Do you like people?

A crowd of smiling, diverse cartoon facesSeriously. Do you like people?

Not just your friends. People, in general. Humanity, as a whole.

Of course there are specific people you don’t like, people who rub you the wrong way, people whose values, attitudes, or philosophies you don’t agree with.

But if you want to be a good leader, someone who inspires and motivates your team, you need a general sense of liking – and even enjoying – people. You need to be curious about who they are, what makes them do the things they do, what intrigues them, and how to recognize and reward them.

You don’t have to be an extrovert to like people. You don’t have to be a social butterfly, and you certainly don’t have to be the life of every party. (In fact, you probably shouldn’t be the life of every party if you really want to grow your career.)

Leadership means guiding, influencing, inspiring, and motivating, as well as correcting, instructing, and reprimanding on occasion. To do any of that effectively, in a way that creates trust and a willingness in your employees to follow, you need to have that basic liking for human beings in general – that fundamental interest in who they are and in their well-being.

I’ll add that you don’t need to like any of your employees in specific. It’s possible – and necessary (though challenging) – to like people in general, dislike a specific employee, and be a good, influential leader for that person as well as everyone else on your team.

gljudson Leadership

What are you doing?

Directly across from my computer is a bulletin board.

On the board, right in my line of sight, is a five-inch by eight-inch index card with three short lines on it.

The top line reads:

Card with the words "is this worthwhile?"

When I look up and see it, I’m reminded to check in with myself. Is what I’m doing worthwhile?

That doesn’t mean it has to be BIG, momentous, all-about-business, or serious. It just means that in this moment, right now, is it worthwhile for me to be doing what I’m doing?

Sometimes it’s a reminder to take a break and – yes – check Facebook, just for fun. Or step away from the computer, skritch the cat, let the dog out to pee.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s a reminder that checking Facebook is a distraction from reaching out to a client, writing this article, preparing to speak at a conference.

What are you doing?

Right now you’re reading this article.

What were you doing just before that? and what will you do right afterwards?

There are probably any number of really gotta do this tasks on your to-do list. Will they get you closer to your goals?

I mean your real goals, not the goal of having everything checked off on that to-do list.

Are they worthwhile? Really worthwhile?

Or is there something else, something waiting for you to “have the time,” something bigger?

Something that will actually move you closer to what you want, closer to who you really are?

Leadership of self is real – and really important

We ask our teams to focus on what’s important.

Yet we often let ourselves slide into focusing on what’s right in front of us in the moment. That could be a ringing telephone, a text message from a client, the accumulation of email in your in-box, or that notification from Facebook.

Some of that might be important.

The challenge is discerning the difference between in-your-face-but-irrelevant and actually-worthwhile.

And that’s the challenge I’m offering you right now.

For the rest of today – for the rest of the week – hey, what about for the rest of your life? – ask yourself: is what I’m doing right now worthwhile?

I get that some things just need to be done. But you don’t have to answer every phone call, you don’t have to respond to every text message or social-media notification when it pops up, you don’t have to leap on each email as it arrives.

It’s a cliché, and therefore really easy to ignore, that we all have the same number of minutes in each day.

But we don’t all have the same number of days in our lives.

When you stop reading this article, what will you do? Is it worthwhile?

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Who will you be?

Colorful profile outlines of heads in a circleIf you want to grow as a leader – whatever your role may be right now – you’ll have to change.

There is no growth without change. There’s simply no way to become different without – duh – becoming different.

That sounds like a Captain Obvious statement, for sure. But how many people do you know who struggle in vain to change something in their lives, whether professionally or personally, whether an external situation or an internal experience? The first few months of every year are littered with abandoned New Year’s resolutions, and we all know plenty of people who complain bitterly about what they wish was different, but never take action.

Who we are right now holds our current situation in place.

We have to be willing to shift our identity to someone different if we truly want to change, grow, become the leader we say we want to be.

Think of a change you want to make in your life. Any change. It might be a professional change, such as a step up in your strength and confidence as a leader. Or a personal change, such as taking a risk in a relationship in order to make it better.

Who do you have to become in order to make that change a reality?

Write it down. Be specific.

And then start being that person.

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Got timing?

