Is management leadership?

Graphic of 3D small figure in thinking pose before a large teal question markMany people will answer “no” to that question. No, they say. Management is management, and leadership is leadership, and the two have different objectives and different activities.

A lot of opinion on the internet reinforces that point.

I disagree, which won’t surprise anyone who knows me.

If you have at least one person reporting to you at least some of the time, you can’t be a good manager without also being a leader. It doesn’t matter what your official title or role may be: when you’re responsible for an employee, even if only some of the time, you need leadership skills if you want to succeed.

If you don’t have anyone reporting to you, ever, then maybe you’re not a leader. But don’t kid yourself: people who aren’t officially managers are often leaders nonetheless – if not at work, then at home or in the community.

Of course there are skills and tasks related to management, and skills and tasks related to leadership.

But there’s tremendous crossover.

As a manager, you need your team to do what you ask them to do in order to accomplish something.

As a leader, you need to motivate and inspire your team to do what you ask them to do in order to accomplish something with excellence.

Peter Drucker, the late, esteemed management consultant, educator, and author, wrote, “One does not ‘manage’ people… The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.”

People continue to cling to this perceived distinction between management and leadership. But what they’re not noticing is that it arose out of industrial-era needs that are no longer relevant in today’s knowledge economy. A manager on an assembly line wasn’t interested in their team’s professional development or in employee engagement. They were simply interested in getting as much stuff put together as effectively and efficiently as possible, with as few mistakes as possible.

That’s management, not leadership. And I guess it’s still relevant for assembly lines.

But as Drucker points out, that’s not the reality for the majority of managers and supervisors today, and it’s not the reality that employees today want to work within.

So if you aspire to be a good manager, you’d better also aspire to be a good leader.

gljudson Management & Leadership

But what about the baggage?

Photo of assorted suitcases and duffels on a white backgroundIf you’re an adult, you’ve got some.

Baggage.

Issues.

Triggers.

Hot buttons.

Whatever you want to call it.

Because no one gets into adulthood without at least a little baggage – and some have a lot.

And we bring this baggage into the workplace with us, whether we like it or not.

So do our employees and team members.

But what do you do when one of your team is being held back by their baggage?

You’re not qualified

You’re not qualified to be a therapist or counselor. (Unless, of course, you are a therapist or counselor.)

It’s not your place to try to “fix” or even help heal. Don’t go there.

Also, please note: I am emphatically not suggesting that someone who could be a danger to themselves or anyone around them should be in your workplace.

am suggesting that these situations must be handled with care and sensitivity.

With that said, there are fundamentally two options.

Option One

If the baggage is creating a serious performance problem, and you’ve done your best to provide training and support, you could simply let the person go.

Shall we skip the euphemism? You could fire them for non-performance.

And in some cases, that might be exactly what you need to do.

Option Two

People with baggage also often have a ton of potential. If the employee is otherwise a good fit for the job and the company culture, it can be both worthwhile and extremely rewarding to go an extra mile or two.

I know a super-smart woman who’s the CEO and founder of an early-stage, pre-revenue startup. And she has a coach working with her whole team and herself. Like I said, super-smart: she’s not waiting till there’s positive cash flow to provide the support they need.

So one possibility is to follow her example and hire a coach for your employee – and for yourself, to help you help them.

I already said “you’re not qualified,” so take this next idea with caution. But if you share some of your own baggage-related challenges, it can help normalize the experience for someone who might think you – as The Boss – never get triggered or have your buttons pushed – or at least, never at work.

By inviting them to understand how having hot buttons and baggage is part of everyone’s experience, you also invite them to step outside of their immediate perspective. And that can help create space for them to grow into their job responsibilities.

It’s a balancing act

As much empathy and compassion as you might have for someone, they still have a job to do. And it’s not your responsibility – or, frankly, your problem – that they have baggage.

Be clear about your boundaries. Don’t overstep into advice or counsel about their private life, even if they ask.

