The “empowerment” pushback (do you agree?)

Word cloud centered on "empower"There’s a growing trend on social media and in leadership blogs and podcasts – especially those intended for a primarily female audience – of rejecting the concept of “empowerment.”

The argument is that people, especially women, don’t need to “be empowered,” which implies they need to be “given” power.  Instead, they need to, or should, claim and step into their innate power.

From a feminist standpoint – and, for that matter, a general people standpoint – I agree.

But from a leadership perspective, I emphatically disagree.

Here’s why.

Leaders are taught, not born

Leadership skills are teachable, and therefore learnable. And when we learn new skills, we are empowered in ways that we weren’t before.

As an individual contributor, you’re responsible for completing tasks that contribute to the success of a project, team, department, and the company overall. While you may have innate leadership talent, talent is not the same as skill.

So then you get promoted. Now you’re a first-line manager or supervisor.

The promotion isn’t enough

In the climb through the ranks of individual contribution, a.k.a. being a team player, by the time you’re promoted to the next level, you’re already fulfilling at least 80 percent of the responsibilities belonging to that level.

But very little about being a team member prepares you for leadership. The promotion isn’t enough; it doesn’t magically convey the skills you need to make the transition.

Therefore, most first-line, recently-promoted managers and supervisors feel painfully confused and uncertain about how to proceed – anything but innately powerful.

Learning skills = becoming empowered

Too few organizations recognize the need for leadership skills support – training and coaching – to truly empower their recently-promoted managers and supervisors to lead.

That’s why as many as 60 percent of new leaders fail in their first year: they haven’t been empowered to be the leaders they want to be, and their organization needs them to be.

When leadership skills support is lacking, and the potential leader is not empowered with the knowledge they need to become confident and effective, teams struggle and projects are at risk.

It’s that simple.

And that’s why I claim the word empowered as crucially important for leadership.

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Is it time to … get out?

Photo of a businesswoman, including her laptop & office equipment, squashed into a small cardboard boxMost people stay in unfulfilling, stressful, challenging-in-all-the-wrong-ways jobs for at least 18 months longer than they should.

(That’s not a formal study, but it is my strong opinion after four decades of observation.)

There’s safety in a familiar, known situation, even when it’s uncomfortable, frustrating, and potentially unhealthy. Human beings don’t like change, even when it’s likely to be change for the better.

So let’s get real here.

There may be ways you can improve the situation you’re in. You might be able to learn new skills, take on new challenges, stand up for yourself in new ways, and make strong new demands for respect, promotion, and a salary increase.

But be honest with yourself: is that going to work? If the skills, challenges, self-respect, promotion, and so on, actually become reality, will you be happy? Will you have a new sense of purpose and meaning? Will you bounce out of bed eager to get to work, and return home with stories of the good things that happened that day?

In just the last week I’ve talked with people who, completely unrelated and unknown to each other, told me of the ways corporate dysfunction was making their lives difficult – I’d even say, miserable.

From micromanagement to severe understaffing; from general disrespect to consistent workload overwhelm; from idea-theft to “sink-or-swim” non-training; and so on … these are good people with high standards who want to do good work, but whose organizations’ culture doesn’t support them – or whose managers don’t have the necessary leadership skills.

Does this sound like you?

Do you feel frustrated, disrespected, overwhelmed, and/or stressed by your job? (On the other hand, if you wonder if  you might be the manager creating this situation, I suggest you read this post and then take a look at this program.)

If you do … maybe it’s time to get out.

As I write this, the job market is booming. Employers are complaining non-stop that they can’t find qualified people. It’s an excellent time to at least check out your options and possibilities.

Start by listing what you want

What does a good, or even ideal, job look like for you? What are the qualities you want to experience? What values should the organization take a stand for? What opportunities would excite and challenge you? What sort of manager do you want? How about your co-workers and your team?

Make a list. A long, complete, thorough list.

You deserve to have all of that in your work environment.

Update your profiles

LinkedIn, of course, but don’t neglect your other social media accounts. Employers check these things, and you want their digital impression of you to be of someone smart and professional.

Network

Yes. That. Even for extroverts, it’s hard, and for introverts, it’s close to painful. Do it anyway.

And go through your contact list to reconnect with people you haven’t talked to in years. You never know who has a great job waiting for you – or who knows someone with that great job.

Take the leap

Take the leap. Start looking around.

Starting to look doesn’t commit you to actually changing jobs. You might decide things aren’t so bad, and stay put after all. (Note that even in that case, you’ll gain new perceptions of your value and new data for negotiating a better position.)

