What do you need permission for?

Permission slip to feelRight now, we’re all anxious, concerned, stressed, and overwhelmed. Oh, and really uncertain.

In other words, highly distracted by what’s going on: the novel coronavirus pandemic.

And – if you’re anything like me and most of my clients – you’re also frustrated because of feeling un-focused, un-productive, and possibly just plain exhausted.

Give yourself permission to feel all those things without getting annoyed or impatient with yourself.

Give your team permission to feel all those things without getting annoyed or impatient with them.

No matter how much it may feel like this has been going on for-ev-er, it hasn’t. It will end, but it hasn’t yet, and won’t for a while.

It’s okay to be less productive. It’s okay for your team to be less productive.

Some things are not okay

It’s not okay to sit and spin in the doom and gloom.

It’s not okay to spread rumors.

It’s not okay to spend hours down online rabbit-holes.

It’s not okay to be SO unfocused that you make unforced, costly errors – costly in financial terms and even more importantly, in terms of trust lost with your team, co-workers, boss, friends, or family.

Instead…

Set just one or two specific times of day when you check reputable headlines and news sources.

Notice the good stories as well as the horrific ones. For instance, the mere idea of Italians serenading each other from their balconies is persistently smile-worthy and uplifting for me whenever I think about it.

Take a little longer to think through what you’re doing, instead of just operating by habit or default. As I wrote recently, imagination is a key skill for any leader at any time, but especially now. We’re all stressed. Stress consumes energy and mental bandwidth. It’s way too easy to make unnecessary errors – if you don’t think through what you’re doing and why.

Celebrate the people in your neighborhood who are stepping up. The medical workers, of course, but also the delivery people. The trash collectors. The mail person. And make a practice of thanking them when you see them. From, of course, six feet away.

Remember, as I keep saying and writing: there is a Future You who knows what happens. And every day we’re getting one day closer to Future You and the other side of this.

Want a copy of the permission slip?

Snag it here. Print it out. Write your name on it. Post it where you can see it. Distribute it to your team.

gljudson Self-talk

Managing gossip in the workplace

As a first-line manager or supervisor, how can you manage gossip in the workplace?

How can you squash gossip without being viewed as a mean manager or as the “word police”?

Workplace gossip is never a good thing – it creates anxiety, it excludes people, it generates mistrust and disengaged, anxious employees. Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do to discourage workplace gossip!

Resources

Video: Managing a gossiping employee

Video: The essential leadership quality of transparency

Ebook: The Five Most Challenging Employee Types, and how to manage them

gljudson Better conversations, Management & Leadership, Video

IMAGINATION: a key leadership skill

Confusing mishmash of roads and contradictory road signsI was talking with a client this morning about the challenges we’re all facing  because of the coronavirus pandemic.

We were discussing the fact that there are people who are doing things the way they’ve always done them, even though this isn’t effective or appropriate or useful since things aren’t how they’ve always been.

And it occured to me that these people are lacking a key leadership and management skill: imagination.

Not the sort of imagination that dreams up every dire outcome.

The sort of imagination that inspires flexibility and responsiveness, instead of same-same rule-following. The sort of imagination that takes in changing context and new situations and sees potential options and alternatives. The sort of imagination that can then evaluate those options and imagine which might be the best, so they can be tried out.

The good news is that this type of imagination can be learned. Yes, some people seem to naturally be more imaginative than others. But you can learn to flex your imagination muscle and develop the awareness necessary to navigate any type of challenge that comes your way.

First: stop

Imagination needs time and space to explore. If you’re following routine out of habit, imagination is sound asleep.

Stop.

Breathe.

It may not be easy. When we’re stressed or anxious, the usual tendency is to HURRY UP, DO SOMETHING. But that “something” is almost certainly going to be what you’ve always done, which – in a rapidly-changing, unique time – isn’t going to be effective.

Second: observe

Look at what’s happening.

What’s different? What new needs are emerging?

Trust me. There are new needs. 

Run through the day in your mind. Note the places where things are changing. How do those changes impact you? Your team? Your co-workers? Your boss? Your customers or clients? And so on.

Write down what you observe in this mental exploration.

