What IS leadership, anyway?

Photo of four origami boats following the lead of a fifthLeadership is not a title.

It’s not limited to a specific role or job or work to be done.

Leadership is a way of being.

It’s how you are in the world, what you say and what you do, and whether those words and actions are aligned and congruent – and even if they’re not.

You may be thinking you’re not a leader – but I believe everyone is a leader.

Not in the “you can do anything you want” sort of fluff.

You are a leader in what you say and what you do, in person or on social media.

There are people who are observing you who may model their behavior on yours, or who are influenced by you in some way.

This can be as seemingly small as the smile you offer a neighbor on your way to the mailbox, or as harsh as the screaming fight you engage in with a family member or in your neighbor’s driveway – or whether you choose not to engage in the screaming, whether in person or online in social media.

People are looking at you and reading what you post. People are looking at you in the office and on Zoom and in your emails, and observing your behavior and hearing your words.

When we take a stand for something – anything at all – we are showing others what’s possible. By what we say and do, we give others permission to say and do something similar. We’ve seen this, writ large, in the political arena of the last four years.

What permission are your words and actions giving to others?

Our actions reveal who we are as leaders - even if we don't have the offical title. What we say and do gives others permission to act in similar ways. I'm thinking about how I show up and what permission I'm offering!Click To Tweet

Think about yourself as a leader. And remember this:

“Leadership is a tool, not a value, and effective leaders can be abhorrent forces in the world. I try to remind myself never to say admiringly that someone is a great leader. Instead I try to be more specific. Not all great leaders are leaders for good.”  ~ Ryan Derousseau

Good leadership – compassionate, sensible, grounded leadership – is desperately needed, now more than ever.

How are you showing up as a leader?

This is a core component of the Manifesto for my work, which you can read here.

How are you perceived by your team and your colleagues? Maybe not quite as you might prefer: Are you scary?

Maintaining, developing, and supporting the corporate culture is a key aspect of leadership. Here’s the link to the Virtual Corporate Culture Communication Challenge. The interactive portion of the Challenge is over, but I think you’ll find the material helpful to work through on your own – and I answer all comments. 

gljudson Leadership

Do your first-line managers know?

Photo of a blackboard with a thought-bubble in chalk, and a lightbulb in the center of the bubbleYour first-line managers are your first line of defense against misinformation and rumor.

They’re the ones to whom employees look for critical information.

  • How are you managing employee safety?
  • What are the new processes for performance evaluation?
  • Can employees be reimbursed for home-office expenses?
  • Are there flextime options for parents whose kids are learning at home, instead of in school?
  • What about non-parents – what options are available for them? (This is not a trivial point; people without children can and will get resentful if they feel excluded from consideration. No question that parents have a hard time right now, but don’t forget your child-free employees; they’re stressed too.)

These are just a few of the many questions your first-line leaders are being asked.

Have you provided them with the answers?

Do your first-line managers know how to answer the questions their teams are asking? Help them reduce stress and anxiety and improve productivity by making sure they're prepared.Click To Tweet

Everyone is stressed. Information – reliable, consistent information – is essential for managing and reducing anxiety. Ensuring that your first-line managers have answers to the questions your employees are asking simply makes sense, both from a standpoint of compassion and from the perspective of productivity and the bottom line.

After all, the less stressed and more informed your workforce is, the better they’ll be able to focus on their jobs.

Need tips on training your first-line managers? This video might help: Leadership Development without a budget.

Another video to help with the challenges of these times: Leading Through Uncertainty: a call to action.

Did you download the Glossary of Terms yet? It’s an extensive (but always incomplete and growing) list of terms relative to many of the challenges of these times.

gljudson Communication

Got potential?

Photo ofcoffee mug with the word BEGIN on a wooden tableSo much possibility wrapped up in that one word: potential.

Maybe you – or one of your kids – got that dreaded note on a report card: “Not living up to their potential.” Ugh.

But here’s the thing about potential: it’s meaningless.

Without action, without the willingness to take risks and make mistakes, without the drive to learn and fumble and be awkward at times, potential simply isn’t relevant.

Potential is meaningless without action. Get going. Begin. Do something!Click To Tweet

Do you have people on your team with potential?

Do you have potential?


Take a risk. Go out on a limb. Challenge yourself. Challenge your team. Explore a new idea.

Potential has no inherent value.

Until you begin to take action.

If you’re struggling with how to develop your leadership – for yourself or members of your team – try this article: Leadership development during the pandemic.

Or this video, Leadership Development without a budget (covers some of the same material).

Wondering why leadership development doesn’t always work the way you wished? This article might help: Why leadership development programs fail.

