Are you one of the 69%?

Closeup photo of someone holdinmg a can with a cord and shouting into it.According to a Harris Poll / Interact survey, 69% of managers are “often uncomfortable” communicating with their employees.

I think that number is probably a lot higher. I would be willing to bet ALL managers and leaders are uncomfortable in at least some interactions with their teams.

Communication is an essential leadership skill.

It’s also a skill where there’s seldom a definite right answer. People are unpredictable, situations can be tense, and knowing the exact right thing to say to get someone to do what you want (or stop doing what you don’t want) is an unrealistic, and generally unattainable, goal.

The best we can do is … the best we can do.

But for those of us who take management and leadership seriously, that’s not a very comfortable place to be.

Meanwhile, a recent Gallup research poll shows that only 13% of employees feel their leadership communicates effectively … meaning 87% of employees feel their leadership does not communicate well.

There’s a problem here.

But what can we do about it?

Start by recognizing how normal this is

You’re not alone in this. The survey results make that very clear!

What’s really going on?

The minute someone starts feeling uncomfortable in a situation, that person retreats into a “self-centric” world. In this discomfort, even the most empathetic of individuals begin thinking only about themselves – how they feel, what they want, and what they really wish would happen.

As you read this, I’m sure you can tell how unhelpful that is – and also how natural and human it is. 

Another key leadership skill is self-awareness

When you can notice and acknowledge your discomfort, you can manage it.

There’s no silver bullet or magic wand here. The reality is that communication is often difficult and uncomfortable, no matter who you are or whom you’re speaking with. I think we all know this, even though we also all wish it were different!

Adding to this uncomfortable puzzle is that noticing, acknowledging, and managing discomfort in these situations usually means feeling vulnerable.

I suspect vulnerability is another key leadership skill. What do you think?

gljudson Better conversations

Is there such a thing as BAD leadership?

A photo of the silhouettes of business peopleA leader is someone who inspires people to take action.

Leadership is the skillset or tools they use to do so.

There are variations, of course.

The thought leader

We’ve all known someone who doesn’t actually have an official leadership or management role who nonetheless is the pivot point for their team, the one everyone goes to with questions, the one everyone looks to for their reaction when big news or big change comes down.

This person is a thought leader. They usually aren’t being intentional about leadership; it just comes naturally to them, whether through their expertise, charisma, strength of character, or some combination of these qualities. Whatever those qualities are, they’re sufficient to inspire people to look to them for guidance on what to think and how to react – and act.

The exceptional thought leader

Sometimes thought leadership becomes intentional. These people can become giants – think Gandhi, for instance, or, for that matter, your favorite TED speaker.

The thought leader who starts a movement can change the world, or at least significant parts of it. As their movement grows, they take on increasingly active positions, making decisions and setting strategic direction that impacts more and more people.

And there’s no question that these leaders inspire many people to act!

The political leader

By definition, political leaders also inspire people to act – even if the only action is to go out and vote!

Some political leaders inspire people to greater action: volunteering, demonstrating, and so forth – which can be either for or against.

The organizational leader

And then we have official leaders within organizations. These are people who were promoted into their role, given a title that provides some level of authority as well as responsibility, and turned loose onto their teams to … lead.

The question is whether they actually do lead, or if they merely manage – and how well are they even managing?

What’s a BAD leader?

Management guru and, yes, thought leader Peter Drucker famously said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

If you’re not inspiring your team to take action – even if it’s the “right” action – then are you actually leading? If you’re using the force of your externally-granted authority to coerce, versus using leadership skills to inspire, are you leading?

I would say not. I think you’re managing, and maybe not even managing all that well.

And I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “bad leader” in the same sense as there are bad managers. By my definition, a “bad leader” isn’t a leader at all, but at best a manager, maybe a bad manager, and at worst, a bully.

Don’t misunderstand: I think there are leaders who inspire bad actions. As author and journalist Ryan Derousseau says, “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.”

