by Bill, Character


3 Comments 16 July 2007

In an interview for our new book, Contented Cows MOOve Faster, Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer, Dan Cathy suggested that one of the factors that contributes heavily to a person’s decision whether or not to expend precious discretionary effort at work is forgiveness. More specifically, he suggested that we all screw up on occasion, sometimes in a big way, and when our manager is able to pursue a path of forgiveness (accompanied by learning), we are far more likely to go the “extra mile” for them, and the organization.

Dan cited an incident that occurred long ago at one of their stores involving an on-the-clock beer-drinking episode, and his father’s (Chick-fil-A founder, Truett Cathy) forgiveness of the involved employee. According to Dan, the employee subsequently went on to have a long and productive career with the quick service chicken restaurant chain.

I thought of that this morning when I reached page 6B of USA Today, where the entire page (in the business section, no less) was devoted to real or purported scandals involving athletes and or their coaches over the past 25 years. Heading the list was former Cincinnati Reds player and manager, Pete Rose, who was permanently banned from baseball in 1989 for betting on the game. Rounding out the list were other notables such as Tonya Harding (think Nancy Kerrigan’s knees), Kobe Bryant (the zipper thing), 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis (doping allegations), John Rocker, and the Duke Lacrosse team.

I don’t know, for example, whether or not Pete Rose should be forgiven and then, based on performance, allowed to take his rightful place in the baseball hall of fame. Having followed his career as a young baseball fan, and spent some time talking with the man on a cross-country flight a few years ago, I’m hard pressed to believe that he in any way intended to harm his team or the game of baseball.

But I do know this… Excepting some of the current nonsense going on in our nation’s capitol involving commutation of prison sentences, there IS room in a manager’s repertoire for forgiving someone of a temporary case of the dumb-a**. In so doing, managers would be well guided by advice given to me by Harry Keenan, who originally hired me at FedEx. Before I had technically accepted the job offer, Keenan flew me to Memphis to hear a little homily on his version of cardinal vs. venial sins of the workplace.

A blunt talking former FBI agent, Keenan wanted me to know that in his eyes there were two kinds of mistakes I might make in the workplace. One involved mistakes “up here” as he pointed to his head. “I expect you to make a lot of those,” he said, “because if you’re not making them, you’re likely not going fast enough or being bold enough.” Continuing, he placed his hand over his heart and said, “The other kind you make down here. Please understand that the first one of those will be your last.” As with many other things I learned from the man, Harry’s advice on forgiveness and accountability have served me well for many years.


- who has written 238 posts on Contented Cows.

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3 Comments so far

  1. Kim Bechtel says:

    I have followed the Contented Cows story for several years. I have used their text and concepts in teaching HR and leadership courses at the local university. I realize a blog on forgiveness is likely going to ask me to stretch a bit but Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame?! Surely there is some other, long suffering, in the trenches baseball player who got to the Show through hard work, discipline and values learned from a good family who better deserves the honour. Gambling by players is wrong, period – and that’s something I seem to remember Bill and Richard having a few things to say about. Rock on Contented Cows!

  2. Michael Keenan says:


    What an absolute delight it was to read the words of my deceased Father, Harry Keenan, memorialized on your website.
    I have a feeling he is smiling.
    Thanks for honoring and remembering him.

  3. Michael,

    I really appreciate hearing from you. Your dad was a wonderful human being who brightened the life of everyone he came into contact with (except for the bad guys during his FBI days:-) He and your mom were exceptionally kind to my wife and I. Best to you and your family. Merry Christmas!

    Bill Catlette

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Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

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