If it sounds like I’m saying two different things – “help them” / “don’t help them” – well, I sort of am. It’s a balancing act.

Many managers would simply conclude that employees who aren’t performing, regardless of the reason, need to either improve, or go.

And that’s true. I’m not suggesting holding on indefinitely to an employee who’s not doing the job you need them to do.

But I’ve seen some beautiful things happen when potential is encouraged, with patience and understanding.

gljudson Management & Leadership

The second-least-fun thing about managing

Graphic image of a Mardi Gras "tragedy" mask in purple and greenGiving negative feedback.

No one likes to do it.

Even for those who don’t mind conflict, it’s hard. For those who struggle with conflict, it’s really hard.

The temptation to close eyes, stick fingers in ears, and hum “la-la-la-la-la” is enormous – meaning, to pretend nothing’s happening (and maybe if you hope real hard, it will go away).

But guess what: it’s not going away.

The need to give corrective feedback is a reality of managing and leading.

So let’s talk about how to do it the best possible way.

What’s going on?

The opening lines from the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth” comes to mind. (Have I just dated myself?)

There’s something happening here

What it is, ain’t exactly clear…

If you’re not clear about exactly what’s happening and what you want the outcome to be, you can’t give clear direction.

And if you can’t give clear direction, chances are you’re not going to see the changes you want to see.

Your first task, therefore, is to write down exactly what your employee is doing that you want done differently.

What are the incorrect actions, and what’s the un-desired outcome?

What should be done?

The second task is to write down exactly what change you want to see – including a clear description of what the result looks and feels like.

If your employee doesn’t know what “success” is, how can they achieve it?

Remember, while you know what the outcome should be, your employee doesn’t, or you wouldn’t have this problem. And while you might think it’s obvious what should happen, again, your employee doesn’t … or you wouldn’t be having this problem. (For more on this, see “Why don’t they KNOW already?”)

What do they need?

I can hear you thinking, “They need to just do it right!

But here’s an interesting little fact: most employees sincerely want to do a good job, and the primary reason why they don’t is a lack of resources.

They might not have the skill, training, experience, knowledge, or physical resources they need.

How do you find out? That’s the next step.

What do you say?

Be curious. Ask why they’re not succeeding. What’s getting in their way? What do they need?

And then make sure they get it.

It might be that simple.

But it might not. So here’s a summary of the steps to take to set your employee back on track.

What to remember (a quick checklist)

Always give corrective feedback behind closed doors. It’s no one else’s business.

DO NOT use the so-called “feedback sandwich.” That’s where you “sandwich” the corrective feedback between two bits of positive feedback. While it’s sometimes helpful to offer kudos to a struggling employee (see “What do you do when a trainee won’t learn?”), that’s not what you’re doing here, and the “feedback sandwich” is an outdated, proven-ineffective tactic.

Stick to facts, not feelings. As the manager and leader, your feelings are irrelevant in this situation. (Sorry, but it’s true.) Go back to your previously-written descriptions of what’s going wrong and what needs to change.

Reach agreement on what will happen and by when (again, go back to your written descriptions). Make sure they understand what success looks like.

Follow up with an email outlining the conversation and agreed-upon changes.

And then follow up to make sure the changes actually happen according to schedule.

What? All that?

Yep, all that.

This may look like a lot, but it’s actually a quick and fairly easy process. The challenge lies in actually doing it, and carrying through with the appropriate follow-up to make sure what you’ve asked for is actually happening.

Managing performance problems isn’t fun.

But the consequences of not managing them … well, that’s even less fun.

In fact, that’s the FIRST-least-fun thing about managing: having to fire someone.


For more on managing difficult employees, click here to receive the mini ebook “The Five Most Challenging Employees – and how to manage them.”

And then click here to view my YouTube playlist on Managing Difficult Employees.

gljudson Difficult people

What ISN’T success?

Graphic image of many roads going in all directions with signpost pointing every-which-waySuccess.

