Go ahead. Take a break.

Photo of woman sitting on a bench by a tree looking out over a riverYesterday, I presented a breakout session at the annual Businesswomen’s Conference, created every year by the Bentonville Arkansas Chamber of Commerce.

This was its 21st year, and they do a fantastic job; it always sells out well in advance, and each year seems to get better (with the possible exception of the plain green salad they consider an adequate lunch for vegetarians!).

Conferences tend to have an unintentional undercurrent theme alongside the stated theme, and this was no exception. The stated theme was “The Power Of You” – and the undercurrent was, in essence, “don’t burn yourself out.”

Interesting contrast, no?

All three of the keynotes – morning, lunchtime, and afternoon – had at least some element of this undercurrent, as well as the two breakout sessions I was able to attend. Looking at the other breakout topics, I suspect many of them were similarly aligned. Even my topic – “Managing your Inner Critic: how to stop the rotten-tomato fight in your head” – had some of those “don’t overload yourself” elements.

It wasn’t because we were all talking about that favorite (and in my opinion over-discussed) women’s personal and professional growth theme of “self care,” because we weren’t.

I think it’s because women today tend to drive themselves relentlessly in the pursuit of their careers and support of their families. As I said to one of the women who attended my session, it breaks my heart to see the ways in which we are still fighting equality battles that should have been resolved decades ago. And so much of what we do – and I know I’m not alone in this – is because we think we have to, or we know no one else will do it (and it legitimately does need to happen), or we need / want to live up to others’ expectations… and on, and on, and on.

And so many of the women I know are just plain tired.

If that sounds like you – whether you’re a woman or a man! – then go ahead. Take a break. Take what a colleague of mine calls a “hooky day,” like kids used to do (probably still do!) when they snuck out of school. Or what we called, when I was still in corporate (and I imagine corporate employees still call!) a “mental health day.”

A hooky day or mental health day is different from a vacation.

And it’s fun, in a different way than a vacation.

Try it out. Go ahead. Take a break!

gljudson Self-talk

Did you ASK?

Question mark surrounded by a rainbow of arrows extending into possibilitiesWhen was the last time you asked for something you really wanted?

Not something you kinda-sorta wanted.

Not your kid to take out the trash, or your partner to empty the dishwasher.

Not your co-worker to pick up a pumpkin-spice latte for you on their way in to the office.

Something you REALLY wanted.

That can be hard and it can feel vulnerable. And we might choose to believe that we already know the answer.

“I want a promotion – but I don’t think my boss likes me enough.”

“I want to go to that conference – but I can’t take time off.”

“I’d love to be working on the cool new project – do you think my boss will pick me?”

“My employer won’t pay for the training I want.”

Did you ask? Or are you assuming?

You don’t have to work for a big company to get financial support for conferences or training. Two students in my Empowered Leadership group program are there because their small-business employers are paying part of the fee. How did that happen? They asked.

If you don’t ask to be assigned to that cool project, how can your manager know you’re interested?

If you don’t ask for a promotion, how will you ever know what you need to do to get it?

If you don’t ask if you can attend a training program or conference, how will you know what support you might get?

The worst that can happen is that you’re told no.

And at least then you’ll know.

If you don’t ask, you’ll never know what might have been possible. So in essence, if you don’t ask, the answer is already, and always, no.

There are many options and opportunities available … if you ask.  And if you don’t ask, you’ll never know what opportunities you might be missing.

What do you want?

Why not ask?

(Check out Seth Godin’s blog post And Your Company will Pay For It.)

(And of course also check out the Empowered Leadership group program! After all – your company might pay for it!)

gljudson Career development

Where are you going?

Cartoon of business person choosing between three directions

Is what you’re doing aligned with what you want?

REALLY aligned?

Of course, first you must know what you want. REALLY know, in detail.

This isn’t about woo or the Law of Attraction.

It’s about the clarity you need in order to know – REALLY know – if what you’re doing is, in fact, aligned with where you want to go.

