Judy Lane is managing principal of Teamworks Global, a Chicago-based professional services and training consultancy that has worked with executives from American Airlines, IBM, eBay and many others. She is a behavioral sociologist, an executive coach and a trusted advisor to individuals and executives at Fortune 50 global companies, entrepreneurial ventures, family-owned companies and not-for-profit organizations.
The home page for Teamworks Global says that it specializes in “people performance solutions, core values leadership.” I don’t know what that means. Can you tell me what that means and about your role in it?
Judy: I’ve been interested in human motivation and achievement my entire life. I have designed leadership programs for Job Corps, which is at-risk youth, 20 to 22. They’re either dropping out and on their way to jail, or they’re dropping back in and they’re on their way out of jail.
Then I did a lot of work in behavioral education with people who have at-risk health issues. So my work just kind of evolved into the field of performance solutions: what motivates somebody to perform and be successful. It is really about dealing with how people interact with themselves and with others. When you get people in a team environment, they don’t necessarily choose each other. They just have to survive each other.
If a company’s paying three people or five people or 10 people, it’s a collection of individuals who all have specific skills and expertise. But how do you turn that team of individuals into a high-performance unit like a winning basketball team or a winning football team or an individual group as opposed to a group of individuals? That’s the gist of what I do: I take a collection of individuals and I turn them into a group, a tribe.
Is it required that somebody be a leader or is that a group where everybody is equal?
Judy: It requires that people transform their viewpoint of leadership. Most people view leadership as management: highly effective managers who manage risk. The traditional view of leadership is one of, “I’m great and you get to be great because you’re on my team.” The challenge in today’s environment is that we are forced to rethink leadership in terms of collaborative leadership because the young Millennials came along and said, “Hell no, I won’t go.”
That means we had to create a new approach to “performance” in terms of empowering people because they demand to be empowered. They demanded to be a part of the decision-making process. They demanded to be contributors and be acknowledged as a part of the contribution. We had to radically alter our approach to leadership and to authority. Most cultures these days are still based upon, “I’m the boss. I’m the authority. Therefore, you will do as I say or you’re out the door.” That doesn’t really work in today’s corporate environments, even in big ones.
So the opportunity to be a collaborative leader is that “I’m great. You’re great. We’re great. How are we going to make this work?” You have to organize yourself around what you’re all committed to as opposed to what you as a collection of individuals are committed to. An illustration of that would be, “I have an idea and I’m really, really sure it’s going to work. I’m the boss. Therefore, it’s my way or the highway.”
Or you could approach it like, “I’ve got an idea, you’ve got an idea. I’m over here and you’re over there. We’re going to see who’s strongest, who can build the best factions,” like an internal war. But in terms of the new Millennials and the high-performance leaders, you’ve got to get them into a world of learning to pass the ball.
How do you do that? How do you teach that skill if that skill is not part of somebody’s makeup?
Judy: It’s not part of somebody’s make-up because they’ve just never been trained and elevated in that skill.
But aren’t there people who simply are not “team players”?
Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be.
As an example, my dear friend, colleague and client George Mumford is a sports psychologist. He is the Zen behind Phil Jackson. George and Phil actually took on Michael Jordan before he was the Michael Jordan persona, before he was the Michael Jordan identity. He was the savior of the college team and he was this flash who could jump through the air but he wouldn’t pass the ball. You can’t win a game unless the team is playing. Can’t. The team has to win the game.
Now, you can have an individual who’s a star, a high performing star. But the team cannot be a collection of individual stars. It has to be organized. And there are tough spaces that any team goes through as they learn this methodology, as they elevate their leadership, as they expand their capacities.
Collaborative leadership has got to be based on knowing themselves and then knowing the others, not for what they could pull off but for what you can count on them for, and that’s core values. In this process, you first have to get the person used to who he or she is. That’s the first challenge because we tend to relate to ourselves as a product of an evolution.
Can you explain that?
I am who I am because I’m a product of my parents. I’m a product of my culture. I’m a product of the economy. I’m a product of politics. My life and my choices and my decisions have all been shaped by the environment that I was raised inside of which is made up of generations. It’s made up of cultural dynamics. It’s made up of faith dynamics. It’s made up of politics and the economy and wars, whatever. I’ve been molded and shaped by that. But for me to know myself requires me to actually relate to myself as more than just a commitment to something. It’s bigger than a belief. It’s bigger than a position. It’s bigger than a commitment. It’s actually bigger than a value.
