How are you playing the game of life?

White board with a "leave your comfort zone" flow chart.

Are you playing to win – or are you playing not to lose?

Here’s what playing not to lose looks like.

  • Not speaking up when you have an idea.
  • Keeping your mouth shut and head down even when you disagree.
  • Hoping “they” will notice how hard you’re working and give you that raise or promotion (instead of asking for it).
  • Staying in a job you don’t love instead of taking action to find something better.
  • Doing exactly what you’re told, instead of suggesting a different, possibly better way.
  • Accepting how you’re treated – by anyone – instead of standing up for yourself and what you want.

( Fill in the blank lines with your own ways of playing not to lose.)

Playing not to lose means playing small. It means being and doing less than you’re capable of. It means marking time instead of taking risks. Staying comfortable instead of growing. Compressing yourself into someone you’re not, instead of stretching into who you are.

Sure, you need to assess the risk factors. You need to pick your battles.

But be careful. “Assessing risk” and “picking your battles” can easily become playing not to lose.

This morning’s blog post from Seth Godin was about opportunity cost. As he says, “Every choice has a price.”

This is the price we pay when we make any choice – we lose the opportunities that might have come our way if we’d chosen differently. We can’t not pay the price, because we’re always making choices. As they say, even no choice is still a choice.

But we can be aware and intelligent about the price we’re paying.

When you choose to play not to lose, what opportunities are you missing?

It’s your life and your career. What are you doing with it?

gljudson Career development

The case for higher employee turnover (yes, really)

Silhouettes of business people walking awayEmployee turnover – the rate at which employees leave your organization, whether voluntarily or not – is often considered just a fact of life. Some people will leave. Some people will get fired or laid off. This is not new news; carry on.

Occasionally, someone will make the effort to evaluate turnover relative to industry averages or some other measurement. And sometimes, when turnover seems unusually or undesireably high, initiatives are undertaken to engage employees and reduce the rates.

But what about times when turnover is unusually low? Should we celebrate? Pop the champagne corks? Give ourselves high-fives all ’round?

Not so fast!

Low turnover can be a sign of a quality culture and top-notch employee engagement.

It can also be a sign that the organization is stagnating, hidebound, and un-creative.

Low turnover, especially in thought leadership and middle-management ranks, means new ideas aren’t coming into the organization. It means that people who have been there for years, even decades, are steeped in “the way we do things here” – even if they never say that directly.

People are becoming aware that diversity of thought is just as important as all the other types of diversity we’re learning to focus on. (For more on this, see my post “Mindset: the new diversity.”) And diversity of thought (and other types of diversity) is typically achieved only when new people come into the organization, at all levels.

I’m aware of all the reasons for promoting from within, and I agree with them (mostly, anyway). It enhances morale, provides motivation for advancement along a career path, and so on.

And of course I’m not advocating firing anyone just because they’ve been around for a while.

Just be aware of where your ideas are coming from, notice if you’re not generating enough new ideas, and consider the best ways to bring in fresh thinking.

Especially if your turnover rate seems particularly low for your industry.

gljudson Strategic thinking

Does your team depend on you … a little too much?

Photo of many hands raised

I was talking with a colleague recently about the “mom” (or, of course, “dad”) factor in leadership.

Teams look to their leaders for guidance and direction, and that’s obviously necessary. But like any good thing, there’s a flip side when it becomes TOO MUCH of a good thing.

And that’s what happens when, for any number of reasons, the individuals on your team become overly reliant on you, their leader, for every answer to every question. We dubbed this the “mom” factor, as in, “Mom, can I have this? Mom, can I do that? Mom, what should I do about …?”

Why is this a problem? Here are just a few reasons.

  • It takes up wayyyy too much of your time. I don’t need to elaborate on this, I’m sure.
  • It takes up wayyyy too much of their time – how much more productive could they be if they made decisions and took action on their own, instead of waiting to ask you?
  • They’re not learning and developing their skills, knowledge, or capacity.

