Leadership in the “next normal”

Photo of Scrabble letters spelling out FOUNDATIONThere’s a lot going around these days about how we need all these new leadership skills for the post-pandemic workplace. You know, the hybrid remote / in-office scenarios, not to mention how employees are requesting (demanding, even) that their employers take a stand on sustainability, diversity, climate change, and social justice.

All this requires leaders to learn new skills to deal with it – right?

Wrong. We don’t need new leadership skills.

We need renewed focus on the foundational elements of leadership: communication, strategic thinking, willingness to learn, communication, professional empathy, clarity of direction, open-mindedness, and did I mention communication?

I posed the question on LinkedIn: 

Agree or disagree: Leaders need new skills to succeed in today’s – and tomorrow’s – environment.

Some people tentatively agreed. Some didn’t. And then there was this, from Jeff Toister, whom – I admit – I often agree with (and I guess in this instance, I can say he agrees with me!).



Whenever I see a leader struggling (and I see a lot), it almost always comes down to the same core skills.

Sure, some new skills might be needed on the fringes (i.e. managing remote vs onsite teams), but the *basics* stay the same.

A leader is someone who has followers. So can you:

  • Articulate a clear and compelling vision of what needs to be done or accomplished?
  • Get people to understand and buy-in to that vision?
  • Help people give their best performance in pursuit of that vision?

Observe a struggling leader. You’ll often see:

  • A lack of clarity about what needs to be done.
  • Confused employees.
  • Employees who know what needs to be done, but don’t have the tools, resources, procedures, or authority to do it.


Thanks for writing my blog post for me, Jeff!

In all seriousness, though, the basics of leadership are basics for a reason: they’re applicable across the board, in whatever situation a leader may find themselves. They’re foundational, because the structure of “how I lead” rests on them. They’re adaptable to whatever the situation may be, and whoever the person is; we each lead in our own individual way, with our own distinct style.

A leader’s ability to master the basic, foundational leadership skills, adapt them to their own personality without losing track of them, and not lose sight of them even under duress – that’s the leadership we need at any time, though perhaps more so today than ever.

And as Jeff mentioned in a subsequent comment, those looking for “advanced” or “new” leadership skills are often seeking a quick fix for an underlying lack of basics.


Jeff is a top-notch keynote speaker, author, and trainer on the subject of customer service – and what he discusses is applicable in more areas than “just” cusotmer service. His website is here: https://www.toistersolutions.com/

The basics of leadership aren’t hard, but they DO – and I mean DO – need to be taught. Eight modules, with a final exam to prove your mastery (and impress your boss): the Empowered Leadership program.


gljudson Leadership

A podcast roundup

Black-and-white photo of professional microphonesA few weeks ago, I asked my newsletter readers if they’d like a roundup of recommended podcasts, and the answer was, resoundingly, YES.

I also asked them for their recommendations.

Herewith, therefore, are my own suggestions and some of my readers’. Note: unless flagged as “only on Spotify,” you can find these on pretty much any podcast platform you prefer.

First, my suggestions – since – hey, this is my blog, right?

Single-season podcasts: 

Pete Buttigieg, our current Transportation Secretary, did a 15-episode series in 2020 called “The Deciding Decade.” Super interesting stuff, with interviews of all types of people, including several “minisodes” (shorter episodes) with young leaders – some barely into their teens. 

Michelle Obama’s podcast, aptly titled “The Michelle Obama Podcast,” is a fascinating journey through what it’s like to be the First Lady and a whole lot more. I believe it’s only on Spotify.

Hold onto your hats for this one: Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen! Yes, they did a podcast together, called “Renegades: Born in the USA.” It’s just delightful, even as they explore deep topics like what it means to be a man, racism in the U.S., and fatherhood – along with music (yes, Obama sings in one of the episodes).

Ongoing series:

For business geeks, “The Reboot Podcast” is a deep dive into the world of startup founders. Reboot CEO, author, and extraordinary coach Jerry Colonna interviews – and often does in-the-moment coaching with – business founders, CEOs, and others on the emotional impact and struggle of being a startup founder and entrepreneur. It’s a master-class on coaching, and also fascinating on business. 