You owe it to yourself to have a job and a career that you enjoy. And it’s out there somewhere!

gljudson Career development

How’s learning working for you?

Photo of a white board to-do list with LEARN written in red markerDo you read leadership books?

(Or, really, any type of professional or personal development material.)

How’s that working for you?

I read a lot. And I’ve noticed that if I take the time to do the exercises from a book offering concepts and ideas for my business or personal improvement, two things happen.

First, I often get bogged down. I read a chapter, and then I have to stop and do the exercise. If that’s not readily possible in the moment, the moment tends to slip away…and weeks later, I realize I never got back to the book.

Second, even if I do the exercises, I often have a hard time translating the material into everyday life.

My clients experience the same challenge, and I’m betting you’ve been there too. For instance, who hasn’t been to a workshop or conference, come back all excited to implement ideas and tools that made perfect sense in the classroom, and then … huh? How do I make this work?!

One of my clients explained a concept to one of his employees multiple times. Here’s what you’re doing, here’s why it’s a bad idea, and here’s what you need to change. Multiple. Times.

She wasn’t getting it.

He and I talked about his plans for working with her, and he told me he was going to explain it again.

I said – No. She knows the concept. What she doesn’t know is how to apply the concept in her work – how to actually make the change he’s asking for.

So instead, we created an action plan to help her modify her behavior. And within one day – one day, after weeks and months of mutual frustration – she was observing herself, catching herself, and coming up with creative ideas for how and what to do differently.

Reinforcing concepts is sometimes necessary.

Helping people implement those concepts in real time – what my husband calls “game speed” – is essential.

What have you learned recently that you’re having a hard time implementing?

What small shifts can you make in your day-to-day work that will help guide you in the right direction?

It’s not always easy to identify what you can do differently. If you have a trusted colleague, friend, mentor, or a professional coach, they can help.

Whatever you decide to do, notice that it’s absolutely normal to experience this implementation challenge. There’s nothing wrong with you; it’s just a gap between intellectual knowledge and in-the-moment action. And that’s totally fixable.

gljudson Career development

Are you an enabler?

Photo of sticky notes with the words enable, engage, empower, enhanceHow good are you at enabling your team, colleagues, and, yes, even your boss, to do what they need to do?

Because it’s not enough to just delegate work to your team. Nor is it enough to just accept tasks from your boss.

You need to be an enabler.

Enabling your team

When you delegate work to the individuals on your team, you need to be clear about more than just their available time. If you want to enable them to do their best, you need to understand their level of knowledge, skills, and interest.

Since at least some of the tasks you delegate will require them to learn and grow, you also need to be clear about what support they need to be successful.

(Read this post on the dangers of delegation. Opens in a new window so you won’t lose your place here!)

When you know these things about each member of your team and act accordingly, you’ll enable them to do their best work.

Enabling your colleagues

I hope you don’t have to struggle with issues of territorialism, where peers and colleagues across teams or departments resist sharing knowledge, resources, and ideas.

But if you’re in an organization where this happens, then you know your colleagues aren’t always going to enable you to do your best work.

Don’t be like that. When someone needs information, pass it on. If a colleague needs extra resources and you have availability, be generous. If you have constructive ideas, share them.

(Do be careful on that last point. You don’t want to come across as critical or interfering!)

When you can share ideas, information, and resources, you’ll enable your colleagues to do their best work.

Enabling your boss

Making your boss look good is a wise career move.

This doesn’t mean allowing them to take credit for your ideas or your work. What it does mean is being aware of their priorities. What are they working on that you might not be directly involved in, but where you have ideas, skills, or knowledge they may not know about? How can you make sure you and your team are doing the right things to directly support their goals?

When you understand strategic direction and can be proactive in taking action to implement that strategy, you’ll enable your boss to do their best work.

Enabling the company – and yourself

When you enable your team’s, colleagues’, and boss’s success, you enable the company’s journey toward its goals.

You also improve your chances of recognition and promotion … which, obviously, enables you to succeed!

And be careful

Enabling others’ success isn’t the same as being a doormat or a workaholic. It’s not being indiscriminately helpful to everyone in the company. It’s not neglecting your work in order to support the rest of the world. And you never want to step on anyone’s toes, offering unwanted advice or pushing support on someone who doesn’t want or need it.

But the more you can enable others to do their work, whilst simultaneously doing your own as excellently as possible, the more you’ll learn, grow, and be recognized as a leader.

gljudson Leadership

Is it THAT time of year again?

Photo of calendar page and clockNo, I don’t mean the holidays (though those are approaching all too rapidly).

I mean … performance reviews.

