The mid-January droop…

Sad blue emojiI saw a post on Facebook over the weekend claiming that this week in mid-January is the worst week for depression out of the year – specifically, the third Monday of the month.

I don’t know how true this is – Wikipedia calls it “pseudoscience,” and it probably is.

But I understand why it might be true.

The holidays are over. New Year’s celebrations are behind us, and many who make resolutions have probably also slipped at least once or twice. Work has gotten serious again, with annual plans made and projects ramping up. There are no more celebratory holidays to look forward to in the U.S. until Memorial Day (not everyone has President’s Day off, and who actually “celebrates” it anyway?), and the end of May is a long, long way off. And for those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s DARK and COLD.

Oy. I’m depressing myself just writing about it!

(Note: None of what I write here is intended to address true depression. Please get help (if you haven’t already) if that describes you!)

So what can you do?

Decide what you want

At this time of year especially, it’s easy to get sucked into the work vortex. New plans have been made, strategies set, tactics laid out, projects defined. And you probably only had minimal, if any, input into all that. Yikes.

What’s important to you?

What fits with your career goals – and your personal goals?

I’m not suggesting that you need a five-year plan; I’m not a fan of five-year plans. But having some sense of what your next step is, professionally and personally, helps keep you focused and helps you choose between options with a sense of actual direction instead of a coin-flip.


Want some help with this?  You might want a Personal Leadership Profile. Click the link to learn more.


Schedule FUN

My coach is a vehement advocate of what she calls “hooky days” – days off Just Because.

Theoretically, at least, this is easier for those of us who are self-employed versus those who have to report to work every day. (Theory is a wonderful thing that doesn’t always play out in practice… someone remind me to take a day off, please?)

But even if you don’t have the flexibility to take random days off from work, you DO have weekends.

Schedule fun time. Whether it’s a movie outing, a museum trip, or a local Escape Room adventure, put it on the calendar. While spontaneous fun is great, having specific plans gives you something to look forward to, which makes any day a little brighter.

Track the sun!

Speaking of brighter days, and again here in the northern hemisphere, the days are getting longer. And there are some fun apps you can get on your phone that tell you all about it: when sunrise / sunset is, how long the day is, when the moonrise is and what phase it’s in, and so on, all based on your GPS location. According to Sundial, my current favorite, daylight today is 10 hours 5 minutes long … and tomorrow will be one minute longer. How can that fail to cheer anyone up?!

The point is …

Whatever you choose to do, the point is to create a sense of purpose and control in order to overcome the gloomies. Because work – and life – should, as I keep saying, be more fun!


Most people who like my articles also like my YouTube videos on management and leadership. Check them out: https://www.youtube.com/gracejudson

gljudson Self-talk

Got a tough feedback challenge?

Photo of person sitting against a wall holding up a sad-face poster.I once worked with someone who was, let’s say, an extreme health enthusiast. He ran marathons for fun, and ate raw garlic for his immune system and cholesterol.

He was smart and good at his job … and we all thought he was probably an interesting person, but no one wanted to get close enough to find out.

A colleague had a similar, albeit less aromatic, challenge: how to let an employee know that their job focus needed attention: they were coming in late, leaving early, and spending way too much time on personal phone calls.

Whether it’s a personal or professional issue – garlic or time management – giving someone feedback about their behavior is tricky, to say the least. It feels delicate, embarrassing, and potentially offensive.

Nonetheless, it has to be done. Here are six steps to take.

Step #1: Deliver the news in private

No one should have an audience when they’re being given constructive feedback of any sort, especially when the feedback is about a personal or behavioral habit.

If your office doesn’t have a door that closes – or it’s a “fishbowl” with windows on the world – find a space where you can deliver the news without watching eyes or listening ears.

Step #2: Avoid the “feedback sandwich”

The “feedback sandwich” is an outdated and ineffective way of giving corrective feedback. The idea is that by stating a positive first, then describing the desired behavior change, and ending with a second positive, you’ve set someone up to be receptive, and left them feeling okay about themselves.

But when the constructive feedback is in the middle of two “attaboy” or “attagirl” statements, it dwindles into insignificance. And as much as we’d all love to help everyone feel great about themselves all the time, when we want someone to do things differently, they need to feel at least a little remorseful about what they’ve been doing.

So skip the sandwich!

Step #3: Set the stage

Start out with, “I’m sorry, but you’re not going to like what I’m about to say,” or, “I’m afraid I have something challenging to discuss with you.”

No one enjoys being blind-sided by bad news. When you prepare them in this way, they’re, well, prepared. In most cases they’ll actually over-prepare, anticipating the worst. Then, when you tell them what’s actually on your mind, at best it will be a relief, and at least it won’t be coming out of the blue.

Step #4: Deliver the facts

We all know not to make it about the person – but when it’s a behavioral issue (“you stink of garlic!” or “you’re always late!”), it can be hard to avoid.

Writing down the facts ahead of time can help.

“When you eat raw garlic, it’s hard for people to be around you because of the smell.”

“For the past three weeks, you’ve come in at least half an hour late, and left at least 20 minutes early, every day.”

These are facts, not character flaws. Because of that, they’re hard to argue with – and less likely to be offensive or cause hurt feelings.

Step #5: Define specific changes

You delivered the facts, now you need to describe success.

“Please find an alternative to raw garlic.”

“I need you to arrive on time at least four out of five days, and leave early only if you’ve gotten permission to do so.”

Set a specific deadline by which the behavior needs to change, and confirm that they understand what they need to do and are on board with doing it.

