What do you MEAN, you’re leaving?!

Your best employee just told you she needs to take an extended leave of absence.

Maybe it’s a sick family member. Maybe she just got the chance of a lifetime to do something she’s always dreamed of. Maybe it’s something else.

Whatever it is, she’s going to be gone for a while.

And she’s giving you a choice: she can either take that leave of absence, or she can quit outright.

After you finish panicking…

What do you do?

You’d like to tell her she has to stay because she’s in the middle of a critical project – but obviously, that’s not going to work, because then she’ll just hand you her resignation letter.

On the flip side, you’d like to be responsive to her needs and give her the time she’s asking for.

And this is a more complex question.

What does HR have to say?

Your company may have policies in place that define what types of extended leave someone can take, and under what circumstances. Similarly, there are certain legal specifications that cover family care leave and the like. So before you make decisions one way or another, check in with your HR department.

What does she have to say?

If she’s smart, she’s done the legwork with HR and unravelled the legal questions already, and has brought you her plan.

If not, ask her to provide a plan. How long will she be gone? What does HR have to say? Does she know what the employment law is regarding her situation? What commitment is she willing to make about coming back on time – or at all? What knowledge transfer and turnover support will she provide before leaving, and is she open to taking questions via email or phone whilst she’s gone?

What does the team have to say?

How prepared is the team to pick up the slack? Can they pick up the slack, or will they need additional support – an employee borrowed from another team, a temporary hire to cover some of the work, a consultant with the appropriate expertise, or something else?

What do you have to say?

You’re her manager. And while you may have endless compassion for her situation, whatever it might be, you’re still responsible for doing the right thing overall.

That may be giving her the time she’s asking for (again, assuming it’s all good with HR; obviously, if it’s mandated by law, you have no choice).

But it might be that you have to say no – for the good of the project and the health and sanity of the team and the long-term impact on the department and company as a whole.

Only you can decide.

What will they have to say?

Some companies routinely grant sabbaticals or leaves of absence to employees. If your employer does this, this article isn’t relevant for you; it’s already covered by policy.

Without a standard policy, if you decide to say yes, be very clear with everyone that this is a unique situation. Define the parameters such that you don’t get a horde of employees requesting the same consideration – unless, of course, you want to work with your HR department to create a foundational policy!

On the other hand, if you decide to say no, be just as clear with everyone why it’s not possible. Otherwise, you’ll be painted with the “mean manager” brush, and morale on your team will suffer.

There’s no easy answer to these types of questions. But being prepared for risks – whether it’s a key employee requesting a leave of absence, or falling seriously ill, or any other unexpected situation – is part of your job as a manager and leader.

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Strategic Thinking for Managers

Confused about what strategic thinking is? Wondering what you need to know about strategy and strategic thinking as a manager?

In this video, I explain strategic thinking for managers – what it is, why it’s important for you to understand, and how to make it work for you as part of your management and leadership development. You’ll add a key leadership skill to your toolkit that will help you stand out as a good manager and a good leader!

RESOURCES

ARTICLE: Vision, Mission, Strategy – what’s the difference?

ARTICLE: What Happens Next?

ARTICLE: What’s the #1 Problem for New Managers?

ARTICLE: Goals Matter! (Sandwiches or Salad?)

PROGRAM: Empowered Leadership: an 8-module breakthrough program to supercharge your career

Click here to tweet!

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Manager’s Guide to Change Leadership

Ever had to deal with the anxiety and resistance caused by change at work?

A new software system, a new boss, a merger with another company, some sort of cultural change initiative – change management and change leadership are hard AND important responsibilities. And if you’re a manager just learning your management skills / leadership skills, it’s even more challenging to figure out how to manage your team through a significant change.

In this video, you’ll learn a basic overview of what’s going on, why your team (and maybe you!) is resisting the change, and exactly what you can do about it.

RESOURCES

PAPER: Why Change Initiatives Fail

PAPER: Why HR Programs Fail

ARTICLE: Desire Isn’t Enough: the 3 essentials for organizational change

Empowered Leadership program

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It’s not a straitjacket!