Simon Sinek has a lot of fun on his “A Bit of Optimism” podcast, which I only recently discovered. It’s interesting for both his, well, fun, and, of course, the eclectic roundup of people he interviews.

Greg McKeown’s podcast “What’s Essential” has recently taken a bit of a turn into heavily promoting his second book Effortless, which I have to say I’m finding a little tedious. (I do recommend Effortless, and definitely his first book, Essentialism.) Still, other episodes are insightful and enjoyable, and I’m sure he’ll get back on track soon. 

Well-known therapist, speaker, and author Esther Perel has a couple of podcasts, both a tad intermittent and, if you’re interested in relationships personal and professional, very worth listening to. “Where Should We Begin,” on personal relationships, has, I believe, stopped production, but there are plenty of past episodes to listen to; “How’s Work,” obviously about work issues, took a break but is, I think, back in production. New episodes are apparently only being released on Spotify.

Many readers – and me too! – recommend Brené Brown’s two podcasts, “Dare to Lead” and “Unlocking Us.” It’s Brené Brown – need I say more? Well, yes: I will say that some episodes are great, and some less so. But in the end, that’s true of any podcast. Although you can find past episodes of “Unlocking Us” on iTunes, new episodes – and all “Dare to Lead” episodes – are only on Spotify.

Likewise, I had several suggestions – including my own – for Alan Alda’s podcasts “Clear+Vivid” (about communication) and “Science Clear+Vivid.” Yes, this is the Alan Alda of M*A*S*H fame (and other excellent shows and movies). He’s delightful, and so are his interviews. 

Other people’s recommendations

I can’t speak to any of these since I haven’t (yet) listened, though I was intrigued to find some new to me that I’ll be checking out.

Actually, that’s not entirely true: I do know, and enjoy, Sherry Essig‘s and Anne Robie’s “Flowing East & West: the perfectly imperfect journey to a fulfilled life.” They publish insightful, intriguing interviews and personal reflections on the “perfectly imperfect” journey we’re all on through life, career, and relationships. 

Krista Tippett’s “On Being” is a perennial favorite for many. I have to admit … I’ve tried, but can’t get into it. Still, so many people love the show, so it’s undoubtedly my problem! (ha!) 

Jeff Toister suggested “Bagman – Rachel Maddow’s excellent podcast about Spiro Agnew” and “Throughline – NPR production shedding light on the history behind current events.” I know nothing about either of these, but they sound intriguing.

For professional speakers, Jeff says, “I really like Jay Baer’s Standing Ovation podcast, where keynote speakers dissect the stories they use in their presentations.” I’ve added it to my list – and notice that it seems to have stopped production in late 2020. But there are plenty of episodes to catch up with!

There you have it: an eclectic roundup of podcasts for your enjoyment!

(By the way, if you’re wondering why I placed this post in the “Owning your career” category, it’s because these podcasts – and others, of course – are an excellent way to learn, develop your personal and professional insight, and grow.)

gljudson Owning your career

Verb your values!

Old-style typewriter keys spelling VERBThe problem with most companies’ values (and, dare I say, most people’s values) is follow-through.

What we do about them once we’ve declared them.

I wrote here about whether values are really values if we don’t always manage to live up to them. Spoiler alert: yes, because we’re human. But – and this is an important point – if we don’t have ways to hold ourselves and our teams accountable, ways to pause and evaluate how we’re doing, then values (especially corporate values) tend to be lost in the day-to-day shuffle of urgency and noise.

And thus we come to this post’s headline.

When we turn our values into actionable statements (verbs!), we – and our employees, families, and communities – have a far better sense of what’s actually intended and how to follow through.

For instance, “Integrity” becomes “Do the right thing.”

How do I know if I’m doing the right thing? Well, I think we all know – but to really make it actionable, for me, it includes “take a stand for what I believe in,” “do what’s necessary even when it’s scary,” and so on.

For an organization, “integrity” could have to do with how employees handle the difficult challenges of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B).

Interestingly enough, even something as apparently-obvious as “integrity” can encompass different action statements – different verbs – for different people and for different companies. Maybe for one company, “integrity” is about how they interact with their customers and the marketplace as a whole, and they have a different value encompassing questions of DEI&B.

