by Richard, Leadership, Motivation

Are the Generations Really All That Different?

1 Comment 23 January 2014

generationsDon’t look now, but next year, Generation X turns 50.


You may need a moment to process that. But it’s true. Following immediately on the heels of the boomers (those of us born between 1946 and 1964), the eldest members of the first alphabetically labeled generation are already receiving mailbox stuffing solicitations from the AARP.


As the new year dawned, it occurred to me that I’ve been in the business of studying, writing, and speaking about the workforce for 24 years now, a generation itself. And during that time, among the most persistent themes vexing managers has been how to deal with “the younger generation”. This, incidentally, is a phrase you’ll never hear me use; I’m becoming my father fast enough as it is, without adopting figures of speech I can easily avoid. I’ll just call them younger workers.


Look around you, and you’ll find the workspace populated by an unprecedented four generations of workers. For managers in this multi-tiered environment, trying to make everybody happy can be as frustrating as trying to find an unbiased news program on cable TV.


Anyone who’s tried to provide leadership to a team consisting of both teenagers and seventy-somethings knows that generational differences do make a difference, but these leaders also tell me that they’ve observed some remarkable similarities among workers born in vastly different decades.


For instance, regardless of the hashtag or label used to mark our generation, most of us need:

  • Focus and direction
  • Meaningful work, and the freedom to pursue it
  • Clear, helpful feedback
  • Appreciation
  • A leader who cares about us and has our best interest at heart


Generational friction and bewilderment have existed since Adam and Eve despaired over Cain and Abel. Think about it. Your grandparents thought your parents were hopeless – that they would never amount to anything. Don’t laugh. Your folks thought the same about you. And yet, with probably a few exceptions, those of us reading this have managed to avoid incarceration, and hold meaningful jobs, and occupy a valuable place in society.


And it gives me no end of satisfaction to think that my own Generation Y offspring will, in the not-too-distant future shake their heads and denounce the profligacy of their own version of “the younger generation”.


And if past is, as they say, prologue, they’ll all do just fine.


Just you watch. Twenty years from now, well-led businesses (led by people born after 9/11) will be making a profit. The stock market will be up by more than the rate of inflation. And advances in technology will bring us things most of us don’t know we need. (Who among us thought, in 1994, that this lazy bunch of self-centered slackers could have produced a device that could let you simultaneously talk on the phone and navigate your car to a restaurant you’d never heard of when you got in the car a half-hour earlier?)


Stereotypes have never served me well. As soon as I think I have some group figured out, some of its members surprise me. We hear certain things about newer workforce members, but those generalizations are of dubious accuracy.


For example, we hear that Generation Y won’t commit to anything. Have we, as leaders, given them anything to commit to? Have we indicated any commitment to them? It’s said they’re self-absorbed. Try giving them something else to be absorbed with (like customers, a real sense of mission, or meaningful work), and see what happens.


And we hear that, perhaps due in part to the practice of giving school kids “participation trophies” for coming in last place in a competition, the under 40 crowd wants grand rewards for modest achievement. If you see that, don’t feed it! But when someone implements an idea that saves your company a million dollars, a gold-colored paper star on their cubicle is unlikely to stimulate a repeat performance. Make a BIG DEAL out of BIG DEALS. Learn the reward preferences of everyone on your team, and when someone does something really reward-worthy, knock their socks off in return.


Generation Y, I’ve been told, won’t stick around if they’re not promoted rapidly. We’ve got to stop equating development with promotion. The career ladder’s not as tall as it was for earlier generations. Help people develop valuable skills, and reward them for it. If you play your cards right, they’ll be eager to stay, yet prepared to go.


And finally, I’ve heard that younger workers are rude. I’ve got a real simple solution for that one. Don’t hire rude people, no matter how talented they are. A business owner I know takes finalists for positions in his company on a business trip as part of the vetting process. (Yes, he pays them for their time.) He observes how they treat airline, hotel, and restaurant employees. Only the most considerate and professional get the offer.


Sure, each succeeding generation has always been different from its predecessor. How boring it would be otherwise. Good leaders pay attention to the differences, but continue to lead from and pass on a strong set of core commitments, to develop the leaders to come.


Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at

by Bill, by Richard, Management, Motivation

Sometimes It IS About the Money

No Comments 22 October 2013

Few issues in the domain of business are thornier, more complex, and emotion-packed than that of how much money to pay someone for the work they do. Employee compensation thrusts its tendrils into considerations no less substantial than motivation, employment law, labor unions, production, and the very profitability of the enterprise. Oh, yeah. That.

Corresponding almost exactly with the arc of the Great Recession, we’ve been blinded of late by arguments put forth, like shiny objects, suggesting that the paper stuff that goes in your pocket (cash compensation) isn’t as important as the cornucopia of less extrinsic factors that have entered the deal in the workplace… things like concierge-type services, telecommuting, or participating in Habitat for Humanity builds alongside your co-workers.

Whoa, full flaps, brakes, stop! To be sure, there is considerable attraction and motivational impact in achieving a state of camaraderie, and in job-related perks that are special. Indeed, one of us helped launch FedEx, and for a while when the business was running on fumes, it certainly helped to be working alongside a charismatic CEO with a warrior spirit, to be a participant in reshaping commerce, and for every employee to have the opportunity to ride free on company planes, because the mixture of cold, hard cash was pretty lean.

But at the end of the day, people, nearly all of us are motivated, at some level and to a significant degree, by money. We are. Aren’t you? Sure, it’s not everything, but it’s definitely in the mix. And it’s more in the mix of late for two reasons:

1. Due to a still struggling economy and a slack labor market, real hourly earnings are mired US$0.24 below the December 2008 high.

2. Employee engagement levels are abysmally low, to wit the deal in the workplace tends to be more transactional, where cash is the coin of the realm.

So chewy and multidimensional is the comp issue that an entire professional association, WorldAtWork (formerly known as the American Compensation Association), exists to help employers figure it all out.

Credible studies abound, suggesting that higher compensation won’t necessarily buy you a better performing organization. In chapter 5 of our latest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, we illustrate that with some NFL stats showing that many of the highest paid football teams in the US consistently turn in some pretty middling results.

Still, most of us don’t lead entire organizations; we lead individuals. And taken one person at a time, let’s be clear. Sometimes it IS about the money.

It’s sometimes about the money, because people who are struggling to make ends meet, or who believe they can earn substantially more somewhere else, or who feel taken for granted spend more time thinking about their comp-related woes than they do thinking about their work, their customers, and your business. When that happens, they can’t possibly be as engaged as you need them to be.

It’s sometimes about the money because, let’s face it: right or wrong, in our society, money sends a message. A message about a person’s worth. One’s composite view of his or her “deal” at work consists of at least these four factors:

  • Leadership: How do I feel about the person I report to, and the big guns who run the place?
  • Meaningful work: Is what I do valuable and important to others, and do I get frequent reminders of that? Expressed appreciation is a HUGE part of this one.
  • Lifestyle fit: Does this job support and promote the kind of life I want to live? Schedule, benefits, amenities, time demands, etc.
  • Compensation “Worth-its”: Am I satisfied with the money I earn?

You’ll notice that the above list is heavily weighted in favor of intangibles. Only one factor – the last one – is tangible. Most of us would like to maximize the mix of these elements, but they don’t all have to be perfect. If I really like my boss, and the work provides a real sense of meaning to me, I may be willing to work long and inconvenient hours for less than optimal pay. But if I have to work for a jerk doing stuff that doesn’t provide much emotional satisfaction, you’d better be prepared to fork over the big bucks, or I’m outta here. Mentally if not physically.

Think about your competition for talent. Someone else can always outbid you on the tangible; not necessarily on the intangibles.