That’s a really important point. Just because we disagree with what actions a particular leader may be inspiring in their followers, that doesn’t make them a “bad” leader.

They’re still leading. They’re just not leading in a direction we want to go in.

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Why don’t they KNOW already?

Sad-faced emoji holding a sign reading "oops!"Your team member just celebrated their one-year anniversary with the company. High-fives and congrats all round.

And then the next day, or maybe a week later, you discover they’ve made an absolutely elementary mistake.

Confronted with the situation, they just look blank. “I didn’t know that!” is their best explanation.

Why didn’t they KNOW THIS ALREADY?

It’s such a basic, beginner-level thing. How can they have been here a full year and not know?

Probably because you didn’t tell them.

That’s a hard truth, but any number of studies have shown that people don’t make mistakes because they want to, or even because they’re not paying attention.

They make mistakes because they didn’t know any better.

There’s a psychological model called the “four stages of competence” or the “hierarchy of competence,” as shown in the image here.

Pyramidal model of the competence hierarchy

Image credit I. Kokcharov from N. Burch’s work

Your team member just displayed “unconscious incompetence,” or what’s also called “wrong intuition.”

YOU, on the other hand, are happily at the peak of the pyramid, secure in your “unconscious competence” or RIGHT intuition.

To put it in more Zen terms, you no longer have beginner’s mind.

As an expert, you don’t know how to explain to your beginner-level employee the basics of what they don’t know – what they can’t know, because they don’t yet have enough experience or knowledge.

It goes further: you don’t even know you need to explain, because it’s such a simple fact of life for you.

Overcoming the curse of knowledge

This is also called “the curse of knowledge,” and it’s a very real challenge for any expert responsible for passing on their understanding to others.

Most managers and leaders aren’t trained in how to train their employees, and yet developing your staff (a.k.a. training, teaching, and mentoring them) is a key aspect of your job.

The reality is that you’re unconsciously incompetent in how to teach someone your expertise.

To become consciously competent, you need to step back. Make notes about what your team needs to know – even (especially!) the smallest details that you take for granted; this will remind you to tell them.

Ask your employees questions to clarify what they don’t know. (Questions have the added advantage of encouraging them to think through what they’re doing; they’ll learn better and faster through questions than through telling.) Give them the context within which their tasks reside: why are they doing this? what’s the bigger picture? how does their work contribute to that bigger picture?

No one wants to seem stupid

Make sure your employees know that they can and should ask for clarification when they’re not sure. If they sense that you’re frustrated and impatient with their lack of understanding, they may fool themselves into believing they know something when they really don’t (“wrong intuition”). Or they might be afraid to ask and reveal their ignorance to you.

It’s great when employees can figure things out on their own. But it’s really not great when, in trying to figure things out, they make mistakes. Finding the balance between too much hand-holding and too little guidance can be tricky … but it’s part of what makes a good leader and helps create a happy, engaged team.

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Interview: inspiring new leaders

When I heard Terry Lipovski’s Inspiring Leaders podcast interviews, I was, well, inspired!

And in a testimonial to the power of LinkedIn for making real connections, I was delighted to see that Terry was one connection away from me, through another wonderful podcast interviewer, Beth Buelow (with whom I’ve now had the pleasure of two conversations).

She introduced us, we had a great conversation about leadership, and the result is this podcast interview (and we anticipate opportunities for future collaboration).

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The “empowerment” pushback (do you agree?)

Word cloud centered on "empower"There’s a growing trend on social media and in leadership blogs and podcasts – especially those intended for a primarily female audience – of rejecting the concept of “empowerment.”

The argument is that people, especially women, don’t need to “be empowered,” which implies they need to be “given” power.  Instead, they need to, or should, claim and step into their innate power.

From a feminist standpoint – and, for that matter, a general people standpoint – I agree.

But from a leadership perspective, I emphatically disagree.

Here’s why.

Leaders are taught, not born

Leadership skills are teachable, and therefore learnable. And when we learn new skills, we are empowered in ways that we weren’t before.

