Tag archive for "Leadership"

by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Three Things That Will Improve Employee Engagement

No Comments 03 July 2014

Recently I read a piece in the e-version of a major business publication which, by title and implication suggested that seventy percent of Americans hate their work. The piece used as its factual anchor the oft-quoted “State of the American Workplace Report” by Gallup, which suggests that only about 30% of American workers are truly “engaged” in their jobs, leaving 70% or so in one level or another of disengagement.

Without doing too much ballet on the head of a pin, let’s make a distinction, an important one. My strong belief, after a couple decades of effort in this arena, is that by and large, people don’t hate their work at all. In fact, most of us rather like our work. Some of us even love it. What we dislike, and what we have difficulty ‘engaging’ with is our jobs, that broader context within which our work resides, and does or does not get done. The “job” encompasses a lot more than the task(s) that we get paid to do. It includes the terms of the deal, the people we interact with and answer to, the support that we get (or lack), the culture that permeates and defines the workspace, et. al.

Indeed, satisfaction and engagement surveys, which our firm has done for longer than I care to admit, suggest that quite often the greatest source of disengagement stems from people and processes that keep us from doing our very best work. In other words, that utterly stupid purchasing policy, or clueless manager who frustrate, rather than enable our best effort are among the primary culprits causing us to disengage. If we didn’t like our work, or want to go home at the end of each day feeling that we made progress, that stuff wouldn’t bother us. But we do, and people and things that block our work progress do more than cause disengagement – they make us crazy! Following are three things that most leaders can do (or refrain from doing) to improve employee engagement levels:

1. Become More Intentional and Selective in Hiring: By most measures, the burner underneath hiring in this country has been turned from “Off” to “Low”, and recently to “Medium” heat. In parts of the energy and tech landscape, it remains on “High.” Ergo, it’s more important than ever that, beginning right now, we use methods and processes that yield more talented, more compatible people. Put plainly but crudely, our staffers (particularly the better ones) don’t want to work with turkeys. Few things are more disengaging than working alongside people who can’t do the work, choose not to, or just plain don’t fit in.

So, as we go about the process of adding staff, it is imperative that we find people who have a penchant for doing terrific work, and whom others want to work with. If they don’t fit the culture, do NOT hire them, regardless of how talented they may be. And, it is also important that we move more quickly to identify and de-select those folks, including managers, who fail to measure up. Doing otherwise is unkind and a disservice to all involved.

2. Get Serious About Learning and Development: Every dentist office is equipped with a sign that says something to the effect of: “Do I have to brush and floss my teeth? Only the ones you want to keep.” The same thing could be said for training and developing our workforce. Engagement surveys consistently tell us that one of THE most important engagement drivers is the opportunity to learn, grow, and yes, build your resume. Yet, owing perhaps to a formerly soft job market, the response from most quarters has been a big, collective yawn.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the realm of so called “soft skills” training, especially leadership development, which for too long now has been a DIY proposition. And it shows. We are now seeing people move into every level of management, including the C-suite, without the benefit of even a shred of training. Consistent with the recent shared ownership of the healthcare equation in the U.S., we would do well to engage our staff members in earnest discussion about their professional development, and work with them toward a more jointly owned development process that is uniquely tailored to them. Beyond getting a more engaged workforce, we’ll also benefit from much better execution.

3. Don’t Fool* With the Gravy: Legend has it that not long after he sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain to Heublein Inc., Col. Harland Sanders began taking issue with some of the changes imposed by the firm’s new owners. Upon reaching a point of exasperation, the Colonel invited himself to a Heublein management meeting. When asked the purpose of his visit, he allowed that, for the $285 million purchase price, the new owners probably had the right to exercise bad judgment in changing store layouts and the menu, but, he nonetheless had five words of advice for them… “Don’t fool* with the gravy.” (*Legend also has it that the Colonel’s choice of verbiage was, like his chicken, a little spicier than mine.)

