How NOT to pick a mediator

How NOT to pick a mediatorYou’ve faced an unhappy fact: your team needs help.

The conflict you face isn’t resolving itself, and each attempt at discussion just escalates the issue. The situation is getting increasingly tense, with finger-pointing accusations and name-calling becoming more and more frequent.

The only thing you seem to agree on is that something  needs to be done.

Perhaps it’s time to hire a mediator.

But how to choose? How to even find one, never mind figure out which one is best for your situation?

Here’s what not to do.

“I have a friend who’s a mediator”

Clearly, any friend of one individual on the team isn’t likely to be impartial – and in fact, any mediator approached about a job like this should turn it down as a conflict of interest.

What to do instead

Ask your mediator friend for three or four referrals. Interview each candidate as if you were hiring them for a job in your company (after all, you are!). If the candidate can’t meet and talk with each team member, consider having someone else in your organization conduct the interviews – someone not involved in the conflict.

“We all know Joe, so he’d be a good choice”

You might think it would be ideal when you all know the same mediator and that person is familiar with your situation.

In fact – not. In this case, Joe has too much information to be impartial. He’s talked individually with each of you over the years, and he undoubtedly has opinions about what’s happening and what should be done. Depending on how long he’s known you, he may have engaged with your team’s cultural norms and bought into the roles that each of you play. (By “roles,” I mean the archetypal roles of troublemaker, peacemaker, scapegoat, and so on, rather than the organizational titles you hold.)

What to do instead

Once again, you can ask for referrals and conduct interviews as described above. However, be sure to validate that Joe hasn’t spoken about your situation with any of his mediator friends.

“Whoever we pick needs to know our industry and understand our company”

Not necessarily!

In fact, the mediator’s external viewpoint and “beginner’s mind” is a key attribute in guiding your team to find answers that work for everyone involved. Since the team members know the hard-and-fast rules and regulations (such as legal requirements or regulatory issues within your industry), the mediator doesn’t have to know them.

The less the mediator knows, the more unencumbered with opinions she’ll be – and therefore she’ll be more likely to see dysfunctional behavior and communication patterns as well as interesting options that aren’t visible to the team.

What to do instead

As with any professional service, referrals are always your best choice. Ask other trusted professionals who provide services to your organization, such as your lawyer, accountant, and/or your banker. You can also reach out to local universities or colleges that have mediation programs (ask about their experienced past alumni), or tap the local chapter of your Bar Association for suggestions.

“We need a certified professional mediator”

Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t. This is a question only you can answer, but remember: there are many business consultants who are expert at resolving disputes within teams and also have a strategic business perspective. With their help, you can resolve the immediate issues in dispute and then go on to improve your organization’s morale, employee engagement, and ultimately your bottom-line profitability.

Remember, too, that mediators specialize in different areas. You’ll obviously be better off with an experienced business consultant than an equally-experienced divorce mediator!

What to do instead

The key is to find someone experienced with volatile teams who also understands business strategy.

So when you’re out there asking for referrals, make sure you don’t limit yourself to asking for mediators, but also seek out business consultants.

And whomever you choose, be sure to select someone whose approach aligns with the best of your organization’s culture and values.

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What’s the most important thing in business?

Before you read further – what do you think the most important thing is in your business?

Know Your Numbers

Some might say it’s your product or service. After all, without something to sell, you’ve got no business at all.

Others might say it’s the people – your employees.

Or your mission, vision, and values.

Or your organizational culture, and how you establish shared meaning.

All of these are important

But – as you may have guessed from the image – while all are important, none of them are enough to have a thriving, growing, successful business.

You need to know your numbers

When you don’t know your numbers, you don’t have a way to measure success.

You have no way to determine what changes you want to implement, never mind the effectiveness of those changes.

You can’t tell whether a particular division, marketing effort, product, or service is profitable … just breaking even … or a dead loss.

You don’t know what you’re doing right.

And you can’t develop effective strategy or know what tactical action will be most productive – because you don’t know where you are or what needs fixing.

To draw an analogy, if you don’t know whether you’re in New York City or San Francisco, it’s difficult to figure out how to get to Paris.