As an individual contributor, you’re responsible for completing tasks that contribute to the success of a project, team, department, and the company overall. While you may have innate leadership talent, talent is not the same as skill.

So then you get promoted. Now you’re a first-line manager or supervisor.

The promotion isn’t enough

In the climb through the ranks of individual contribution, a.k.a. being a team player, by the time you’re promoted to the next level, you’re already fulfilling at least 80 percent of the responsibilities belonging to that level.

But very little about being a team member prepares you for leadership. The promotion isn’t enough; it doesn’t magically convey the skills you need to make the transition.

Therefore, most first-line, recently-promoted managers and supervisors feel painfully confused and uncertain about how to proceed – anything but innately powerful.

Learning skills = becoming empowered

Too few organizations recognize the need for leadership skills support – training and coaching – to truly empower their recently-promoted managers and supervisors to lead.

That’s why as many as 60 percent of new leaders fail in their first year: they haven’t been empowered to be the leaders they want to be, and their organization needs them to be.

When leadership skills support is lacking, and the potential leader is not empowered with the knowledge they need to become confident and effective, teams struggle and projects are at risk.

It’s that simple.

And that’s why I claim the word empowered as crucially important for leadership.

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Is it time to … get out?

Photo of a businesswoman, including her laptop & office equipment, squashed into a small cardboard boxMost people stay in unfulfilling, stressful, challenging-in-all-the-wrong-ways jobs for at least 18 months longer than they should.

(That’s not a formal study, but it is my strong opinion after four decades of observation.)

There’s safety in a familiar, known situation, even when it’s uncomfortable, frustrating, and potentially unhealthy. Human beings don’t like change, even when it’s likely to be change for the better.

So let’s get real here.

There may be ways you can improve the situation you’re in. You might be able to learn new skills, take on new challenges, stand up for yourself in new ways, and make strong new demands for respect, promotion, and a salary increase.

But be honest with yourself: is that going to work? If the skills, challenges, self-respect, promotion, and so on, actually become reality, will you be happy? Will you have a new sense of purpose and meaning? Will you bounce out of bed eager to get to work, and return home with stories of the good things that happened that day?

In just the last week I’ve talked with people who, completely unrelated and unknown to each other, told me of the ways corporate dysfunction was making their lives difficult – I’d even say, miserable.

From micromanagement to severe understaffing; from general disrespect to consistent workload overwhelm; from idea-theft to “sink-or-swim” non-training; and so on … these are good people with high standards who want to do good work, but whose organizations’ culture doesn’t support them – or whose managers don’t have the necessary leadership skills.

Does this sound like you?

Do you feel frustrated, disrespected, overwhelmed, and/or stressed by your job? (On the other hand, if you wonder if  you might be the manager creating this situation, I suggest you read this post and then take a look at this program.)

If you do … maybe it’s time to get out.

As I write this, the job market is booming. Employers are complaining non-stop that they can’t find qualified people. It’s an excellent time to at least check out your options and possibilities.

Start by listing what you want

What does a good, or even ideal, job look like for you? What are the qualities you want to experience? What values should the organization take a stand for? What opportunities would excite and challenge you? What sort of manager do you want? How about your co-workers and your team?

Make a list. A long, complete, thorough list.

You deserve to have all of that in your work environment.

Update your profiles

LinkedIn, of course, but don’t neglect your other social media accounts. Employers check these things, and you want their digital impression of you to be of someone smart and professional.


Yes. That. Even for extroverts, it’s hard, and for introverts, it’s close to painful. Do it anyway.

And go through your contact list to reconnect with people you haven’t talked to in years. You never know who has a great job waiting for you – or who knows someone with that great job.

Take the leap

Take the leap. Start looking around.

Starting to look doesn’t commit you to actually changing jobs. You might decide things aren’t so bad, and stay put after all. (Note that even in that case, you’ll gain new perceptions of your value and new data for negotiating a better position.)