Yes, really. If you don’t write it down, you won’t remember it. Plus, you need written notes for the next step.

Third: imagine

Look at each instance of new needs and change that you’ve identified.

What do you and your team need to do to make those changes as easy as possible for all concerned?

How can you respond differently? What can you do differently?

Which of the things you’ve Always Done no longer make sense?

What new action, process, or policy would better support your team and your customers?

Write them down.

Fourth: evaluate

Not every idea you imagine will be feasible. Some ideas will violate a non-negotiable company principle or value. Some ideas will just be too complex to implement.

Follow the KISS principle, which I prefer to articulate as
Keep  ISimple, Sweetie.

What’s easiest – simplest! – to implement?

And how much training will your team need?

Preferably, all you’ll have to do is explain a new process. Possibly, you’ll need to make sure everyone knows how to apply the new process.

For instance, how far apart is six feet for effective social distancing?

What is proper technique for wearing and removing gloves – if gloves are appropriate in your case? I saw employees in one office who were wearing gloves, handling people’s paperwork, touching their face, returning paperwork, and never swapped out their gloves. Nice try, but…clearly they hadn’t been trained on glove protocol.*

Fifth: implement

Go forth and do things the new way.

Really. It’s that simple.

But if you don’t allow your imagination to wake up and explore, you’ll just keep doing things the Same Old Way, even when it’s not working.

Habit and routine are comforting in times of stress and challenge – no question. Hang onto the habits that are useful, as I described in this article  and this video on managing a remote team.

But at the same time, if you keep doing things the way you’ve always done them without pausing to consider what might work better, you won’t be responding to the changes that are happening right now, and that will undoubtedly continue to happen.

And that, bluntly, puts your job and your career at risk. Because your managers are watching how you respond, and they’re looking for leadership potential and capacity.


* A safety side note: wearing gloves may make you feel safer, but bear in mind that all you’re doing is replacing the surface of your hand (i.e., your skin) with the glove surface. If you touch your face whilst wearing the glove, it’s no different from touching your face without the glove. If you cough into your hand while wearing the glove, or if you touch something someone else has touched after coughing, you’re still potentially transferring the virus.

Assuming you cannot simply stay home, the most effective thing you can do is use soap and water often. Hand sanitizer is a second-best. If you’re convinced you need to wear gloves, change them often, using proper removal technique.

Finally, I wish I knew who to credit for this, but there’s no name attached even though it’s been making the rounds of social media. In our house, we’ve started calling the coronavirus “glitter” – as in, “Did you wash the glitter off your hands?” It’s a great way to think about the unseen virus as something we’ve all experienced getting everywhere.

Written analogy of the coronavirus as glitter and how glitter spreads

gljudson Strategic thinking

Managing a remote team

Suddenly working from home AND trying to manage your suddenly-working-from-home employees?

It’s hard enough getting organized to work from a home office, but when your whole team is trying to get organized from home and trying to stay on top of the work, it’s that much crazier. Add into that the fact that your kids and partner are also home, and you’re dealing with a lot of stress.

In this video, I review key tips on maintaining a productive routine for yourself and your employees, including how to keep everyone’s spirits up when times are challenging.

Resources

VIDEO: How to be an Empathetic Manager

ARTICLE: Suddenly managing from home?

gljudson Management & Leadership, Video

Future You knows …

Photo of a person standing on a sand dune within a crystal ballThe pandemic is a huge, scary unknown.

What’s going to happen? Will you lose your job? (Have you already?) Will you get sick? Will someone you love get sick?

The constant stream of news and social media anxiety is overwhelming. And it’s easy to get sucked into the worry / fear cycle, especially since there are some very good reasons to be worried and afraid.

Here’s something my clients and colleagues – and I myself – have found helpful.

Future You knows

There’s a You in the future that knows what happens.

There’s a Future You that knows what you did, how you reacted and responded.

Does Future You have longer hair? (Probably, since hair stylists are closing for the duration – but maybe you have a family member who knows how to cut hair.)

Did Future You learn something new?

Does Future You wash your hands differently?

Maybe Future You is more … frugal … with toilet paper. (Ha. I know I’m being a bit more, um, conservative with how much I use!)