And if it’s not, then why are you doing it?

p.s.: want to figure this out? Come to the Leadership Launch Pad workshop – free, online, interactive, and NOT a webinar. Click: https://www.gracejudson.com/llp.

gljudson Career development

Stop flinging candidate spaghetti against the wall!

Graphic image of people as cogs on gearsAs a hiring manager, you know what I mean by that. Even if you don’t want to admit it.

But I’ll give you an example.

A client was convinced – as in, 100% certain, no question – that he couldn’t find great employees in his industry and geographic location.

He felt that the specialized requirements of the job just weren’t possible to fill in his relatively rural area.

So he’d hire people who were partially qualified – let’s say, the best he thought he could get – and hoped they’d work out, somehow.

(No disrespect intended to any of those people; they were good people and good workers, and went on to be good employees elsewhere. They just weren’t a fit for his business.)

I convinced him to stop doing what I call “flinging candidate spaghetti against the walls” – i.e., hiring randomly and hoping for the best – and instead start being more intentional and deliberate in his hiring process.

He now has a team of stellar employees.

Here’s how it’s done.

Get clear

I know you think you know what you want in an employee, but I’d be willing to bet you only know part of the picture. And I’ll also bet that you focus mostly on skills, not on the qualities that make someone a good fit for your company.

My clients are usually reluctant to write down these details, for two primary reasons.

  1. They don’t think they can actually get what they want, so why set themselves up for disappointment?
  2. They think they already know, so why bother writing it down?

But here’s the thing: if you don’t write it down, you don’t really know. Writing things down clears the mind and allows new ideas and insights to arise.

And writing it down doesn’t commit you to anything; it just creates clarity.

Because the next step is …


Now that you have your list, divide it into two: MUST have, and NICE to have.

Must Have is non-negotiable. (Really. Because then you’re just throwing candidate spaghetti at the wall again.)

Nice to Have is sparkles, chocolate frosting, and champagne.

And now you’re ready to …

Write a great ad

Your hiring advertisement – whether it’s a post on Facebook, a listing in online job boards, or a request sent to your recruiter – should be clear about your company culture as well as about the Must Have skills and qualities.

And it should specify how you want candidates to apply.

Do you want them to apply by email? phone? snail-mail? Write a cover letter? provide a resume? Is there anything you don’t want them to do (for instance, don’t phone, don’t come into the office)?

And then …

Be prepared to say No, thanks

First rule: do not consider, even for a moment, anyone who doesn’t follow the application instructions. If you ask for a cover letter, and they didn’t provide one, they’re out. If you said not to call and they picked up the phone, don’t engage.

If they can’t follow instructions in this important first-impressions moment, what makes you think they’ll follow instructions after you’ve hired them?

Second rule: do not bend, even a little, if any of your Must Have criteria aren’t met. The temptation may be huge, but that way lies heartache (and budget-ache; hiring is expensive).

The client I mentioned at the start of this article made that mistake – and I have to be honest: I participated in it. We had a candidate who seemed to be everything we wanted, but we skipped one crucial interview question. After a year of struggle on all sides, that employee moved on to a position elsewhere that she’s far better suited for. And my client (and I) learned a painful and unnecessary lesson.

Which leads me to…

Write great interview questions

Your interview questions should come directly from your Must Have and Nice to Have lists. Aside from the resume, how do you know if the candidate has the skills and qualities you want? By asking.

Define your interview questions ahead of time, in detail.

You don’t have to ask every one of them in the interview (but don’t skip the crucial ones!). And there will be follow-up questions you’ll ask that won’t be written down. But a prepared list will remove the ad-hoc quality of so many interviews, and you’ll come out of the interview with a clear sense of whether or not the candidate is your next employee.

It’s a lot of work

Yes, it’s a lot of up-front, careful, detailed work.

It’s worth it.

How much does it cost you to replace a failing employee? A lot more than you think, and I know you’re thinking, “Too much!” (For a detailed spreadsheet to calculate those costs, click here. Just be sure you’re sitting down when you see the final number.)

So, yes, it’s worth it.

Especially when you have the pleasure of working with a stellar team of employees instead of an ad-hoc group of partial-fits and mis-fits.

gljudson Management & Leadership

“How” is not the question

Upside-down photo of a sign with the word "answers" above the word "questions"“How will you do that?”