You owe it to yourself to have a job and a career that you enjoy. And it’s out there somewhere!

gljudson Career development

How’s learning working for you?

Photo of a white board to-do list with LEARN written in red markerDo you read leadership books?

(Or, really, any type of professional or personal development material.)

How’s that working for you?

I read a lot. And I’ve noticed that if I take the time to do the exercises from a book offering concepts and ideas for my business or personal improvement, two things happen.

First, I often get bogged down. I read a chapter, and then I have to stop and do the exercise. If that’s not readily possible in the moment, the moment tends to slip away…and weeks later, I realize I never got back to the book.

Second, even if I do the exercises, I often have a hard time translating the material into everyday life.

My clients experience the same challenge, and I’m betting you’ve been there too. For instance, who hasn’t been to a workshop or conference, come back all excited to implement ideas and tools that made perfect sense in the classroom, and then … huh? How do I make this work?!

One of my clients explained a concept to one of his employees multiple times. Here’s what you’re doing, here’s why it’s a bad idea, and here’s what you need to change. Multiple. Times.

She wasn’t getting it.

He and I talked about his plans for working with her, and he told me he was going to explain it again.

I said – No. She knows the concept. What she doesn’t know is how to apply the concept in her work – how to actually make the change he’s asking for.

So instead, we created an action plan to help her modify her behavior. And within one day – one day, after weeks and months of mutual frustration – she was observing herself, catching herself, and coming up with creative ideas for how and what to do differently.

Reinforcing concepts is sometimes necessary.

Helping people implement those concepts in real time – what my husband calls “game speed” – is essential.

What have you learned recently that you’re having a hard time implementing?

What small shifts can you make in your day-to-day work that will help guide you in the right direction?

It’s not always easy to identify what you can do differently. If you have a trusted colleague, friend, mentor, or a professional coach, they can help.

Whatever you decide to do, notice that it’s absolutely normal to experience this implementation challenge. There’s nothing wrong with you; it’s just a gap between intellectual knowledge and in-the-moment action. And that’s totally fixable.

gljudson Career development

Are you an enabler?

Photo of sticky notes with the words enable, engage, empower, enhanceHow good are you at enabling your team, colleagues, and, yes, even your boss, to do what they need to do?

Because it’s not enough to just delegate work to your team. Nor is it enough to just accept tasks from your boss.

You need to be an enabler.

Enabling your team

When you delegate work to the individuals on your team, you need to be clear about more than just their available time. If you want to enable them to do their best, you need to understand their level of knowledge, skills, and interest.

Since at least some of the tasks you delegate will require them to learn and grow, you also need to be clear about what support they need to be successful.

(Read this post on the dangers of delegation. Opens in a new window so you won’t lose your place here!)

When you know these things about each member of your team and act accordingly, you’ll enable them to do their best work.

Enabling your colleagues

I hope you don’t have to struggle with issues of territorialism, where peers and colleagues across teams or departments resist sharing knowledge, resources, and ideas.

But if you’re in an organization where this happens, then you know your colleagues aren’t always going to enable you to do your best work.

Don’t be like that. When someone needs information, pass it on. If a colleague needs extra resources and you have availability, be generous. If you have constructive ideas, share them.

(Do be careful on that last point. You don’t want to come across as critical or interfering!)

When you can share ideas, information, and resources, you’ll enable your colleagues to do their best work.

Enabling your boss

Making your boss look good is a wise career move.

This doesn’t mean allowing them to take credit for your ideas or your work. What it does mean is being aware of their priorities. What are they working on that you might not be directly involved in, but where you have ideas, skills, or knowledge they may not know about? How can you make sure you and your team are doing the right things to directly support their goals?

When you understand strategic direction and can be proactive in taking action to implement that strategy, you’ll enable your boss to do their best work.

Enabling the company – and yourself

When you enable your team’s, colleagues’, and boss’s success, you enable the company’s journey toward its goals.

You also improve your chances of recognition and promotion … which, obviously, enables you to succeed!