Does Future You interact differently with your family?

Did Future You take some time to explore options and develop skills?

What will be different?

How will YOU be different?

How will your work be different?

What do you need to do now to prepare to be that Future You?

This isn’t fluff

Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to feel whatever we feel. Fear, dread, and helplessness are all things I’ve been cycling through, and my clients and colleagues report the same.

But sometimes we need to lift our gaze up out of the immediate muck and focus on some sort of horizon.

We don’t know what will happen. We’re not allowed to see the future.

But we can control what we do right now. We can remind ourselves that there is a Future Self that knows what happens. And we can remind ourselves that there are actions, however limited they may be, that we can take to come through this time as safely as possible, and as well-prepared for what comes afterwards as possible.

Because there will be an afterwards.

And on that note …

If you’re a manager, supervisor, or fledgling leader, I’m offering my Empowered Leadership self-study program at “pay what you can” pricing (with a minimum of $45, because paying something creates a better experience of importance, relevance, and value).

Click here to read more about the program. The full price is listed at the end, but please don’t be intimidated by it! Simply fill out the form, and I’ll be in touch.

gljudson Self-talk, Strategic thinking

How to give negative feedback to employees

Giving negative feedback is NOT fun. It’s something we just don’t want to do.

But as a manager and supervisor, it’s something you have to do sometimes – even when you’re not sure how to handle performance improvement meetings.

I’ve got you! In this video, I provide an overview of how to manage the constructive feedback process, from identifying exactly what you want changed, to actually having the meeting, and then how to follow up.

Resources

Playlist: Managing Difficult Employees

Ebook: The Five Most Challenging Employee Types, and how to manage them

Empowered Leadership program for first-line managers and supervisors

gljudson Conflict, Video

Suddenly managing from home?

Electric sign reading "You got this" in black letters on a desk with a phone and computerYou’ve been told to work from home.

On the one hand, yay: you’re at less risk for infection.

But you’re used to being in the office with your team. And now you can’t walk over to someone’s desk to ask a question or get a status report, and they can’t come to your office to check in or brainstorm problems.

Everyone’s unsettled and feeling isolated. You need to manage the people and the work, as always. And managing the people means you need to help manage their anxiety and stress.

Let’s start with one simple reality: productivity is likely to go down, for two reasons.

Reason one: that anxiety and stress. People are worried about what’s happening, what might happen, and the potential for high-risk loved ones to get sick.

Reason two: working from home is unfamiliar. For a team used to being in the office, everything is out of whack. They can’t communicate in the same easy ways, they don’t know where their stuff is, and it’s generally just plain unsettling.

And you, of course, are facing the same issues.

Like everyone else, you don’t know what’s going to happen. But as the leader, you can stay sensible. You can keep yourself informed from reputable, reliable sources – and pass those sources of information on to your team. And you can be a compassionate manager if and when someone on your team gets sick, or has a sick family member.

Here are some basic guidelines for managing your team from home. You’ve probably already seen some of them (it seems like everyone and their cousin is writing about how to work from home), but since I’ve not seen anything on managing from home, some of these will be new to you.

Stick to routine

Everyone loves to talk about “yay – work from home in your PJs!”, but that’s really not the way to go about it. The human brain works best within the familiarity of habit. And in unsettled times, habit and familiarity are not just important; they’re comforting.

Stick to your regular morning routine, whatever that might be. Do not try to work in your PJs (I highly doubt you go to the office in your PJs, or in sweats, for that matter). If you don’t have an official office, or even a desk, at home, find a table where you can set up a temporary office.

Encourage your team to follow their usual routines as well. If you have regular team meetings, keep them on the schedule. Use Zoom or Skype or whatever your company’s preferred video-conferencing platform might be. It’s important to see everyone’s face; it really makes a difference.

Set standards for communication

When you all work in the same office, flexibility in communication is fine.

But now you need more structure to keep things on track.

Consider adding a daily or every-other-day check-in meeting (always on video!). It can be just 15 minutes – or less – to go around and see how everyone’s doing and where they are in their tasks. It’s not just about getting stuff done; it’s also about supporting each other.

Set up a shared file space, if you don’t already have one, where your team can post regular status updates – and define what “regular” means!