All of this requires us, individually and collectively within our companies, teams, communities, and families, to be thoughtful, thorough, and careful. What do we really mean by “integrity,” or by any of the many other values we claim for ourselves?

It’s all very well to declare a value. But failing to walk the talk leads to other failures, within an organization as well as for ourselves as individuals.

It's all very well to declare a value. But failing to walk the talk leads to other failures, within an organization as well as for ourselves as individuals.Click To Tweet

And those failures can be downright catastrophic – as we can see if we look at some of the more … interesting … corporate meltdowns, many (if not all) of which have a failure of values at the root.


More on values: “Values, Preferences, Needs, and Wants (oh my!)“, and “The Value of Values“.

Important points about the need to define your terms (especially values!): “The Missing Link for Real Success” and “Taking Back ‘Success’“.


gljudson Self-awareness

So what the *^?@ is “culture,” anyway?

Silhouettes of businesspeople walking awayEvery company has a culture – a personality, if you will. In fact, in larger companies each department or division also has its own sub-culture, which can sometimes be quite different from that of the company as a whole, or that of other departments. If you’ve ever envied a colleague because they worked in a department known for its supportive culture, while your department … wasn’t so much … you know what I mean.

And then there are culture change initiatives, where leadership decides that the culture needs to be improved somehow.

But what IS a company culture? And how can we determine if a company’s culture is “good” or “needs improvement”?

Setting aside a truly toxic culture, the answer begins with that second question, because a “good” culture for one person is a “bad” culture for someone else.  (And one can argue that every culture could always stand a little improvement.)

But obviously that’s only a very partial answer.

I’ve heard culture defined as “what we can and cannot talk about.”

There’s some reality in that. If the culture is one of openness and psychological safety, it’s probably a reasonably “good” culture. On the other hand, if there are taboo topics, harassment of any sort, or if making a mistake is a career-killer, well, I can’t imagine any of us want to work in that sort of environment.

One of the reasons culture is so slippery to define is that, as an Investopedia article states, “Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.” 

Which brings me to my current favorite definition, which I heard only this morning on an episode of Simon Sinek’s podcast “A Bit of Optimism.” He quoted retired Marine General George Flynn as saying that “culture equals values plus behavior.”

There is so much in that five-word statement.

Values plus behavior: if the leadership and employees are walking the talk of their values – then you have a culture that’s aligned and congruent.

Values plus behavior: if, on the other hand, they are not walking the talk – if their behavior isn’t aligned with their stated values – then you have a culture that’s struggling.

Your employees will be jaded, cynical, disengaged; your customers will be skeptical; and your company will be less successful over time than it could be.

Note that in both cases you have a culture. Companies always have a culture. It’s a question of whether the culture is one where people enjoy coming to work and are productive, versus one where people dread coming to work and are much less productive.

All companies have a culture. It's also safe to say that all cultures, even 'good' ones, could stand some improvement. But what IS 'company culture,' anyway?!Click To Tweet

So how do you align values and behavior?

Be intentional. Don’t just pick a bunch of pretty words and put them on a poster on the wall. Explore what the company’s values really are, and then define behaviors that you can measure and hold employees (and leadership!) accountable to.

And then hold them accountable!

Yes, it takes work. But it’s worth it, because then you’ll have a culture that people want to be part of – a culture that’s fun, that invites the right people in, and encourages them to grow.

By the way – if you’re not part of senior leadership, you can still implement this in your department or team, or for yourself personally. 

It starts with defining values. And holding yourself accountable to them.


So if you’re now wondering – what are my values? – these might help: “Values, Preferences, Needs, and Wants (oh my!)“, and “The Value of Values“.

Wondering how to create culture change based on values? Check out Kevin Oakes’ book Culture Renovation: 18 Leadership Actions to Build and Unshakeable Company. I admit I haven’t read it as of this writing, but it’s on my Read Next list based on a REALLY great podcast episode with him on Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast.

And there’s the Change Leadership program, of course!


gljudson Change leadership, Strategic thinking

Preventing a toxic culture

Last week, I wrote about managing toxic employees.Cartoon of multiple smiling faces of all genders and ethnicities

But what about preventing toxic tendencies right from the start?

Toxicity can develop in an environment where individual achievement is valued over team accomplishment.

