Feeling uncomfortable? Good!

Confused and dizzy emojiOver the last few days, I’ve had an extended conversation with one of my clients about what it takes to learn and grow. We started talking about one of his employees, moved into a more general discussion, and then came back to his employee … and him.

The essence of the conversation centered around this reality: if you’re feeling uncomfortable, you’re doing it right.

There’s no such thing as learning and growth without discomfort. Depending on what you’re learning and how you’re growing, the level of discomfort will vary from mild to intense. The fact is, though, that without twinges of “eek,” you’re not making progress; you’re staying put, stuck, sitting still.

Even the most simple of new things – even the things we really want to learn about – are challenging on some level. Being uncomfortable isn’t something to avoid. Getting out of the comfort zone is a requirement if we’re not going to stay stuck in place.

That doesn’t, however, mean that you have to exist in a constant state of discomfort if you want to learn new things and continue to grow your career and your personal life. But it does mean accepting that the discomfort is part of the process, and not something to be avoided!

In some ways, this is obvious. If we’re learning something new, we’re in a place of not knowing the answers, not knowing how, not knowing something we want to know or think we should know. Even if we’re curious and eager to learn, this is typically at least somewhat uncomfortable.

If we’re growing – shedding outdated beliefs about ourselves and the world, working to show up in different ways, trying new behaviors, and shifting our identity, then we’re feeling at least a little (or a lot!) vulnerable … and uncomfortable.

But we try to avoid really seeing this reality. We tend to focus on getting the discomfort to go away before taking action – which, of course, doesn’t work.

This is compounded by the oft-repeated self-help admonition that tells us we’re supposed to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” But as I said to my client, that’s fundamentally impossible; if we’re comfortable, by definition we’re no longer uncomfortable … and then what happens to the learning and growth?

Worse than that, when someone can’t accomplish this feat of “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable,” they tend to feel like they’ve somehow failed – screwed up – done it wrong.

But in fact, if learning and growing requires us to be uncomfortable, then they’re actually doing it exactly right.

The real trick is to accept the discomfort AND make sure we’ve intentionally left time in our days and weeks to be comfortable – to release the tension of learning, to relax the push to grow, and take time to just be where we are.

Or, as I heard someone say on a podcast the other day (and I’m sorry, but I don’t remember whose podcast), we must live in discomfort … and schedule comfort.

What does that look like for you?

Interested in learning more about self-talk and the Inner Critic? Click here to hop over to the description of my self-study program “Managing your Inner Critic: how to stop the rotten-tomato fight in your head.”

gljudson Self-talk

It’s not personal (or is it?)

Cartoon businessman reacting emotionally to an emailIt’s not personal.

The employee who resists doing what you ask. The boss who “borrowed” your idea. The customer who won’t sign off on the project.

It’s not personal. After all, emotional reactions don’t belong in the workplace, right?

That, at least, is what a lot of career and leadership advice says.

But guess what: it IS personal.

We can’t leave who we are – including our emotions – at the office door. And resistant employees, bosses who take credit, demanding customers, and all the other frustrating behaviors that crop up in the course of a workday – they have an impact on us. A personal impact.

It’s more than just stress. Dealing with it all is what’s called “emotional labor.” It takes effort and energy to coach the resistant employee, confront the sneaky boss, cajole the demanding customer. Emotional effort and energy, which by definition is personal.

When we don’t acknowledge the personal impact and the emotional effort, we can drive ourselves into exhaustion. Instead, we need to recognize that emotional effort, just like physical or mental effort, is work – work that takes energy that needs, then, to be replenished.

And if we think there’s something wrong with us because we feel the emotions – anger, hurt, frustration, sadness, anxiety, and even fear – that come with dealing with these situations, we only compound the problem.

There’s nothing wrong with you because you feel a personal, emotional impact from other people’s behavior.

I hope it’s obvious I’m not advocating for any type of emotional meltdown in the office. But telling that resistant employee that you’re frustrated is both okay and constructive – as long as you’re clear that your frustration is about their behavior, not them. Letting your boss know that it bothers you when he claims your idea as his is a trickier situation, but there too, handled correctly, it can improve the relationship (not to mention boosting your career when you start getting credit for your work!).

And back in my corporate days I once told a client, in so many words, that he was free to yell at me after we got the problem solved, but that right now all he was doing was upsetting me and preventing progress. (It worked. And by the time the problem was solved, he’d forgotten that he was angry.)