Happy tortoise cartoonNo, that’s not a typo. I really do mean timing.

When you’re in a negotiation of any sort – from a simple request to a tough business challenge to a full-on conflict situation – sensitivity to timing is a crucial, and often-overlooked, factor.

Timing comes into play in several ways – and all of them are important, no matter whether you’re talking to your boss, a co-worker, an employee, or, for that matter, a friend or family member.

Their readiness

You can be 100% prepared with what you want, why you want it, and why it’s in the best interests of the other person to give it to you.

You can even be 100% prepared with what they want, why they want it, and how you can achieve your goals while respecting theirs.

But if you’re not also aware of their readiness to hear what you have to say, you can easily lose before you even begin.

Are they morning people, or are they grumpy till after lunch? Or do they droop by midafternoon?

Is there a looming deadline they’re racing toward, or are they celebrating a recent success?

Are they preparing to head out on vacation, or perhaps for an important meeting – or maybe they just got back from vacation and are scrambling to catch up with the 734 emails in their in-box?

And simply enough, do they seem calm, or stressed?

When you’re in the throes of anticipation and nervousness about this thing you want to talk with them about, it’s tempting to just jump in at the first opportunity.

It’s hard to be patient, but in the long run it will serve you to wait for the right timing.

The conversation

Go slow. Let the other person have their say. Listen. Breathe.

When the other person feels as if you’ve heard and understood them – and better yet, if they feel you’ve actually empathized with them – they’ll be exponentially more ready, able, and willing to hear what you have to say. (For more on the three levels of empathy, read this article.)

So let them talk.

And don’t over-explain. Over-explaining almost always leads to trouble, if only because it gives the other person something to debate with you. (For more on the problem with over-explaining, read this article.)

Take your time and pace the conversation easily and slowly.

The power of silence

A good friend once said, “Silence is a full partner in the process.”

So true. And yet most people are uncomfortable with silence, especially if they’re in a tense, high-stakes conversation, negotiation, or conflict.

After you ask a question, be quiet. Give them plenty of time to answer.

Likewise, when they ask you a question, give yourself time to answer. Pausing before you speak isn’t a sign of uncertainty. Quite the opposite: it’s a sign of thoughtfulness and care.

And because most people are uncomfortable with silence, when you allow silence to be your partner the other person will often step in (or speak in!) to fill it. Which means you’ll get that much more useful information about how they feel, what they want, and how you can work with that to achieve your goals.

By the way, silence goes beyond how you interact in one single meeting. In ongoing negotiations spread out over multiple meetings, leaving plenty of time between those meetings is another form of silence. And it communicates your willingness to take all the time that’s needed, rather than being anxious or nervous about wrapping things up quickly.

Timing is about confidence

When you have good timing, you project confidence. You’re not in a rush about when you meet, how quickly the meeting goes, who speaks first or for how long, how many pauses there may be, or how long those pauses are – whether minutes or days.

And timing is also a gift you can give yourself to slow down, relax, and think things through.

After all, it was the tortoise who won the race, not the hare!

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For or about? It matters.

The words "handle with care" as if applied by a rubber stampWe say we care about someone.

Sometimes we care for someone.

There’s a difference, and it matters.

When we care about someone, they’re a person for whom we have a certain regard. We probably like them, respect them, appreciate them, admire them, maybe even love them.

But we might not actually know them. We can care about a charismatic leader. We can care about someone on television or in the movies. We can care about someone when we believe they’re doing good work. We can care about a political figure or a philanthropist.

When we care for someone, there’s active contact involved. We could be a leader mentoring an employee or brainstorming a colleague’s problem. We may be celebrating with a friend – or offering a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. We might be planning a recognition event as a surprise for our team’s outstanding performance.

It’s hard to care for someone if you don’t care about them. It’s not hard at all to care about someone without caring for them.

When it’s someone close to us – our team at work, a partner, friend, family member – it’s best if we can care about AND care for them.

And it’s a problem if we care about someone close to us without also caring for them.

Note: I’m not talking about health-care caregivers in this instance, even if they happen to be family members or friends. That’s a whole different, and very complex, relationship.

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You just never know…

Photo of our Golden Doodle BonnieNone of us have any idea how much impact we have on people.