It’s important to acknowledge outstanding contribution at the individual level – and it’s equally important to avoid creating competition between individuals. The outdated and destructive practice of “forced ranking,” also known as the “vitality curve” (talk about using an apparently positive term to describe a harmful practice!), sets people against each other for their survival, instead of encouraging teamwork.

Instead, set team goals and offer whole-team rewards. Encourage informal inter-team mentoring. Cross-train.

Facilitate open dialogue about challenging issues, including situations that arise outside the company – protests and other events in the news. Make sure all your employees feel safe; psychological safety is a key factor in employee engagement and productivity.

Thank your employees. Thank your colleagues. Thank your leaders. Studies from Workhuman indicate that just FIVE thank-yous or indications of appreciation over a FULL YEAR reduce the likelihood of an employee seeking another job by over half. No, their paycheck is not “thanks enough” for doing their job!

Have you thanked someone recently?

Organizational culture is top-down, not bottom-up. As a leader, are you walking the talk? Do you know what behaviors your company expects, based on the company values? Are your company values clearly articulated, with associated measurable behaviors, in such a way that every employee knows what’s expected of them? (Ahem…)

Toxic cultures don’t just happen. They’re enabled and facilitated, though not necessarily with malicious intent; usually it’s through neglect and lack of focus.

Toxic cultures don't just happen. They're enabled and facilitated, though not necessarily with malicious intent; usually it's through neglect and a lack of focus.Click To Tweet

You can help prevent that.


Thanking people is an art form. Here are a couple of posts to help: “Why Thank You isn’t enough,” “A simple preventive for employee turnover,” and “For what?”.

Oh, and in case you were wondering … “What the *^?@ IS culture, anyway” – there’s your answer. (Okay, MY answer!)


gljudson Leadership, Strategic thinking

How to manage a toxic employee

Photo of a corked blue bottle with a skull-&-crossbones label reading POISONShort answer: don’t.

Try to manage them, that is.

Toxic co-workers are toxic – poisonous, virulent, noxious – those are just a few of the synonyms offered by a Google search.

They damage morale, delay projects, reduce productivity, cause colleagues and managers to dread coming to work, and increase costly employee turnover.

All too often, their behavior is overlooked. Whether it’s because they’re considered “too knowledgeable / too productive / too expert” to let go, or because their manager doesn’t want to face the conflict, or some other reason … they keep on spreading the misery, unchecked.

Don't keep trying to manage a toxic employee. There is no long-term value in hanging on to them. Even if you or your leadership believe they're 'too valuable to lose' - they're actually too destructive to keep. Click To Tweet

This is, bluntly, unacceptable. Leaders must learn to face facts and deal with toxic employees quickly and decisively.

No matter what you or your leadership might think, there is no long-term value in hanging on to a toxic employee.


Work should be more fun, not more stressful. That’s SUCH a value of mine that it’s a core principle of my work, which you can read more about here.

Got other difficult employees? Then you need my handbook, “The Five Most Challenging Employee Types – and how to manage them.” You can also find videos on all five on the Difficult Employees YouTube playlist.


gljudson Difficult people

A simple preventive for employee turnover

Photo of a cup of coffee with "THANK YOU" written in the foamWant to prevent employee turnover? Keep your best employees engaged? Avoid the really high cost of hiring replacements?

Say “Thank you.”

According to Eric Mosley of WorkHuman, as heard in an interview on Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast, just five thank-yous  in a year reduces the likelihood of turnover by a bit more than half, from 15% to 7%.

And in this time of pandemic burnout, saying “thank you” is even more important.

Employees are struggling. People are struggling. Even as the vaccine rolls out and we begin to gradually, tentatively put a toe back in the water of “normal” life, people are burned out and anxious.

Some companies have reported greater, or at least comparable, productivity and trust.

Some, including one of my clients, are reporting real performance challenges with employees who are depressed, unfocused, and – bluntly – screwing up.

All employees deserve a “thank you” for the things they’re doing well, or when they’re simply maintaining pre-pandemic acceptable performance.

Thank you - it's a simple preventive for employee turnover. It matters. Especially now in pandemic-burnout time. Who will you thank today?Click To Tweet

I’ve heard true stories of a CEO’s handwritten thank-you notes kept for years.

