more can be gained from getting back up than would ever be learned from staying down.  Know that whatever decisions you make or actions you take influence more than just yourself...that you are being counted upon to provide guidance (resources, support or a host of other things) to those depending upon you.  Remember that much can be accomplished by those willing to listen, to share and to “not really care” who gets the credit for a job (or a relationship) well done.


Monday, January 18, 2021

PLAYING THE BLAME GAME

Leadership emerges during times of trouble, turmoil and strife.  It has been said that anyone can manage during good times – and any relationship can be great if everything is easy with no trouble in sight – but what happens when the going gets tough becomes the measure of a person’s strength, character and values.  While there should be very little difference in your leadership style when you face unexpected hurdles, far too many “competent” individuals excuse (avoid, cover up or justify) their own actions by blaming or deferring to someone else.  It seems that when things are going well some will always take the credit yet if they begin to get even a little bit rough the blame falls squarely upon others – it is either their fault, their shortcoming, their mistake, their actions that caused the conflict or ANYTHING except a bit of self-examination and the assumption of even a shared responsibility.  Seeking short term-gain (popularity, acceptance, being “liked” by others) often damages long-term credibility when “it was not my fault” is the immediate response to every issue, problem or concern that faces us.

Examples of “decision deferral” and “blame game mastery” exist everywhere we look.  The Government tends to shift blame rather than assuming ownership of most situations – and (sadly) the American People tend to accept that transfer as being acceptable (this happens no matter who was or is in charge...anything wrong is because of a past decision...anything that turns out to be a good thing is because of a new leader’s insight and action).  People do the same...if their retirement account gains it is because they invested wisely – if it decreases it is because their advisor does not know what he or she is doing.  If a relationship is going well it is because of what they bring to the party – if it falters it is because of some unforgivable thing that someone else has done (without considering what role may have been shared).  While blaming may defer or deflect it rarely resolves an issue or repairs a relationship.  Individuals within failing (or suffering) relationships OR facing impending doom because of an equal and opposite reaction to an action intentionally (or unintentionally) taken often blame others for their position in life, lamenting that things would have been different IF ONLY someone else had not made a mistake or made a decision without first running it up the management flagpole.

In reality, many people feel vulnerable when accepting blame...more worried about what someone else might think than they are about resolving the issue or what went wrong rather than how they should move forward.  “It is not MY fault!” is far easier to say than “I am sorry – I was wrong.”  An apology should be the beginning of a new direction rather than the end of a poor choice.  It is not a conclusion – it is a fresh start.  Too many people feel they need to avoid all appearance of being “human” (making mistakes, expressing doubt, changing a direction should the conditions change or admitting to a weakness rather than seeking to appear infallible) as they mistakenly feel that “being right” trumps “being real” when it comes to relationships, leadership or life in general.

In the workplace, sudden decreases in business may cause otherwise competent managers to tell staff they should “look busy” because “top management” is out to cut expenses and “we do not want that to happen to us.”  By building a bond of fear perpetuated by some “other authority” with their staff (trying to be the “good guy or gal” rather than assuming the responsibility inherent to their role), deferring managers may avoid the perceived responsibility for negative consequences but will never be able to own the credit for something done well...will never be able to become truly exceptional leaders.  Rather than becoming driver in the implementation of a solution, their deferral of responsibility makes them an inexcusable part of the problem.  Seeking a short-term gain (popularity) at the expense of a long-term reward (credibility) is like seeking refuge from a storm within a dry riverbed at the bottom of a canyon. Both choices lead to disaster BUT one would be able to hear the water crashing through a valley more easily than a loss of credibility which slips silently away.

Given the same sudden decrease in business (or an unexpected turn in a relationship), a leader will “take the bull by the horns” and face reality by confirming that things are tough (staff probably already knows this), telling them that something must happen to change the current situation (insanity is doing things the same way expecting different results), and painting a realistic picture of what might happen unless an alternative is identified.  It does not really matter WHO is to blame or WHY the situation currently exists (if, indeed, it was the fault of another).  What DOES matter is what will (or can) be done to move from where we are (regardless of why we are there) to where we want to be, recognizing that life is not a paved highway providing a clear and direct path to a known destination – it is a winding road offering many alternatives, detours and roadblocks. Those that worry so much about who could have “acted badly” to create such a situation rather than simply identifying what may have happened and moving forward will rarely find success, happiness or fulfillment in life.