Blue book on a pink background; book's title is "My Secret Plan to Rule the World"Are you a planner? Do you enjoy routine?

Or do you want more flexibility?

I freely admit to being a planner with routines that make me happy. And I also freely admit that I am not happy when my routines are suddenly disrupted, or when things aren’t planned and I don’t know what to expect.

On the other end of the spectrum is the person – as in one of my clients – who dreams of more flexibility in a business and life where she seems to always be rushing to get from one thing to the next.

But here’s the thing: a plan isn’t a straitjacket. And routine isn’t anti-flexibility.

In fact, as I said to my client, planning and routine can actually create greater flexibility.

Wait, what?

Yes, it’s true. And there are a whole host of reasons.

  • When there’s some structure (a.k.a. a plan!), you’re not scrambling to make last-minute decisions and choices.
  • You’re also not having to make multiple last-minute decisions and choices when it turns out that the preferred option isn’t available because things were too last-minute.
  • There’s no need to apologize to anyone because you’ve left things overly open-ended.
  • You’re not spending precious time trying to figure out what to do … at the last minute … and then ending up frittering time away because there was no plan.
  • And most flexible of all: you can schedule open time and plan for flexibility.

Yes, I did write that: plan for flexibility.

If, in the name of flexibility, you leave everything open, you’ll end up feeling rushed a lot of the time. I mean, hello, you’re always planning at the last minute (rushed) instead of in advance (relaxed).

I’ll admit that I’m a bit too far on the gotta have a plan end of the spectrum. I’m working on being more spontaneous.

But for a career, spontaneity isn’t ideal. The start-up entrepreneurial world is full of businesses that collapsed because the founders didn’t plan well, but instead dashed off in too many directions at once. And there are plenty of corporate careers that just muddle along without direction, less successful and less meaningful than they could have been.

Plans aren’t straitjackets. You can always change direction if something doesn’t seem to be working. In fact, there’s even a corporate-speak buzzword for it: pivoting!

And as my client realized, when you’re hyper-focused on being as flexible as possible, you’re likely to feel rushed and frustrated. And as she said to me, “Wow. I think most of the biggest challenges in my life and career have come from not planning!”

Something to think about, hmm?

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Flexible Workplace: problems & solutions

Is your flexible, casual workplace becoming too informal or disrespectful?

It’s the law of unintended consequences at work, creating situations where employees are disrespectful, missing deadlines, and disrespecting each other’s time and energy. As a manager or supervisor, what can you do? How can you manage this situation, especially if your company emphasizes a flexible, casual culture? In this video, I explain what’s happening – and how to fix it!

RESOURCES

Article “Who Values Your Time?”

Mini e-book: “The Five Most Challenging Employees – and how to manage them

Click here to tweet!

 

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It’s the B word … (but not what you think!)

Illustration of brown picket fence with open gateBoundaries.

If you’ve ever said I’m so busy! or I have to… 

Or you’ve ever thought I’m so tired! or Why can’t someone else…

Or you’ve ever felt seriously resentful…

Your boundaries were being breached, whether you knew it or not, and whether or not you consciously had a boundary at all.

We need boundaries at work as well as in our personal lives. (I talked about this a bit in the video “Flexible Workplace: Problems & Solutions,” which you can find here.)

We need to know that we can dedicate uninterrupted time to getting our work done. We need to know that our co-workers, boss, and employees will respect our ideas and values (even if they don’t agree), and honor our need for time and space in and out of the office.

We need to know that we’re safe from abuse or attack.

And because we’re all different, we also have boundary needs that are personal and individual to us.

What’s a boundary?

We know and understand physical boundaries: the borders of our property, whether fenced or not; the walls of our houses; the doors of our private spaces.

These boundaries protect our physical property from random strangers, thieves, wild animals, the weather, and yes, occasionally from family members and friends.

No one would argue about that, though some with weak or nonexistent personal boundaries might have a hard time closing the door on those family members and friends, even when they desperately need to do so.