Here’s our position, and some tips to go along with it:

  • You should never pay anyone more than you can afford, or more than they’ve earned. And not substantially more than the market dictates.
  • Without violating anything in the above bullet point, make your very best offer to attract and retain the best people for your organization, and keep them interested.
  • The question of whether or not you can afford a certain amount for a certain person must be balanced with the question, “Can we afford not to pay that certain amount?” Consider the cost both if the person were to leave, and if they were to power back. If you really are underpaying someone, do you really expect to get their best work?
  • Stay educated on what the market demands. Take advantage of current salary survey data for your industry. Your professional association probably has some. Be sure to filter for geography, profession, education and most of all, demonstrated capability.
  • You can offset the desire for more monetary compensation – to a fairly substantial degree – by paying lots of attention to the intangibles mentioned above. Especially appreciation. Simply saying “thank you” – and meaning it – can go a long, long way. It’s worth real money. But be careful about using these intangibles to justify paying less than you can, and less than you should.
  • Apart from paying “stay bonuses” or step increases, never increase anyone’s base compensation simply for hanging around another year. If given a choice, your compensation dollars would be much better spent as merit-based differentiation than endurance pay.
  • Paying people by the hour is intellectually bankrupt. Find a way to correlate people’s pay with the income or value they provide to the organization.
  • Give everyone as much information and control as possible over how much they earn. Here’s a conversation we love to hear (and have): “You want to make more money? Let me show you how.”

Until next payday, wishing you the best!

by Richard, Exemplars, Motivation

CSX: One of the Best Places to Work in I.T.

No Comments 18 July 2013

csx hqGrowing up in Jacksonville, Florida, virtually every one of my friends’ fathers worked for either “the phone comp’ny” (as we pronounced it), or “the railroad”. That “railroad” was what is today known as CSX, whose riverfront headquarters building occupies a prominent place in the Jacksonville skyline, and which occupies perhaps an even more prominent place in the life and economy of the city. And now, the company’s Information Technology function occupies the number 19 slot on Computerworld magazine’s List of 100 Best Places to Work in I.T. (See the full article here).

If you’re a regular reader of ours, you know our view: inclusion on an annual ranking of workplace quality (like Computerworld’s, Fortune’s, or any other respected publication’s) is a good first indication, but not the only determinant of how great an employer really is to work for. Companies that make the list ostensibly because they let people take naps, or bring their pet ferrets to work are less likely to get the Contented Cows seal of approval than those known for things like great leadership, innovative reward systems, or an emphasis on professional development.

It’s this quality – an emphasis on professional development – that caught our attention at CSX.

Training is a top priority at CSX, and that commitment is seen in full bloom by its technology professionals. Of the company’s 30,000 U.S.-based employees, nearly 500 are in I.T. Each of those workers received an average of 5 days of training in 2012, and the company budgeted $1,125 per I.T. employee for training that year.

It’s not all classroom training, and it certainly isn’t limited to technology training. These I.T. pro’s spend lots of time learning what those who work in the depths of the railroad’s operations do to get the cars down the tracks. Many techies spend time in the freight yards, and on simulators and real trains, to give them irreplaceable experiences vital to integrating the technology with the workings of the freight carrier.

And CSX maximizes the return on its investment in professional development by providing advancement opportunities for lots of talented CSXers. In 2012, 12% of I.T. employees were promoted to more advanced positions within the technology division of the company.

While the labor market for many industries and professions is still a little anemic, not so in I.T. The demand for talent generally outweighs the supply of people with the skills needed to power the work. And yet, in a field where skilled talent can exercise a lot more options than those in many other fields can, employee turnover in I.T. at CSX is low. Very low: 3%.

We think there’s a lot to be learned from the example of CSX: Invest in personal and professional development. Let people see how the whole business works, and how their contribution relates to the enterprise. Then provide advancement opportunities for those you’ve developed – a great way to maximize the return on your investment in people.



Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at

by Bill, Leadership, Management, Motivation

Optimism is an Essential Requirement for Leadership

No Comments 09 May 2013

Earlier this week, in the first game of their NBA Eastern Conference playoff series, the Chicago Bulls, absent three of their star players, traveled to Miami and beat the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat in their own building. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of basketball fans were stunned by the outcome. They may wind up being stunned by the series outcome, too. Who knows?

What we do know is that the Bulls are being led by a coach, Tom Thibodeau, who is an optimist. With three star players out of action due to injury or illness (effectively 20% of the roster), it would be easy for Thibodeau to say, “Ain’t it awful?”  and effectively foreclose on their slim chances of winning. Au contraire! On more than one recent occasion, Thibodeau, when asked about his short-handed team’s chances, has responded to the effect that, ‘we have more than we need to win.’