The lesson for us is that, as we continue to innovate, streamline, and economize, we must be mindful not to callously ignore the hard earned knowledge and opinions of those who are, and have been doing the work and who might, just might be able to prevent us from making big, expensive mistakes. Doing a better job on the listening front isn’t just a tool for avoiding mistakes though. Anyone with as few as five gray hairs in their head can affirm that one of the quickest ways to disenfranchise a workforce is to ignore (disrespect) them.

Better listening is a product of hard work as well as technique. A tip given to me not long ago is to try to “read” the words as they come off of someone’s lips. It’s akin perhaps to the advantage that great baseball hitters get by seeing the ball come out of the  pitcher’s hand and then tracking it all the way to the plate. Try it, I think you’ll like it.


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, Management

Three Things You Can Do to Help Your Team Perform Like a Champion

No Comments 24 March 2014

climbing-mountainAs an executive coach, part of my job is to help clients learn from and avoid getting their own version of some of the scars on my back. One of those scars came at an early age. As a young, 20-something leader I did my best to ensure that my team had its share of talent, a firm grasp of our mission and priorities, and as much preparation as we could arrange. We performed at a consistently good, but not great level.


In retrospect, I was unknowingly limiting our progress by playing too tight, playing not to lose, specifically, not to lose my job. As a result, I wasn’t having much fun at work, and the people around me weren’t either. And then a day came when my boss took me out to lunch, and when we finished, we were really finished, with only one of us still having his job.


After some reflection and getting a new job (a better one), I realized that getting fired wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and resolved to double up on my self-awareness, and loosen the necktie just a bit going forward. As a result, some things changed in my approach to being a leader, and our results got better, a lot better.


I really hadn’t thought much about that episode in my life until recently when I read an article written by Michael David Smith about Seattle Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll. In the interview, Coach Carroll said, “It really took me getting fired a couple times, getting kicked in the butt, to get to where I am now.” In case you missed Super Bowl 2014, where Coach Carroll is right now is a pretty good spot.


It would have been hard for anyone watching Super Bowl 2014 not to notice that, though the players on both sides of the field were immensely talented and well coached, Carroll’s players, from the very start, were playing the game a little looser, and visibly having more fun.


Indeed, the Bronco’s jitters showed early when the Seahawks scored on the very first play from scrimmage after Denver’s center prematurely snapped the ball over Peyton Manning’s head. Before they knew it, the Broncos were down heavy, and the game was out of hand.


Okay, so how does this translate for the average, non-NFL manager who is simply trying to get the wash out every day? Here are three things to keep in mind:


1.     You’ve got to manage you before you can hope to lead others.  And that starts with you being an optimist, keeping some fun in the game, and making sure that your players aren’t slowed down by fear (yours or their own). A Chinese proverb suggests that, “A man without a smile must not open a shop.” That applies just as much to the role of a leader as it does a shopkeeper. People will not follow a sour, grumpy pessimist for long. After being told by a client many years ago that I needed to smile a little more, I’ve made it a habit, particularly on days that I know are likely to be stressful, to wear a rubber band on my wrist as a private reminder to smile. It works. (I guess it’s not private any more, though.)


2.     Be “the iron.” It has been said that it’s not the mountains we have to climb, but the grains of sand in our shoes that keep us from doing our best. That axiom is certainly true in the workplace. Our jobs as leaders involve spending time removing the impediments from the path of our team, making sure they have the tools, the processes, the wherewithal to do their very best work each day, every day. My co-author and business partner, Richard Hadden likens that to the effect that a hot iron has on a wrinkled shirt, as he advises leaders to, “be the iron.”


3.     Let people know that you care about them, not just as players or cogs in the wheel, but as real, pulsating human beings. You don’t have to become buddies, in fact, it’s better that you don’t, but you can still demonstrate in lots of ways, some large, but mostly small, that you care about them. Start by taking an interest in them, what’s important to them, what their goals, aspirations, and fears are. In order to do this, it is vital to listen, really listen. One tip that works for me is, when talking with someone, to make careful note of their eye color, and then, in real time, “read” the words coming off their lips. If I’m doing that, it’s much harder to engage in what I call the opposite of listening, which is waiting to talk, while formatting what I’m going to say next.


  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 them on Twitter.