Personal and workplace boundaries

Personal boundaries protect a different kind of property: our time, energy, and emotions. They allow us to say “no” when necessary – which gives us the freedom to let someone through the door, saying “yes” when we want to.

Boundaries in the workplace define rules for behavior. They determine whether it’s okay for employees to come late to meetings, or if meetings will always start on time, with no “here’s what happened” review for those who slide in after the start time. (I guess you can tell I feel strongly about that one, eh?) They determine when and how performance feedback is delivered. And so on.

As a manager and leader, the boundaries you set for your teams and employees are what enable them to do their work effectively … or not. The ways you define what behavior will be allowed through the gate, and what won’t, is what creates the culture within your team or department. Your personal example and your definition of boundaries will determine whether or not they know they can work uninterrupted, have their ideas and values respected, feel safe from abuse, and so on.

The “how” of boundaries

This, of course, is the tricky part – and the million-dollar question.

Reams of books and articles have been written on the subject. Hours of classes have been taught. Oceans of ink have been expended in journals. And still people struggle.

So, no, I can’t tell you, once and for all, how to set a boundary for yourself or for your team.

But here are a few suggestions to start with.

Values

What are your values? What are the values you want expressed at work, for your team?

Values help you define what you’re protecting with your boundaries. They’re what stays inside the walls and fences. And anything that threatens those values is what your boundaries keep out.

We think we know what our values are – but it’s not till you write them down that you really know. My students in a recent Strategic Planning workshop were surprised and intrigued by some of the values they discovered that were important to them, and it had a significant impact on how they framed their strategic goals and projects.

And when your values are out of alignment with your employer’s, you’ll probably feel resentful and unhappy a lot of the time – perhaps without knowing why.

Standards

Standards – values – what’s the difference?

It’s a bit of a thin gray line, but I see standards as defining ground rules for behavior that’s not necessarily bound by values.

For instance, a company might have strong values supporting a casual, flexible workplace. And on top of that, or alongside it, they might have standards defining acceptable attire and on-site presence when important clients visit or for the annual board meeting.

Again, standards for behavior create boundaries – in this case, boundaries around client interaction and the company’s board of directors.

Preferences

To build a cohesive, supportive, high-performing team, you must allow each individual to be exactly that: an individual. Everyone deserves to have their preferences respected – within reason, of course; nudism in the office is probably not a preference one wants to encourage; nor, I would imagine, is a habit of eating raw garlic.

As the manager, you need to understand which of your team members enjoys public accolades for a job well done, and which would prefer a private conversation; which one likes chocolate cake for their birthday celebration, and which one is allergic to peanuts; and so on – you get the point.

How are preferences related to boundaries? Simple: consider other people’s preferences as their boundary that you don’t cross.

Not easy, but necessary

It’s a lot simpler to put up a fence around your yard than it is to establish personal and professional boundaries.

But trust me on this: you’ll be a lot happier and – and this is important! – more successful if you do.

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Gossip, venting, or mentoring?

Gossiping emojis Is it gossiping when you vent to your spouse or a friend about a frustrating co-worker?

How about when you discuss that co-worker with another co-worker?

Or when you tear your hair out about the situation with an advisor?

Pretty fine lines, aren’t they? And it’s easy to think it’s all harmless when … maybe it isn’t.

Let’s look at ways to decide what’s going on.

Are you venting?

Venting is sometimes necessary to let off steam and avoid exploding at the person who’s frustrating you.

It crosses the line into gossip if it isn’t in response to your frustration, but instead is more like prodding a sore tooth or picking at a scab.

And venting becomes gossip if it’s with a co-worker who’s not an advisor or mentor. Take it out of the office.

Are you seeking advice?

Everyone sometimes needs suggestions from a mentor, coach, or other advisor.

If you’re asking for help finding a solution to your frustration, you’re not gossiping – as long as you’re asking someone who really is in a position to help.