We all want it. (And those who say they don’t haven’t done what I’m suggesting here. Instead, they’re rebelling against the stereotypical cultural definition.)

It’s the most important yet least intentional part of most people’s lives.

Think about that.

How much time have you put into defining what you, personally, REALLY mean by “success” – and then reviewing and updating that definition on a regular basis?

Or have you just gone along with what your parents want for you, or your friends strive for, or your managers at work have laid out for you … or whatever has presented itself to you?

And think, too, about this: how clear are you on what “success” means for your team, your department, and your company?

I push my clients to take time – plenty of time – to create a crystal-clear definition of success for themselves. A personal definition that they can feel in their body, that makes it worth getting out of bed on even the crappiest days. And likewise, I ask them to make sure they understand exactly what success looks and feels like in their work.

How will you know you’re getting closer?

How will you know you’re veering off track?

And here’s an interesting way of looking at it:

What isn’t success – for you?

Think about the traditional or family-defined ways of describing success.

What would you leave out, for yourself and for your team?

When I ask clients this question, they get very thoughtful. It feels disconcerting and a bit backwards to consider what should be intentionally left out of the definition.

And it creates surprising insights.

What about you? What would you leave out?

gljudson Strategic thinking

How to support a decision you don’t believe in

Image of a red button with a "thumbs down" hand outlineIf it hasn’t happened yet, it will. Eventually you’ll be asked, as a manager and leader, to support a decision you disagree with.

Maybe it’s a project you don’t think will succeed. Maybe it’s a corporate acquisition – a merger with another company. Maybe it’s a round of cost-cutting and associated layoffs. Maybe it’s a single employee being terminated.

Whatever it is, it’s not the path you’d choose if you were in charge.

It’s hard. Acknowledge that.

When faced with an unpleasant reality, all too often we expect ourselves to just “let it go” and carry on.

But that leaves us frustrated, resentful, and only half (or less) engaged with what needs to happen.

So start by acknowledging that it’s hard. You disagree with whatever this is that you’re being asked to support. You don’t want to. Your inner child is having a tantrum. Your inner adult is listing all the reasons why this thing is wrong.

Acknowledge that you disagree. If necessary, write down why (privately, just for yourself).

You have choices.

When I talk with clients in this sort of situation, they inevitably tell me, “I have no choice. I have to go along with this.”

Actually, you DO have a choice. Several, in fact.

  • You could choose to quit.
  • You could choose to defy your manager or leader.
  • You could choose to gather a group of co-workers and stage a sit-in.
  • You could choose to call in sick.

And so on.

I’ll grant you that some of those options aren’t entirely rational – but they are choices you could make.

The reality is, you don’t choose to take any of those options.

The reality is, you’re choosing to go along with your leaders’ decisions.

And yes, you may be making that choice based on some hard realities of your own – such as, you want to maintain your lifestyle and therefore you need your paycheck.

Just don’t fool yourself into believing you have no other choice.

Communicate

As a leader, you have a responsibility to your team to help them understand what’s happening.

You may not be able to tell them everything. Confidentiality around mergers, layoffs, and other big leadership decisions is real and valid, and you must honor that.

But you also need to control rumors and gossip as much as possible.

So explain what you can, as clearly as you can. You’re not obliged to be wildly enthusiastic, or even mildly enthusiastic; in fact, if you don’t feel enthusiasm, don’t try to fake it, because that will be obvious.

Depending on the situation (and that’s a call only you can make with your understanding of your position and what’s happening), you may be able to say that you don’t entirely agree, but that it’s how things have to be.

Just let people know as much as you can, without overstepping confidentiality or becoming a loose cannon.

Make a choice

Maybe this is one step too far for you. Maybe this decision you’re being asked to support is too much for you to stomach.

In that case, make the choice to start looking for another job.

gljudson Management & Leadership

What do you do when a trainee won’t learn?

Photo of stressed-out woman in an office settingYou’ve been training a new employee. And they’re stuck.

