Tag archive for "executive coaching"

by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Be Willing to Tolerate a Little ‘White Space’

No Comments 17 July 2014


*Please see special note below before leaving this page.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to do some contract training for Steve Stowell and Matt Starcevich, co-founders of CMOE, the folks who gave birth to the highly effective 8-Step Coaching Model. I remain grateful to them to this day for the work, and for helping me launch a productive and enjoyable career as an executive coach.

One of the activities used in their management coaching seminar involved doing a ten minute, pre-learning role play coaching discussion between two people, both class participants. The conversation was audio-recorded and then the audio was replayed and critiqued. Nothing unique there. What was unique is that, during the replay, we calculated how much of the conversation was consumed by each participant, AND how much dead air (silence) existed.

Almost without exception, the amount of time consumed by the person playing the ‘manager’ in the role play exceeded that of the ‘employee’ by a ratio of anywhere from 2:1 to 5:1. Some conversation.

As to the latter point, in a typical ten minute managerial-type coaching session, how much silence do you think occurred, on average? A minute? Two minutes? More? Think again. I’m fairly certain that I led at least a hundred of these workshops, with 5 or more groups doing this exercise in each one, and can’t remember a single session where there was more than 15 seconds of dead air out of the 10 minute total! Most were in the 6 to 8 second range, if that. We’re talking about only 1% of the total time of the “conversation.” In most cases, we had a good bit of the opposite of dead air. .. both people talking at once! That was more than twenty years ago. I hesitate to think what the ratio would be today.

I was reminded of this while watching evening television over the last week, and seeing two well known, otherwise quite professional news anchors stuttering and stammering because due to the fear of incurring a few seconds of dead air, their mouths were outrunning their minds. It happens to us all, particularly in the midst of a big presentation, sales call, or uncomfortable business meeting. We see it often with relatively new managers who are deathly afraid of what will happen if they shut up and yield the floor for a few seconds in a conversation with one or more of their team-members. A couple of thoughts:

1. In working recently with a C-level exec on reducing his snarkiness, I encouraged him to adopt a 3-second response delay, much like the ‘Iron Dome’ of cursing on American television, that would give him just a little more time to reflect on the message that was about to leave his mouth. Aside from reducing unintended verbal messes, that brief delay also allows the last thing that was said to him (and to you, if you adopt the idea)  to ferment and register a bit more. In other words, it aids listening. Indeed, it has been said that the opposite of listening is waiting to talk. To wit, if your mouth flies open at the very nanosecond the other person goes silent, it’s a good bet that you haven’t been listening. Rather, you’ve been waiting to talk. Don’t be afraid of a little dead air, or white space  in your conversations. Indeed, you’ll probably hear more, and your conversation partners (including spouses) will appreciate the difference, and the feeling that they’re actually being listened to for a change.

2. Note to Leaders – Put some of that same white space in your calendar. Smart leaders are not, repeat, not the ones who have the greatest calendar density. Rather, they deliberately build in some “me time” and thinking time to their daily schedules, and they take great pains to preserve it.

* Special Note: If you missed it, take a few minutes to view cancer patient and ESPN personality Stuart Scott’s acceptance speech at this year’s ESPY’s.  It’s probably his finest moment on television to date, and just might change your life.


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Meeting Goals

Everybody Needs a Little Help Now and Then: How to Select an Executive Coach

No Comments 15 July 2013

sun cableA good friend of mine took the picture you see here, with his smartphone, from his backyard on the banks of the St. Johns River, directly across from downtown Jacksonville. The photograph’s elements include a construction crane, the Isaiah D. Hart Bridge, Everbank Stadium (home of the Jaguars), and a particularly brilliant star that they tell us sits suspended in the atmosphere, 93 million miles away, unaided by any earthbound mechanical apparatus.

But, of course, at first glance (and really, every glance), it appears as though the sun is being hoisted above the stadium, and held in place there, by the crane’s cable, the failure of which would send the massive sphere crashing onto the field below, causing a disaster of even greater proportion than the one the Jags created on that very spot last season.

And it made me think: even the mightiest among us can use a little help now and then.

Leaders, from the frontline to the C-Suite, are often reluctant to acknowledge that they need help – that they could use a little support from time to time. The very best leaders, though, see it not as a sign of weakness to ask for help, but as a way to go from strength to strength.

We’ve seen great results from the following 2 ways of securing a little help:

First – and anyone, at any level of the organization can do this – identify one person on whom you can count to tell you what you need to know, but may not necessarily want to hear. This can be a peer, follower, or someone up the chain from you, but your boss is probably not a good candidate. (He or she should be doing this anyway.)  Tell the person you’d really appreciate some bone honest feedback and the benefit of their perspective, and make it easy for them to tell you what you need to hear. If there’s already someone serving in this role for you, go to them and thank them, right now, and let them know that their input is valuable and greatly appreciated.