I’ve personally experienced the warmth that comes from a sincere thank-you for work I’ve done.

I’ve seen the smile on someone’s face when I’ve thanked them for their work.

It’s not hard. And it makes a difference.

Who will you thank today?


How to do it? Read this: For what?.


gljudson Communication, Engagement

Values, preferences, needs, and wants (oh my!)

Photo of Captain Obvious“Values are important” – there’s a real Captain Obvious statement, hm?

I’ve written about values before, and I call out that importance – quite emphatically – in the Empowered Leadership program.

But how do we go about discovering and defining our values – instead of just taking it for granted that of course we have them?

My thoughts on this have changed.

In the Leadership program segment, I followed the example of Barry Salzberg, past CEO of Deloitte and currently a Columbia Business School professor. But his approach, which I heard about on a podcast interview, leads to a whole … I hesitate to say this, given his prominence … laundry list of “values” that I never felt quite comfortable with.

Thinking about this, I’ve concluded that what often happens is that we confuse preferences (such as “being kind”), needs (such as “I need time for personal reflection”), and wants (such as “I want to be part of a close community”).

If you’ve really, truly dug deep and identified your core values, you’ll almost certainly discover that there are just two – maybe three – that are your actual values. Everything else – those preferences, needs, and wants – fits under one or the other (or both).

Mine: fun and integrity.

A preference for being kind: integrity. Needing time for personal reflection: integrity (personal integrity to self) AND fun. Being part of a community: fun!

Environmental responsibility: integrity. Lifelong learning and reading: fun.

And so on. (I’ll stop boring you with my personal lists!)

If these correlations make no sense to you, that’s absolutely understandable. You (probably) don’t share my core values, nor should you adopt my preferences, wants, or needs.

Values aren't preferences, needs, or desires. They're something bigger than that - more than that - and when you've defined them correctly, your values will encompass your preferences / needs / desires.Click To Tweet

You have your own values. And when you drill down deep enough (or climb high enough!) to find them, you’ll see how your preferences, wants, and needs will fit.

It’s … fun!


Fun. Work should be more fun! That’s SUCH a value of mine that it’s a core principle of my work, which you can read more about here.

Yes, I am updating the Empowered Leadership program to reflect this change. Curious about the program? Learn more here.


gljudson Self-awareness

Better? Worse? Different!

Photo of a three-armed signpost silhouetted against a blue sky with white puffy clouds; arms read Past, Future, PresentWe’re a bit over a year into the pandemic.

Some people are struggling.

Some people are coasting.

Some people have found silver linings – and some of them feel guilty about that.

Some people are nostalgic for how things were. Interestingly enough, though, they’re a significant minority. Most people do not want to go back to How Things Were.

The people who are struggling aren’t always the ones you might expect.

Of course there are those who have no idea how they’ll pay the rent or the mortgage, and are lining up at food banks and wondering what will happen when the water- and electricity-shutoff moratoriums end. And that’s awful and, frankly, should not be happening in a country as wealthy and generally advanced as ours.

And there are others who still work at good jobs and have income and food security, whose families have stayed healthy, who have been able to take appropriately-distanced walks with friends, and so on … and they’re still feeling like their lives have been pulled – yanked! – out from under them.

There is no going back to those past lives.

And where we are today isn’t how it’s going to be forever. (Of course, “today” is never how it will be “forever,” but this is the first time we’ve been smack up against that reality in an undeniable way.)

There are things that we miss, of course. There are other things that we don’t much miss. There are things that are different that we don’t much like. And there are things that are different that we definitely do like.

Instead of judging things as “better” or “worse” than before, or than they will be, why not just look at all of this as different?

And remember that the person next to you – whether digitally on a Zoom call, or literally six feet to your right or left – may be struggling, even if they don’t look like they are, or even if, according to your perception of their circumstances, they “should” be okay.

We’re gradually emerging from this time. What will come next will be different than it was before – and we still don’t know what that will be.

What's next will be *different*. We're not going back. And how we go forward is up to us. What choices are you making? What choices will you make?Click To Tweet

Which means we have the direct and immediate opportunity to shape “next” in ways that create a more humane, just, and equitable world.


Leadership is how you show up. It’s not your title or your role. What IS leadership, anyway?