A year and a half ago, a young woman saw my husband and me with our Golden Doodle, Bonnie. It was a crowded sidewalk. She was coming toward us, passed close by, tapped Bonnie on the head and said, “Doodlepop!”

We’ve never forgotten that, and often call Bonnie “Doodlepop!” I’d be willing to guess she doesn’t even remember the interaction.

Three years ago, my husband signed a short-term rental agreement on the house we lived in before buying the house where we are now. We had a cat at the time (no dog yet!), and part of the lease covered “damages inflicted by Said Cat.” We have referred to “said cat” (and various other “said” things) ever since. It’s standard lease language, and I doubt the landlord would have any reason to remember it.

Four years ago, a friend had a brief relationship. The relationship didn’t work out, but one thing that was said to her in the short time they were together caused her to make a profound change in her life. I imagine they both remember each other, but I seriously doubt the ex has any idea how important that one conversation was for my friend.

I heard a podcast a few months ago in which the person being interviewed mentioned a CEO who had hand-written a short note of appreciation to an employee. Years later, that employee still had the note folded into his wallet.

We just never know.

One or two words. A short conversation in an otherwise ill-fated relationship. A note that probably took five minutes, if that long, to write.

In their own ways, each of these events is an example of leadership.

Obviously, it can go the other way as well. One or two words can be hurtful; a short conversation can be destructive; a missed opportunity to show appreciation is unfortunate and sad; and a snarky, unkind note can be demoralizing.

Wherever we are and whoever we’re encountering, whatever we say is important.

Because we just never know the kind of lasting, meaningful impact we have.

gljudson Leadership

Why leadership is NOT a virtue

Red toolbox with the words "What's in your toolbox?"“Leadership is a tool, not a value, and effective leaders can be abhorrent forces in the world. I try to remind myself never to say admiringly that someone is a great leader. Instead I try to be more specific. Not all great leaders are leaders for good.”
~ Ryan Derousseau

This is one of my favorite quotes because it makes a crucially important point: in and of itself, leadership is not inherently good.

It’s who we are as leaders that makes the difference.

As a leader, how do you impact the people around you? How do you influence them to succeed or fail? Are you inspiring them to do their best, or are they just getting by?

What’s their experience of your leadership? How do they feel when they go home after a day as your employee or team member?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~ Maya Angelou

As I wrote recently on LinkedIn, all too often, people are thrust into a leadership role without the support they need to understand what that really means, or to discover who they want to be as a leader.

At its best, leadership is intentional and values-driven.

At its worst, it’s destructive.

Most often, while usually well-intentioned, it’s unconscious.

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Whaddaya mean, you didn’t know?

Photo of a man in a blue shirt and striped tie, face obscured by a bullhornWhat I’m about to say will seem really obvious. Bear with me, please.

As I teach in my change leadership programs, effectively communicating change to those responsible for making it happen is crucial for success.

Like I said: obvious.

Or it should be. The problem, however, lies in the fact that by the time the change initiative is ready to be rolled out, the people responsible for communicating what needs to happen have been living with it for a long time – at least weeks, sometimes months. They’ve designed it, mapped it out, reviewed it, budgeted it, timelined it, risk-assessed it, and are generally pretty well over it.

They know the what, why, and how inside-out, backwards, sideways, and upside-down.

They’d probably never admit it, but they’re just a wee bit bored with it.

They’re ready to move on to the next Thing.

And because they’re so familiar with it, and so ready to have it in the rear-view mirror, they assume people know more about it than they actually do, and they skimp on communicating what’s going on.

Which, of course, leads to confusion, lack of engagement, uncertainty, disinterest, potentially fear (“what’s happening? do they even know what they’re doing? what will happen to my job? will I even have a job?” and so on) – and could result in partial or complete failure of the initiative.

Failure that’s so very avoidable by simply not assuming that anyone knows anything at all about the plans, expectations, or desired results.

Even if you think you’ve told everyone everything, you probably haven’t – or you haven’t told them often enough, in enough different ways.

So if you’re leading a change initiative – whether in your business, with your team, at home with your family – choose right now to OVERcommunicate.

