The Most Dangereous Mistake in Talent Planning

In a startup, everyone is doing all the things. There are no swim lanes because the goal is survival and risk-taking and growth and juggling as many priorities as humanly possible.

But as the startup grows, each employee's area of expertise begins to narrow.

And when it becomes a thriving small business, roles start to completely change. More people are hired. Job descriptions are defined. Teams get to delegate and focus on their strengths and assign work based on a "who-is-the-best-at-this-ok-let's-have-them-do-that" mindset. 

Once teams start flexing their specialized skill muscles, certain people become harder to live without. Which means that without a plan in place, if certain employees leave, the business can suddenly be in a tough spot, potentially one never even considered because leaders didn't think it was important enough to talk about.

I call it the "what if they got hit by a bus tomorrow" conversation.

The technical term is critical role planning. Boring. Basically, it's an annual assessment of each employee, the role they play within in the company, and what would happen without them.

This misconception here is that only leaders need to be discussed. The CEO, the COO, the rest of the C-Suite folks. Ok sure they need it because they run the company.

But a big miss among small businesses is planning deeper down, to the seemingly smallest of roles, because those are the folks who make the company run.

See what I did there?

It feels like a waste of time. Why do I need to think about what will happen if Derrick leaves? He told me he's committed to our company for the long-term. It can feel complex. How do I even know where to start when it comes to identifying who we can't live without? Everyone on the team is too important and I can't get the senior team together for a full day to try to talk it through. We don't have that kind of time. It probably even feels expensive. I don't know how to do this and there's no way we're taking this month's profit and paying someone to do it for us. 

The most dangerous mistake in talent planning is not having the bus conversation. Here's why:

  • There are people who are critical to core operations. They keep the lights on. They're a single point of failure because of what they know or the process they can do and their absence would be detrimental to the business.
  • There are people with a specialized skill set. Their role is hard to fill because what they do, who they are, and what they know is so unique and difficult to duplicate.
  • There are people who directly impact performance. Aka: they make the money. They are critical to financial goals and drive bottom-line profit or incoming revenue.

As a business grows, responsibilties change and people fall into their niche and suddenly Jane is the only one who knows the invoicing system (and maybe that's ok because it's an easy system to learn) and Andre knows the entire history of the company plus every client that's ever been and Carl is the best at closing deals (and revenue will plummet if he's gone).

Can they be replaced? Should they be replaced? What's the short term plan if they're gone? Is there an internal successor? 

An annual bus conversation leads to those questions being answered, which ensures that the business keeps moving forward, no matter who leaves. 


CLT Leads is a leadership development company that helps small businesses and their people reach full potential. We're passionate about helping people live their best lives at work and setting small businesses up with talent practices that work. Find out more at


How to Have Better Team Conversations


Feeling like part of a team fosters a sense of belonging that meets an innate human need for all of us. We know someone has our back. We can vent. We can fail, stand up to brush off the dust, and keep going. We're happier because we feel included. Heard. Understood.

It's easy to spot employees who feel like they're part of the team and teams who make it a point to be sure members feel this way. There are jokes and laughter. Extra conversation in addition to work stuff. Smiles and a lot of "checking in to make sure everything is ok" talks. The mood is lighter. 

What's the opposite of that?

  • Being too scared to take a risk because of the ramifications
  • Not being honest in meetings 
  • Unable to give feedback or share feelings
  • Unnecessary delays because of poor communication 
  • Pent up frustration and demotivation
  • Passive aggressiveness (yikes this is the worst)

Great teams don't have to sit together. They don't even have to be in the same office. Or state. Or country. 

Because all it takes is good conversation. Every relationship in my life where I've felt trusted and supported started with words. I've felt closer to teammates across the country than ones I could talk to through a cubicle wall, because how we interacted left me feeling valued and appreciated. 