Since my time as a business systems analyst, designer, and software engineer, and now as a leadership geek, trainer, coach, and consultant … people constantly ask me, “How can we do that?”

But “how” is the wrong question. It’s almost always asked out of sequence.

Don’t ask how until you’re clear about what.

The instant you ask how something will or can be done, you’ve put a box around what you want to do.

Because you haven’t already fully defined what, you’ve imposed unnecessary constraints. You’ve limited your options, sometimes very painfully.

How is only to be tackled after you know what.

Selecting the tool before you select your objective is crazy.

“How can we do that?”

“Here’s a hammer – that’s how.”

“Okay, then our only options are nails, right?”

Resist all temptation – even if the tool you want to use is brand new, shiny, and something you really want to learn more about.

(If I’d listened to the people who asked me “how,” I would never have accomplished what they said was impossible. Because I refused to listen, I did it – and saved the company I worked for at the time millions in previously lost recoverables. That’s the potential magnitude of this error.)

Do not ask how until you know what.

gljudson Strategic thinking

How does your team think?

Blackboard with a drawing of a thought bubble enclosing a lightbulbEvery now and then, Amazon puts a really good book on their Amazon Kindle sales.

I would never have come across Time to Think: listening to ignite the human mind, by Nancy Kline, if it hadn’t showed up as a 99-cent special one day. (Sorry, everyone, it’s back up to its regular digital price of $5.99, $12.99 for the paperback, and still worth it!)

I’ve long been a proponent of encouraging people to think for themselves, voice contrary opinions, speak up when something’s going wrong or being overlooked, and, in general, speak truth to power. One of my all-time favorite quotes is from General George S. Patton, who pointed out that, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

My question for you is: do you encourage your team to think for themselves?

Or do you foster groupthink (where everyone is afraid to voice anything diverging from the group)?

Or maybe you’ve made it hard for your team to tell you the truth about what’s happening? (See my post “Does your team lie to you?” for more on that.)

What can you do to encourage independent thinking on your team? Here are a few ideas – some of which come from Kline’s book, and some of which are my own thoughts. (See what I did there? Yep. I’m thinking independently!)

Forgo the need to be right

If you have to have the last word – and it always has to be the right word – no one will bring new ideas or emerging problems to you. It’s that simple.

Be willing to be wrong. Be willing to not have all the answers. Be willing to be half right, if that’s all you can manage for now.

As Walter Isaacson puts it, “One mark of a great mind is the willingness to change it.” (He has too many accomplishments to cite; click here for his Wikipedia entry.)

Listen …

Yes, I know; this is what everyone says, and yet we all still listen only long enough to figure out what we want to say or how we want to argue.

When we listen fully (without dismissive facial expressions or body language, and definitely without interrupting), we encourage the speaker to keep going, keep thinking, keep developing their ideas. And then good things happen.

Ask good questions

Another excellent book, A More Beautiful Question: the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas, by Warren Berger, suggests asking “What if?” questions, and Kline agrees.

“What if?” questions open up possibility by breaking down perceived limitations and constraints.

Notice that these are not “How?” questions. “How” questions create constraints; “shat if” questions remove constraints. (I thought I’d written about this before, but I can’t find the post. Stay tuned for an article on the dangers of “how” questions!)

Allow silence

A good friend and colleague once made the point that silence can be a full partner in any conversation.

Most of us, though, aren’t comfortable with silence. We feel pressured to fill it, to say something, anything, rather than allow the silence to continue.

But when someone is thinking and we fill their thoughtful silence with our ideas, input, information, guidance, whatever – we’ve interrupted them. We’ve stomped on their thought process, and wherever they were going is lost.

Allow silence. Stay attentive. Bite your tongue if you have to.

It’s weirdly difficult

You’d think all this would be natural. After all, we want people to have ideas, think clearly, offer their opinions, tell us when something is going wrong.