If I’m only committed to something, I’m out on that in a New York minute if something better comes along. “Oh yeah, Mr. CEO, I’m going to work here. I am really committed to the bottom line. I am really committed to performing.” And then a head-hunter dangles his job and the signing bonus and they [are gone.]
So a commitment is noble and it won’t last. You can’t take it to the bank. But a core value is something you’ll take a bullet for. If individuals know themselves, they’ll know what their deal-breakers are and they’ll be able to get in tune with their co-workers on a core values level as opposed to a commitment level. That’s what makes teams that perform and that have each other’s back.
Scott: That sounds like a major task. In other words, getting someone to know himself or herself that well and to understand their values that well obviously doesn’t happens in one afternoon.
Judy: No, it doesn’t. When you start out at work, it is on an individual level. Our approach is that we start with a behavioral assessment called the Birkman. You can look it up at birkman.com. That just lets people know themselves on a behavioral level. It organizes them around what they like, which is different from how they’re usually putting their best foot forward. How we’re organized that we do our best work is usually behaviorally trained.
We learn that from our parents. We learn that from our school. We learn from the influences throughout our life. We connect the dots and put ourselves together so that we can count on ourselves to produce results. Where we run into troubles with that and what breaks down in leadership as well as team building is that I might be a great accountant in a CPA firm or some engineering firm, but I could be totally miserable. But if I commit (commit seems like the wrong word here) those same accounting skills and put them into an area that I like, I might be in fine arts management or I might be in a hospital setting where I’m working with people.
Now then the third area—the first is, what do you like; second is, how are you wired, how did you get put together—is what do you need to perform. What do you need?
What do you need from yourself? What do you need from your environment? What do you need from others? I know that I need a private environment and I need connection. But if you put me in an office first of all where I have to go in every morning and come back out every day, I’ll quit. I also know that if you put in a fish bowl, I’ll be so distracted I won’t be able to focus and get my work done. I work in short concentrated bursts. I know myself.
That’s what I need from my environment. What I also need to perform though is I need a lot of collaboration. I need people to work through and think through things with. I can’t work in a silo in my own mind which is a challenge because I don’t like to be around people when I work. But having learned that about myself, I can now set up appropriate structures and I can be highly productive on three hours a day whereas before, it would take me a whole week to get done what I get done now in three or four hours.
If I don’t get what I need, the fourth area is my stress behavior. Stress behavior is a negative, usually a socially not so greatly appreciated behavior, pain in the ass, non-performance. It’s where team members undermine each other. It’s where individuals will throw the towel in or will sabotage themselves like they’ll take down a whole team. And the intensity of the stress behavior is directly correlated to how much they’re getting or not getting inside of what they need.
If I need X and I don’t get X, the longer I go not getting what I need, the more my pressure builds until I explode. A lot of motivating and achieving performers is knowing yourself; second, appreciate yourself and give yourself permission to be exactly who you are and stop trying to be somebody else. And now, set yourself up to win, which includes looking at the work environment and the other attitudes.
In high school no one says, “I want to be a trusted advisor when I grow up.” You dream of something else and you end up being a trusted advisor. Can you tell me what you dreamed of being, and then what that path was that took you to where you are now?
Oh, I wanted to be Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
In high school, I was a musician and a singer. My competition with my sister – she was tall, skinny and blonde; I was short, fat, and brown. She had the voice; I had the brains. In high school, I went for the role of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz [in the school production]. My desire to perform actually dates back to an instant kindergarten, waiting at the bus when my sister was ridiculing me with some other kids on the playground. I got embarrassed because she put a dead rat in my pocket – we lived on a farm.
I put my hand in my pocket thinking she was adoring me, and I pulled out the dead rat. I got scared and freaked out and wet my pants and then the other kids were laughing at me. I had to take on becoming charming and cajoling to overcome things somebody that the kids would laugh at. Music was a place where I could find myself. I was raised in a family, four-part harmony in a church. Music was the place where I would escape into my mind. Music was my world.
I played the piano and sang. In high school, I auditioned for the part of Dorothy. I got it, but then I was showing this other kid how to laugh like the wicked witch should laugh like cackle, and the choir director said, “Stop! Stop! Who did that? You can’t be Dorothy. You have to be the wicked witch.” And I said, “I don’t want to be the wicked witch!” I [concluded] that good things get taken away, which means I’ve got to make sure that nothing good gets taken away from great people who deserve it.