And it's so easy! Through regular team meetings, consistent 1:1s, teambuilding experiences, and recognition strategies, any team can improve how they have conversations, which in turns improves their effectiveness. Here are a few ideas:

  • DISC teambuilding - DISC is a personality assessment that helps people understand themselves and how to work better with others (and it is better that Myers-Briggs so if you done MBTI before don't brush this off because it will change your life). Knowing your personality style changes how you interact and speak to others. Imagine the power of everyone on a team knowing their personality profile and striving to meet someone else where they're at (extrovert, introvert, control freak, people pleaser ....)
  • Regular shout-outs in team meetings: Start each team meeting (you're having these right?) with everyone sharing a shout-out to someone else on the team. Make sure the shout-out includes what the person did and why it mattered. No one more of this "You're just awesome, thanks for all you do!" because that doesn't make anyone feel valued. Seriously. 
  • Consistent 1:1s - These meetings are for the employee, not the manager. Done well, a 1:1 helps someone feel heard and supported. Ask these questions in a 1:1 meeting -
    • What's your biggest challenge right now? 
    • What's going well? What are you most confident about?
    • What are you most proud of this month? 
    • Where can I be the most helpful to you?

Results aren't the foundation of a good team. Conversation is.


CLT Leads is a leadership development company that helps small businesses and their people reach full potential. We're passionate about helping people live their best lives at work and setting small businesses up with talent practices that work. Find out more at


You're The Expert: The 3 Steps I Used to Get Promoted


When I first stepped into the corporate world, after (what seemed like) a lifetime in public education, I went from commanding a classroom and being a respected lead teacher to the lowest job title (aka "Specialist") at a Fortune 300 company. 


I'm a believer in taking steps back in a career in order to progress, and this was the biggest one I'd ever done. As Sheryl Sandberg says in Lean In, a career is a jungle gym, and sometimes we have to move across and down before we can move up. This was a massive jump-down-two-rails-and-hop-three-spaces-to-the-right move. 

My life at the new company was scary. No one knew me. I was out of my comfort zone. Speaking up in a meeting felt terrifying. I knew public education and how to get teenagers to score high on tests and listen to me. I didn't know Learning and Development for a company of 50,000 people. 

But in less than 3 years, I found myself promoted three times.

It wasn't rocket science, but the promotions didn't happen by chance either. I took a purposeful approach, which is something many people don't understand is necessary. Instead of only relying on my manager to figure out when the right time was for me to be promoted, I made sure I was doing everything I could to show I should be considered. I was intentional, instead of running on auto-pilot and hoping for the best.

What did I do? It didn't happen over night, but these three steps changed my career:

I started believing I was an expert. Confidence is often a barrier to getting promoted. When we don't believe in ourselves, we're less likely to speak up in a meeting, or share that new idea, or ask for that stretch assignment. In order to start believing I was an expert, I started intentionally learning from other people. I got official teachers (like a mentor) and asked teammates to teach me.I also found unofficial teachers - colleagues who were successful and whose confidence I wanted to emulate. I would watch them in meetings and re-read emails to understand their approach. And on top of that, I started telling myself You are an expert at this! every day, because personal mantras are my jam (and they work).

I asked for feedback. It's hard for me to listen to constructive feedback. Because I have a dominant personality, I think my ideas are the best ideas all the time. And that every decision I make is the right decision (if you're feeling sorry for my husband right now I get it). It served me well in the classroom, but not so much in the corporate world. So I had to learn (and this took years you guys) that in order to grow, I needed to show others that I was open to receiving feedback and willing to act on it. Even if I didn't agree with it. Questions I used: What could I do differently next time? What didn't go well? 

I learned self-awareness. See also: humility & grace. Yes, there are jerks who make it to the top. Leaders who steamroll everyone around them and step on others in order to make themselves look better. But that doesn't make it right. I committed to learning about myself - my habits, my personality, my work style - and understanding what skills I needed to work on in order to be my best self (instaed of complaining that no one was telling me what to work on). I was a chronic interrupter and had a habit of taking credit for project that multiple people worked on in order to feel good about myself. Those aren't characteristics I am proud to admit, and it took me a few years to be humble enough to recognize I needed to stop doing them, but once I did, I became a better colleague, which in turn helped me get noticed. 