And be sure you actually are looking for a solution. If you answer every suggestion with, “Yes, but …”, you’ve wandered into dangerous territory.

Or are you … complaining?

If you’re just complaining, then I have news for you: you’re gossiping, and it’s not doing anyone any good.

It’s not doing you any good, because you’re wasting time, and time is one of those things that we don’t get more of (see my article here for more on that subject).

It’s not doing the person you’re complaining to gossiping with any good, because you’re now developing a reputation as a gossip – and it’s very hard to trust anyone who gossips, because one never knows if they’re talking about you with someone else.

And it’s certainly not doing the person you’re gossiping about any good.

Is there something they should be doing differently? Approach them directly. Is it a personal issue? Approach them directly. Is it something that’s none of your business? Stay in your own lane!

As the manager

If you’re the manager and you’re gossiping, you need to stop immediately.

If you’re the manager and you notice employees on your team gossiping, intervene – and you can learn more about how to do that on my YouTube video “Managing a Gossiping Employee.”

Gossip doesn’t do anyone any good. Quite the opposite: it can actively harm both the person being gossiped about, and the people doing the gossiping. It creates a culture of suspicion and distrust – never mind the hurt feelings that come when someone discovers what’s being said about them behind their back.

It’s up to you – whether you’re a manager or an individual team member – to keep it from happening.

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Five first-time manager mistakes

Watch as I review the five most-common mistakes new managers make (including one you probably haven’t even thought of), and give you some tips and resources on how to AVOID making them.

As a new manager or new supervisor, you’re wondering how to manage – and how NOT to manage! What mistakes should you be on the alert for avoiding? How can you be a good manager; what leadership skills will help you be the best possible boss for your team? Here’s your answer!

gljudson Management & Leadership, Video

Who values your time?

Image of an analog clock with a white face and black numbers; the time on the clock is 11:00Time.

It really is the one thing we can never get back.

But we’re not always as careful with it as we might be.

You could be the most organized person on the planet … but if other people nibble away at your time, you can end up rushed and frustrated and out of time for what matters to you.

Let’s look at a few scenarios.

You schedule a meeting…

Your employees arrive on time, since you’re known for starting meetings on the dot. (Yay you!)

But they haven’t prepared. They don’t know what’s being discussed. They keep looking at their phones. They dive down rabbit holes and wander off on detours.

The hour flits by, everyone picks up their stuff and leaves, and you’re left wondering … what just happened?

Because it certainly wasn’t the meeting you planned.

Your manager is whimsical

He cancels meetings just before they’re due to start.

And then reschedules at a time when your calendar is chock-full of other commitments.

Your colleague is distracted

You agreed to meet to discuss an important project.

But she lacks focus and is easily sidetracked by every phone-ping and unrelated thought.

Let’s reclaim your time!

Here are a few ways to help everyone stay focused, get more done, and respect your time!

Those meetings with your employees

They’re your team. You get to set the rules – but if you want people to know what you’re there to discuss, keep to the time frames, and come to a conclusion, you need to give them the tools.

And yes, that means an agenda, with clearly-stated discussion points and objectives.  Anything not relevant to the agenda gets noted down for future discussion, not added into this meeting.

It means holding shorter meetings, which are proven to be better at keeping people on track. Do you really need an hour, or would 45 minutes … or even just 30 minutes … be enough, IF everyone stays focused?

And yes, it means asking people to leave their phones at their desks – or, at minimum, silence them and put them face down on the table.

Your whimsical manager

This will depend upon the relationship you have with them. My best advice is to have a meeting to address the issue.

It’s possible they don’t realize how challenging their last-minute rescheduling is – and they may have some demands on their time that’s causing the upheaval.

Let them know that you tend to have a very full schedule, and that it would be helpful if they could give you more advance notice – and double-check with you on rescheduling, if possible.

If necessary, you can always use one of my favorite techniques: the no-oriented question. “Would I be completely out of line to ask for a little more warning when you need to reschedule?”

People love to say “No!” This gives them that opportunity – but in saying “No!”, they’ve miraculously agreed to your request.