They can’t seem to pick up the details, they can’t absorb the next step, they can’t “get it right,” they’re clearly stressed and unhappy – and so are you!

You’ve tried everything you know how to do. Speaking privately with them. Role-playing. Asking questions to find out what they do understand – and why they don’t get it. Coaching from co-workers. And so on…and on.

What can you do to get them back on track? Or is it hopeless and they’re just the wrong person for the job?

Sometimes it’s true…

Sometimes they are the wrong person for the job.

Maybe they’re not a fit for the company culture. Or they might be uncomfortable with a particular aspect of the work.

One client hired someone who seemed ideal for a technical sales job – until he realized this person was deeply uncomfortable with selling.

(Oops. That was an error in the hiring process, in which, I’m embarrassed to say, I participated and missed asking a key question. Lesson learned: never ever skip key interview questions!)

But if there’s no obvious reason for their struggle, here’s a counter-intuitive tactic you might try.

Counter-intuitively …

Offer generous praise for what they’re doing right.

You’re both so focused on all that’s going wrong that you’re overlooking the things being done well. And there’s always something.

Even the non-sales-oriented employee I mentioned did a lot of things right, though in the end they couldn’t get past the “must sell stuff” aspect of the job. (They’ve moved on to an office manager role at another company where their superpower-level organizational skills are prized and rewarded – no sales required!)

What are they doing right? Notice it in the moment – and/or after the fact. Be explicit. It’s not just “good job!”, it’s “Hey, you really did x, y, and z very well! thank you!” (For more on this, see my article “Why Thank You Isn’t Enough.”)

Better yet, find multiple things they’re doing right.

Why does this work?

A rising tide floats all boats

You’ve heard that saying: “a rising tide floats all boats.”

It works for confidence as well as water.

When someone’s struggling to learn key job requirements, their anxiety and stress go through the roof and their confidence sinks into the sub-sub-basement.

Stress and lack of confidence create uncertainty and brain freeze, making the struggle to learn – and retain what’s learned – even more difficult.

Boost their confidence in areas where they’re legitimately doing well, and the stress eases, the uncertainty diminishes, and they almost miraculously begin doing better in all areas.

Not always, but mostly

It doesn’t always work. If, as in the example of the “selling-is-bad” employee, there’s a deeply-held personal belief system or value that conflicts with the job requirement, it won’t help. In that situation, confidence isn’t the issue; the value structure is the issue, and we’re all entitled to honor our own values.

But when the employee genuinely wants to learn and is sincerely trying (meaning, there are no value or belief structures in the way), then boosting confidence in one area will almost certainly boost performance across the board.

Try it. See what happens. And let me know!

gljudson Management & Leadership

The dangers of over-delivering

Photo of exhausted woman from behind, showing desk cluttered with papers, computer, phone, eyeglasses“Under-promise and over-deliver.” It’s a common principle, especially in consulting and other service businesses.

But – as we discussed in last week’s Empowered Leadership group meeting – sometimes over-delivering isn’t such a great idea. As a prime example, I recently had a conversation with a woman who routinely got middle-of-the-night phone calls because she had become the go-to person for anything that came up – regardless of whether it was actually her responsibility.

We want to do a good job. We want to be seen as helpful, reliable, and resourceful. A team player. All those good career buzzwords.

But what happens when over-delivering goes overboard?

Got a life?

This is the obvious question, of course. As with the woman who got middle-of-the-night calls from work, it’s all too easy to let over-delivering creep into every part of your supposedly-not-at-work time.

In fact, she confided to me that she’d “ruined” her relationships and “hardly sees” her kids. Yikes.

She also said, “I’ve got to figure out this balance thing I keep reading about.”

But in my opinion and experience, personally and with clients, “balance” isn’t real.

It tends to push us into trying to make everything come out even.  Which, since this is life, isn’t going to happen. And I’d argue that actual “balance” isn’t even what we really want.

Boundaries, on the other hand, are essential if we’re going to survive without doing Very Bad Things to our personal lives.