Projects don’t fail because people know too much about what’s happening.

gljudson Leadership

Afraid of being judged?

Cartoon of stern judge issuing a commandFear of being judged shows up in many ways.

We don’t say what we really feel. We don’t wear what we want to wear. We don’t plant our garden – metaphorically or literally – the way we want to plant it.

We don’t eat what we want to eat. We don’t ask for what we really want. We don’t read what we want to read, and we don’t watch the shows we want to watch.

We don’t raise important issues with our families, and we hold back from voicing concerns and ideas at work. We don’t ask questions that might reveal our ignorance or make us look stupid.

We don’t speak out about things that bother us or conflict with our values.

Some of what I’ve listed here might make no sense to you

Maybe you proudly wear whatever style you want. Perhaps you dug up all your grass and planted a gorgeous cottage garden – or a meadow – in the midst of a sea of manicured lawns. Or you might be known as the one who speaks truth to power.

Why are we concerned about being judged for some things, but not others?

Here’s the secret: when we fear being judged by others, we have already judged ourselves.

I’ll put it another way.

You’ll never fear others’ judgement if you aren’t first judging yourself, questioning your ability or your right – or, more likely, your safety – in doing or being whatever it is you’re concerned about.

It’s your inner critic speaking

When we really, truly want something but we fear doing it, having it, or being it because of what we think others will say – it’s the voice of the inner critic that’s holding us back.

There’s a lot of talk in self-improvement and self-help circles about not caring what others think.

The thing is, there are plenty of situations in which you really don’t care what “they” think. Why? Because you know everything’s fine.

So to say we shouldn’t care what others think is missing the first, most important step.

We have to not care what our inner critic thinks.

If you’re yearning to do, have, or be something, but you’re worried about what “they” will think – stop and look inside. What’s the voice in your head – the voice of your inner critic – saying? What’s the inner critic projecting out into the world, onto “them”?

If you can bring yourself to not care what it’s saying, you’ll stop caring what “they” think.

Interested in learning more about self-talk and the Inner Critic? Click here to hop over to the description of my self-study program “Managing your Inner Critic: how to stop the rotten-tomato fight in your head.”

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Why you should never ask “Why?” (and what to ask instead)

3-D question marks arising from boxesIt seems entirely reasonable: someone does something wrong – or at least, not as you’d expect – and you ask, “Why did you do that?”

There’s just one problem with this – just one, but it’s a big one: “why” creates an immediate sense of defensiveness and self-protection.

“Why did you do that?” Feel it for yourself. It carries a strong implication that you screwed up and you’re in trouble.

Even if the person did screw up and is in trouble, asking “why?” is still a bad option. Very simply, defensiveness does not lead to an openness to learning. Instead, it leads to closing down and withdrawing. Any conversation about the situation is likely to be all about how they were right to do what they did, or that it wasn’t really that bad, or that you’re a mean person and a bad manager for criticizing them.

Let’s try a different approach

The reality is, this individual did do something wrong, or at least not in the way you’d like them to do it, and it is an issue that needs to be corrected.

So what DO you do, if you don’t ask “why?”

Ask “what” questions instead.

For instance:

“What happened?”

“What steps did you follow?”

“What were you expecting to happen?”

(Try to avoid “What were you thinking?” because, as useful a question as that ought to be, it’s way too associated with the accusation “what WERE you thinking?!”, with the all-too-obvious implication that they weren’t thinking at all.)

Asking “what” questions engages them in conversation, and then you can ask more “what” questions.

“What do you think you might have done differently?”

“What if you had done this?

And so on.

One of my clients went this route recently after an employee made a major error in judgement. He reported later that, despite having to exert a lot of self-control not to ask “why,” the “what”-based conversation ended up being far more productive than he expected. In fact, the employee actually answered the “why” question spontaneously, which, again, led to a productive conversation in which both of them learned. Even better, he felt confident that this mistake – and others like it – would not be repeated.

It’s a very natural tendency to ask “why.” For one thing, you probably really want to know!

But if you take the “what” route, you’ll discover “why” along the way – AND you’ll have a far greater opportunity to teach and coach them into doing better next time – just as my client did.

Which will make both of you a whole lot happier.

gljudson Leadership