Your distracted colleague

Start with a clear statement of what you want the meeting to achieve. If you’ve scheduled via email, providing those details in the meeting invitation is the perfect place to start – and then repeat yourself as you’re getting started.

Conspicuously turn your phone to silent mode and set it face down. “I’m turning my phone off so it won’t distract me. Would you mind doing the same?”  If they say no, or if they keep looking at their phone anyway, you can suggest rescheduling at a time when they have fewer other things going on. “Seems like you have a lot on your mind right now – shall we pick this up later, when you’re more clear?”

Be relentless about keeping on topic. “Let’s make a note of that for later,” and, “No, I’d say that’s a topic for another time.”

In some cases, you may need to use the no-oriented question I mentioned above: “Am I crazy to want us to stay focused and get as much done here as we can?”

In closing…

It probably sounds like I’m asking you to take responsibility for getting other people to do the right thing. Why, you may be wondering, should you do all the heavy lifting?

But remember: it’s your schedule and your time. Even when it’s your manager who’s nibbling away at it, there are things you can do to maintain control – and it starts with your own appreciation for what time means to you and how you want to spend it.

If you don’t respect your time, no one else will either. And yes, sometimes that means you have to take action to demand that respect, instead of waiting for it to be given to you.

gljudson Management & Leadership

The mid-January droop…

Sad blue emojiI saw a post on Facebook over the weekend claiming that this week in mid-January is the worst week for depression out of the year – specifically, the third Monday of the month.

I don’t know how true this is – Wikipedia calls it “pseudoscience,” and it probably is.

But I understand why it might be true.

The holidays are over. New Year’s celebrations are behind us, and many who make resolutions have probably also slipped at least once or twice. Work has gotten serious again, with annual plans made and projects ramping up. There are no more celebratory holidays to look forward to in the U.S. until Memorial Day (not everyone has President’s Day off, and who actually “celebrates” it anyway?), and the end of May is a long, long way off. And for those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s DARK and COLD.

Oy. I’m depressing myself just writing about it!

(Note: None of what I write here is intended to address true depression. Please get help (if you haven’t already) if that describes you!)

So what can you do?

Decide what you want

At this time of year especially, it’s easy to get sucked into the work vortex. New plans have been made, strategies set, tactics laid out, projects defined. And you probably only had minimal, if any, input into all that. Yikes.

What’s important to you?

What fits with your career goals – and your personal goals?

I’m not suggesting that you need a five-year plan; I’m not a fan of five-year plans. But having some sense of what your next step is, professionally and personally, helps keep you focused and helps you choose between options with a sense of actual direction instead of a coin-flip.


Want some help with this?  You might want a Personal Leadership Profile. Click the link to learn more.


Schedule FUN

My coach is a vehement advocate of what she calls “hooky days” – days off Just Because.

Theoretically, at least, this is easier for those of us who are self-employed versus those who have to report to work every day. (Theory is a wonderful thing that doesn’t always play out in practice… someone remind me to take a day off, please?)

But even if you don’t have the flexibility to take random days off from work, you DO have weekends.

Schedule fun time. Whether it’s a movie outing, a museum trip, or a local Escape Room adventure, put it on the calendar. While spontaneous fun is great, having specific plans gives you something to look forward to, which makes any day a little brighter.

Track the sun!

Speaking of brighter days, and again here in the northern hemisphere, the days are getting longer. And there are some fun apps you can get on your phone that tell you all about it: when sunrise / sunset is, how long the day is, when the moonrise is and what phase it’s in, and so on, all based on your GPS location. According to Sundial, my current favorite, daylight today is 10 hours 5 minutes long … and tomorrow will be one minute longer. How can that fail to cheer anyone up?!

The point is …

Whatever you choose to do, the point is to create a sense of purpose and control in order to overcome the gloomies. Because work – and life – should, as I keep saying, be more fun!


Most people who like my articles also like my YouTube videos on management and leadership. Check them out: https://www.youtube.com/gracejudson

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