Twisties, anyone?

Dizzy, disoriented emojiIf you’ve been paying any attention at all to this year’s Olympics, you know that Simone Biles, considered the greatest gymnast of all time, withdrew from the all-around and, as of the time I’m writing this, is uncertain for the individual competitions.

The public reaction has been predictably … intense. From those condemning her (I’m not going there) to those applauding (I’m with them!), there’s been an avalanche of comments and opinions.

Let’s start with this: the twisties. If you’ve been following the story, you probably know that this is a term gymnasts use for when they’ve lost their orientation in the air.

Just typing that gives me chills. Can you imagine leaping into a vault and suddenly … becoming disoriented?

Can you imagine the kinds of injuries that could result?

Can you imagine the courage it took for her to say no – no, I am not going to take that risk, to myself or for my team?

Okay. Why is this relevant to leadership?

We’ve had an 18-month “vault” into a whole lot of wild unknown. We’ve been twisting and spinning in many unexpected, new, intensely demanding directions. And with the resurgance of the virus in the delta variant, we’re suddenly disoriented all over again.

Leaders – especially first-line and mid-level leaders – are caught in mid-air, uncertain about which way is “up” and which way is “down” and how in the world to “stick the landing.” They’re in a tough spot between their teams, who desperately and deservedly want to know what to expect, and their executives, who … well, let’s face it: they desperately and deservedly want to know what to expect as well. But there’s not a whole lot of support or information available for anyone.

What does the Olympics have to do with your office, your leaders, your people? Well... the twisties, of course. Click To Tweet

Who on your team needs to step back and breathe for a bit?

Who needs help to regain their orientation in the midst of upheaval and uncertainty?

What do you need to regain your orientation?

There are people shouting from the rooftops that we’re about to have another pandemic: mental health.

Let’s not wait until it actually arrives. Let’s stop, pause, breathe, think about what we can do, how we need to prepare, what help we and our teams might need.

It’s so tempting to just keep pushing, pushing, pushing onward. It’s what our work culture has historically (and often tragically) demanded.

Let’s just not, okay? Instead, let’s be as strong as Simone Biles: say no, say “I need a break,” say, “Time out!”

And when our people say, “Wait. I need a break, I need some time,” let’s listen instead of pushing, pushing, pushing.

Okay? Can we give that a try? Please?

With thanks to my colleague Gary Applegate of CenterPoint CFO, who suggested this idea.

Here’s an article explaining “the twisties.”

And as always, drop me a line if you’d like to set a time to talk about how this is impacting your business.

gljudson Professional empathy, Self-awareness

Four tips about mistakes

Photo of a blackboard with 1 + 1 = 3 written in white chalkI have a real fear of making mistakes.

I worry about it in relationships, I worried about it as an executive in my corporate life, and I worry about it today as I work to serve my clients.

What if I suggest the wrong thing? What if I screw it up? What if, what if, what if…

There are a lot of corporate cultures out there that make mistakes unsafe. And I think we all know intellectually that this is (ahem!) a mistake. We’re human, every one of us, and that means – we make mistakes!

We also all know intellectually that mistakes are how we learn.

But – and this is important – being able to actually do that – learn from our mistakes – means we have to be willing and open to talking about them.

Many years ago at the company I worked for at the time, I campaigned against the “project post-mortem.” You know, that awful meeting where everyone gets together to discuss everything that went wrong. It’s usually accompanied by more than a little finger-pointing and blame.

This is not what I mean by being willing and open to talk about our mistakes!

Even more years ago, when I was given my very first project to manage and lead, I assembled the team and said, “Look, if there are problems, I want to know. Don’t hide them from me, bring them forward and let’s figure out what to do!” I remember my manager at the time, who was observing, looked quite taken aback. That company was not very forgiving of mistakes.

So, what do you do instead of the post-mortem and instead of burying mistakes?

How do you really, truly, actually create that so-called “safe space”?

Culture is not easy to shift, but you can impact it within your own sphere of influence.

  1. Be honest and open about the mistakes you make. And if that doesn’t feel safe – I get it. If it’s really unsafe, you might want to think about where you’re working…
  2. Look for the opportunities. Sometimes something goes differently than expected and it’s not a mistake, but an improvement. How do you bring that forward?
  3. Don’t just think about how “mistakes are learning opportunities.” For one thing, that’s an awfully trite and eye-rolling statement. Demonstrate it. When someone makes a mistake, ask them what they’ve learned. Not – I hasten to add – in an accusatory way.
  4. And finally, adopt the lovely approach of Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. When a mistake happens, he gleefully cries, “How fascinating!” I can’t think of a better way to make mistakes into truly safe learnings.
    Make a mistake? How fascinating! We all know mistakes are for learning ... but do we actually *act* on that?Click To Tweet

Don’t, by the way, forget to allow yourself to make mistakes (and learn from them). You’re just as human as the rest of us.