Because you’re sticking to the facts, both in terms of what’s currently happening and what you want to have happen, they have very little room for pushback. (What to do if they do push back is a subject for another day.)

Step #6: Follow up

Phew. The hard part is over – and now it’s tempting to dust off your hands and move on with all the other things on your to-do list.

But you still need to monitor and follow up. Did they actually make the change you asked for? If so, recognize them for their effort. If not, you need to escalate – and depending on the seriousness of the issue, perhaps initiate a performance improvement plan.


Want to learn more about dealing with challenging employees and difficult management situations? Check out my video playlist on Managing Difficult Employees at http://bit.ly/HowToManageDifficultEmployees!

gljudson Better conversations, Management & Leadership

Ever considered thinking … smaller?

Photo of a hand holding a tiny seedlingEveryone implores you to THINK BIG.

Go big or go home. Be audacious. Don’t settle. Be all you can be (if not more). Set BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals). Shoot for the moon – or is it the stars?

It’s exhausting.

And often demoralizing.

Because let’s face it, when we set those BHAGs, we’re likely to miss the mark at least some of the time – if not most of the time.

Let me be perfectly clear: I’m absolutely not advocating for giving up on your dreams and aspirations.

What I am saying is that getting there is the result of a lot of small steps, not one giant leap.

The people who succeed in climbing Mount Everest don’t do it in a single bound.

They plan. They practice. They consider options. They gather skills and supplies. They learn from others’ experience and expertise.

And then they show up at the bottom of the mountain and start, one step at a time, up the slope.

One step at a time. Focused on just the next step toward the top, and not on the top itself.

What if you thought smaller about your BIG goals?

Because here’s the thing: that BIG goal is wayyyy out there in the future, and it’s awfully easy to feel like you’re not making progress.

Go ahead and set the BIG goal.

And then look at the next smallest thing you can do to get there. And do it.

This creates a feeling of accomplishment, a quick burst of pride and confidence.

And that gives you the momentum to take the next smallest step. And the next, and the next, and so on.

Then, when you look up, you’ll be a lot closer to your goal.

So think smaller … about your big dreams.

gljudson Career development, Self-talk

What HAVE you done?

Small 3-D figure inserting green checkmarks into a three-box gridNo, seriously.

What have you done?

Usually at the end of the year, we look at what we want to do in the next year.

Go ahead. Feel free.

But first, consider what you’ve done THIS year.

I’ll guarantee it’s more than you think. Because we’re all very quick to put completed projects and successful endeavors behind us and hurry on to The Next Thing.

Don’t do it.

Stop. Look back through your calendar. Think about what happened. Think about the people, the conversations, the events, the things you did and the projects you completed.

And notice just how much it all was, and how meaningful at least some of it was.

Then … do it again, only for the whole decade.

Yep. A new decade is about to start, so take some time to look at what this decade that’s passing has given you, shown you, taught you.

Don’t be so quick to rush on to what’s next.

Take the time to feel good about what’s passed – and learn from it.

Maybe you’ll learn that you’re a badass, stronger and more creative than you thought. Or that your friends love you. Or that you’ve shifted some bad habits of thought, doing, and/or being. Or that you’ve created some new habits that support you. Or that you’ve traversed an important milestone – or several. Or that you’ve found joy in unexpected places (or, for that matter, exactly where you expected to find it!).

And that you’ve learned from your mistakes.

So, what have you done?

Enjoy it. Luxuriate in it. Dwell on it. Snuggle up with it.

And then – but only then – think about what next year, and the next decade, might bring.


For some structured help with this process, click here to download my Reflective Review worksheet. No cost, not even your email! Happy Holidays!

gljudson Career development, Self-talk

Five true joys of being a manager

Photo of a very happy man in a red sweater standing before a blue block wallI’ve spent the last month or two writing and video-ing about the problems, challenges, and hardships of managing and leading.

It was getting depressing.

So as an antidote, and in no particular order, here’s a list of five really fun, rewarding, and great things about being a manager.

1. You get to delegate

No, I’m not being sarcastic or snarky.

I’m serious.

Isn’t it time you stopped doing all the old familiar stuff, and started learning something new?

Plus, delegating means …

2. You get to help others grow

Everyone on your team has things they want (and need ) to learn. As a manager, supervisor, and leader, it’s up to you to assess where they are and bring the joy of learning and growing to each of them according to what they want and need. And helping people discover new ideas and develop new skills is a wonderful experience.

3. You get to make decisions

Instead of only and always being subject to the decisions of others, as a manager, supervisor, and leader, you get to start making at least some of the decisions yourself – decisions that create real results for your team and your organization.

4. You get to see a bigger picture

As an individual team member, you saw what was right in front of you and a little bit around you.

Now that you’re stepping into a bigger role, you also get a bigger, broader view of what your company is doing, where it’s going, and how it’s getting there. And that’s interesting, intriguing, and perhaps even inspiring. Especially when you notice that …

5. You get to have an impact

The first-line manager, supervisor, and leader has more impact and influence on the majority of any organization’s employees than anyone else.

Because of you, they feel inspired, motivated, and happy in their jobs. They go home in a good mood, ready to enjoy their families and friends. They wake up without dreading the day – and maybe even looking forward to it.

A little scary, a lot exciting

Having that much fun is a big responsibility.

Go for it!


When you’re ready to learn more about becoming an inspiring, motivating, supportive manager, supervisor, and leader – check out the Empowered Leadership Program. It’s specifically designed to provide the foundational skills and understanding that every manager and supervisor needs on their journey into leadership. Click here: https://www.gracejudson.com/empowered-leadership-program/

gljudson Management & Leadership

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