What matters is not that Thibodeau is saying this stuff, but that he’s got everyone on the Bulls’ bench buying in, and contributing every last drop of their discretionary effort to the cause.  With effort like that, you can’t help but be impressed, and maybe even like their chances.

Ironically, it was another Chicago coach, an NFL football coach, who many years ago announced early in the season that his team was so lousy that they probably wouldn’t win another game all year. Guess what? They didn’t, not because the coach was clairvoyant, but because the team simply played up (or in that case, down) to the coach’s expectations.

Your team, is no different. If you truly believe that good things will happen, and you do the work to prepare to win, you, too have all you need to win. Like nearly every other aspect of leadership, being an optimist is rather simple. But it can be hard, especially when you’re sailing against a strong headwind. But we have to do it, because people won’t follow, let alone give it up for a leader who is a pessimist or doesn’t believe in them.

Here are a few things you can do to improve your odds:

Check Your Look

Check your look, ‘er attitude in the mirror. Just as you might check your look on the way back to work after lunch, check your attitude every day on the way to work.  In the late 80’s, I helped run FedEx’s wilderness-based leadership development program. Week after week we were engaged with two dozen of the company’s best and brightest leaders in a physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting program in a remote, high altitude location in northern Utah. If the altitude, physical exertion, or the task of keeping 24 city-dwellers safe wasn’t kicking our butts, something else was. Accordingly, the preceptor group (program leaders) had a quick check-in every morning, first personally, and then with the group, just to make sure everyone was upbeat and in the game. If on a given day you couldn’t “spin your hat around” and really engage in a positive fashion, you stepped back and supported someone else who could.

Treasure Your Truth Tellers

Every good leader has one or more “truth tellers” around them – people who care enough about them to come in, close the door, and provide some unvarnished feedback.  It is to your advantage to cultivate those kinds of relationships. That way, if you’re getting a little cranky or narrow-minded, someone will let you know about it before it gets too far.

Have a Place to Go

We all need to have a “place to go to” when our outlook is suffering. Except for chemicals, it doesn’t matter too much what or where it is as long as you have confidence in it. Some people use a good, hard workout to clear the cobwebs and get re-oriented. Others who are musically inclined might spend time with their guitar, piano, or other instrument.   I use music (think aging rockers at high decibels pumped thru earbuds), travel (specifically looking out an aircraft window at 39,000’ at a whole lot of blue sky), and fly fishing to do the job.  The important thing is, in today’s always-on, high speed world, you can’t be afraid to unplug for a few hours or days to reorient. Your team is counting on you.


A pathfinder 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. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at


by Richard, Leadership, Motivation

Employee Engagement Fundamentals Haven’t Changed

No Comments 31 January 2013

Library GangDo you remember your first job? If you”re like roughly half of us in today”s workforce (myself included), you were most likely in your teens, and the job was part-time. And if you”re like me, while you earned a little, you learned a lot.

Although participation in the youth labor force has declined steadily since at least 1989 (see this white paper compiled by Patrick J. Holwell, of the Arapahoe-Douglas Workforce Center in Denver), those early part-time after-school and summer jobs do much to build valuable job and personal skills that will be deployed to even greater use later in life. As leaders of very young workers, we mustn’t underestimate the influence of that first job, and our roles in shaping young people”s view of the world of work.

From the ages of 16 to 20, I worked as a “student assistant” at the Regency Square Branch of the Jacksonville Public Library. Yesterday, the branch held a celebration of its 40th anniversary, and someone was thoughtful enough to put my name on the invitation list. The picture accompanying this post shows yours truly, flanked on either side by two of my first bosses (including my first-ever job interviewer), joined by a couple of others from my library days.

What a great job it was. But not so much for the duties we performed, which were less about literature than inventory management. And, at $1.60 an hour, it sure wasn”t the money. So what was it that kept me there, and engaged, for 4 years? It was the same things that keep your employees, of all ages, engaged today. While much – indeed VERY much – has shifted in the workplace since the late ”70”s, the fundamentals of engagement have remained rock-solid.