And the even-more-dreaded potential for layoffs.

Because whatever we may think about companies that do this, it’s common practice that when RIFs (Reductions In Force) are necessary, they often happen just before the end of the year. (It’s a financial accounting thing. Which makes it no less painful, of course.)

Likewise, performance reviews are often end-of-year events – and, no matter how many studies, articles, and reports there may be declaring the End of the Performance Review, they’re still marching along in most companies.

Meanwhile, even if you’re a top performer in your organization with no worries about your review or being RIFfed, the end of the year is always a good time for reflection, planning, and preparation for the New Year to come.

Things are slow as we enter into the holidays (unless you’re in a sales position where you’re pressured to finish the year with a bang!). And that makes it a great time to step back a bit and, as the days get shorter and the weather gets cooler, take some of that cozy, slower, hibernation energy and turn it toward introspection. (Apologies to my readers in the southern hemisphere! but the principle still applies.)

What went well this year? What didn’t go so well? And, bearing in mind that most people think they’re well above average in skills, intelligence, and performance, can you take an honest look at yourself and see where you have room for improvement?

(One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, who said, “Each of you is perfect the way you are … and you can use a little improvement.”)

The difference between being intentional about your career (where and how you want to progress, who you want to be within your work), and not being intentional (going with whatever flow appears), is enormous. It impacts your self-confidence as well as your job performance; your personal relationships as well as your professional advancement; and your overall happiness and sense of meaning and achievement.

What skills do you need – or want – to acquire or improve? How will you accomplish that? Who can you ask for help and guidance in your quest for improvement? Where do you want to be at this time next year?

It may seem early to be asking these questions; most people wait till the last week of the Old Year or the first few weeks of the New Year. But if you set yourself up with these thoughts, plans, and intentions now, you’ll have a head start, or at the very least be poised to spring into action when the holidays are over.

And look, let’s be clear and honest here. If you are in danger of a less-than-stellar review (or even a candidate for layoff), now is the time to think about – and take action on – ways to show improvement, dedication, and determination. While it may or may not prevent the worst-case scenario, you’ll be that much better prepared for whatever comes next.

gljudson Self-talk

What’s it like to work for you?

Cartoon of male manager holding two face masks: smiling and frowningSeriously: what’s it like to work for you?

Have you ever thought about that question?

Have you ever considered how your team feels about coming to work under your supervision and guidance every day?

It’s human nature to remain in the rut of our own mindset: our thoughts, ideas, concerns, to-do lists, plans for the weekend, and wondering what our boss is thinking about us. And none of us can ever escape a self-centric perspective on life. It’s simply not possible to experience or even completely, 100%, understand someone else’s viewpoint.

But if we get stuck there, we can forget that the people around us are individuals with their own perspectives.

You know how the managers and leaders you’ve encountered in your career have impacted you. Some of them frustrated you, some of them inspired you; some of them made you so discouraged or even angry that you went home and grouched at your family, some of them challenged you so effectively that you went home excited and even joyful.

As a leader, you impact people. Your leadership style affects their lives.

You have the option of being intentional about your impact and effect.

Are you frustrating them, or inspiring them?

Are you discouraging them, or challenging them?

We all impact everyone we encounter, and that impact has a ripple effect.

How do you impact the people on your team?

How do you want to impact them?

What’s it like to work for you?

gljudson Leadership

Is that fair?

Photo of a peanut butter cup with a bite taken outAs a manager, supervisor, and leader, you want to treat your team fairly.

But just exactly what does “fair” mean?

When we’re little, we tend to interpret “fair” as “equivalent” (even though “equivalent” probably isn’t in our vocabulary!). If Johnny gets a peanut-butter cup, then we should get one too.

But as we grow up, we learn that maybe this isn’t what we really want, or what’s really “fair.” Johnny might love those peanut-butter cups, but if we’re allergic to peanuts, “fair” starts to look a little different.

It turns out that “fair” is both situational and personal

Welcome to yet another leadership gray area.

The people on your team are individuals. What works in managing one of them may not – probably won’t – work for all of them.

What motivates one person can actually demotivate someone else.

One person’s corrective feedback is another person’s condemnation of stupidity. (No, I’m not exaggerating; I have a client with exactly these types of people on her team.) Offering straightforward, no-frills corrective feedback to the self-assured individual is great. That feedback delivered in the same tone to a perfectionist who hates making mistakes can crush their initiative and motivation; they’ll only become even more anxious about mistakes.

Public accolades for work well done delivered to a life-of-the-party team member is rewarding for them in multiple ways. The same public recognition offered to a more reserved individual can be overwhelming and even embarrassing.