And then there’s the 3-Day Virtual Corporate Culture challenge to help you align your team and your organization around what matters.

gljudson Self-awareness

Why leadership development programs fail

Photo of frustrated, angry businesspeople around a tableLeadership training programs don’t always have the best reputation for success.

Perhaps you’ve experienced this: your company allocated budget for a program, spent time, effort, and money conducting the training, had high hopes for a great outcome, and … ended up disappointed.

Sadly, it’s not all that unusual – AND it’s completely avoidable.

Let’s look at some of the reasons for failure.

You didn’t define “success”

If you don’t know specifically what results you want, you’re almost certain to be disappointed.

What does success look like for your leadership program? How will your fledgling leaders behave? What will happen with their teams? What specific leadership skills and capabilities will they have gained, and how will you measure them?

Training isn’t always the answer

Any experienced training and development practitioner will tell you that senior leaders often think training is a magic wand or silver bullet for their problems.

Disengaged employees? Let’s send the team leads to training.

High turnover? Let’s send the managers to training.

Missed deadlines or poor quality? The team leaders must need training.

You get the picture.

But it ain’t necessarily so. The first step is to assess the root causes of the problem. Then you’ll know if training is the answer, or if there are other factors at play.

It’s the wrong training

There are a lot of great options for training. And brand-name training programs are the obvious choice – right?

Well, maybe.

But maybe not.

It’s easy and natural to look to the major players in the leadership development space. But they come with a high price tag that may result in postponing or cancelling the whole idea.

As I wrote here, there are options if you’re constrained by a low, or even non-existent, budget.

Assuming you’ve determined that training is in fact what’s needed, no training isn’t a good choice.

You’re training the wrong person

Not everyone is cut out to be a leader or even wants to be a leader.

Gallup says just one in ten people are natural leaders, with two more trainable. I don’t agree with that and here’s why.

But it’s nonetheless true that the way corporate career paths are structured usually pushes people into leadership roles who may not want them. Not everyone wants to manage and lead. Plenty of people would rather geek out on their individual role.

If you offer those people advancement within that specialization, without requiring them to manage or lead a team, you’ll have much better results. Find the people who genuinely want to lead, for the right reasons, and train them.

There’s no subsequent support – coaching, peer circles, mentorship

Training without follow-on support is, bluntly, almost always a waste of time.

Leadership isn’t a skill you can just pick up and run with. (It’s actually not a skill at all, of course; it’s a host of interrelated skills and capacities.)

And leadership is individual. It’s not about rules or scripts; it’s about tools, and how each individual leader uses and adapts those tools according to their own unique style.

We’ve all had the experience of attending training and getting back to work and thinking … hmmmm. HOW do I do this again? Applying leadership skills in the intensity and variability of the real world isn’t easy. “Game speed” decisions are remarkably challenging.

Leaders need support to develop newly-learned skills in their day-to-day workplace. Whether that’s a facilitated peer circle, individual or group coaching, or an in-house mentorship program, expecting employees to attend even the best training and be immediately ready to succeed is unrealistic and unfair.

Why do leadership develop programs fail? Avoid these 5 reasons and your program *won't* fail!Click To Tweet

Training is a good thing

The skills, tools, and capacities of leadership are very hard to learn on one’s own. And building a strong leadership bench is essential for the long-term (or even near-term) success of your company.

It’s not hard to conduct successful programs – when you know where the pitfalls are, and how to avoid them.

And not training your first-line and mid-level managers to be good leaders is a mistake. Teach them good leadership habits early, and you won’t have to help them un-learn bad habits later.

gljudson Leadership development

Leadership development during the pandemic

Photo of a white board reading : To-Do List LEARNI’m hearing from many people right now that they have no budget for leadership development. Or that they’re trying to figure out how to do leadership development when everyone’s working from home, and certainly not gathering in a central community learning space. 

Or – both. 

It’s frustrating, because they also know that leadership development is important. You know that. In fact, one could easily argue that leadership development is even more important right now than ever before. Companies need leaders who can support their teams, figure out how to keep moving toward goals, manage stress (their own, their team’s, and, let’s face it, their manager’s!), and somehow keep it all together while everything around them is in what seems to be a constant state of flux.

I saw a sign the other day reading “When does Season 2 of 2020 start? I don’t like Season 1.” It’s almost too real and true to be funny. 

But it’s where we are, and so we need to find ways to do more than just cope. We need to get creative about how to address the needs of the company and the employees. And that means getting creative about how to manage leadership development.

No budget at all?

That’s the case for someone I was talking to a couple of weeks ago. Budget pulled, training cancelled, the entire leadership development program gone. Poof. The frustration and regret was tangible.