Good leadership. My bosses probably covered very little about leadership and human motivation in their Master of Library Science programs in graduate school, but somehow, they knew how to treat people.

These professionals also taught me about showing up on time, properly attired; keeping up with my name badge; looking for ways to help others when my work appeared to be caught up; the fact that I was not indispensable, and that my job security depended, in large measure, on my performance; finding creative ways to help customers; and a host of other valuable life lessons.

Meaningful work. There”s nothing particularly exciting about sorting and shelving books (our number one function) and our bosses knew that. So, they were careful to season our days with as much variety as possible – a few hours of shelving, followed by an hour of customer contact at the front desk, a special project, or maybe running the projector for the classic movies we  showed (something the geekier ones of us truly relished.) They were also careful to point out how our work enabled our branch to be the top performer in the library system, and how that affected our budget, which in turn affected the number of part-time hours distributed to our location.

Just rewards.  As city employees, we weren”t eligible for incentive bonuses, and the librarians didn”t exactly go around handing out 5 dollar bills to the student who shelved the most books accurately in an hour, but they did know what motivated us – each of us – individually. In other words, they subscribed to the notion that, when it comes to rewards, one size fits one. Our most effective incentives came in the form of work assignments, both hours and duties. They knew that my least favorite task was sorting incoming books, and that I much preferred working the checkout desk. Some of my friends wanted only enough hours to pay for gas and date money; others wanted to work as much as possible. We quickly learned that the quality of our work seemed to have a direct relationship to our goals. If ever I slacked off, my next week”s hours would be cut, and those hours would be spent – you guessed it – sorting the 800”s down to 6 Dewey Decimal places.

A good “fit”. The library gang was a diverse lot that eventually chose wildly varying career paths, to include: nurse, art appraiser, auto mechanic, two-star general in the US Army, and even a librarian. But, at the time, most of us “fit” the job, and the job fit us. It fit our temperament and our interests. It worked with our school, extracurricular, and social schedules. Of course if provided some income, but also, not insignificantly, given the age group, a great social environment. I”m still in touch with many from those days so long ago; a few remain my best friends today; one introduced me to my wife.

This simple library job, my first job, remains a good demonstration of what we”ve always known about employee engagement. Compensation is secondary to other factors: good leadership, the chance to do meaningful work, rewards that provide a good incentive, and a job that just “fits”.

Those things don”t change.


Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at

by Bill, Leadership, Management, Motivation

How to Foster Outrageously Awesome Employee Engagement

No Comments 18 August 2012

Image Courtesy of

Recently, the good folks at Fast Company Magazine posted an excerpt from our new book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk on their site. As the excerpt they chose is particularly representative of the book’s general thrust, we wanted to share it with you. Click here to take a look for yourself.

by Bill, Leadership, Motivation

Life and Leadership Hinge on Optimism

3 Comments 13 August 2012

Whether you are a leader or a follower, your performance (and level of enjoyment) in life hinge a lot on your world-view, specifically whether you see the glass as being half full or half empty. We tend to get what we expect to get.

Nowhere was this better evidenced than in a too quietly covered event in the recent Olympic Games. Common sense dictates that qualification to compete in Olympic track and field events involves a great deal of skill, preparation, and God-given ability. Oscar Pistorius, a South African sprinter, didn’t just compete, he finished eighth in the 400 meter dash semifinal event. But Oscar isn’t just any athlete. He was the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games, ever.

Some might say that Oscar came up a bit short in the God-given ability department, by virtue of his disability. But they would be wrong. Oscar doesn’t see it that way. According to him, ‘My mother used to tell us, “Carl, put on your shoes. Oscar, put on your prosthetic legs.” So I grew up not thinking I had a disability. I grew up thinking I had different shoes.” Talk about optimism…

Those of us who are in leadership roles can only turn in Oscar-like performances if we are willing to see the possibilities in people ahead of their shortcomings, to see them as having “different shoes.” This is anything but happy talk. Rather, it is an expressed preference for valuing possibilities ahead of limitations.

Managers who choose to see their people as real, pulsating, idea generating, responsibility-taking teammates will find themselves surrounded by more focused, fired up workers, and will outperform their less optimistic peers by a wide margin over time.

