by Bill, Leadership

Skin In the Game

0 Comments 01 December 2009

Whether in business, sports, or communities at large, people, all of us, perform better, a lot better, when we have skin in the game. Contrary to what we’ve seen of late with bogus bonus schemes that provide executives with nothing but upside potential (AIG rings a bell), I’m talking about the type of arrangement where people are truly invested in an organization and its outcomes, with both upside and downside potential – real skin in the game.

Members of the U.S. Congress are beginning to bandy about the notion of imposing a “war tax” to pay for the war in Afghanistan. Though drilling yet another hole below the water line is about the last thing our economy needs at the moment, I’m not sure it’s such a bad idea. If every (repeat, every) taxpayer was invested in this gambit, either by virtue of military service or a surtax on their paycheck, I feel certain that our opinions would quickly become more reasoned (less partisan), and the prospect of holding politicians and military officers accountable would improve immensely. Moreover, there would be at least one thing that binds us together. Or, as former New York mayor, David Dinkins remarked upon Barack Obama’s election, we would all “be drinking out of the same water fountain.”  And, our children and grandchildren might breathe a little easier knowing that there was at least one tab their parents were actually paying themselves.

Regardless of the outcome of any proposed war tax, skin in the game is something that each of us as leaders should strive for on our own teams. We can do so by:

  1. Lobbying for contracts and other arrangements that truly put pay at risk
  2. Using spot cash awards (and fines) as a way of recognizing performance in real time
  3. Being more thoughtful and broadminded in assigning responsibilities and tasks
  4. Refusing to saddle your stars with the task of cleaning up messes made by others, and
  5. Being quicker to remove people from the team when they have lost too much skin.

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.


A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at, or follow him on Twitter at

- who has written 56 posts on Contented Cows.

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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.

OUR PREMISE: Having a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce is one of the best things any organization can do for its bottom line.


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