But maybe you have time.

If you have time, you can find plenty of good resources that don’t cost a penny. For instance, my Leadership A to Z program is a series of 26 short videos on key leadership characteristics. It’s been used as small-bite training and a discussion-starter at a weekly managers’ meeting, and many individual emerging leaders have watched it on their own to develop their skills.

Or start a book club for your emerging leaders. Yes, the books aren’t free (though there are always library options), but any potential leader in your organization who chooses not to participate because they don’t want to spend $12 – $15 (or even $20 – $25) on a book … well, either you’re not paying them enough, or perhaps they shouldn’t be a leadership candidate.

(A few book recommendations are listed below to get you started.)

With a little research on YouTube, I’m sure you can find other good leadership development resources. Just be sure to do that research; there’s also a lot of fluff and bad advice out there!

A little bit of budget?

You may believe it takes a lot of money to conduct an effective leadership development program.

Nope. That’s just how it’s usually been done. There are other options that don’t include high-dollar training programs or hefty travel budgets. (If we were even considering travel right now, which … well, right.)

You could start by buying those books for the book club.

And remember: just because a training program isn’t expensive, doesn’t mean it’s no good.

Or, to put it in a less double-negative way, there are reasonably-priced options available that are just fine.

We tend to go for the name brands and recognized training experts. They might be easy to find, and in happier times easy to justify, but not right now. So explore your options!

Don’t give up

I’m very serious when I say that leadership training is more important now than ever before – especially for the first-line and mid-level managers who have the biggest influence and impact on the vast majority of your employee population.

Leadership development is more important than ever - and you can still conduct training even if you have no budget. Here are some ideas - thanks, Grace!Click To Tweet

You need those leaders now to help your company navigate these strange, upsetting times.

And you’ll need them in the future to help lead the recovery.

And if you don’t train them now, they won’t be ready to assume greater leadership responsibility when your company needs them to advance when senior leadership retires or moves on to other opportunities.

And then where will you be?

Book recommendations

Never Split the Difference: negotiating as if your life depended on it, by Christopher Voss. I firmly believe every human on the planet should read this book – it’s that useful. Voss was the lead international hostage negotiator for the FBI, and brings his stories as well as remarkably useful (and often counter-intuitive) skills and tools to the book. It’s a great choice for a book club – lots of discussion and practice opportunities – and Voss offers a study guide on the website of his consulting company, the Black Swan Group.

Time to Think: listening to ignite the human mind, by Nancy Kline. Listening is one of those things that everyone says we should do better – but – what does “better” even mean? This book offers fascinating insight into how listening serves problem-solving in ways we might not expect.

Principles: life and work, by Ray Dalio. Okay, I admit I haven’t read this, but I’ve heard enough about it, both in general public commentary and from people I know who have read it, to know it’s interesting, intriguing, and worthwhile. (It’s on my to-read list… which is long.) I have poked around in it a bit, and there are plenty of bite-sized concepts that would make good discussion topics for a book group.


Here’s the Leadership A to Z video series I mentioned.

And here’s a link to a video I did on this topic of training without a budget: Leadership Training Without a Budget.

My Empowered Leadership self-study program is one of those reasonably-priced programs you might consider.

And here’s my approach to pricing and program cost.

gljudson Leadership development

How can you motivate your team?

Photo of a businessman in shirt and tie holding a bullhorn in front of his faceOkay, that was a trick question, because if you read my last post, you know I’m not a fan of motivation as a way to keep people on track and moving forward.

So what can you do?

Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting you have to leave it up to chance and whim. In fact, as the leader of your team or department, there’s a lot you can do that will help keep your employees engaged. Just remember that “motivation” is nice when it’s around, but you can’t rely on it to always be present.

There are three important factors to keeping your team on track and focused. These are far from the only factors; just the ones I consider top priority, especially in times of disruption such as we’re experiencing right now.

1. Honesty, transparency, and trust

You don’t have to look far these days to see how confusing, divisive, and demoralizing the lack of honest, clear, transparent communication can be.

The flip side of that is how much connection and trust you can build when you communicate with forthright honesty and integrity. Just tell people what’s going on – it’s that simple and un-dramatic.

And remember: communication like this isn’t only for when times are challenging. It includes letting people know why they’re doing the tasks you’ve assigned. How does what they’re being asked to do fit into a larger picture? What’s the purpose toward which you’re working?

Which points to the question of …

2. Meaning

People are far more willing to put forward their best effort when they have a sense of valuable intention, a worthwhile objective they’re moving towards.