Being intentional about what it takes to get a promotion is important. You can make big career moves and take risks, but you can't run on autopilot and expect others to notice and reward you for it. Take charge of your development and career. That's never something you'll regret. 


CLT Leads is a leadership consulting company that helps small businesses live up to their full potential. Find more at

3 Ways Leaders Without Teams Get Noticed

Early in my career I complained about not getting enough leadership experience because I wasn't getting promoted and managing a team. I had aspirations to make a difference, and felt frustrated that "no one was giving me chance" to show what I could do.

Sound familiar? It's a common complaint among overacheiving young professionals who are desperate to grow and learn and be the best. 

Getting caught up in this mindset isn't effective.

It's limiting. Makes you believe that the only way to show off skills is to be promoted. That to be seen, you have to be heard too. That success is dependent on what others think and the opportunities they provide.


Teammates don't need to report to you in order to know you care, and you don't need the highest title in the room in order to make a difference. In your current role, no matter what it is, you can coach others. Mentor. Share your opinion and know that people are learning from you. Delegate work to help someone else develop.

If you have influence, you're a leader.

It's really that easy. Who listens to you? Follows your lead? Comes to you for advice? Those are people and situations where you can practice leadership skills and over time, get noticed as someone who has what it takes to grow to the next level. 

But how? By showing up, getting dirty, sharing appreciation, and making others feel empowered to do more and be more. It sounds like this:

1. How can I help? Great leaders who don't actually lead teams are always offering support to others, even if it's grunt work, like filing papers or filling in a spreadsheet. People are more likely to view someone who rolls their up sleeves and gets dirty with them as a leader, instead of the one who says "that's not in my job description" and walks away. (We view those folks as jerks)

2. I am thankful for you and here's why. Feeling appreciated is a core value that every human on the planet has, even if they won't admit it. Great leaders tell others often that they are appreciated, but then take it a step further and explain why, so it's known exactly what they did that was valued. Yes, high fives and thank yous go a long way, but great leaders kick it up a notch. Just yesterday I told a colleague,"Thank you for always keeping me on track with the new tech process. You are so reliable! I am juggling a lot and knowing you have my back helps me stress less about missing new tickets that come through." It took three seconds.

3. Tell me more about that. Listening, instead of hearing-what-someone-is-saying-but-thinking-about-what-you-want-to-say-and-then-trying-to-wait-for-your-chance doesn't take you far (I know because it took me years to overcome this habit). It comes across as insensitive and egocentric if done enough, and can be a career staller if the right people take notice. Instead, start incoporating this phrase into conversations. Instead of giving your opinion or trying to problem solve, say "tell me more about that" and see what happens next. Bonus points if you can keep your mouth shut and not say anything at all. 

Starting today, notice how others interact with and respond to you. Find opportunities for incorporating these phrases into your daily routine and over time, you'll notice a difference in not only your mindset, but in how much others trust in and rely on you. All along you'll be practicing your leadership skills, and what everyone will get in return is a new and improved teammate.


CLT Leads, LLC, a virtual leadership development company that transforms overachieving young professionals into confident, self-aware leaders and turns small business owners into talent development gurus. Check it out at

Successful New Managers do THIS in the first 60-Days

 Photo by  Manuel Sardo  on  Unsplash

Photo by Manuel Sardo on Unsplash

There's a niche I'm filling in the leadership development world. It's the gap between a newly promoted I'm-so-excited-to-be-here-I-am-going-to-change-the-world manager and the I-can't-do-this-anymore-leading-people-is-hard-I-think-they-hate-me manager. 

Think about it. Most companies promote their people to first level leaders because of job knowledge. The employee is smart and talented. Gets shit done and gets results. Makes money.