Those are my thoughts. Your opinion is welcome, as always.


A pathfinder 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. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at

by Richard, Leadership, Motivation

Good Leaders Don’t Make Others Pay for their Mistakes

No Comments 02 May 2012

SorryLast night a bunch of us attended the touring version of the Broadway musical “Les Miserables” at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts here in Jacksonville. We planned an early dinner before the show at an Irish pub near the theater. Nothing like a plateful of Irish fish and chips before watching a French story of love and revolution, produced by a British billionaire.

Because I chose to stay in the office a little longer than I should have, and also because I made a few wrong turns in downtown Jacksonville amid lots of road construction detours, we ended up at the pub a good bit later than my original plan had envisioned. It was pretty clear that, in order to eat, AND make it to the show before curtain time, we were going to have to, at the very least, violate a number of those rules about chewing slowly and savoring every bite.

Because it enjoys a good reputation, the joint was jumping. So I was particularly relieved that they were able to seat us as soon as we arrived. A moment after we’d all sat down, someone in our party said “We need to tell this waitress we’re in a hurry so she’ll get a move on. Otherwise we’ll be here all night.”

Someone else at the table piped up and said, “If it’s all right, why don’t you let me tell her that? I think I’ll be able to get her to move pretty quickly.”

A few minutes later, the waitress arrived, greeted us exuberantly, and then asked the usual, “Can I get everyone started with something to drink?”

My friend said to the server, in a kind and friendly manner, “We would like to have a long, slow, relaxed dinner tonight,” to which the waitress replied, “Okay…”

And then he continued, “However, we haven’t left enough time for that tonight; we’ll come back another night for a more relaxed dinner. But tonight, if you could help us out by getting rid of us by 7:15, we’d be very appreciative.”

“Gotcha,” she said, with a wink. “Let me go ahead and take your order for everything right now, and then I’ll bring the check as soon as you’ve got your food.” She then kicked it into high gear. We got good service, fast. More efficient than gracious, which is exactly what we needed. We were comfortably seated in the theater a good ten minutes before the orchestra conductor’s first downbeat.

By claiming responsibility for our tardiness, and its consequences, my friend had taken every hint of blame off the very person in whose hands rested the power to get us fed and on our way in time. The waitress was engaged in a challenge to “help us out”, not challenged to “get a move on”, as if she’d been shuffling along before that. As a result, she went above and beyond – out of her way – the extra mile – to give us what we needed. Or, consistent with the theme of Contented Cows MOOVE Faster, she gave us the benefit of her Discretionary Effort.

Most of our employees know we’re not perfect. We demonstrate that to them on a regular basis. And most are happy to help us out. What they’re not willing to do is to be held responsible when we’ve screwed up.

So, if that should happen, and it will:

  • Apologize, quickly, and without excuses and weasel words.
  • Clean up your own mess
  • If need be, ask for their help. Then recognize it as help. Not an obligation.
  • Thank them when they come through for you. In our case, last night, we enjoyed our fish and chips, and left a whopper of a tip.

Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, is due to be released by John Wiley & Sons on July 3, but is available for pre-sale now. Learn more about them and their work at


Avoiding Burnout, by Richard, Management, Motivation

Instant gratification: the ultimate motivator

1 Comment 07 September 2011

Of all the reasons my wife may have had for marrying me nearly 25 years ago, being ultra handy around the house is not among them.

That fact notwithstanding, last weekend I decided to pressure wash our house. The all-white structure has a large expanse of siding at the back that faces due north, and is therefore hospitable territory to a gray-green coating of mold and algae. Although the heat index was in the triple digits, I was actually looking forward to the task. And I knew why.

It’s the same reason that I actually enjoy mowing the lawn, even though there’s a fully capable onsite teenager, who would do it more often if I’d let him. The reason I like these tasks so much, and eschew others, like laundry and disinfecting toilets? Instant gratification.

Every swipe of the pressure washing nozzle was like applying graffiti in reverse. Expend labor – see result. It was magnificent! And enough to keep me at it in less than ideal conditions until the job was done. At which point I stood at the back of the house gazing up and admiring my handiwork.