Blame is situational – it may be a means to an artificial end but it is rarely an end to a problem.  Life is transactional – it is often more give than take (which, if the giving is without expectation usually results in rewards that are far in excess of what was given)...more sharing and accepting blame than seeking or receiving credit.  When we wait for or continually defer to others for a solution to avoid making mistakes of our own we forfeit the ability to influence our own destiny.  Avoiding (or accepting) the obvious does not create change – it fosters complacency.  Assigning fault and blame without self-examination as to our part of a negative situation may serve to excuse our individual role or responsibility but it does not initiate change or bring about resolution.  If we wait for things to happen to us, expect someone else to lead us from where we are or hope that someone else changes so that we will not have to, our choices become obvious and our results limited to a narrow set of defined (and predictable) outcomes.  If, however, we react and respond to situations rather than blaming and excusing, we will find our lives full of unpredictable moments that reveal to us unlimited potential leading to undefined (and unexpected) possibilities. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

THE POWER (AND POSSIBILITIES) OF LISTENING...

Some people listen but cannot bring themselves to hear – they know words are being spoken but do not (or will not) accept them as information, input or alternative thoughts that might be as important as their own.  A patient listener can be a great addition to any work team or strengthen any relationship – but too many listeners (without any “doers”) can impede progress.  Strong individuals who speak before listening (or thinking) may view good listeners as being “weak” or “followers.” Listening skills must be linked to deliberate and intentional action in order to aid in the accomplishment of specific tasks.  Far too often a person's listening skills could be likened to standing near a waterfall - one can listen to the roar of rushing water but when focused upon the magnitude of that sound will be unable to hear the words of others (regardless of their importance) that can be lost within the noise.  Amazing things could be accomplished if only everyone could “speak softly while listening loudly so they might be able to act boldly,” within a world that seems to be filled with way too much noise.

It takes courage to listen.  In order to listen, one must often be able to first ask.  In order to ask, one admits (either actually or implicitly) that he or she does not know.  Such an admission is nearly impossible for some people – and can be the death of many relationships if not addressed.  We must accept that gathering information in order to make a decision is not a sign of weakness or of failure.  The only failure one can make is deciding something before all data has been considered and all opinions on the application/interpretation of that data have been discussed (and analyzed).  Some may want to enter this “questioning game” by seeking public validation of their own (in their own mind) great ideas.  Discovering that others might be able to enhance (as well as clarify, expand and refine) a solution, may make asking another’s opinion (and honestly listening to their response) easier over time but one cannot listen with an open mind if he or she truly believes that “they are right and the rest of the world is wrong.”

Asking questions (which requires listening to hear the response) can help others think more and communicate their thoughts better.  I once asked an employee what she thought about an issue.  She said, “I am not paid to think, only to do what I am told.”  Needless to say, that employee no longer works at the Organization.  While she worked well and met the expectations established by another manager, she was not the kind of employee that we needed and could build upon for the future.  Without asking a question, however, and listening for her response (which, in this case, was totally unacceptable), she could still be here, “doing” her thing without thinking about what she could be doing to help or support those around her.  When we learn something is amiss by listening we should feel obligated to address it – not by over-reacting to the situation discovered but rather by clarifying and communicating expectations, listening to responses, coming to a mutually agreeable course of action, monitoring progress and seeking acceptable performance or interactions.

A good listener knows when to encourage conversation.  When facilitating a discussion group, a work team or participating in a good relationship, our listening may involve asking open-ended questions (as opposed to giving close-ended solutions), encouraging others to expand on a partially developed thought (rather than adding to it yourself), and drawing introspective individuals (a nice way to say quiet or insecure) into the conversation.  Ground rules for good listening would have to include that the only bad or dumb question is the question not asked, the only bad or dumb solution is the one not given and that everyone involved has value, can contribute in some way and deserves to be heard.

Have you ever heard that “actions speak louder than words?”  People often say things like “I care, I am interested or I am listening…” as they continue writing when someone comes into their office or doing what they were doing before being addressed by another.  They think they are asking the right questions and waiting quietly for the answer (with their arms crossed, their foot tapping, and a vacant look in their eyes causing their body to scream “I do not hear you, nor do I care!”).  While we are given two ears with which to listen, our body is much larger than our ears and can make a greater impression upon someone trying to speak.  Make an effort to keep IT receptive, also, to the words that are being spoken by those answering our questions and the feelings or concerns that are being expressed by them either verbally or through their body language.  Listening involves more than simply hearing what might be offered...it requires one to ask non-judgmental questions that could (should) initiate two-way conversation that will lead to thoughts being exchanged so that answers can be expressed.  It requires one to communicate openly and honestly, responding to what is being said AND inquiring as to what is not being said.  It requires one to hear what is being whispered through another’s words while seeing what is being shouted through their body language (by paying attention to the “tone” as their outward appearance screams while their voice speaks softly).  Often we can “hear” more by watching (we were given two eyes as well as two ears…we can see and hear twice as much as we say with our one mouth – though some may speak more loudly than they act) than by listening.