The key in any distributed team is to stay in touch, and that’s even more crucial right now when everyone is stressed and anxious.

Stay informed – and stay busy

A lot of people are getting hung up keeping track of every little bit of news and information.

It’s understandable, but it’s not the best choice; it only amps up the anxiety, and it definitely destroys productivity.

Staying busy is a great antidote to the worry monster.

You’re the manager and leader. Your team looks to you for clues. If you stay positive, focused, and busy, and expect them to do the same, they’ll follow along.

And since people want and need to know what’s happening, do your best to keep the lid on rumors and conspiracy theories by sharing reputable sources of information, such as the CDC website, the World Health Organization site, this dashboard map from Johns Hopkins University that provides worldwide details (you can drill down by locale), and any reliable local sources. Help them be sensible in what they choose to do, without panicking.

Be sensitive and responsive

Someone on your team is almost certain to get sick and/or have family members who get sick.

Ask if they need support or help, especially if they have family members who are high-risk.

Know ahead of time what your company will do for employees. What are the basic policies already in place, and what, if anything, is being added? Is there financial support available if an employee is ill for an extended period, or needs to take time to care for a family member?

(For some more ideas on managing with empathy, watch this video on the Empathetic Manager.)

(For more on managing a remote team, watch this video on … yep, you guessed it … managing a remote team!)

Control and uncertainty

Humans don’t do uncertainty well. It’s natural for you and everyone else to feel anxious.

The reality is, though, that there are three things in this world:

  1. Things we can control
  2. Things we can’t control
  3. And things we have some influence over

What can we control?

There are people out there who maintain that we can control our emotions and thoughts – but when everything is in turmoil, that’s not realistic. So don’t beat yourself up if you’re feeling scared, uncertain, or even panicky, and don’t expect your team to be able to stay 100% on track with their work.

But you and your team can control your actions. You can control when and how you go out, who you see, and how far back you stand from people you meet. Elbow-bumps are the new handshake … or simply place a hand on your heart and give a slight bow.

You can control whether or not you touch your face. You can control how often you wash your hands.

What can we influence?

You can influence your team to follow smart safety procedures.

I’ll leave it to you to choose what other influence-related actions you wish to take relative to public policy – but remember that you do have influence there as well.

Stay safe. Stay well. Keep breathing.

We will get through this, just as we have gotten through everything else that’s happened to us over the years.

There is a future you who knows what happened. One day at a time, you’re getting closer to that future you.

And please. Wash your hands.

More on this in this video on my YouTube channel.

Want help? I’ve got it – no cost during this time

If you’re a newly-remote manager and want some help with this, I’m waiving my usual fee for the duration of this situation. Just click here to schedule time. Happy to help!

gljudson Management & Leadership

Building Resilience in the Workplace

Are you feeling overwhelmed and even blindsided at work?

Do you sometimes dread going in to the office because you’re not sure what you’re going to have to deal with – or maybe because you know all too well what you’re going to have to deal with?

Being a manager or supervisor isn’t easy, and it’s full of unexpected challenges. When you’re just learning how to lead and how to be a good manager, those surprise challenges can leave you feeling blindsided and bewildered.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from unexpected challenges. Building resilience in the workplace is an essential leadership skill – and this video will help you learn how to develop your capacity for resilience and leadership.

RESOURCES

VIDEO PLAYLIST: Dealing with Difficult Employees

E-book: The Five Most Challenging Employees (and how to manage them)

Foundational management and leadership skills program for managers

Click here to tweet!

gljudson Career development, Video

Stop the brainstorming madness!

Photo of wire trash can with crumpled paper ballsBrainstorming for creativity, idea-generation, and problem-solving has been around for a long time.

But I’ll bet that, at least some of the time, it makes you – and your team – uncomfortable. And I’ll also bet that, maybe most of the time, you don’t get the results you’d hoped for.

There are good reasons for this.

To work well, brainstorming requires vulnerability. So unless your team feels one hundred percent – no, let’s say one billion percent – comfortable and safe with you and with each other, they’re going to pre-judge every idea before they say anything to make sure they won’t sound stupid or open themselves to criticism.