If you don’t have a blueprint, it’s hard to build a house.

And if you don’t have a chart or a compass, you might have the best ship’s crew in the history of sailing, but you’ll have a very hard time knowing where you are and getting where you want to go.

It’s more than just how much is in the bank

A healthy bank balance is great, but it doesn’t tell you what’s really going on.

You need to understand how your money is coming in, and where it’s going.

It’s all too easy to “fluff over” your numbers. You have a sort-of idea, you think you know, you can ball-park it …

But that’s a bad idea.

The single most consistent thread I see (as in, every single time!) when I’m asked to help a struggling business is … they don’t know their numbers, and so they’re struggling because they don’t know where to focus their efforts.

Do you know your numbers?

What are they telling you?

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The missing link for real success

Creating Shared MeaningYou’ve made sure everyone understands your organization’s mission, vision, and objectives. They know their individual goals and they understand their job descriptions and responsibilities.

That’s great.

And it’s not enough to inspire individuals and teams to their best performance.

If it were enough, there would be no lack of follow-through on decisions, no actions out of alignment with the vision, no misinterpretation of goals.

And yet, we see these disconnects all the time.

A retail business wants its customers to perceive the high-end value of their products and writes a professional dress code for store employees … but even the owners don’t follow it.

A non-profit’s mission is to help its clients heal emotionally … yet the Board, employees, and volunteers fail to communicate and are often at cross-purposes.

A consulting organization teaches leadership and executive excellence … yet its internal workflows and fundamental business processes don’t support profitable growth.

Issues such as these develop in any organization; it’s a natural part of how an organization (or a team) grows and evolves.

The challenge is to refuse to accept it as the “new normal,” but instead to address and solve the root cause – and reap the rewards of a truly cohesive, high-performing organization.

The root cause of internal disconnects

The root cause is simple: a lack of shared meaning.

But wait, you say. Didn’t this article start out by saying everyone understands the organization’s goals?

Yes, indeed.

But that doesn’t mean there’s a sense of shared meaning.

Shared meaning goes well beyond merely understanding the goals.

Shared meaning has to do with context: why are we working toward this goal?

And shared meaning has to do with understanding each individual’s and the whole group’s experience of the key terms used to describe the goal.

Their experience. Not just the intellectual understanding, but the full experience, emotional and physical as well as intellectual.

In the case of our three examples:

What does “professional” mean to each person at the store – and to the store’s customers? Are the individual definitions aligned into a shared definition for the business?  

How do the non-profit’s employees, volunteers, and Board define “communication”? Do they share a common commitment to clear, clean, honest communication?

Do the leadership and business consultants share a belief in what they teach that goes beyond the ability to intellectually serve their clients? Have they internalized a shared meaning for leadership and effective business practice?

I think you can see, just in the brief examples I’ve outlined here (which are all drawn from experience), how powerful shared meaning would be for each of these organizations.

Creating shared meaning

Creating shared meaning is one of those “simple but not easy” things.

And like many simple-but-not-easy things, it’s crucial to your success.

Creating shared meaning requires time, real conversations, and a willingness to be open to new ideas and differing perspectives.

It takes honesty in speaking the truth of how each person views the deeper meanings of these pivotal words and concepts. It takes respect in receiving the reality of others’ meanings even when (especially when) they diverge from yours. It takes vulnerability in exploring the emotional meaning of words and concepts, not just the intellectual dictionary definition.

It takes courage and persistence to reach a shared meaning that everyone can fully align with – right down to their bones.

And it’s transformative for your success.

So take the next step. Talk with your colleagues, your employees, and your leadership about creating shared meaning within your organization.

And if you have questions or want to tell your stories of how creating shared meaning has changed your experience – drop me an email. I personally read and respond to all.

gljudson Leadership

Leadership … with love

Leadership with loveA couple of Saturdays ago, my sweetheart Arthur and I were talking business. (One of our many points of compatability is a shared passion for business geekery!)

Having attended a leadership conference the day before, I asked him for his definition of leadership.

(I believe leadership skills can be taught, and I also believe that, just like anything, certain people have a special talent. He’s one of them.)

His definition surprised and touched me.