Leaving emotions at the office door is, ultimately, impossible.

Acknowledging your emotions, recognizing the energy expenditure, and using your reactions constructively is a sign of high emotional intelligence, good leadership, and responsible care for professional relationships.

gljudson Difficult people

Do you like people?

A crowd of smiling, diverse cartoon facesSeriously. Do you like people?

Not just your friends. People, in general. Humanity, as a whole.

Of course there are specific people you don’t like, people who rub you the wrong way, people whose values, attitudes, or philosophies you don’t agree with.

But if you want to be a good leader, someone who inspires and motivates your team, you need a general sense of liking – and even enjoying – people. You need to be curious about who they are, what makes them do the things they do, what intrigues them, and how to recognize and reward them.

You don’t have to be an extrovert to like people. You don’t have to be a social butterfly, and you certainly don’t have to be the life of every party. (In fact, you probably shouldn’t be the life of every party if you really want to grow your career.)

Leadership means guiding, influencing, inspiring, and motivating, as well as correcting, instructing, and reprimanding on occasion. To do any of that effectively, in a way that creates trust and a willingness in your employees to follow, you need to have that basic liking for human beings in general – that fundamental interest in who they are and in their well-being.

I’ll add that you don’t need to like any of your employees in specific. It’s possible – and necessary (though challenging) – to like people in general, dislike a specific employee, and be a good, influential leader for that person as well as everyone else on your team.

gljudson Leadership

What are you doing?

Directly across from my computer is a bulletin board.

On the board, right in my line of sight, is a five-inch by eight-inch index card with three short lines on it.

The top line reads:

Card with the words "is this worthwhile?"

When I look up and see it, I’m reminded to check in with myself. Is what I’m doing worthwhile?

That doesn’t mean it has to be BIG, momentous, all-about-business, or serious. It just means that in this moment, right now, is it worthwhile for me to be doing what I’m doing?

Sometimes it’s a reminder to take a break and – yes – check Facebook, just for fun. Or step away from the computer, skritch the cat, let the dog out to pee.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s a reminder that checking Facebook is a distraction from reaching out to a client, writing this article, preparing to speak at a conference.

What are you doing?

Right now you’re reading this article.

What were you doing just before that? and what will you do right afterwards?

There are probably any number of really gotta do this tasks on your to-do list. Will they get you closer to your goals?

I mean your real goals, not the goal of having everything checked off on that to-do list.

Are they worthwhile? Really worthwhile?

Or is there something else, something waiting for you to “have the time,” something bigger?

Something that will actually move you closer to what you want, closer to who you really are?

Leadership of self is real – and really important

We ask our teams to focus on what’s important.

Yet we often let ourselves slide into focusing on what’s right in front of us in the moment. That could be a ringing telephone, a text message from a client, the accumulation of email in your in-box, or that notification from Facebook.

Some of that might be important.

The challenge is discerning the difference between in-your-face-but-irrelevant and actually-worthwhile.

And that’s the challenge I’m offering you right now.

For the rest of today – for the rest of the week – hey, what about for the rest of your life? – ask yourself: is what I’m doing right now worthwhile?

I get that some things just need to be done. But you don’t have to answer every phone call, you don’t have to respond to every text message or social-media notification when it pops up, you don’t have to leap on each email as it arrives.

It’s a cliché, and therefore really easy to ignore, that we all have the same number of minutes in each day.

But we don’t all have the same number of days in our lives.

When you stop reading this article, what will you do? Is it worthwhile?

gljudson Leadership

Who will you be?

Colorful profile outlines of heads in a circleIf you want to grow as a leader – whatever your role may be right now – you’ll have to change.

There is no growth without change. There’s simply no way to become different without – duh – becoming different.

That sounds like a Captain Obvious statement, for sure. But how many people do you know who struggle in vain to change something in their lives, whether professionally or personally, whether an external situation or an internal experience? The first few months of every year are littered with abandoned New Year’s resolutions, and we all know plenty of people who complain bitterly about what they wish was different, but never take action.

Who we are right now holds our current situation in place.

We have to be willing to shift our identity to someone different if we truly want to change, grow, become the leader we say we want to be.