One other good way to get really valuable help as a leader is to engage the services of an executive coach – someone outside your organization who does this professionally. Here are some things to look for:

Gray hair is a good thing, but it’s not everything – One thing to consider: Does the person have the requisite experience to be advising you in the area(s) you want to work on? Generally, you’re looking for someone who’s been around the block a few times, and has the scars and gray hairs to prove it. Yet, the last thing you want is to wind up working with someone who has one year of experience that they’ve simply replicated thirty times, or someone who is not growing and remaining relevant themselves.

With all due respect to authors, pundits and academics, it’s highly preferable to work with someone who has the chops, built on real world experience. If you want to work on your leadership skills, for example, be sure to select someone who has significant real world experience in a leadership role, and is accustomed to working with people at your level.

You’re not hiring a buddy – A good coach is someone who has your best interests at heart, and because of that, can be counted on to be bone honest with you. They’ll tell you when you’ve got spinach stuck between your teeth, when you’re half-zipped, when your method isn’t working, and when you need to apologize to someone. In the same vein, they’ll be quick to notice and appreciate your effort and progress.

Easy access – Not unlike a physician’s patients, your coaching needs don’t always correlate neatly with office hours, let alone scheduled appointments. Make sure you’ll have access to your coach at non-standard hours.

A viable coaching process – Your coach should employ a process, a method that can be articulated and easily understood. That process should involve a good bit of homework on the coach’s part. Simply running someone through a 360-degree survey battery is not enough. It’s but a start. The process should include a written, mutually developed coaching plan that documents the intended areas of emphasis, coaching methods, and measures of progress. A confident and capable coach will be willing to put some (or all) of their money where their mouth is.




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 ContentedCows.com.

by Bill, Leadership, Management, Think About It...

Three Things Leaders Can Do to Earn the Benefit of the Doubt

No Comments 18 June 2013

When I begin a new executive coaching engagement, my due diligence process usually involves conducting focused interviews with a representative sample of my client’s peers, direct and indirect reports, other close associates, and of course, their reporting senior. One of the questions I ask is, “Does this person enjoy the benefit of the doubt with you?” The implications associated with the answers to this question are material. If a significant portion of the people within my client’s sphere of influence are unable or unwilling to give them credit for trying and adopting new behavior, our task becomes more difficult.This same principle applies for each of us as leaders, and on a broader basis within our businesses and other organizations as well.

As leaders, our ability to get people to embrace change, overlook our imperfections and errors, endure hardship, accept unpopular decisions, and occasionally leap before looking is tied directly to whether or not we’re getting the benefit of the doubt. And, lest there be any question, getting the benefit of the doubt is usually contingent upon having earned it.

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when one’s appointment to a leadership position (at any level) carried with it positive expectations based on the belief that you probably knew what you were doing, and could be trusted to have your teammates’ best interests at heart. No more. As described in our book, Rebooting Leadership, many people entering the ranks of management today encounter a stiff headwind in the form of a “respect deficit” engendered not by their actions, but by their job title. Let’s just call it “guilt by paygrade.”

At this moment, many US residents (and others around the world) are pondering the combined effects of incidents involving Benghazi, the IRS, and more recently, leaked information about the NSA’s data gathering practices. Here again, the ability to deal with such issues without them becoming huge, protracted distractions is in large part based on the benefit of the doubt that Americans (and others around the world) either do or do not extend to our elected leaders.

If willing to do the work, we can nearly always gain the benefit of the doubt by taking the following steps:

1. Opening the Kimono – By behaving in a transparent and authentic manner on an every day basis, leaders engender the trust that serves us so well when the wheels are coming off. This includes sharing (really sharing) both the big picture that describes our intended path, as well as our priorities. Unfortunately, if we save the information sharing until after the storm hits, our motives will become suspect, as well they should. That has a lot to do with the difficulty the American government is having in the aforementioned affairs.

2. Passengers or Crew – Most of us tend to confer more benefit of the doubt when we are personally engaged with someone or with a particular idea. Rather than assuming that people will engage, we need to ask for the order – ask them to get involved, tell them what we need, and confirm that they have really accepted. There is a huge difference between being along for the ride (a passenger) and being a fully invested crew member. This has played out on the national stage over the last dozen years as we have fought not one but two wars and the civilian American population hasn’t been asked to do a single thing. Hence, we tend to be rather uninvested. Similarly, it plays out for us at work every day when we issue plans and directions that we assume will be followed.

3. Own Up to Problems – People don’t expect their leaders to be perfect. They know we’re human (okay, most of us are), and that once in awhile we’re going to really step in it, and when we do, the whole world is watching. How we behave in those moments of truth either builds our benefit of the doubt, or depletes it. (Yes, we can actually earn trust and respect when we screw up.) People are watching for three simple things to happen: For us to readily and voluntarily own up to the situation, to apologize meaningfully, and to remedy the matter as best we can. That’s it. It’s painful, but it beats the alternatives.


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 http://twitter.com/ContentedCows


by Bill, Management, Think About It...