Just because we’re coming out of a time of massive change – doesn’t mean we’re not still facing a lot MORE change. My course Change Leadership: strategies for success could be helpful. Take a look! 


gljudson Leadership, Self-awareness

What’s the cork in the bottle?

Photo of a wine cork with the corkscrew in it, against a dark background with blurry orange lights

There’s something you want to do.

But you’re not doing it.

(How do I know? Because we all have that in our careers and lives!)

It might even have become a source of serious – or at least mild – frustration.

Why aren’t you doing it?

Let’s ask a few questions. And bear in mind: this is relevant to anything in your life, but since this is a blog about leadership, I’ll be offering examples about career and professional growth.

Do you really need and want to do this thing?

Is this a “should” thing? Is someone else (aside from your boss!) telling you that it’s something you’re “supposed” to do?

Do you really, truly need to do it?

Obviously, if it’s your boss telling you to do it – you probably need to do it. (There are options here, too, but that’s a topic for a different post.)

But if it’s a cultural, societal, or even family expectation, reconsider. If this thing has no meaning for you personally, see what happens if you let go of the expectation. Cross it off your list. You can always put it back on again later if it turns out you really do want to do it.

For instance, maybe your family, your boss, your friends – someone important in your life – is telling you that you “should” aspire to a leadership role. But not everyone wants that, as I discuss here. And that’s okay.

Do you know what this thing is?

Okay. You’ve concluded that you really do want to do the thing.

What IS it? Have you defined it – explicitly, clearly, unambiguously?

Do you know what it looks and feels like to have done the thing?

It’s pretty much impossible to achieve something if it’s only a vague blur in the distance. As I review in the Change Leadership program, defining the objective is essential to achieving it. And that means truly understanding it in detail.

You have career goals. What’s the next one on the list? What will it look and feel like when you’ve achieved it? Is it a promotion – to what role? A new job at a company you admire – which company? what job? And so on.

What’s the next smallest step?

Especially if this thing is a Big Thing, you need to break it down. The biggest failure in planning comes from putting a project on your to-do list instead of a task.

Why do I say next smallest step? Because – again – anything bigger is often too big, and can keep you from starting. If you have half an hour, you need a half-hour-sized task, not a three-hour-sized endeavor. If you have fifteen minutes – you get the picture.

Bite-sized steps, small steps, baby steps: that’s what gets you to the goal, not giant leaps.

Want that promotion? You might be tempted to put “Talk to my boss about what I need to do to get the promotion” on your to-do list. No. The next smallest step is to look at your own calendar, and see what times you have available for a meeting with your boss. Then the next smallest step after that is to actually schedule the meeting. And so on.

These are all separate steps. And you can do each of them in just a few minutes, which makes them ideal for slipping into your day in between meetings and other, larger tasks.

What’s the cork in the bottle?

So much frustration comes from constantly feeling like you “can’t quite get around” to doing the thing you want to do. You know it will advance your career and / or your life, but it remains perpetually juuuust out of reach.

If you’ve done the three previous steps, there’s probably a cork in the bottle.

What do I mean by that?

Your desire for that clearly-defined objective (the thing), and even the next smallest step you can take, is stuck behind something else you’re doing.

Which means you need to clear that “something else” out of the way – take the cork out of the bottle – in order to free yourself to take action on the thing.

You want that promotion, but you’re in the middle of an important project. Or you’re on parental leave. Or you’re intensely busy with kids, caretaking an elderly parent, planning a wedding, or some other big life event.

The cork might be a good thing – parental leave! planning a wedding! – but it’s still a cork. And before you can move ahead with the thing you want to do, the cork has to be removed: the activity or event or project has to be completed.

It's not procrastination. It might be one - or more - of several other things, though. Including ... a cork in the bottle!Click To Tweet

Yes, there are other factors

Big Things that we want to do usually include changes in our career and life. Change is challenging. So if you’ve worked that cork out of the bottle, but you’re still feeling stuck, take a look through the other articles here on Change Leadership.

And note that the cool thing about change leadership skills is that they apply to personal life as well as to our careers!


Interested in learning more? My course Change Leadership: strategies for success could be exactly what you’re looking for. Take a look! 


gljudson Change leadership, Owning your career