The ground rules, of course, say there’s “no such thing as a bad idea,” and “just put it out there – say whatever comes to mind,” but we all know it doesn’t work that way. And that’s been proven – as if we needed proof – by multiple studies.

Which all adds up to un-creative, trite, and not-very-helpful ideas as everyone tosses out nice safe suggestions.

Here are two options for a better way.

But first, clarify the question

What’s the problem you’re trying to solve? Define it clearly and in detail.

Option One: Individual work

Then send everyone away to write out their ideas by themselves.

Give them a time frame – say, 30 minutes – to generate as many ideas as possible.

Then reconvene, and hand all the lists to the facilitator, who collates them for discussion.

Option Two: Individual team work

This sounds like an impossibility – how can it be both individual and team? – but it’s actually an interesting approach. Known as the “6-3-5 Brainwriting” technique, it really does combine both individual and team efforts in a unique and productive way.

Six people write three ideas across the top of a page in no more than five minutes – thus, 6-3-5.

(You can do this with four, five, six, or seven people; fewer than four, and there won’t be many ideas; more than seven, and it becomes unmanageable.)

At the end of the five minutes, everyone passes their page to the person on their right.

They then have another five minutes to write three more ideas. They can either piggyback off what’s already on the page, or come up with new suggestions.

The process continues until everyone has written their ideas on all the pages.

And as for Option One, the ideas are collated, evaluated, and discussed in the group.

Idea-generation is crucial

Businesses can’t evolve, much less innovate, without generating ideas.

Problems won’t be solved without generating ideas.

Let’s focus on the best possible way – instead of the most uncomfortable, groupthink-inviting way!

gljudson Better conversations

Are you contagious?

Emojis - happy, sad, angryDid you know that your attitude is contagious?

So is everyone else’s.

A client noticed that when one of his consistently negative and cranky co-workers went on vacation, the whole office lightened up … until the co-worker came back.

And it wasn’t even anyone he worked with directly.

Everyone has days when they’re less than bright and bubbly. We’re human, after all, and that’s a good thing.

But you’re not imagining the impact of the consistent nay-sayer, complainer, or all-round gloomy employee. They really do bring everyone down. It’s called “emotional contagion,” and it’s a legitimate psychological Thing.

The good news is that the happy, positive, up-beat employee is also contagious… but probably not quite as effectively as the negative person, unfortunately.

So what can you do about this?

Start with yourself!

Self-awareness is a key skill for managers and leaders.

What are you spreading around? Are you generally positive, or are you always looking for the problems and anticipating the worst – or, more likely, something in between?

I’m certainly not suggesting you should always be chirpy and happy. Like I said, hello, you’re human. Plus, there are times as a leader that you absolutely need to be firm, stern, and even angry. But being aware of how you present yourself on an average day will help you understand how you can be a more positive influence for your team, your co-workers, and even your own boss.

(For more on the value of self-awareness, check out the short video “I is for Introspective” – click here.)

Support positivity

The chirpy, happy people on your team are sometimes perceived as too happy – especially by the more negative folks.

Don’t let that happen. Respond positively to others’ positivity. When someone says, “Isn’t it a great day!?”, agree with them instead of finding reasons why it isn’t so great. Thank them for being upbeat and cheerful.

Coach where necessary

Some people are naturally glum.

And some people have real challenges, including depression, ill family members, and so on. So be careful, be sensitive, but don’t allow criticism, carping, bad-mouthing, or gossip. (Here’s a quick video on dealing with gossip.)

Giving feedback on someone’s attitude, like anything else, should be done in private. Be curious about what’s going on; you may learn that there are meaningful concerns you’re not aware of. Encourage explanations for the behavior – but don’t allow it to continue. Set realistic expectations for improvement, and help the employee understand why it’s important. Explain emotional contagion!

It really is important

A positive, generally cheerful atmosphere encourages team engagement, higher productivity, and better-quality work. This is not just touchy-feely sparkle; it’s real.

After all, wouldn’t you prefer to work with positive, forward-thinking people?

As the manager and leader, it’s up to you to create that culture for your team. And for a few more ideas, here’s one more video: “U is for Upbeat.”

gljudson Better conversations, Management & Leadership