And be careful

Enabling others’ success isn’t the same as being a doormat or a workaholic. It’s not being indiscriminately helpful to everyone in the company. It’s not neglecting your work in order to support the rest of the world. And you never want to step on anyone’s toes, offering unwanted advice or pushing support on someone who doesn’t want or need it.

But the more you can enable others to do their work, whilst simultaneously doing your own as excellently as possible, the more you’ll learn, grow, and be recognized as a leader.

gljudson Leadership

Is it THAT time of year again?

Photo of calendar page and clockNo, I don’t mean the holidays (though those are approaching all too rapidly).

I mean … performance reviews.

And the even-more-dreaded potential for layoffs.

Because whatever we may think about companies that do this, it’s common practice that when RIFs (Reductions In Force) are necessary, they often happen just before the end of the year. (It’s a financial accounting thing. Which makes it no less painful, of course.)

Likewise, performance reviews are often end-of-year events – and, no matter how many studies, articles, and reports there may be declaring the End of the Performance Review, they’re still marching along in most companies.

Meanwhile, even if you’re a top performer in your organization with no worries about your review or being RIFfed, the end of the year is always a good time for reflection, planning, and preparation for the New Year to come.

Things are slow as we enter into the holidays (unless you’re in a sales position where you’re pressured to finish the year with a bang!). And that makes it a great time to step back a bit and, as the days get shorter and the weather gets cooler, take some of that cozy, slower, hibernation energy and turn it toward introspection. (Apologies to my readers in the southern hemisphere! but the principle still applies.)

What went well this year? What didn’t go so well? And, bearing in mind that most people think they’re well above average in skills, intelligence, and performance, can you take an honest look at yourself and see where you have room for improvement?

(One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, who said, “Each of you is perfect the way you are … and you can use a little improvement.”)

The difference between being intentional about your career (where and how you want to progress, who you want to be within your work), and not being intentional (going with whatever flow appears), is enormous. It impacts your self-confidence as well as your job performance; your personal relationships as well as your professional advancement; and your overall happiness and sense of meaning and achievement.

What skills do you need – or want – to acquire or improve? How will you accomplish that? Who can you ask for help and guidance in your quest for improvement? Where do you want to be at this time next year?

It may seem early to be asking these questions; most people wait till the last week of the Old Year or the first few weeks of the New Year. But if you set yourself up with these thoughts, plans, and intentions now, you’ll have a head start, or at the very least be poised to spring into action when the holidays are over.

And look, let’s be clear and honest here. If you are in danger of a less-than-stellar review (or even a candidate for layoff), now is the time to think about – and take action on – ways to show improvement, dedication, and determination. While it may or may not prevent the worst-case scenario, you’ll be that much better prepared for whatever comes next.

gljudson Self-talk

What’s it like to work for you?

Cartoon of male manager holding two face masks: smiling and frowningSeriously: what’s it like to work for you?

Have you ever thought about that question?

Have you ever considered how your team feels about coming to work under your supervision and guidance every day?

It’s human nature to remain in the rut of our own mindset: our thoughts, ideas, concerns, to-do lists, plans for the weekend, and wondering what our boss is thinking about us. And none of us can ever escape a self-centric perspective on life. It’s simply not possible to experience or even completely, 100%, understand someone else’s viewpoint.

But if we get stuck there, we can forget that the people around us are individuals with their own perspectives.

You know how the managers and leaders you’ve encountered in your career have impacted you. Some of them frustrated you, some of them inspired you; some of them made you so discouraged or even angry that you went home and grouched at your family, some of them challenged you so effectively that you went home excited and even joyful.

As a leader, you impact people. Your leadership style affects their lives.

You have the option of being intentional about your impact and effect.

Are you frustrating them, or inspiring them?

Are you discouraging them, or challenging them?

We all impact everyone we encounter, and that impact has a ripple effect.

How do you impact the people on your team?

How do you want to impact them?

What’s it like to work for you?

gljudson Leadership