But it’s weirdly difficult. Whether because, as the leader, we feel we’re “supposed” to be the one with all the ideas, or because (as hard as it may be to admit) we feel threatened if someone else raises a problem or idea we didn’t think of, or simply because we’re feeling rushed and “too busy” to pay attention, or for any of a host of other reasons, we fail to give people the time to think.

What do you think would happen if you did?

gljudson Better conversations

Interview: Leadership Communication

I’ve known and respected Catherine Mowbray-Lorenz for years, so I was delighted when she invited me to join her on the BlogTalkRadio show Women Lead.

We talked about how leaders, especially newly-promoted women leaders, can communicate better, and what it means to be a manager, leader, and supervisor in today’s challenging environment.

Thirty minutes of fun and information – enjoy!


gljudson Podcast interviews

Where’s your power?

Infographic depicting sources of powerPower.

It’s a tricksy concept, isn’t it?

Kind of uncomfortable for a lot of people.

As a leader, you have power.

You might be a new manager with just one person reporting to you.

You have power.

Actually, you have power even if no one reports to you.

We all have power.

It’s how we use it that matters.

Or how we don’t use it.

And those statements cut in two directions.

How we use it.

Power is a tool.

Just as a hammer can be used to build something beautiful, or can be used to hurt or even kill someone, so too power can be used for good or ill.

Power can manipulate, inflict itself on others, create division, intimidate, diminish, hold back – all manner of things that hurt people.

Power can also guide, strengthen, teach, lead, support, develop – all manner of things that help people.

How we don’t use it.

I was recently horrified by a friend’s description of an event where – yes, I’m going there – masculine power over a woman’s appearance was blatantly and despicably demonstrated.

There was no physical violence. Power doesn’t require physical violence; anyone who’s been hurt emotionally, intellectually, or professionally by someone’s inappropriate use of power knows that.

But I’m not telling this story to demonstrate that some people use their power in awful ways – I covered that in the previous section.

No. My point here is that the woman in this story did not use her power. Instead of objecting, she acquiesced. And the people around her didn’t act either; they too abdicated their power.

We’ve all seen, or been involved in, situations where someone (us?) didn’t use their power when they could – perhaps should – have done so.

And we can all think of times when we used our power to exploit, manipulate, or belittle someone else, even if only in minor ways. (Though is any mis-use of power minor? I’m not sure…)

Power is tricky.

As human beings – whether we lead none, one, or thousands – we owe it to the people over whom we have power to be conscious and intentional of how we wield that power.

And don’t fool yourself into believing you have no power.

You do.

Use it wisely.

gljudson Management & Leadership

Are you scary?

Frightened emoji characterYou might be more scary than you think.

A recent Harvard Business Review article cites research indicating that although 66 percent of survey respondents said they were “never” or “rarely” scary to their employees … that wasn’t necessarily their employees’ experience.

Simply by virtue of your title, you may appear intimidating to your team – even if that title seems relatively innocuous or even junior-level to you.

We like to think we’re approachable; we have an open-door policy; we say we value feedback; and we claim it’s okay to make mistakes.

But when push comes to shove, do the people on your team really believe they can come to you with challenging questions or – worse yet! – with the news that something’s gone wrong? The article I mention above references issues such as the recent Boeing 737 Max safety failures; other instances that come to mind are the Challenger explosion and ethics breakdowns such as at Volkswagen and Wells Fargo.

I’m not suggesting you’re facing any such #epicfail situation as those. (Though I’d guess that initially, the people in those situations didn’t think they were either!)

What I am suggesting is that being aware of your potential scaryness is important in building trust and creating an environment where your team is comfortable raising tough issues with you.

This isn’t about being a pushover; leaders need to maintain high standards for all types of behavior.

But it is about recognizing that, for some people at least, your title alone – your position in the organizational hierarchy – may create hesitation and uncertainty about speaking up when necessary. Add to that personal (and unintentional) behavior characteristics, such as frowning when in deep thought, or getting testy / cranky under certain conditions – and you can be more scary than you might think.

Team members afraid to bring up ideas, challenge a course of action, or confront a true ethical crisis – we all think it can’t happen to us.

But it can.

Check your scary factor!

gljudson Management & Leadership