It’s not helpful, dedicated, or a good work ethic if we always come to the rescue of the people around us.

Which leads me to …

Are you a leader?

Seriously.

Leaders don’t do All The Things. Leaders delegate, mentor, and coach so their teams learn and grow instead of becoming dependent on someone else to figure everything out for them.

If you pick up everyone’s dropped balls – or, worse, accept balls tossed in your direction even when they’re not yours to juggle – no one benefits.

You become exhausted, overwhelmed, and not focused on what YOU are supposed to be doing. Everyone else becomes complacent and blasé because they know you’re there to backstop any problems … even when those problems are things THEY are supposed to be handling.

No one’s career benefits.

Yours doesn’t, because your boss wants to see you leading your team, not doing their work for them.

Neither does your team members’, because they aren’t learning, stretching into new experiences, and developing their skills.

So when is over-delivering a good thing?

Over-delivering can be good if it’s intentional and situational.

For instance, there’s a specific project you’re working on, and you know that with a little extra effort you and your team can deliver it a few days early.

This is specific, intentional, and limited to this single instance.

When your team participates in this type of over-delivery, they’re learning and growing (instead of becoming complacent and stagnant).

And your life isn’t being swallowed up.

gljudson Management & Leadership

How much time does it take to grow a new leader?

Photo of businessman's hands nurturing a seedlingA follower asked a great question on an “Ask Me Anything (about leadership)” post on my Facebook business page.

“How do you balance the time devoted to leadership development versus running the business/department?”

There’s a sneaky assumption embedded in the question that training and development is separate from running the department.

But leadership development is part of running the business, not separate.

And leadership development belongs to both the person being developed and the person mentoring, coaching, or teaching.

The leadership trainee needs to be aware that every business interaction is an opportunity to “think like a leader” – to think about how they’d want the situation to play out if they were 100% responsible for the outcome.

There’s a difference between the employee who’s responsible for a particular task, and the leader who’s accountable for that task’s results. When the fledgling leader can make that shift – can see how the individual daily tasks fit into a bigger picture, and can understand how that impacts the business’s success (or failure) – then they’re learning to think like a leader.

Assuming you’re interacting with the trainee on a regular basis as part of your normal activities, you can ask questions that lead them into the leadership mindset. For instance…

How aware is this person of the impact of a particular task on the business?

Do they know all the ways the business makes money? (Most won’t. This is a big part of one of the modules in my Empowered Leadership program, and it’s eye-opening for participants.)

What would they change about how things are done, or where things are placed?

One of my clients in that Leadership program is working to rearrange the office’s physical space to be more efficient. Another has a new employee whose previous sales experience is helping improve results. Both these leaders are taking initiative to enhance the business they work for.

Sometimes new leaders will be reluctant to say that any changes are needed, either because they’re entrenched in “this is how it’s always been,” or because they don’t want to be seen as finding fault. They need to be encouraged to speak up; if necessary, you can ask them to come up with at least three things they’d change or do differently.

The key point here is that while you can always set time aside to specifically focus on training, overall it should be less of a “this is training time / this is work time” balance, and more of an integration throughout the day.

Training by itself is conceptual. Leadership is situational. No one can become a leader by sitting in a classroom or in one-on-one “training time.”

gljudson Management & Leadership

“Hi-Po Emerging Leader” – really?

Human-shaped figures filled with word cloud representing career developmentI’m not a fan of those terms – “hi-po” (or “high potential”) and “emerging leader.”

(Forgive me, please, if they’ve been applied to you. I’m sure you deserve them, and do read on to understand what I mean.)

Corporate America does a terrible job of supporting first-line managers, supervisors, and new leaders.

These are the people who have the biggest impact on the majority of any company’s employees. Which means they have a disproportionate impact on team productivity, employee engagement and retention, and, let’s face it, bottom-line results.