We all need at least a little instant gratification at work, too. A strong need to know that what we do makes a difference. Some jobs come with this feature onboard. With others, this feeling of accomplishment is more elusive.

If you lead others, and help manage and design their work, here’s an assignment:

  • Pick one job you manage and assess it for instant gratification potential. Does it happen often, occasionally, rarely, or never?
  • If the answer is rarely or never, change that. Build into the job at least the occasional opportunity to see the fruits of the labor that goes into it.
    • Give back office people some direct customer contact.
    • Balance sales professionals’ account portfolios of tough customers with a few easier sales.
    • If the task is an intermediate step in a process, let them at least see the finished product and have a clear understanding of the part they played in it.
    • Make sure no job is all frustration – no fulfillment.
  • Once you’ve had a little immediate gratification with this experiment, do the same with the other jobs under your direction.

We all need to see the needle move from time to time. It’s part of what keeps us going.


Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results with a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the acclaimed business classic Contented Cows Give Better Milk, and Contented Cows MOOve Faster, and the brand new book Rebooting Leadership, written with Meredith Kimbell. Learn more about them and their work at

by Bill, Leadership, Management, Motivation

Is This the Best You Can Do?

1 Comment 04 September 2011

In a webinar presentation this week entitled, “Building a Go-Fast Organization” sponsored by HCI and Globoforce, I recounted a story in which former U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger had asked a staff member to do a report on something. When Dr. Kissinger got the report, he sent it back to the fellow with a note asking, “Is this the best you can do?” The staff member re-worked the report and returned it to Kissinger. The same thing happened again. The guy reworked the report another time and returned it to Kissinger, who again asked if this was his best work. The fellow replied that, yes, indeed, this was his very best work, at which point Kissinger reportedly said, “Good… now I’ll read it.” The clear implication was that Dr. Kissinger felt that he was entitled to nothing less than the best effort of those on his team.

This week, Steve Jobs took a step back from his role as CEO of Apple. Not unlike Dr. Kissinger, Mr. Jobs is known for a lot of things, but accepting mediocrity is not among them. The introduction of uber-successful products like the iPod, iPhone, IPad, and Macbook Air would never have come about without Jobs’ relentless focus on producing “insanely great” gear, to use his words.

(One can only wonder how the U.S. Congress would be behaving right now if Dr. Kissinger was the Speaker of the House and Mr. Jobs the Senate Majority Leader.)

Most of us understand deep down that high standards are a necessary requirement of winning. Sure, we whine about it at times, but nobody gets up in the morning and says, “I want to go lose today. I want to go to my job, hang out with some really mediocre people, and do crummy work for a supervisor who is a self-centered weasel.” We get it that high standards and winning performance go hand in hand.

Too often, as leaders, we handicap the performance of our team by setting the bar too low, by holding ourselves and others to a standard that is less, far less than our best effort. We do so for lots of reasons… because we’re tired, or we know our team is tired, they haven’t gotten raises in a while, they haven’t been fully trained or equipped, the list goes on. And all that is probably true.

Yet, when we do that, we step onto a very slippery slope by enunciating that there is a new operative standard called, “good enough.” In so doing, we absolutely incense those who really are giving it their very best. In effect, we are telling them that their expenditure of discretionary effort is foolish. No one likes to feel foolish, to wit a decline in their effort is almost certain, and mediocrity becomes the new norm.

Very frankly, I think sometimes we’re too quick to apologize for having high standards. There’s nothing wrong with asking people to do their very best work. And when we fail to ask for or expect it (starting with ourselves), our chances of getting it are greatly diminished.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be on a team where I’m surrounded by mediocrity, or striving to do mediocre things. I’d much rather create a big smoking hole in the ground as the result of a failed effort at something fantastic.

As leaders, it is imperative for us to push through the rough patch that we find ourselves in right now. It is entirely possible to expect (and require) best effort while still being sensitive to the needs, feelings, fears, and aspirations of our teammates. Indeed, that is the only way to secure a better future for them and ourselves. Let’s get on with it.


A pathfinder 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. He is co-author of the newly released book,Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit theirwebsite, or follow him on Twitter at


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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