Avoiding Burnout, by Bill, Leadership, Management

Go Ask Your People

2 Comments 12 January 2014

One of the traps that newly appointed managers at any level commonly fall into is in believing that, to be worthy of their job title and pay check, they must have at the ready the solution to every problem, and the answer to every question. I’m speaking from experience. I’ve been there. As a young, 20-something manager, I spent a couple of years choking on the self-imposed burden of instantly and unilaterally producing the correct response to every issue that arose. Fortunately for me, that was in an era when the pace of the game was about one-tenth what it is today.



Indeed, this trap often becomes the downfall of those who don’t realize quickly enough that appointment to a position of leadership does not (repeat, does NOT) mean that they have the market cornered on brains and ability, or that they are responsible for doing all the thinking. Anything but.



To be sure, we are paid to anticipate problems, to solve them, and to fill information voids, but the burden of leadership seldom (if ever) mandates that we be the sole source provider of knowledge or solutions. Some suggestions:



1.     Go ask your people. If you’ve done even a moderately good job of staffing, there are people on your team, and others within your network who are smarter than you, and who probably have a much better view of the situation. Ask for their ideas, and then have the good sense to listen, both to what they are saying and what they aren’t saying. Bill Marriott, whose name is over the door of a lot of our favorite hotels is fond of saying that the four most important words in any manager’s vocabulary are, “What do you think?”


2.     You get paid to think. As reflected in chapter 6 of our book, Rebooting Leadership, good leaders make it a point to carve out thinking time (you read that correctly) in the course of their day. There is simply too much stuff coming over the transom on a daily basis for managers to do otherwise. As writer William S. Burroughs was known to have said, “Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.”  Our advice is that you carve out a half-hour (more if you can) of dedicated thinking time in the most focused part of your day. Try it for a couple of weeks. We don’t think you will regret it.


3.     Some fires need to burn themselves out. As a former baseball player, youth-league coach, and student of the game, I learned fairly early on that enthusiastically swinging at every pitch is a quick path to exactly one place – a seat back on the bench after an unproductive turn at bat. The same holds true for managers.  Above all else, we must be vicious masters of our time, priorities, and resources, and we can’t do that if we’re swinging at everything that comes into view. Some of the opportunities and indeed some (perhaps many) of the problems that come our way are best dealt with by leaving them alone. Let them burn themselves out or find another rightful owner. To be sure, once in awhile you’ll guess wrong on these and find it necessary to go back and put out what has become a bigger fire, but it is still the better option.





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, Leadership

On Broken Glass, Apologies, and Obamacare

No Comments 15 November 2013

Baseball - Broken WindowWhen I was fourteen, I took over a friend’s paper route for the summer. I don’t quite remember how that came to pass (I doubt that I was jumping for joy at the notion of getting up every morning at 4AM), but here’s something I do remember from that experience.

     One of my ‘customers’ on the route was a bit of a grouch, and of greater importance to me, he made it a point to never answer the door when I went around collecting for my services. So, on the last morning that I had the route, I made one of those unfiltered, split-second decisions that you often later regret. I decided to wake this guy up at 5:00AM on a Sunday morning with a big, fat newspaper delivered at a high rate of speed to the aluminum panel at the bottom of his storm door. So, with my very best Nolan Ryan imitation, I launched Mr. Grumpy’s paper toward the door with everything my right arm could muster. Having failed to consider the impact of adrenalin and the difference in altitude between where I was and where the door was, the paper’s path was straight and true, but about a foot high. As it blasted thru the glass in Mr. Grumpy’s storm door, I got instant gratification from the certainty that I had awakened him, followed immediately by an introduction to the term, ‘collateral damage.’

     When I got home, I told my folks about my little mishap. They insisted that, within the hour I walk back to Mr. Grumpy’s house, clean up the mess, apologize, and tell him that I would make arrangements the next day to replace the broken glass in his door. That lesson has stuck with me ever since, and today it serves as a basis for advice I offer coaching clients and larger management audiences about building and maintaining trust.