Think of a change you want to make in your life. Any change. It might be a professional change, such as a step up in your strength and confidence as a leader. Or a personal change, such as taking a risk in a relationship in order to make it better.

Who do you have to become in order to make that change a reality?

Write it down. Be specific.

And then start being that person.

Are you striving to develop your strength and confidence as a leader? Click to learn about Empowered Leadership – a 7-week breakthrough program to supercharge your leadership skills.

gljudson Leadership

Got timing?

Happy tortoise cartoonNo, that’s not a typo. I really do mean timing.

When you’re in a negotiation of any sort – from a simple request to a tough business challenge to a full-on conflict situation – sensitivity to timing is a crucial, and often-overlooked, factor.

Timing comes into play in several ways – and all of them are important, no matter whether you’re talking to your boss, a co-worker, an employee, or, for that matter, a friend or family member.

Their readiness

You can be 100% prepared with what you want, why you want it, and why it’s in the best interests of the other person to give it to you.

You can even be 100% prepared with what they want, why they want it, and how you can achieve your goals while respecting theirs.

But if you’re not also aware of their readiness to hear what you have to say, you can easily lose before you even begin.

Are they morning people, or are they grumpy till after lunch? Or do they droop by midafternoon?

Is there a looming deadline they’re racing toward, or are they celebrating a recent success?

Are they preparing to head out on vacation, or perhaps for an important meeting – or maybe they just got back from vacation and are scrambling to catch up with the 734 emails in their in-box?

And simply enough, do they seem calm, or stressed?

When you’re in the throes of anticipation and nervousness about this thing you want to talk with them about, it’s tempting to just jump in at the first opportunity.

It’s hard to be patient, but in the long run it will serve you to wait for the right timing.

The conversation

Go slow. Let the other person have their say. Listen. Breathe.

When the other person feels as if you’ve heard and understood them – and better yet, if they feel you’ve actually empathized with them – they’ll be exponentially more ready, able, and willing to hear what you have to say. (For more on the three levels of empathy, read this article.)

So let them talk.

And don’t over-explain. Over-explaining almost always leads to trouble, if only because it gives the other person something to debate with you. (For more on the problem with over-explaining, read this article.)

Take your time and pace the conversation easily and slowly.

The power of silence

A good friend once said, “Silence is a full partner in the process.”

So true. And yet most people are uncomfortable with silence, especially if they’re in a tense, high-stakes conversation, negotiation, or conflict.

After you ask a question, be quiet. Give them plenty of time to answer.

Likewise, when they ask you a question, give yourself time to answer. Pausing before you speak isn’t a sign of uncertainty. Quite the opposite: it’s a sign of thoughtfulness and care.

And because most people are uncomfortable with silence, when you allow silence to be your partner the other person will often step in (or speak in!) to fill it. Which means you’ll get that much more useful information about how they feel, what they want, and how you can work with that to achieve your goals.

By the way, silence goes beyond how you interact in one single meeting. In ongoing negotiations spread out over multiple meetings, leaving plenty of time between those meetings is another form of silence. And it communicates your willingness to take all the time that’s needed, rather than being anxious or nervous about wrapping things up quickly.

Timing is about confidence

When you have good timing, you project confidence. You’re not in a rush about when you meet, how quickly the meeting goes, who speaks first or for how long, how many pauses there may be, or how long those pauses are – whether minutes or days.

And timing is also a gift you can give yourself to slow down, relax, and think things through.

After all, it was the tortoise who won the race, not the hare!

gljudson Negotiation

For or about? It matters.

The words "handle with care" as if applied by a rubber stampWe say we care about someone.

Sometimes we care for someone.

There’s a difference, and it matters.

When we care about someone, they’re a person for whom we have a certain regard. We probably like them, respect them, appreciate them, admire them, maybe even love them.

But we might not actually know them. We can care about a charismatic leader. We can care about someone on television or in the movies. We can care about someone when we believe they’re doing good work. We can care about a political figure or a philanthropist.

When we care for someone, there’s active contact involved. We could be a leader mentoring an employee or brainstorming a colleague’s problem. We may be celebrating with a friend – or offering a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. We might be planning a recognition event as a surprise for our team’s outstanding performance.

It’s hard to care for someone if you don’t care about them. It’s not hard at all to care about someone without caring for them.

When it’s someone close to us – our team at work, a partner, friend, family member – it’s best if we can care about AND care for them.