Those new leaders almost always fail. Sure, that failure might not be as evident as a resignation or role change, but it's there. And when it happens, the team suffers and the manager suffers and everyone is left fighting low morale and disengagement because what else do you do when your manager sucks?

The skills that get people promoted aren't the skills it takes to be a successful leader. 

The most successful new managers I coach make it a point to do one thing differently in their role. Instead of proving why they deserved the promotion or implementing changes just because they're in charge now, they simply press pause on their ego ... 

... and connect. 

In the first 60 days, then connect with their team. With their new peers. They listen, they seek to understand, they build trust. 

They Listen. Active listening is different from I-hear-you-but-I'm-really-just-waiting-for-my-turn-to-speak listening. Active listening is eye contact, head nodding, and keeping your mouth closed. It's saying "Tell me more about that" to encourage the other person to keep sharing. It's asking, "What's been challenging this week?" and "What are you most proud of?" and "How can I help you?" in 1:1 meetings. And oh yeah, it's scheduling those 1:1 meetings the very first week because there is no better forum for listening than in a regular (ahem, weekly or biweekly) 1:1 meeting. 

They Seek to Understand. Successful new managers don't come out of the gate trying to make sure everyone understands their point of view. They don't try to be the loudest in the room, the smartest one in the meeting, or the one who's always right. They genuinely try to see where others are coming from and work to incorporate new points of view into their thinking. They ask questions like "Why do you think that is?" or "What would you do differently?" to uncover what's on everyone else's mind. And then (you guessed it) they actively listen to the answers. And sometimes they throw in a "Tell me more about that" for good measure.

They Build Trust. There are two kinds of trust that a new manager builds. The first is subject matter trust, the belief that my new manager knows what's going on and can help me in my job. This one usually comes first because most  managers are so eager to prove themselves. The second kind, the more difficult one, is relationship trust. That's the you've got my back and you care about me and you're willing to support me no matter what trust. That kind of trust takes putting ego aside and (a shocking revelation is coming ... ready?) putting others first, mainly by listening and seeking to understand. 

I coach so many new managers who, because they haven't had leaders do this for them, don't understand the value of connection. Of putting everything else on the backburner and using the first 60 days to get to know people. We aren't robots. We all come to work with a deep need to feel valued and appreciated. And connection provides that. 


Tess Ausman is the founder of CLT Leads, LLC, a virtual leadership development company that transforms overachieving young professionals into confident, self-aware leaders and turns small business owners into talent development gurus. She is passionate about the soft skills it takes to grow a career: self-awareness, empathy, and a healthy dose of humilty. Check her out on LinkedIn at and .

The Easiest Way to Not be a Jerk in Meetings

 Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

What sets you off? Frustrates you? Clouds your vision so much that what you know you should do goes out the window and subconscious reactions kick in?

We all have triggers and they bring out the worst in us at work because triggers are the things that make us feel ignored. Undervalued. Unappreciated. Sometimes they go deeper and hit at our core, and then we feel shame, worthlessness, guilt. 

Naming our triggers is critical to professional growth.

I know mine. It's taken years to figure them out + be humble enough to accept that this is who I am and these triggers have an impact on how I behave. They are:

  • Being excluded from a decision
  • Having my intelligence challenged
  • Feeling left out

By knowing our triggers, we can shut off negative responses at the source, because we're able to label exactly what is wrong. Instead of snapping at someone or ignoring them (my two most common reactions when I am triggered), when I feel the urge to behave that way, I take a few seconds to identify WHY.

And the answer is always that I've been triggered. 

Which usually means I'm feeling that someone isn't listening to me or respecting my intelligence, but sometimes I have to admit that I'm feeling left out and want to take it out on the other person. 

The danger is that most people don't know (or won't accept) their triggers.