Want a better approach than the ghastly “project post-mortem”? Of course you do. Download this: “The Discipline of Reflective Review” – it’s a direct link to the PDF, no email required. 

gljudson Success & failure

How to learn leadership

Black letters on pale gray background, saying "The future starts today" I posted a question this morning on LinkedIn: “What’s the most successful thing you’ve done to develop your leadership?”

The common denominator among all the answers?

Choosing to own their leadership skill development.

Whether that was accepting a reeeaaally stretchy promotion, taking a volunteer leadership role, or simply deciding to learn leadership skills, it was all about personal ownership and intentionality.

There are some very damaging myths about leadership that keep people from taking these steps.

For one, “Leaders are born, not made.” (Can I just simply say, bull?! This one annoys me to no end!)

Others include ideas about how leaders always have to have the answers, always feel confident, have some sort of magical people-skills and charisma, or just end up in the right place at the right time and play the political game well.

I’ll go on and say “bull” to all that.

Having been an executive myself, and having worked with a lot of leaders as clients and students, I can tell you categorically that none of that is true.

Leadership is made up of a set of learnable skills. Just like anything else, some people have more native talent than others – but everyone can learn, and no leader is the super-confident, always-knowledgeable, hyper-decisive person we might imagine them to be.

The question really is – do you want to learn?

Not everyone wants to be promoted into leadership, and that’s just fine. (Though it’s worth noting that we are all leaders in one way or another, simply because we all influence the people around us by what we say and do.)

But if you do want to be a leader in your career, then take ownership of that desire and actively pursue it. Read. Take courses. Learn. Find mentors, even if only from afar. Hire a coach whose style fits with yours. You can’t learn leadership by osmosis; you have to pursue it like you’d pursue learning a language (because in some ways it is a language) or studying history (because historical examples of leadership are highly instructive, as much to know what NOT to do as what TO do!), and so on.

Leadership is individual – this is one of the core principles of my work in leadership development – and so take everything you learn and examine it carefully to see if it fits. You wouldn’t walk around in shoes two sizes too small or too big; don’t adopt a leadership practice that’s wonky for you. But don’t give up on a leadership practice until you’ve experimented and proven that it doesn’t fit you.

Want to be a leader? Learn. Learn to be a leader for good, the leader your team needs and your company needs. Learn to be the leader you're meant to be. Your future starts today - *everyone's* future starts today. What will it be?Click To Tweet

Your future starts today. What will it be?

I take a limited number of individual clients every year. If that sounds interesting – let’s talk

gljudson Leadership development, Owning your career

Is there really a Great Resignation?

Photo of a square piece of brown paper taped up with the words I QUIT!Yes, I think so.

People have been arguing with me about this, but the data don’t lie. (Yes, I insist on “data” being plural, thank you.)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that April and May, 2021, had the highest “quit rate” EVER. As in, never before this high. As in, really, really high.

Look, I get the impulse to heave a sigh of relief and – well – bluntly – stick your head in the sand and pretend we can go back to “how it was before.”

We can’t.

As Greg McKeown, author, speaker, podcaster, has said multiple times on his What’s Essential podcast, the last 18 months have been the global equivalent of the parental instruction to teenagers: “Go to your room and think about it!”

We’ve thought about it.

And the result of thinking about it is that most people don’t want to go back to “how it was before,” and they’re willing to vote on that with their feet. In one survey I saw reported by Fortune magazine, 57% of millenials said they’d look for a new job if their employer insisted on them coming back to the office full-time.  (Link to the full survey results is here – it includes a lot of other questions around travel and dining.)

What the surveys don’t seem to be exploring is the ways in which “thinking about it” has resulted in a deep desire for more meaning, more humanity, more engagement, more flexibility … more trust.

These have gotten lip service aplenty over the years, but for all the employee engagement surveys conducted – how much change has there really been? Given Gallup’s dismal reports on the subject, year after year, I’d say – not a lot. (The 2020 results: 54% “not engaged,” 14% “actively disengaged,” and 36% “engaged.”)