Hiring a Management Coach – A Parody

No Comments 04 March 2011

by Bill, Leadership

We All Like to be Made to Feel Special

No Comments 16 January 2010

Tuesday evening, I hosted an executive coaching client for dinner and a Memphis Grizzlies game at FedEx Forum. Our dinner server was a fellow by the name of Ben, who has waited on me at most, twice before. As we were being seated, Ben approached and said to my guest, “My guess is that Mr. Catlette is going to have a glass of Merlot, what can I get you to drink?” I whirled and looked at him in amazement, wondering what other information might be stamped on my forehead. Ben smiled and volunteered that he tries to pay attention to his guests, and make them feel special. Mission accomplished.

Not unlike my son, Will, who tends bar at the Savannah airport and has a following of regular customers (at an airport bar!), Ben has learned that it’s the little things, like remembering a guest’s name and their preferences that lead to  good outcomes. The very same thing holds true for those of us whose job is to lead others. Before we can expect people to follow us with any degree of fervor, we must first take an interest in them… their likes, dislikes, ambitions, apprehensions, etc.

In the age of the disposable worker, this type of care and attention seems counter-intuitive. Speaking of his new sales reps, one office products sales manager admitted to me that, “we don’t really even get to know their names, as most of them won’t be here very long.” I’m willing to bet that a lot of the good performers leave for precisely that reason. Not bothering to know someone’s name, or things that are important to them doesn’t make them feel very special.

Thankfully, this is something that is not constrained by economic forces. We don’t need a positive GDP growth rate to make people feel special. Nor does it require any particular talent. Every one of us can do it. We’ve just got to care enough to take an interest, listen, observe, and then act on what we’ve learned.

I think you’ll find that if you take that extra step, you’ll soon notice that you’ve got more people around you who are willing to go the extra mile.



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 www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

by Bill, Think About It...

EFCA and March Madness

1 Comment 19 March 2009

Before it was even re-introduced in the U.S. Congress last week, the Employee Free Choice Act (Card Check) legislation produced howls from many in the business community over the fact that, if approved, the bill would make it decidedly (and unreasonably) easier for unions to organize workers. While it will take time to play out, some who read Washington tea leaves think they see signs that the bill’s passing may not be quite the slam dunk (pardon the March Madness) that had been expected.

That said, employers who who are firmly interested in maintaining a union-free posture would do well, regardless of the outcome, to re-visit their employee relations practices, identifying, and improving those policies and programs that annoy workers, stifle effort, and give them pause…the real stinkers. One example: Sick Days.

In recent weeks, Johnson & Johnson has run full page ads in USA Today for its Tylenol Cold medicine. The tag line of the ads is, “If you’re sick, take a sick day.” Easier said than done, especially if you work in many parts of the hospitality industry where, when you’re sick (really sick, as opposed to just wanting a day off), you either go to work, find someone to cover your shift, or call in dead. Those are effectively your options. There is no such thing as calling an individual whose job title is “manager’, reporting your illness, and going back to bed, the toilet, whatever. In other words, the organization has somehow offloaded the staffing obligation long reposited in the manager’s domain to its hourly paid worker-bees.

While we can debate the merits of affording workers paid time off for sick days, it is fundamentally stupid to tell someone that, in addition to providing timely notification of their intended absence, they are expected, while sitting on the throne with violent stomach cramps perhaps, to disturb off duty coworkers at some glorious hour in search of a replacement. Aside from being inconsistent with good employee relations, this practice is an absolute deal breaker for customers, who really resent being sneezed and wheezed on, particularly when it involves food. Come on folks!

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 www.contentedcows.com

by Bill, Motivation

Pay & Bonuses… Be Careful What You Incentivize People to Do

No Comments 16 March 2009

Chapter 22 of our latest book, Contented Cows MOOve Faster deals with the subject of motivation and rewards. A central tenet of the chapter is that organizations (and individuals) need to be very careful what they incentivize people to do, because, more often than not, that is exactly what they are going to do. While there is nothing new or remarkable about this precept (Psychologist, B.F. Skinner wrote and taught extensively about it in the mid-20th century), it seems that some of us have serious learning disabilities when it comes to our need to continually re-learn the lesson, often the hard way.

Witness the revelations over the weekend that insurance giant AIG planned to proceed with bonus payments ranging from $1,000 to $6.5-million ($US) to about 400 employees in its financial products division, the arm of the company that brought AIG, and the entire U.S. financial industry to the brink of collapse.

While word of these payments has led to a hue and cry about how a firm that recently posted one of the largest quarterly losses in the history of commerce, and has dined at the public trough to the tune of $170 billion can be paying bonuses to its employees, it should be of greater concern that company management, backed up by the board’s compensation committee, has evidently deemed the bonuses “earned”, consistent with established compensation plans, ‘er schemes. Yikes!

Before we get too sanctimonious, though, it would behoove all of us to revisit how pay and incentives work in our own organizations. How many of us, for example, are still paying people purely as a function of how long it takes them to do something? How many of us are incentivizing people who should be cooperating to compete against each other, and, how many of us, under the auspices of a poor economy have slashed or eliminated recognition and incentive programs altogether?

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 www.contentedcows.com


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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