I see it daily, and here's what it looks like: 

  • Shutting down in a meeting, refusing to say anything else because the group isn't listening
  • Pushing for ideas too hard and purposely causing friction and calling others out in order to not be seen as the one who messed up
  • Not answering emails on purpose because of the fear that the answer is wrong
  • Interrupting and challenging everyone in a meeting because that's equated with being the smartest or most important

Understanding your triggers takes a combination of maturity and humility. And it starts with this question: What are my self-doubts? When do I feel at my lowest?

Another indicator is your personality style. I love the DISC assessment, because it's easy to interpret and put into action. And knowing what quadrant you're in gives insight into the behaviors that could set you off (so if you're struggling to peel away the layers of your personality and the baggage of life because it feels too scary, start with DISC).

Self-awareness is critical to professional growth. It's also critical to keeping yourself from flying off the handle andbeing a jerk and calling your boss a crazy person in the next team meeting. Because I can guarantee that won't help you grow professionally either.



Tess Ausman is the founder of CLT Leads, LLC, a virtual leadership development company that transforms overachieving young professionals into confident, self-aware leaders. She is passionate about the soft skills that it takes to grow a career: self-awareness, empathy, and a healthy dose of humilty. Check her out at too.

Throat Punches Aren't Effective

 Photo by filip Bunkens on UnsplashPhoto by  Filip Bunkens  on  Unsplash

Photo by filip Bunkens on UnsplashPhoto by Filip Bunkens on Unsplash

I have an innate confidence in my ideas and opinions. Like, I am always convinced that I'm right. That my opinion is the best. That everyone should do I what say. That when I speak up everyone should immediately consider what I'm saying. 

Let's look at how well the behavior that accompanies those thoughts has served me in my corporate career:

  • Interrupting others in meetings and being seen as impatient and rude? [check]
  • Dominating conversations and not letting others talk and being judged as unfriendly and inconsiderate? [check]
  • Sriking down ideas without even pausing to consider them and therefore coming across as arrogant and stubborn? [check, check, check]

I'm a catch you guys. 

For years I've joked that when people don't agree with me they deserve a throat punch. Which is partly true (see "thinks my ideas are the best ideas" above), but not until recently did I start to realize that I might deserve one too. After all, when I'm trying to get someone to see my point of view, there are two sides to the conversation, and how I am coming across has a huge impact on how they respond to me. 

Enter influence styles. There's a lot of research out there - I love this article in the Harvard Biz Review. And this one (Spoiler alert: Yes, my influence style sabotages me sometimes -please say I'm not the only one).

It's taken years of self-awareness practice to understand that even though I'm only 5'2" and smile a lot (harmless, right?), my instinctual word choice, tone, and approach to conversations can be pretty harmful. Harmful to how others see me. How they talk to me. How they feel about the work I do.

Without yelling, I have a way of insisting my ideas are heard and challenging the ideas of others. 

I say "but" a lot: Yes, but what I'm saying is that won't work. I say "should" a lot: You should do it this way. I point out my credentials a lot: I have a masters degree in blah blah blah or am officially certified in this whack topic. 


So I've been working on this natural tendency to be assertively influential by replacing it with the other styles: Rationalizing, Negotiating, Inspiring, and Bridging. I'm pretty good at saying "Yes! And ..." (do you know this improv trick?) and have replaced word "should" with "could" (some of the best advice I've ever gotten). 

I've been seeking to understand situations so I know what style to use, and using guiding questions (see the linked HBR article) to help me channel the right approach. 

I'm a work in progress - we all are - and if understanding influence styles has helped me, then I know it can help someone else. If anything, it'll keep you from throat punching someone. Because that mess will cause a lawsuit and then you're really screwed.

The Most Important Behavior You're Not Paying Attention To

iStock-642980978 (1).jpg

I have a big ego, and if I'm not intentional and identify situations when it might come out, then I find myself saying nice things but not sounding nice.

You know what I mean.

One of the biggest things I see holding young professionals back is ego. The "my idea is the best idea" mentality, the afraid to be wrong mentality, the "I'll do what it takes" mentality. 