In essence, he said that true leadership comes from the heart; true leadership is about the heart and soul of each individual as well as the heart and soul of the organization.

This, he pointed out, is the place of the gift – the treasure that the business offers, the treasure that the individual offers.

Being in and acting from this place puts the organization and its leaders in a place of authentic power, which in turn leads to growth, evolution, and health.

And it also helps make clear how the leader can help the individual grow in personally fulfilling and meaningful ways, even as they help propel the business forward.

So how, he asked, can we open our hearts to the people we want to lead? It’s only then that we find love and understanding for who they are, for their weaknesses as well as their strengths. And it’s only then, acting from the heart, that we can help them see the path forward – and instead of asking them to follow us, ask them to walk with us along that path.

I found myself agreeing instinctively, yet I had to think for a while before I could find instances of leadership with love in my own corporate experience. And no question, those were the leaders I most appreciated, respected, and was eager to work with – and for whom I inevitably did my best work.

So, yes. True leadership comes from the heart, with love.

I would add that leadership is also about clarity, rigor, and disruption.

Clarity, to help the leadership team define and then communicate what they take a stand for (which goes far deeper than pretty lists of values and carefully wordsmithed mission statements).

Rigor, to hold everyone accountable for adhering to those definitions in every decision, action, and statement.

And disruption, because it’s part of a leader’s role to shake things up, to prevent stagnation and complacency.

This is where Arthur reminds me to start with heart and soul. I can be a bit forcefully practical, and he brings me back to remember that while disruption and change are necessary, we must understand the impact on individuals.

As leaders, we must ask ourselves, how will this disruption arouse their doubts and fears? And knowing that, how can we work with them and help them, as Arthur suggests, see the way more clearly so they will walk with us on the path?

It’s not as easy as just laying down a mandate.

But by helping others grow, we grow ourselves, and we grow our organizations.

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The real reason why organizations (and people) fail to succeed

Organizations fail to succeed because they haven’t defined success.

Defining organizational successI don’t mean they’ve failed to set goals or have no vision of what they want to accomplish.

I mean they haven’t defined success as a concept in and of itself.

And it’s a tremendously loaded concept.

The problem with the concept of success

We all have psychological and emotional baggage around the idea of success. Whether it was a parent’s demand that we study medicine and become a doctor when we really wanted to study political science and become a diplomat, or society’s expectations of six-figure salaries, fancy cars, and a corner office … the word success evokes ideas and feelings that are often very far from what we genuinely desire to have in our lives.

As individuals, we typically do want to be successful. 

Yet our underlying beliefs about what it takes to be successful can stop us in our tracks. When we secretly believe we’d have to work 24/7 doing boring, distasteful tasks, sacrificing our values, and submitting to arbitrary authority, we can find any number of ways to sabotage ourselves. And why not? No one wants to live that way.

As leaders, we want our organizations to be successful. 

Yet when leadership teams come together, their individual beliefs, thoughts, and feelings about success – what it is, what it means, and how to achieve it – collide, creating disconnects and outright conflict.

It’s no wonder leaders struggle to align around a vision of organizational success that everyone can believe in and wholeheartedly work toward. They’re operating with different definitions of success, and some of those definitions are unappealing at best, and downright scary at worst.

And no one stops to ask the essential question: what does success really mean? After all, doesn’t everyone already know? “Success” is a simple, two-syllable word that we understand from a very early age. What’s the big deal?

It’s a very big deal.

Why a clear definition is important

When everyone on the leadership team is working with different – and often threatening – definitions of success, they will never – can never – come to wholehearted agreement on, nor full commitment to, fundamental issues of organizational vision and strategy.

On the other hand, when leadership teams take the time to have real conversations about their individual vision of personal and organizational success, the influence of past struggles and present misconceptions can be consciously set aside, instead of unconsciously undermining efforts to move forward.

Then they can see and begin to explore the wide-open horizon of potential.

And then they can create a vision of organizational success that’s inspiring and challenging while also feeling wholly attainable.

The challenge: a new definition of success

As stated earlier, success isn’t a particularly difficult concept. So it seems as if coming to a more inspiring, motivating definition of success ought to be easy.