But I was also raised inside of a family – my dad was a minister and then he was in education; my mother was in education – very, very people-oriented, always cheering on humanity, always a possibility. That was just my background. When I was in third grade, we were walking home from school. A lady had poured fresh cement in her driveway. We lived in Los Angeles so all the kids were putting their hands on the cement just like you do in Los Angeles: the movie stars, their hands were in cement, and I knew I was going to be a star.
If I was going to be a star, they had to find me. They’d had to know how to get ahold of me so I also wrote my name and phone number. Another part of my personality got put together there because the principal called me the next day. Judy Hall, come to the Principal’s office. Well, my dad was a principal. I knew that if I got in trouble with the principal at school, I was dead meat at home. So the next day, here’s this little third grader, and here is the principal, and here is my mom and dad, and here’s the lady and her husband.
The principal said, “You have to tell me who else did this.” If I told, my sister would kill me and I would be dead meat. And here I am standing in front of this whole sea of faces of all the kids at school in the cafeteria where I had to publicly apologize because I would not rat on my sister. And I said to myself, better fly under the radar. Don’t get caught. And it’s funny learning how to be the star but not be the one out front and not shine, has been a battle, an oxymoron all my life.
For me, I’ve done the shining. I’ve lobbied in Washington. I’ve championed global women’s initiative. I’ve co-chaired global women’s summits. I’ve published a women’s business magazine. I’ve done all of that stuff about me being out front and it’s highly competitive and it doesn’t fit my nature, not that I don’t like to shine. I just really get a lot of satisfaction out of being the one who leads the leaders. Being the wind beneath their wings is a hugely satisfying role for me. That, myself, is my noble cause. Not that I would cause a transformation in the world, but that my life is organized around – and here is my noble cause – that the world gets transformed through leadership with laughter and with love.
Is there an achievement that shines brightest for you in retrospect, that you’re most proud of having done?
My biggest achievement came in Washington, D.C., in 1997. I formed a foundation, the Business Women Leadership Foundation. I had been lobbying in Washington and I was highly concerned about the fact that there were more men at these economic and political summits for women trying to do business with women than there were Hispanic, Asian, or black women combined. It’s Caucasian women and Caucasian men from banks and law firms trying to do business with women.
Where were the Asians? Where were the Hispanics? Where were the blacks? What? And because I am a mestiza – a blend of Native American and Mexican–I looked around and I said, “Holy cow! Where are we?” I had breakfast with Wanda Rubianes who, at that time, was the Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in DC. She and I were talking about it. She wrote me a check and she said, “Start your foundation. Let’s figure it out.” And that’s how I started my DC foundation.
I had other girl friends from companies like IBM or American Airlines or Bank of America that I had worked with, had become friends, also contributed to the initiative. I got in a lot of hot water. Hispanics were very jealous because they perceived it as a white woman getting dollars from Hispanic budgets that they were passionate in that it should go to Hispanic initiatives.
After that, I went back to the same companies and I said, “Okay, that was round one. We did really, really great. Here’s what we’re going to do in round two.” Almost every company said, “Judy, instead of giving you a grant for $50,000 for this, we’ve decided to give 10 grassroots organizations $5,000 each.” I saw that as a failure. My viewpoint of leadership at the time was, “But I’m so great. I did such a great job. What are you talking about?”
It was only later as I had done a lot of leadership training and development in my own maturing of my leadership that I could see that as the win that it was for humanity where collaboratively we won – we won – as opposed to, “Judy Lane is a force to be reckoned with. Get out of my way because I produce results. Get out of my way.” It’s just a total shift in my maturing as a leader rather than a results producer. I often question my clients about the predictable future they’re in in their leadership style.
If you’re not dreaming big enough, you’re playing too small of a game. If you’re not failing, if you’re playing a game you know you can win, you’re not playing. There’s a pivotal moment or transitional point for any leader where they have to be willing to jump off the ledge and not know if the parachute is going to open up, and trust themselves that they’ll figure it out on the way down. Until they’re in that deer-in-the-headlights phase, they will never learn to turn to the other people around them and trust a team.
Every individual needs to know themselves so that they can know, no matter if they’re the janitor or the secretary or the shipping clerk or the CEO, they got to know what their role is and they have to be proud of their role and they have to be empowered to be who they are. They have to be appreciated and acknowledged because they are the mechanism by which their team wins.
That’s what I do.