What this means is that how we offer feedback and recognition should vary based on our understanding of each person. Tuning our delivery to the individual is as important as the message itself.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should be coddled or protected from themselves – far from it. As leaders, we’re responsible for helping our teams learn and grow. But when we tune our feedback, recognition, and even work assignments to what we understand about each individual, we’ll reap the rewards of better results, higher productivity, and fully-engaged employees.

The perfectionist will learn (instead of closing down) when you deliver feedback in a way that makes it clear you’re talking about process improvements, not about their mistakes. The outgoing individual will appreciate the recognition from the team as well as from you, while the more-reserved teammate will be grateful for your heartfelt private “Thank you for doing this thing so well.” And although we want to encourage everyone on our teams to be collaborative and engaged with their colleagues, allowing people to do the types of work they do best is one way to be sure everyone is doing their best work.

Is that fair?

I think responsiveness to individual preferences and needs is the very definition of fairness.

gljudson Leadership

What’s your default answer?

Pushbuttons - the green one says Yes, the red one says NoDoes your imagination present you with all the reasons why something will go wrong?

That’s a great skill, and I mean that sincerely. Being able to see potential pitfalls and problems is part of risk management, and leaders need to be good at managing risk if they want to succeed.

But this ability to see all the ways something won’t work can cause you to say “No!” to proposals or suggestions that, with a few tweaks and a little focus, might actually be good ideas.

You see all the potential pitfalls in any scenario, so it’s way too easy to jump to why the new idea someone suggests just won’t work. But then you squelch creativity and innovation. And if you say “No!” often enough, people won’t bother bringing you ideas – including ideas that might solve current problems.

So if your default response tends to be “No!”, and you think you might be missing out on some good problem-solving, innovation-creating ideas (hint: you probably are), try these steps next time a team member or colleague suggests something new.

Pause. Breathe.

You’ve got time. No one says you need to answer one way or the other within ten seconds of hearing an idea.

Pause. Breathe.

Ask for details

If you’re a detail-oriented person and someone’s just tossed out a quick high-level idea, it’s super tempting to dismiss that idea.

If you’re not a detail-oriented person, it’s still important to get more information before making a decision.

Depending on the scope of the idea, you might ask for a written proposal, which can be a simple outline in email or a more in-depth report. Or you could ask them to expand on their ideas in a face-to-face meeting.

Either way, this has the added advantage of giving you time to think about what might go right, as well as all those things that could go wrong.

Using “and”…

Given your skill at problem-detection, you’ll probably never hear an idea that sounds 100% great right from the start.

So instead of saying, “Thanks for the idea, but it won’t work because…” try, “Thanks for the idea, and what about tweaking it like this…”

Turn that skill around

There’s nothing wrong – and a lot right – with understanding potential problems.

And you can bring that foresight to bear on more than just problems.

Try imagining all the things that could go right. What are the potential benefits? Where’s the upside on this idea? What gains in effectiveness, productivity, innovation, and/or profitability might arise?

Not every idea …

Not every idea should be pursued.

Not every idea should be thrown out.

Discerning the difference between an idea that’s irrelevant, impractical, or too risky at this time, and an idea that, with a little planning, tweaking, and revision could be a great boost – that’s a valuable leadership skill well worth developing.

gljudson Leadership

The perils of personality assessments

Woodcut blocks with the words "who are you?"Personality style assessments are everywhere. Myers-Briggs, DiSC (or DISC, depending on which version you take), Keirsey, the Enneagram, the Five Languages of Appreciation – the list goes on and on.

Organizations love these assessments, and with good reason. Using a reputable, validated assessment can help people understand in a felt way, rather than just intellectually, that people really are different from each other (or, more to the point, different from you). Different people respond differently to different communication approaches, different modes of recognition, different types of management, and so on. Understanding this is a great advantage for leaders and individual contributors alike.

The danger lies in taking any assessment too literally. Here are a couple of the most challenging potential problems.

The accuracy of the result

No matter how thoroughly any assessment has been validated and verified, the results can and will vary because the person taking the assessment operates from different perspectives at different times in their life – or even at different times during the day!

I know this from personal experience. When I took the Myers-Briggs at the company I worked for at the time, my results indicated that I was an ENTP. That never felt right to me, no matter how much the consultant administering the test assured me of the assessment’s accuracy.

Years later I re-took the test and came out as a much-better-fitting INFJ.

Big difference.

The danger of “that’s just how I am”

Every assessment does its best to accentuate the positive aspects of each type. And every assessment also describes less-admirable traits of each type.