Listening is a complex phenomenon.  In order to listen effectively we must ALWAYS act on what others say (as well as what they may intentionally or unintentionally NOT be saying) and what we see (sense or feel).  Within a team one must listen and act in order to accomplish expectations.  Within a relationship one must listen and act TOGETHER in order to accomplish today what must be done so that tomorrow can be spent fulfilling dreams.  ALWAYS remember that while you are listening to those around you they are also listening to you.  As a leader we must set the bar high by doing what we say is important through both our words and our actions.  “Do as I say, not as I do” never has been (and never will be) an effective way to encourage participation or achieve exceptional results.  One must learn to silence the noise around them and listen with an open mind to hear the thoughts and feelings expressed by another when they speak in order to consider their input within the formulation of a solution - and must acknowledge the words they hear by responding (whether or not the suggestions will be included in the actions you take) if one can fully realize the power (and possibilities) of listening. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

RESOLVING TO CHANGE

The only certainty about change is that it will happen – regardless of what we do or say.  We can anticipate change – planning alternative reactions to the multitude of possibilities that might present themselves – but rarely can we predict with any degree of accuracy what we will be doing during the New Year as we so well learned last year (but we MUST react to unexpected circumstances or anticipate things that COULD happen to minimize their impact in our lives). Change is far too elusive to be contained – its possibilities far too numerous to be compartmentalized within our finite minds.  In order to accomplish change we must act with purpose and refuse to accept the status quo as we constantly identify new possibilities through a process of screening or validating their potential benefit by measuring their rewards against the investment of time and effort required to bring them to fruition.

As we move from one year to the next, many make resolutions of what they wish to change – proclaiming what will be different or what things in life they will leave behind – without ever taking the time to identify what must be changed BEFORE they move forward.  They often fail to realize their dreams because they do not identify and eliminate the behaviors that led to the need for change.  We cannot expect to see different results until we start doing things differently, honestly thinking about our strengths AND weaknesses or responding to the things in life that impact us rather than simply recognizing them and accepting them as fate, destiny or some other unchangeable influence.  Change is as much about identifying where we want to MOVE FROM as it is about looking towards where we wish to be.  We need to establish goals and objectives in order to begin a journey towards change – but to accomplish change we must intentionally decide to move away from our past without becoming comfortable and content within the “present” we find if we wish to discover and embrace all the future might hold.


In order to grow we must come to grips with who we are and what we do well as well as what we want and why we wish things to be different if we seek lasting change.  We must embrace our positive attributes while compartmentalizing the negative – and accept that where we wish to be IS an extension of where we are rather than an abstract concept or a desire shrouded by mists and darkness.  Change most often succeeds when it is gradual – when it builds from our strengths while minimizing our weaknesses – rather than proclaiming that things will be different without planning, preparation or self-awareness.  We can initiate and maintain change that builds upon what we do well – that does not require a complete transformation of who we are or what we portray ourselves.  It is relatively easy to change when we can alter a negative behavior or isolate a wandering thought to receive a greater reward than we would have had if we remained tied to what we did or where we were.  It is much more difficult to re-invent ourselves, our actions, our tendencies and our expectations without plan or purpose in order to achieve a different outcome in our lives.  Self-directed change can be accomplished when the initiator of change is able to monitor progress, see results and continue to move forward because the positive benefits gained are greater than those received had change NOT been initiated.  

Typically, resolutions that result in visible physical or behavioral change that others notice and comment upon passively feed one’s desire to maintain their change.  When obvious “positives” come from minor behavioral changes or altered choices, resolutions are often at least partially (if not fully) realized.  When individuals enter into a “pact” with themselves to realize change, however, it is not always accomplished since accountability to another is stronger than holding oneself responsible for results.  Even resolutions initiated through internal desires (one must WANT to change before change can occur) may need external oversight to keep the train on the track and moving in the right direction. It is almost impossible to “resolve” to be something different or “wake up” as someone other than who we have always been without someone being honest and helpful should you begin to drift from your objectives.  Far too often when we make a personal commitment to alter our behavior we compromise our internal standards when “the going gets tough” by allowing ourselves to “stop going” (and often fail to get back on track when conditions change).  We accept a level of “acceptable sameness” when we measure our own progress and answer only to ourselves for the results we achieve.  While short-term change can be dictated, lasting change occurs ONLY when we internally formulate the “what,” fully realize the “why,” understand the “how” and are completely committed to the “what will be.”  Relying upon a trusted friend, partner or co-worker to discuss the distractions while holding us accountable to push forward will help us make significant and lasting change.  We should always declare our resolutions publicly (even if the “public” to whom we declare them is but one or two) rather than keeping them secret IF we truly want help in our accomplishing transformational change.

Take the time to start fresh in 2021 BUT hold on to those things that you do well – that move you forward – rather than resolving to be drastically different in an unrealistic period of time.  Change is good – but sometimes choosing NOT to change can be just as rewarding.  Do not, however, accept mediocrity as a standard or find comfort in complacency.  When you resolve to change, do whatever it takes (internally OR with an external accountability partner) to initiate, monitor and maintain the change.  Make this year one of successful resolution so that, should you so desire, you might be able to initiate a meaningful revolution in your life.