In actuality, it’s one of those simple-but-not-easy tasks.

Because finding your own definition – individually and for your organization – requires honesty and vulnerability.

It demands that you face your hidden, secret (perhaps even from yourself) thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about being successful.

And those may vary from “To be successful, I’d have to work more hours than there are in the day and I’d never have any fun ever again!” to “Successful people are unethical pigs.”

Defining success, therefore, demands that you and your leadership team have clear, clean, honest conversations that are likely to tap into feelings of vulnerability. And typically, we don’t want to go there.

But real conversations such as this are powerful. They offer each participant an opportunity to bring all of themselves into play. And that provides a sense of empowerment and fulfillment that leads to important shifts in individual and organizational success.

But aren’t there other reasons why organizations fail to succeed?

Of course.

Bad planning, lack of communication, failure to understand the customer, broken processes, poor products or services, bad customer service, insufficient or inappropriate marketing, ineffective sales teams, failure to understand pricing and cash flow – the list is endless.

But without a clear definition of success that the leadership team (and therefore the rest of the organization) is inspired by, feels motivated by, and believes to be achievable, those issues and many more will be both rampant and miserably difficult to solve. The leadership team will disagree about what to solve, how to solve, and even whether to solve, the problems that are holding them back. And those solutions that are put in place will tend to be only temporary fixes.


Because when there have been no real conversations about what success means, the tendency to work at cross-purposes and subtly sabotage efforts to move forward remains unchecked.

The underlying issue – the actual disease, of which all those problems are merely symptoms – is the lack of clarity about the concept of success.

Without that clarity, the uncomfortable, threatening, I-don’t-want-that-in-my-life beliefs about success remain unexamined. And the disagreements, lack of united focus, and subtle undermining continues.

It’s not easy to come to a collaborative definition of success and an inspiring, believable vision for the future.

But it’s worth the effort.

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Interview: communicating what we want

Nina Woodard is a scholar (which she might disagree with, but it’s true nonetheless) of human resources. She lectures at multiple universities, travels frequently to consult with major companies, and is one of the nicest, warmest, kindest people I know.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when she invited me to come on her weekly HR Radio Hour!

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The art of asking good questions

It’s one thing to have the courage to ask for help, as I mentioned in my last post about Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking.

It’s something else again to be able to form a question that actually elicits helpful answers.

We’ve been discussing this in my Facebook group, the Clarity Kitchen, and there have been some interesting and insightful comments.

The short version is:  ask a fuzzy question, get a fuzzy answer.

And I see this all the time – face-to-face and online, in business and in personal life.

A fuzzy question is, quite simply, a waste of everyone’s time. Even the most well-meaning, intelligent person is unlikely to be able to offer a reply that will actually help the questioner progress along a useful path. Instead, everyone ends up frustrated and nothing gets accomplished.

The challenge here, of course, is that asking a clear, focused, and engaging question takes work.

So, without meaning to be snarky, I’ll hypothesize that one of the reasons many people ask fuzzy questions is because they’re looking for a short-cut to clarity. Unfortunately, what they end up with is false clarity – false, because it’s based on asking the wrong type of question – and they can waste an awful lot of time and money as a result.

As one person in the Clarity Kitchen commented:

I think if you can frame a question well, you have automatically considered multiple variables as well as sharpened your intention. It also seems that many people get their minds cluttered by details which are in the end extraneous and irrelevant. Sometimes they are disconnected facts, but other times they are subconscious beliefs about ourselves and the world. With a clear head and open mind, we liberate our intuition and make available our personal power to take on problems in a fresh way. Not to mention you can dialog intelligently with others on your team that can help. It is my belief that if you have asked a good question, you are already halfway there to the answer.
~ Arthur Lau-Sed, Common Sense Technologies, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

In other words, as I responded in the group, a good question often contains at least part of the answer.

Please note that I am emphatically not saying that we should spend all our time getting clear on our questions and then we’ll miraculously not have to ask them after all. We really do need input from others, feedback to help us continue the process of getting clear, and different perspectives on the situation. In fact, as anyone familiar with my work knows, I think it’s crucial to get that sort of input about our work, because we simply cannot experience what we do in the ways our clients experience it.