Of course different people find value and worth in different things – which means it’s up to you as the leader to understand the individuals on your team and discern what matters to each of them.

How can you tie the work you’re doing to the values and meaning the company stands for, and to what each employee finds important?

And that leads me to …

3. Individuality

Each person on your team is an individual.

That’s obvious, of course.

But are you managing and leading them as individual people, or are you operating as if they’re a single entity called “your team”?

A friend constantly points out that we are all an experiment of one. You cannot lead your team as if they’re all the same. True leadership means understanding and interacting with your employees according to who they are, individually. Different people need different things; when you recognize that, and act accordingly, your team will respond.

One final thing

These concepts can be challenging for leaders to adopt and live up to. They require vulnerability and empathy, as well as a certain amount of effort.

It’s worth it. Because when you exert that effort, accept the vulnerability, and demonstrate empathy, you earn trust, dedication, and commitment from your team.

And then you don’t need to go hunting for motivation.

If you liked this post, you might like the Leadership A to Z video series, which you can find here.

The article I mention above on Motivation is here.

And you also might find the Change Leadership workshop of interest, including the video on that page defining the core reasons for resistance to change. 

gljudson Engagement

Motivation is a crock

Photo of man dozing next to his laptopThere. I said it. Motivation is a crock.

Willpower is too.

Motivation is fickle. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes not. Waiting for it to wander back into your life means you’re not doing the things you really do want to do. If only you “felt like it.”

Willpower. Gritting your teeth and forcing yourself forward. Exhausting. And when you’re exhausted, just how much can you actually do, or do well? Plus, willpower tends to breed resentment. That tooth-gritting thing means you’re doing it because you feel like you have to or you should. Resentment is almost inevitable.

So what else is there? What will move you forward to do the things you know you want to do … even if right at this moment, you don’t really WANT to do them?

My husband and I were digging into this over the weekend. We ended up talking about the dog, as one does … especially when she has her head in your lap, puppy-eyes gazing up at you and begging to be petted.

I asked him: why do you walk the dog, even when it’s cold, dark, and raining, and you really do NOT want to?

Because he loves her. Because he wants a good, healthy, happy dog. Because she is a good dog, and she deserves to be properly cared for.

Dedication, commitment, and devotion. 

What are you dedicated to? What have you committed to? What are you devoted to?

You don’t have to want to do the things necessary to stay dedicated, committed, and devoted. You do them because you are dedicated, you are committed, you are devoted.

And if you can’t get yourself to do the things you need to do to honor the dedication, stay true to your commitment, and keep the devotion alive, then ask yourself this: 

Is this something I really want?

Not in the sense of “I want to binge-watch Netflix,” or “I want a cookie.” In the sense of, this is truly an aspiration, a sincere desire.

And not the next necessary task, either. My husband doesn’t want to do the task – walking the dog when it’s dark, cold, and rainy.

It’s the result that’s wanted.  And the result isn’t necessarily a goal – an end point. It can be an ongoing process, like having a happy, healthy dog.

Or having a career that brings you joy, a sense of meaning, and a rewarding lifestyle.

Stop seeking motivation.

Stop relying on willpower.

Ask yourself, every day if necessary:

What am I dedicated to? What matters to me? What values am I striving to live?

What am I committed to? What promises have I made to myself? Am I honoring them?*

What am I devoted to? What moves me, even if I don’t talk about it? How do I nurture meaning in my life?

Don’t wait for motivation, or rely too heavily on willpower. 

Figure out what matters. And do what needs to be done because it matters. Not because you’re motivated, or because you can grit your teeth and force yourself.

*(Yes, it’s important to honor commitments to others, of course. But it’s even more important to honor the commitments you make to yourself. Do you trust yourself to do so?)

If you liked this post, you might like this article: “Is that fair?”

And you also might find the Change Leadership workshop of interest, including the video on that page defining the core reasons for resistance to change. 

gljudson Self-awareness

The most important leadership skill?

Photo of a businessman and busineswoman in deep discussionAs a leader, which is more important: good people skills or good communication skills?

Perhaps they’re inseparable.

Perhaps it’s impossible to have good people skills without good communication skills – and if you’re a good communicator, you’re probably also good with people.

“Communication” is often viewed as the ability to convince, negotiate, explain, and so on.

Those are all great skills to have, but the key to all communication is listening. (I know. You’re not surprised, of course; listening is what most communication teachers talk about.)

But without tools and structured practice, listening is hard. The habit of listening in order to respond is ingrained in us all. We listen to hear what we want to hear – or, worse, we listen to hear what we want to argue about.

What’s needed is the skill to listen for true understanding.