Meaning, humanity, engagement, flexibility, and trust aren’t merely “nice to have” any more. No longer can we survey without taking impactful action. Not if you want your best people to stick around, anyway.

It’s time to have conversations about what your people want. It’s time to listen to them, hear them, and collaborate with them on creating a more humane workplace.

How to avoid the Great Resignation: talk to your people, hear them, collaborate with them on creating a humane, trusting workplace. Incidentally, you'll have more fun AND greater profitability. Yay.Click To Tweet

Funny thing happens when you do that: you and your employees have a much more fun and enjoyable working experience AND you experience demonstrably greater profitability, growth, and success.

If you’re ready to have these conversations, you need leaders who know HOW. Let’s talk

gljudson Change leadership, Strategic thinking

Leadership, chiggers, and COVID (oh my!)

Photo of words saying "you are magic" on a speckled black-and-white backgroundYes, that headline is a tad weird. Stay with me here.

First, “leadership” should be a verb, not a noun, no matter what the dictionaries say.

Leadership is an action. It’s something we can choose to do, moment to moment.

It’s how we show up in those moments. It’s not complicated, but it can take courage because it often feels vulnerable.

And it’s emphatically not contained within a specific role or title. Anyone who’s had – or encountered – a toddler knows the many ways a small child can be a leader!

I’ve heard, “But I’m not a leader!” (and its variants) more times than I can count. May I bluntly say, bullpuckey. As I wrote here, yes, you are a leader – and not in the platitudinous sense of “Oh, but of course we’re all leaders.” (Yes, friends, platitudinous is a word!)

Leadership doesn’t require big action. It just requires your awareness from moment to moment.

The smallest things matter. You’ve probably heard the Dalai Lama’s quote, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

I’d add: try avoiding chiggers … or the coronavirus.

You can’t see chiggers; they’re tiny little mites, the larval form of “red bugs” – an arachnid. Despite their invisible size, they can travel from your ankles to your waist in 15 minutes. And their bites itch like a thousand mosquito bites rolled into one. Ask me how I know…

Likewise, we can’t see the SARS-COV2 virus – we can’t even tell if the person next to us is infected.

Obviously none of these very small things – mosqitoes, chiggers, or the COVID virus – are themselves leaders.

But they sure do cause us to change. They cause us to do things differently – sometimes very very differently.

So don’t tell me that anything you might do is too small to matter.

It matters.

And all you need to do is be a little more aware of the impact you have on people. Sometimes the smallest action – such as a smile for someone you might never see again – means more than you can imagine.

Leadership is (or should be) a verb. Leadership is something we can choose do DO - it's how we show up. Even very small things can have a very big impact (as we've seen all too clearly in the last 16 months!).Click To Tweet

As the image above says – you are – or can be – magic for someone through your attention and your small acts of individual leadership.

What small ways have you been a leader? And what small leadership actions have others taken that mattered to you? I’d sincerely love to hear about it. Drop me a note here.

gljudson Leadership

The hybrid dilemma

Cartoon of four businesspeople with one tossing aside their briefcase and walking outIs the sky falling?

Will all your employees quit if you don’t offer a hybrid work solution?

Do you absolutely need your people in the office?

Are you concerned about productivity if people work from home?

What about if they work in the office?

Can you trust your employees to do what’s right?


That last question.

That’s the real question.

Obviously some work roles require physical presence. It’s hard to ring up a customer’s purchases if you’re not there to do it. It’s not possible to serve a restaurant patron from your home office. And so on; there are plenty of jobs that require someone to be in the building.

And there are some personal situations that make people prefer to commute to the company office rather than down their own hall.

And, and, and … yes, there are questions of collaboration and the informal inspiration that happens when you bump into someone at the coffeepot.

But there’s a significant and damaging fallacy at play here: the age-old mistake of trying to solve the problem before you’ve thoroughly defined it. Seeking the how before you’ve truly identified the what.

What is it that you’re actually aiming for?

Employee retention is a factor. You don’t want your best people heading for the door because they feel unheard and unappreciated…or, worse, untrusted.

Effective, productive work aligned with your company goals and objectives? Absolutely.

A robust, humane corporate culture? Of course.

But don’t make assumptions

Don’t assume that there’s One And Only One Way.

Don’t assume that the way you’ve always done it is the Right Way.

Don’t assume you know what your people want, why they want it – or what they will or won’t do.

Instead, ask yourself:

If you set aside your historical way of working (how you’ve Always Done It), what might be possible?