What it takes is letting go of ego and being open to not being the smartest or most accomplished person in the room. Or the one who's always right. That last one runs rampant, because with it comes the misconception that being right is the only way to get ahead.

When in fact, it's admitting that you weren't right that gets you the most credibility. 

On my best days I keep ego in check by examining my intentions before I enter a meeting or conversation. What happens if I'm not right? Will I be ok if someone's idea is better than mine? Or someone speaks up more than me? (Shocker: the answer is always, always yes)

And on my worst days, when I fail at this, I give myself grace and commit to trying again tomorrow.

Three Behaviors Holding You Back at Work

 Photo by  Thought Catalog  on  Unsplash

Adulting is hard. 

And guess what? It's hard for everyone. 

So instead of complaining, what if you just got better? Better at handling the stress. Better at managing your calendar. Better at giving yourself a break.  I used to think I was special and that I had more stuff on my plate than anyone else (ALERT! Martyr Syndrome in action!). And then I learned that the people I looked up to had even more than me to manage ... but they did it differently.


That realization was an eye opener for me on what it takes to be successful. 

Things that hold you back:

  • Being negative and complaining
  • Telling others how busy you are
  • Letting frustration get to you


This stuff is going to happen to us (WE ARE HUMAN AND THAT IS OK) - but when we get better we learn how to reduce how much it bothers us. We learn how to overcome frustrations and setbacks more quickly instead of letting them fester and then projecting those feelings (ahem, pessimism, martyr syndrome, stress) into our relationships at work. 

It doesn't get easier. We get better. 

A Mindset Hack to Get You Back on Track in the New Year

If it was easy then everyone would do it. 

A friend told me this as I was explaining how lately I've been in the valley of despair with being an entrepreneur. I've been letting imposter syndrome and self-defeating thoughts run rampant.

I don't really know as much as I think I do

Who am I to share about how to do anything?

No one is really paying attention on social media

I'll never be able to successfully launch a product

All because I'm not succeeding as fast as I think I should be. I'm not meeting my own, unrealistic expectations and instead have been choosing to compare myself against all the successful entrepreneurs out there who seemingly have it all together and are making all the $$$. 

Or at least them SEEM to be. Right?

We do this at work too you guys. 

We compare ourselves to those with higher titles and better cars and think that we'll never be as successful as they are. We watch someone present in a meeting and wonder why we can't be just as influential. We get constructive feedback and take it to mean we will never be able to be a rock star in our current role because if our boss disagrees with one thing we do then everything-I-do-must-be-flawed-and-I-will-never-be-able-to-get-a-raise-or-that-promotion-now.

It's so hard to overcome these thoughts, especially if you're pessimistic by nature or hold yourself to an extremely high standard (guilty). 

I used to beat myself up for beating myself up (ironic, I know) and that made it worse (shocker). But over time I've learned to lean into those feelings of imposter syndrome and self-defeat and label them. 

What am I feeling in this moment? Why? Is it true?

It takes seconds to do this. Longer if I'm going to write it down. Sometimes I do it while walking to another meeting. Or getting water. Or heating up my lunch. You get the picture.

And it works. Because by acknowledging these feelings I'm exposing them and proving they're false. 

Because feelings aren't facts. 

Most of us go through our day at work thinking that feelings are actually facts though, and we let that guide how we interact with others and treat ourselves. And that's why we're quick to anger, even quicker to get frustrated, and ultimately decide that we hate our job and can't stand showing up to work.

It's a new year and we're all trying to be better versions of ourselves because a new year holds so much promise that we can tackle anything and be all the things and do all the things. I've repeated my friend's statement probably one hundred times since that day because though I'm not feeling that rejuvenated by the new year just yet, I'm getting there.

And if you're struggling to get there too, then work on asking yourself those questions.

What am I feeling in this moment? Why? Is it true?

They'll give you perspective and clear your head. And if that doesn't work, then flip someone off under the table during a meeting and I promise that will make everything feel better. Sometimes we just have to do what it takes friends.