This doesn’t mean you suddenly start agreeing with the other person. It doesn’t mean your priorities change. It doesn’t mean you abandon what you want or need. It doesn’t mean you change political parties or religious affiliations.

It just means that you gain the understanding necessary to influence someone.

Leadership starts with *true listening* - listening to understand - because understanding is necessary for influence. (Have you taken the quiz?)Click To Tweet

It’s almost impossible to influence someone without understanding them. And it’s definitely impossible to understand someone unless you’ve listened to them.

Which means it’s really hard to lead effectively if you don’t know how to listen well.

If you liked this post, you might like this video on communication styles and approaches.

And the article “Are you one of the 69%” (of managers uncomfortable communicating with their teams).

Or maybe you’re a speechifier?

Don’t forget to take the leadership communication quiz!

gljudson Professional empathy

Standing out – virtually

Cartoon of 3-D people in a virtual meetingIf you’re not in the office with your manager, how do you stand out and get noticed?

And if you’re not in the office with your team, how do you know who’s doing what – and how well?

These questions are bouncing around all over the place right now. And I get it. Things have changed, and it feels weird and unnerving.

Are you working your tail off, but your boss isn’t paying attention?

If you’re the boss, how can you tell who is working their tail off, and who’s not?

In all seriousness, I’m a little frustrated by these questions. It really shouldn’t be all that different with remote teams from what it was with co-located teams. If, as a team member or a team leader, you were paying attention and doing good work and making it known before – well, forge onward; that’s what you need to do now.

On the other hand, if you were working hard and doing good work but not letting anyone know? Well, that’s one of the Five Deadly Shoulds of Office Politics that I cover in my book: thinking that because you’re doing well, someone will magically notice.

As I said recently (and also not-so-recently), your career is yours, and it’s your responsibility to make yourself known and visible. Don’t wait for your performance review and expect your manager to “just know” all that you’ve done. Status reports might seem like a painful annoyance, but in reality they’re an opportunity for you to let people know all the good things you’ve done – especially when you can’t bump into them in the hall or by the coffee machine. Don’t be shy about sharing – it’s not arrogance if it’s real, and it’s not boasting if you do it in context.

If you’re the manager, you have a responsibility to understand what your team is up to. Asking for a weekly status report isn’t micromanaging – and if you tell them you want it because it’s how you track their performance, they’ll be happy to send it (and if not, that’s a warning sign, right?).

Go around the team meeting Zoom-room and ask everyone to share one accomplishment from the week. Randomly drop your team a note asking them to tell you about a success, even if it’s a small one. Dedicate a Slack channel to accomplishments. Think up other ways to encourage sharing wins.

As a manager, it’s your job to normalize talking about successes.

Managers need to normalize sharing about success AND employees need to be clear about what they've accomplished. #VirtualRecognition #VirtualLeadershipClick To Tweet

As an employee, it’s your job to make sure your manager (and others; see my book!) knows about your successes.

If you liked this post, you might like What HAVE you done? (References the New Year, but relevant at any time.)

My book, The Five Deadly Shoulds of Office Politics: how they mangle your career (and what to do about it) is on Amazon here

gljudson Owning your career

When “awkward” is a good thing

Dizzy and bewildered emoji

The barrier to learning isn’t complexity. It’s awkwardness.
~ Christopher Voss, author and negotiation consultant

Learning is change. Change is learning. Both are challenging. You’re doing things differently. You’re thinking new thoughts. You’re discovering new perspectives and new ways of being.

You are becoming different.

And that’s awkward. Fumbling through a new language, going from an iPhone to an Android, figuring out how to go  someplace you’ve never been (literally or metaphorically), starting a new job… I’m sure you can think of a half-dozen things right now that you’re learning as you change – and feeling awkward about – especially given the upheaval caused by the pandemic.

What we forget, as Voss alludes to, is that awkwardness is normal in these situations. If you weren’t feeling at least a little awkward, you wouldn’t be learning or changing.

Since all change involves learning, and all learning involves change, both cause awkwardness.

So there’s nothing “wrong” with you that you’re feeling awkward – or even clumsy – as you go about doing something new. In fact, it means you’re on the right track. Keep going!

If you liked this post, you might like How’s learning working for you?

Christopher Voss was the lead international hostage negotiator for the FBI. He now runs his own negotiation consultancy and training company, The Black Swan Group, and has written my all-time top business book (except it’s about life and relationships and everything else as well), Never Split the Difference: negotiating as if your life depended on it. I HIGHLY recommend this book for anyone who ever negotiates anything – which is everyone. Read it. It’s entertaining and practical and profoundly useful.

gljudson Owning your career