If the corporate world hadn’t grown up out of the industrial era, what might be possible?

If you could trust your employees to do the right thing, what might be possible?

What options are there that would align with your vision and goals, including your desire to create a more humane workplace? (Remember: work”place” just might be anywhere – at least, until you have a good reason why it isn’t.)

And ask your people:

What do they actually want?

And why? No, really why? (There are always reasons under the first reason.)

And in what ways are they willing to participate in creating what they want?

Yes, the hybrid approach creates new challenges

But I’d say it creates new opportunities as well.

Opportunities for a more humane working environment. Opportunities for greater productivity. Opportunities for more diverse hiring. Opportunities for increased profitability and success.

Opportunities for good leadership on a significant scale.

Assumptions about hybrid work are - as Grace points out here - not helpful. Considering the questions she asks and wondering what's actually possible!Click To Tweet

Maintaining a strong corporate culture is a primary reason I hear for wanting the in-person office. BUT is in person really a prerequisite for a great culture? There are plenty of examples out there of companies who have always been entirely remote and who have a very strong, positive, humane culture.

If you’d like to explore how to maintain your culture as a remote or hybrid workforce, check out the Virtual Culture Challenge. It’s a series of prompts over three days to help you understand and nurture your company’s culture no matter where your people work.

Want to go one step further? Let’s talk. Drop me a note here and we’ll set up a brief call to see how I might be able to help.

gljudson Engagement

Meet your inner leader (yes, you have one)

Scrabble tiles spelling PROVE THEM WRONGOh, the things people say about leadership!

Leaders are born, not made. (This is so old and outdated that I can’t find a source – but we’ve all heard it, all too often.)

Only one in ten people have the natural skills to be a manager / leader. (That’s from research giant Gallup!)

Introverts can’t be leaders. (Susan Cain, author of Quiet, says otherwise.)

You have to {be fearless / have the right education / know more than everyone else} to be a leader. (All-too-common beliefs, right?)

I’m not a leader. (That’s from pretty much everyone’s inner critic.)

I’m here to say that they are all untrue.

We all have an inner leader. All of us.

The question is, how do we want to express that leadership?

Some people appreciate the formal role of “leader.” They sincerely enjoy inspiring, motivating, and encouraging their people. (That is, of course, a small and incomplete list of leadership qualities.)

Some have zero desire to manage or lead people. Which means that, when they’re put at the head of a team, they generally don’t do very well. Let’s face it: none of us are great at things we don’t want to do and don’t enjoy doing, and the fact that so many companies have no upward-mobility career path except into leadership is – simply – awful.

But that doesn’t mean those people aren’t leaders.

As I wrote in this article, we all lead in some way every day. We set examples for our colleagues, families, friends, neighbors, communities on- and off-line, in the things we do and say. We tacitly, implicitly, give permission to those witnessing our behavior to behave in similar ways. (Or to be so turned off by that behavior that they go in the opposite direction – but that’s still a form of leadership!)

In the end, how we lead in the world is an expression of our values. The people who stand out to us as extraordinary leaders – think Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Mahatma Gandhi, and so many others we can all think of in the world and in our own communities – are, when it comes down to it, taking a stand for their deepest beliefs and values.

We don’t have to do this on a world stage, as they have done.

We can do it in our own ways, within our own communities, at our own workplaces.

In fact, in one way or another, we already do this.

So what’s my point, then, if we already do this?

My point is, if you become intentional, you will make a bigger impression – a bigger impression of the sort that matters to you, that has meaning, that makes you feel strong and proud of who you are.

We all have an inner leader. And we're each responsible for how it shows up - in a way that makes sense FOR US as individuals. This is an invitation to meet YOUR inner leader.Click To Tweet

You have an inner leader. It’s up to you to meet, recognize, and welcome that aspect of yourself.

Sometimes it’s less about not wanting to be a leader in the formal sense, and more about not knowing how. The failure to train and support fledgling leaders is a dreadful waste of time, energy, and good people.

Are you an executive wondering how to develop your managers into leaders? We really should talk! Training and support are not as costly as you might think, especially when compared to the expense of losing quality employees.

gljudson Leadership

Two thirds say they have no idea…

Photo of a confused young woman shrugging with her hands upThis morning, reading through my various email newsletters, I came across some … I won’t say shocking, because I’m neither surprised nor shocked; I’ll say concerning data in FAST COMPANY magazine’s “Compass” newsletter.