Why does this happen?

  • The organizational culture doesn’t allow people to make mistakes.
  • Your team culture doesn’t allow people to make mistakes.
  • You have a hard time delegating – really delegating, as in, letting people do things their own way rather than yours. (For more on this, read the post “The Dangers of Delegation: A true story with dog.”)
  • Your team members started out as beginners, and you’re still managing them that way.

Clearly, there are some decisions you need to make and some actions you need to direct.

But ask yourself: are you too involved? Do you get frustrated because too many of your team are tugging on your sleeve, “mom”-ing or “dad”-ing away your time?

If so, maybe it’s time to re-set expectations.

Be clear. Hold a meeting, either as a team or with each individual, and explain that the next step in their professional development is for them to start making more decisions and answering more of their own questions. (This makes it “all about them” and their career, instead of being about you and your feelings of frustration!)

Decide before the meeting what level of decision you’re authorizing them to make, and be explicit in explaining that. Let them know it’s okay to make a mistake, as long as – and this is a key point – they can “show their work” – meaning they can explain their thought process and reasons for deciding the way they did. Be clear that, of course, you always want to be notified when a mistake happens, because you never want to be blindsided.

If you’re thinking this will take some work and planning on your part, you’re right.

But isn’t that better than being “dad”-ed or “mom”-ed to distraction?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have time to focus on the decisions and actions that really are important for you to make?

gljudson Leadership

Whose career is it, anyway?

Word cloud focused around Career Development

I wandered into my career by chance.

From liberal arts major, to business intelligence software design and development, to Director of a technology consulting division, to leadership geek …

There’s a thread connecting it all, but I can only see it in hindsight. (More than a thread, really; it’s a consistant theme from early childhood of understanding people’s motivations, needs, and desires, and seeing patterns and options for moving forward. I can explain further if you want to know more (contact form opens in new tab) – but I wouldn’t have been able to until four or five years ago!)

I don’t want to change any of it; it all plays into what I do now, and why I do it. But nonetheless I have great admiration for people who are intentional about their careers. I read about successful people who have plotted out a fulfilling and financially rewarding career from college, maybe an advanced degree, and into their work lives, and I’m just in awe.

I’m happy with where I am – very happy, because I love what I do – but I also wonder if I could have gotten here sooner, with less flailing, frustration, and uncertainty. Because up until I started my own business – and, if I’m being honest, not until some time into that endeavor – I simply allowed myself to bob along like a cork in the stream.

Whose career is this, anyway?

It’s mine, but I allowed circumstance, chance, and various managers and bosses to push me in one direction or another, without ever really taking ownership or control of where I was going.

If you’re doing that, I invite you to take a step back.

Look at the trajectory of where you’ve been, and think about where you really want to go.

And then, of course, consider what it will take to get you there.

Entrepreneurs know we need to invest in our learning and professional development – or we won’t be successful. We write the checks to hire coaches and take classes.

People working in organizations tend to think their company should pay for their professional education and support.

If that sounds like you, you might want to reconsider. Personally investing in your career pays off in many ways, including being able to set your own direction, moving toward what you want versus where the stream takes you – or where your current manager thinks you “should” go. You’ll reap the rewards faster and more plentifully than you might think.

Whose career is it, anyway?

gljudson Career development

Which type of goal works best?

A red and white target with a red dart hitting the center.

Tis the season! Everyone’s setting – or has already set – goals for the year.

But what you may not realize is that there’s not just one type of goal.

Most people set …

Outcome Goals

An outcome goal is exactly what it sounds like: a goal to achieve a specific outcome or result. Lose 25 pounds. Drive an 8% increase in profits year over year. Read a book a week. Run a marathon by September.

And so on.

Outcome goals are necessary: if we want to get someplace, it’s helpful to know where that “someplace” actually is.