And it’s a problem if we care about someone close to us without also caring for them.

Note: I’m not talking about health-care caregivers in this instance, even if they happen to be family members or friends. That’s a whole different, and very complex, relationship.

gljudson Empathy

You just never know…

Photo of our Golden Doodle BonnieNone of us have any idea how much impact we have on people.

A year and a half ago, a young woman saw my husband and me with our Golden Doodle, Bonnie. It was a crowded sidewalk. She was coming toward us, passed close by, tapped Bonnie on the head and said, “Doodlepop!”

We’ve never forgotten that, and often call Bonnie “Doodlepop!” I’d be willing to guess she doesn’t even remember the interaction.

Three years ago, my husband signed a short-term rental agreement on the house we lived in before buying the house where we are now. We had a cat at the time (no dog yet!), and part of the lease covered “damages inflicted by Said Cat.” We have referred to “said cat” (and various other “said” things) ever since. It’s standard lease language, and I doubt the landlord would have any reason to remember it.

Four years ago, a friend had a brief relationship. The relationship didn’t work out, but one thing that was said to her in the short time they were together caused her to make a profound change in her life. I imagine they both remember each other, but I seriously doubt the ex has any idea how important that one conversation was for my friend.

I heard a podcast a few months ago in which the person being interviewed mentioned a CEO who had hand-written a short note of appreciation to an employee. Years later, that employee still had the note folded into his wallet.

We just never know.

One or two words. A short conversation in an otherwise ill-fated relationship. A note that probably took five minutes, if that long, to write.

In their own ways, each of these events is an example of leadership.

Obviously, it can go the other way as well. One or two words can be hurtful; a short conversation can be destructive; a missed opportunity to show appreciation is unfortunate and sad; and a snarky, unkind note can be demoralizing.

Wherever we are and whoever we’re encountering, whatever we say is important.

Because we just never know the kind of lasting, meaningful impact we have.

gljudson Leadership

Why leadership is NOT a virtue

Red toolbox with the words "What's in your toolbox?"“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

This is one of my favorite quotes because it makes a crucially important point: in and of itself, leadership is not inherently good.

It’s who we are as leaders that makes the difference.

As a leader, how do you impact the people around you? How do you influence them to succeed or fail? Are you inspiring them to do their best, or are they just getting by?

What’s their experience of your leadership? How do they feel when they go home after a day as your employee or team member?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~ Maya Angelou

As I wrote recently on LinkedIn, all too often, people are thrust into a leadership role without the support they need to understand what that really means, or to discover who they want to be as a leader.

At its best, leadership is intentional and values-driven.

At its worst, it’s destructive.

Most often, while usually well-intentioned, it’s unconscious.

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gljudson Leadership

Whaddaya mean, you didn’t know?

Photo of a man in a blue shirt and striped tie, face obscured by a bullhornWhat I’m about to say will seem really obvious. Bear with me, please.

As I teach in my change leadership programs, effectively communicating change to those responsible for making it happen is crucial for success.

Like I said: obvious.

Or it should be. The problem, however, lies in the fact that by the time the change initiative is ready to be rolled out, the people responsible for communicating what needs to happen have been living with it for a long time – at least weeks, sometimes months. They’ve designed it, mapped it out, reviewed it, budgeted it, timelined it, risk-assessed it, and are generally pretty well over it.

They know the what, why, and how inside-out, backwards, sideways, and upside-down.

They’d probably never admit it, but they’re just a wee bit bored with it.

They’re ready to move on to the next Thing.

And because they’re so familiar with it, and so ready to have it in the rear-view mirror, they assume people know more about it than they actually do, and they skimp on communicating what’s going on.

Which, of course, leads to confusion, lack of engagement, uncertainty, disinterest, potentially fear (“what’s happening? do they even know what they’re doing? what will happen to my job? will I even have a job?” and so on) – and could result in partial or complete failure of the initiative.

Failure that’s so very avoidable by simply not assuming that anyone knows anything at all about the plans, expectations, or desired results.

Even if you think you’ve told everyone everything, you probably haven’t – or you haven’t told them often enough, in enough different ways.

So if you’re leading a change initiative – whether in your business, with your team, at home with your family – choose right now to OVERcommunicate.

Projects don’t fail because people know too much about what’s happening.

gljudson Leadership