But most organizations, even well-meaning, employee-centric organizations, don’t do a good job of training and supporting newly-promoted fledgling leaders. (At least those well-meaning, employee-centric companies admit they’re not doing a very good job of it – but still, for some reason, they don’t work to change things.)

What does this have to do with the terms “high potential” and “emerging leader”?

Some organizations have programs in place to develop their “emerging leaders” – by which they mean those “hi-po” individuals considered worthy of extra attention. Usually, these employees are already partway along in their leadership journey, having managed to figure out at least some of this Leadership Thing on their own.

But what about the managers and supervisors who aren’t tapped as “hi-po” or “emerging”? Might they excel as leaders if they were just given some support? Could it be that at least some of the “emerging leaders” are simply working for managers who recognize that people need help crossing the gap between being an individual team member and becoming the leader of the team?

Not so incidentally, how do we suppose those non-hi-po, non-emerging employees feel about their ho-hum status? It’s not likely to motivate them to take the initiative to do better. In fact, it’s more likely to do the exact opposite – perhaps so far as to motivate them right out the door to another job.

There are two primary objections to training all first-line managers, supervisors, and new leaders.

  1. Most leadership training is expensive – sometimes insanely so.
  2. Taking a first-line leader away from their day-to-day duties for any length of time is close to impossible – as one manager commented to me in a meeting just this morning.

But thinking that these challenges mean we can’t train and support these people is wrong.

The gap between individual contribution and leadership is HUGE. Everything that makes someone successful as an individual no longer applies as a leader. And the cost of a failing leader is much higher than you might imagine.

And whether it’s you or your managers who need training, coaching, and support on the journey of leadership, there is training available that’s both cost-effective and time-balanced. Whether you follow that link to read about my version of that, or find it elsewhere … please find it somewhere.

We owe it to our companies, leaders, and teams to do better.

gljudson Career development

Got control?

A red book on a white background with the words MAKE YOUR OWN RULES in gold on the cover

This isn’t an article about the perils of being a control freak.

Quite the opposite, actually.

It’s an article in which I beg you to take control.

Take control of your career. Please.

Don’t let your career wander around according to the whims of your managers, your employers, and perhaps your family.

Let’s start here.

Got a plan?

Actually, let’s not start here.

Because before you can plan how you’re going to accomplish something – as I’ve said many times – you need to be really clear on what that “something” actually is. And asking “how” before you know “what” is the wrong way to go about it. (Read those articles I linked and you’ll see why that’s true.)

So let’s start here instead.

Got a clue?

I’m not a fan of the classic interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Sheesh. If you’d told me five years ago that I’d be where I am today, I’d’ve called on the white-coat team to bring a straitjacket for you.

am a fan of two important questions:

  1. What does “success” look and feel like for you?
  2. What is the next step – maybe even the next smallest step – forward?

When you know the answer to those questions, THEN you can ask the “how” questions.

Now – got a plan?

Those two questions apply to anything in your life – family, relationships, education, community, and so on. But right now, we’re looking at your career.

And that means your career development plan.

How are you going to take that next step in your career?

What do you need?

Time? Resources? Mentoring? A coach?

Training?

Got help?

Obviously, I can’t guarantee that you’ll get help from your employer, even if you ask for it.

But unless you work for a company that’s in serious trouble, or for a boss who’s a serious… well, you can fill in the blank there… if you ask for what you want, taking care to explain the benefit to the organization, you just might get it.

If you never ask, you’ll never know.

Got control?

It’s your career.

Sure, your managers have input. They have a perspective you don’t – they can see your strengths, so they can tell where you’ll probably succeed and where you might struggle.

But they also have their own agenda, and it might not align with what you want and who you are.

And sure, your friends and family have things to say. They, too, have perspectives you don’t. And they can be terrific sources of encouragement.

But they can also be concerned about your job security or worried that changes might impact your relationship with them. Which means they might not support you in ways that will get you where you want to go.

It’s your career.

Got control? If not … what’s stopping you from taking it?

gljudson Career development