They cited a McKinsey survey that indicates that

…two thirds of full-time corporate or government employees surveyed said that their employers haven’t shared a detailed post-pandemic strategy.

“Our recent research found that this failure to communicate clearly is hurting morale, culture, and retention,” write University of Massachusetts Lowell professors Kimberly Merriman, David Greenway, and Tamara Montag-Smit.

This is a problem.

Maybe you haven’t set your strategy yet. Okay, you’re running a tad (!) late on that, and you can still communicate. In fact, if this is your situation, now would be a great time to gather information from your people about what they want, so you can include that in your planning.

Maybe you have a plan, but you’re busy with All The Things, so you haven’t told your people yet. Yes, it’s hard to stay on top of All The Things when All The Things are changing so fast. And you can still communicate.

Maybe you firmly believe you have communicated the plan. Great! That’s excellent. You might want to check in with your people, though, and see if they feel like they know what to expect. Just because one person says something doesn’t mean their audience actually hears and understands.

Leaders: What are your return-to-work post-pandemic plans for your people? McKinsey survey says 2/3 of employees don't know. That's...not good. Communicate, please!Click To Tweet

And if you’re not one of the ones making the plans and setting the strategy, you can still communicate. In this case, though, try communicating up the chain and letting your leaders know that there’s some uncertainty and confusion for them to address.

If people don’t know what to expect, they’ll lose trust and become skeptical and cynical. And given the current job market, they just might find another employer who’s doing more to … yes … communicate expectations.

Losing employees is expensive. How expensive is it? Click for an easy-to-use calculation spreadsheet!

gljudson Communication

Osmosis is for scientists, not leaders

Tech image of two profiles with brainwaves transmitting between themYou can’t learn leadership by osmosis.

It sure would be great if you could. Promoted from an individual role into management and leadership? Poof, whoosh, hey presto, you’re a leader – you “just know” how to do it.

But no.

Becoming a good, successful, caring, effective leader requires

  • training
  • practice with what’s learned
  • guidance
  • coaching
  • mentoring
  • all of that and time.

We have to stop promoting people into leadership and expecting magical success. It’s never worked before, and it won’t work now.

You can't learn leadership by osmosis. We have to stop promoting people into leadership and expecting magical success!Click To Tweet

And now more than ever, we need sensible, engaged, caring, effective leaders. And it’s not expensive – quite the reverse – because better leadership leads to greater profitability; leadership comes before profits. Let’s talk about how that can work for you in your organization.  Click to connect!

gljudson Leadership development

Look back before rushing forward (here’s why)

Photo of a group of people brainstorming with their laptops around a wooden table.I’m not a fan of the, “Oh, this was a gift! it wasn’t all bad!” noise I’m hearing from so many people right now.

The pandemic was not a gift.

Yes, it gave some of us a chance to reflect, regroup, reconsider how we want our lives to look and feel. Those were the privileged ones who kept their jobs and didn’t burn out trying to juggle remote work AND remote school, and who didn’t get sick or lose a loved one to the virus.

But many others didn’t have that privilege, and that’s important to remember.

And we’re all – even the privileged – more than a bit burned out and exhausted right now.

Still – things are getting better.

But let’s not rush forward too quickly.

As tempting as it may be to jump into “reopened” life – let’s pause a moment.

Let’s look back at what we did accomplish.

Leaders, take time with your teams to review the past 12 – 18 months and notice what went well. What did you do that you didn’t think you could do? What milestones did you reach, even amidst the chaos? What have you learned, about yourself and your organization? No idea or awareness is too small – it all has something important to reveal and to learn from.

It’s apparently human nature, for some weird and unfathomable reason, to overlook the good stuff in our headlong rush towards what’s next. And given that “what’s next” is a relief and release from the long, hard slog through the pandemic, well, that makes rushing forward even more tempting.

But there are meaningful accomplishments to celebrate, and important learnings to integrate and carry forward.

Take a moment before rushing into the post-pandemic future. Look back. Appreciate what you went through and what you - and your team - accomplished.Click To Tweet

It would be a real shame to overlook that in our haste to return to normal – or, more accurately, to step forward into a new normal.

It could be a much better normal – if we take the time to pause and look back before rushing forward.

Interested in doing this, but not sure how? Click here to download “The Discipline of Reflective Reveiw” – opens directly into the PDF. Intended as a daily or weekly practice, it’s extremely effective to use for any time span and at any time, including … now!

gljudson Leadership