The problem arises when someone accepts the less-admirable traits as “just how I am.” Then the limitations of the type become an excuse to relinquish responsibility for improvement. I’ve encountered more than a few people who, upon being confronted with their poor performance, shrugged and said, “Well, I’m a {type} – that’s just how I am!”

What to do, what to do …

I’m certainly not advocating against assessments. I use them in my work, and I appreciate the insights they provide.

What I am suggesting is that any assessment result should be viewed with appropriate discernment and even skepticism.

If someone says their result doesn’t feel accurate, they could be right. If someone appears to be using their type as an excuse for performing below the potential you believe they have, they need to be pushed. If someone’s results come out weirdly contradictory, then something’s gone wrong. (That was another of my personal experiences. When I pointed out that the report directly contradicted itself in several areas, the consultant I was working with blinked at me, re-read the report, and said, “Oh. You broke it!” (Assessment name withheld, but it’s a well-known and well-respected instrument.))

Obviously there’s a cost involved in hiring a qualified, certified consultant to administer the assessment. Therefore, my primary recommendation is difficult to implement. Nonetheless, the best option to avoid problems is to use several different assessments. In this way, each person gets multiple perspectives on themselves and their teammates.

How the organization approaches the process also matters. I’ve seen situations where everyone takes the assessment, the results are reviewed and publicized, and then business continues as usual, with no effective change.

The process can’t end with the delivery and review of the results. If you’re not going to support employees in using their new understanding in the day-to-day-workplace, nothing will change, and you’ve wasted your time and money.

Personality style assessments are like any other training effort: without ongoing support, you aren’t going to see the results you want.

gljudson Better conversations

The dangers of delegation! (A true story, with dog)

Photo of Bonnie, our Golden Doodle, waiting to be fedLast night, my husband fed the dog.

I usually do this, but I was busy, so I delegated.

With a certain amount of anxiety. Because, as all of us who delegate know, there are many potential pitfalls. After all, we’re the ones who know how to do the task correctly – right?

And sure enough, there were plenty of missteps.

  1. He didn’t wash the bowl. Argh. All those minute, invisible-to-the-naked-eye flecks of food that Bonnie didn’t vacuum / slurp / or otherwise scrub up when she was fed that morning were still there, inevitably contaminating her evening meal. OY!
  2. He grabbed the wrong dog food can. Bonnie gets two different flavors, and they’re supposed to alternate, first one and then the other. But noooo … he got the same one she had on the previous day. OY!
  3. He used the can lid to scoop out the food instead of a spoon. Seriously? Now his fingers were covered in – eww! – dog food! OY!
  4. And he gave her a bit more than the allotted half can. How could this happen? She’ll be hungry tomorrow because she won’t have had enough for breakfast! OY!

But let’s look at the reality.

  1. Bonnie is a dog. Yeah, it’s not a bad idea to wash the bowl in between feedings, but she polishes it pretty darn clean on her own. Plus, yegads, despite our best efforts, outside she eats sticks and who-knows-what-else. A very-tiny-itty-bitty-bit of leftover food isn’t going to poison her.
  2. Bonnie seriously doesn’t care – and probably doesn’t even notice – that she gets different flavors. All she cares about is that she’s fed.
  3. How is this my problem?
  4. A little more or a little less in any given feeding is so not a big deal!

Why is this relevant to leadership?

Show me a leader, and I’ll show you someone who’s struggled with delegation at some point.

Whether it’s the pervasive belief that “It’s easier to just do it myself” or “They won’t do it the way it’s ‘supposed’ to be done” or “I don’t have time to teach them how,” every leader finds reasons to hang onto tasks that someone else could – and probably should – be doing. (There may also be a subtle, possibly subconscious, territoriality going on: if I give up this task, do I become less relevant and important?!)

But part of the job of being a leader is to develop your team. And that means challenging them. Which, ultimately, means delegating tasks that they need to stretch into and learn.

Yes, you may need to teach them how.

But the time spent now will be saved – exponentially – in the longer term.

Yes, they’ll almost certainly do it at least a little differently.

But as long as the end result is good, do those differences matter? Really?

In the end, Bonnie was happy because she got fed. And that was the outcome we all wanted. The rest of it? That was just me getting wrapped up in details that really didn’t matter. And that’s 100% my problem and something for me to work on.

What about you?


Delegation is just one of a number of leadership skills – and it’s one I cover in more detail in Module 5 of the Empowered Leadership program. Other modules include the skills of negotiation, conflict transformation, and the essential skill of self-leadership. To learn more, click here to read the full program description.


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