But when we take the time to think through what we are actually trying to accomplish and, as Arthur says, allow (or push) ourselves to weed out what’s extraneous, we’ll ask questions that are clearly focused, giving our audience what they need to be truly helpful.

And then we all make progress!

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The Art of Asking: Amanda Palmer

The Art of Asking, by musician/writer Amanda Palmer, hit the bookstores just before the holidays last year.The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Having watched her TED talk months before, I knew I wanted to read the book.

I did not expect to have an addition to my Must Read list for business owners.

And yet, here we are: this is a Must Read.

You don’t have to know or like Palmer’s music to appreciate the vulnerability and wisdom she offers. (In fact, I didn’t much like her music before reading the book. Interestingly enough, after reading the book and coming to appreciate her so much more, I now find I like her music a lot more as well.)

Palmer is clearly a writer as well as a musician, which means her language is both lyrical and clear. She knows how to tell stories, and she knows how to use those stories to make points that comes across with conviction, power, and compassion.

Why is this memoir of an unusual woman and independent musician a Must Read for business owners?

As business owners, we have to be able to ask. Ask for clients, ask for help, ask for money, ask for support … ask.

And asking is often hard.

Sometimes, as Palmer describes, really hard.

With her delicate touch and her nuanced story-telling (some of her stories are more like parables, and I use them with clients in many situations), Palmer helps us come to terms with our own challenges around asking … and gives us tools (I am now constantly reminding myself to take the flower! take the damn donut!) to become better.

Absolutely a Must Read.

And if you haven’t seen her TED talk, I highly recommend it as well:

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Failure … or defeat?

Failure is not the same as defeat.

Unless you allow it to be.

It’s probably cliché to quote Thomas Edison, but it’s also relevant:  “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

If he’d allowed his first – or 100th, or 9,999th – failure to equal defeat, someone else would have invented the lightbulb.

We are going to fail. As business owners, as people in relationships, and simply as people, we are going to fail.

Probably especially as business owners, because there are so many ways in which we have to put ourselves out there, be visible, take risks, dare to be vulnerable.

If we allow our failures to become defeat … if we believe disappointing results are personal failures and allow them to defeat us … we’ll never reach the 10,001st iteration that’s successful.

Failure is only defeat if we refuse to learn from what happened.

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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Visible doesn’t mean exposed

I was talking with a client last week who told me that her biggest challenge in being in business has to do with visibility. “I’m a private person,” she said, and went on to describe her fears of having to put too much of herself on public view in order to succeed in her business.

As an introvert and a private person myself, I completely understand. It’s not that there’s something we feel we need to hide; it’s simply that we’re not comfortable being quite as exposed as we think we might have to be to succeed.

But this paints the picture in black and white, either/or terms, and the reality is that there are many shades of gray and both/and options.

The people I know who are most successful, truly prosperous, and  really happy in their businesses are very clear about their own needs and boundaries. They know precisely what they will and will not share or do within their business (and their lives, too, for that matter).

We get anxious about setting boundaries when we confuse having boundaries with rejecting our clients, or when we think that saying “no” means our clients will go elsewhere.

The reality, though, is that clients generally want  clear boundaries. They don’t want to work with someone they feel they can walk on and use as a doormat. They do  want to work with someone who is clear about mutual respect, who draws reasonable lines, and communicates – with no drama – about ground rules.

Respect is important in any relationship.

Respect for yourself means understanding what you want and need in and from your business and your clients. Respect for your clients means never putting yourself into a situation where you resent their demands or feel over-exposed in what you share.

My advice for my client was to specifically define what she would and would not choose to share with the world as she becomes more successful in growing her business.

She can keep what’s private to herself – we all have that right! – and she can share what she wants the public to know about her in order for her ideal clients to trust her. But in order to do that, she needs to understand where she wants to draw those lines – and I encouraged her to write it out so that it was truly clear, instead of just roaming around in her thoughts.

Her relief was palpable as she began to feel what this means for her: freedom to be who she is, freedom to do the work she loves, without fear of over-exposure.

Visible doesn’t mean exposed.  It just means showing up as who we are, and sharing what we want to share.

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