But they’re not sufficient. To actually get to “someplace,” we also need …

Process Goals

HOW will you get those results? What actions will you take?

Some actions will be one-off. Some actions will repeat, whether daily, weekly, or monthly.

How will you get to that 24-pounds-lighter you? What actions will you take? Will you go to the gym every day? hire a fitness coach for an initial assessment and plan? walk the dog, rain, snow, or shine? eliminate sugar from your diet?

How will you increase profits 8% over last year? Sell something new? Make more sales calls? Increase your marketing efforts?

As a side note, you’ll want to measure the effectiveness of all your process goals. Are they actually getting you closer to where you want to be? If not, tweak, change, update – whatever is necessary to move you forward.

And then, to support of these first two types of goals, you need …

Feeling Goals

When we set outcome goals and define the process goals necessary to get there, we’re usually trying to create change in our lives – sometimes significant change.

This can be daunting.

(For more on why change is so hard, check out the two white papers on my Useful Papers page – they address change within organizations, but the concepts are relevant for individuals as well.)

It’s important, therefore, to pay attention to how we want to feel as we execute on the process goals and achieve the outcomes.

How will running that marathon make you feel? Strong, powerful, confident, healthy? Or something else?

What about reading a book a week? Will it help you feel more informed, more relaxed, more interesting, or what?

Defining how you want to feel, both when you actually achieve the result and along the way as you do the things that get to you that result, will help keep you motived when the change just seems like too much.

A powerful combination

Together, these three types of goals will help you achieve far more than any one of them alone.

Without outcome goals, you don’t have an objective in mind. As Lewis Carroll is (mis)quoted* from Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Or as Yogi Berra commented, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.”

Without process goals, you don’t have a road map for how to get to the outcome.

And without feeling goals, you’re at risk of frustration, overwhelm, and discouragement.

But there’s one more type of goal …

Vague goals

You’ll notice that each of the examples I listed at the beginning – weight loss, profitability, reading, and running – had a measurement applied to it. Twenty-five pounds, 8%, one per week, and by September. (Bonus points if you noticed that the weight-loss goal didn’t have a “by when” date!)

All too often, people omit the measurement.

Vague goals are virtually impossible to achieve, because you’ll never know when you arrive.

Don’t set vague goals.

DO set your goals in triads: outcome, process, and feeling.

You’ll be far more likely to achieve what you want – and have a better time getting there!

* To see how this actually appears in the book, click here:

gljudson Career development

Don’t do it!

The word RESOLUTIONS spelled out in Scrabble tiles

Do you make New Year’s resolutions?

May I suggest that you don’t?

The last New Year’s resolution I ever made – and the only one I ever actually kept – was to … (wait for it) … never make another New Year’s resolution.

The start of a year seems like a great time to reset and step forward into a better version of ourselves and our lives. And it’s true that anniversaries like this feel relevant and even important.

So we take this opportunity to make a big commitment to BIG CHANGE.

But … change doesn’t typically happen in big jumps; it happens in small increments.

On top of that, the type of change we set for ourselves at the New Year mark tends to be “should” change.

You know…

  • I “should” go to the gym
  • I “should” eat healthier foods
  • I “should” stop drinking / smoking / whatever your “should stop” thing is

And so on.

“Should” changes aren’t very motivating. They’re typically guilt-driven or inspired by external pressure from family and friends.

And then when we don’t follow through – when we break the commitment to ourselves – we feel even more guilty and annoyed with ourselves.

So I hope I’m not too late (since you’re reading this after January 1st) to suggest that you just don’t do it.

In place of the resolution, I offer a different process. An ongoing process that you can do for any time chunk: a day, a week, a month, a quarter, and, yes, a whole year.

You can find the paper describing how it works here: The Discipline of Reflective Review.

Enjoy. And let me know what you think and how it works for you!

gljudson Self-talk

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.

gljudson Leadership

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.

gljudson Leadership

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).

gljudson Podcast interviews