     Recently, President Obama and members of his staff have broken some glass in rolling out the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare. Given that this is doubtless the largest government-induced change in my lifetime, I think it’s natural to expect some missteps and unintended consequences along the way. In all likelihood there will be more. Thinking people realize that our healthcare system simply must evolve. We can no longer keep our heads in the sand about the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the existing 50 year old model.

     Unfortunately, the President didn’t have the benefit of my mom’s advice* on the art of cleaning up one’s messes. As the result of waiting way too long to acknowledge, apologize, and react to mistakes and poor execution, he has invited feelings of mistrust, and howls from the home team, visitors, and the cheap seats alike.

     And, in fairness, if the rest of us had gotten some of my mom’s advice as well, we would know that when someone offers a genuine, albeit late apology to you, you would do well to accept it and move on.

Bill’s Mom’s Advice for Cleaning Up Your Messes

  1. Be quick to own your mistakes and apologize.
  2. Do it (apology) right, and do it once. Don’t go on a guilt tour.
  3. To the very best of your ability, make it right.
  4. Move on.
  5. When someone apologizes to you, assume ‘positive intent’ and accept their apology.


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...

12 Take-Aways From the Forbes Healthcare Summit 2013

No Comments 12 October 2013

Forbes Healthcare Summit 2013 Stage




I was fortunate this week to participate in the Forbes Healthcare Summit 2013 in New York City. Following are some of my take-aways from the event:



1. Strong signs of general acceptance throughout the room that ACA is here, and that we may as well accept it and look for ways to improve and capitalize on it. But for a few folks like me, the room was full of healthcare industry heavy weights from all sectors…docs, clinicians, care center CEO’s, researchers, medical students, payors, pharma chiefs, investors, healthcare I.T. specialists, etc. One of them, Dr. Stephen Ondra of Health Care Services Corp. noted that, “One of the most beneficial aspects of the ACA is the energy it’s giving to healthcare reform.”


2. Dr. Robert Robbins (CEO, TX Medical Center), in making the point that patients are being required to accept greater responsibility for their health, noted that, “Health goes on between doctor visits.” Further, in noting the tectonic shift in the healthcare delivery landscape, he commented that, “70% of all physicians in the U.S. today are employed (as opposed to being in private practice).”


3. We were reminded that U.S. healthcare expenditures approximate in size the economy of France ($2.2 trillion USD). Gulp.


4. In a discussion on the operation of the exchanges thus far, it was suggested that the relative lack of health insurance sophistication by people shopping for insurance is causing call handle times to run at 4-5x the normal rate.


5. Probably the biggest take-away for me was the discussion and conclusions centering on expansion of healthcare I.T. By way of example, Cedars Sinai Hospital in LA has a 500 person I.T. staff and a budget of, get this… a cool $500 million annually. Darren Dworkin (I.T. head at Cedars) said, “By this time next year, our patients will be interacting even more with their own EMR than their clinicians will.” This sure looks like THE most interesting space, because of the need for: Shredding the paper, all of it… Promulgating (really sharing) research and treatment data… Educating & engaging patients… Using right place, right time information to make healthcare processes faster, more reliable, and more efficient. (We learned that currently, 40% of breast biopsies are read for the wrong patient. Yikes!)… Moving healthcare info to mobile platforms


6. Comment offered by Dr. Richard Rothman (Rothman Institute): “It’s not enough to care for your patient, you have to care about them.”


7. Interesting observation re the need for a LOT of consumer education: ‘In this healthcare transformation, we have the very real risk of commoditizing care until the consumer catches up.” I’ll offer a personal suggestion here that every (repeat, every) American stop yapping and listening to talking heads about Obamacare, and start reading. Or, pretend you’re a drug rep and take your doctor to lunch, and listen to them about healthcare. You’ll learn something. Do it for you…. There, I feel better, and you will too.


8. I plan to learn more about the work and plans of Dr. Patrick Soon Shiong of Nant Health. This guy is scary smart, flush with cash, and up to some big things.


9. Great presentation by former NBA star, Dikembe Mutumbo on the 300 bed hospital and research center he built in the Congo, chipping in $24 million of his own money. He told the story of being asked by suspicious African pols if he might be doing the hospital as a way of building his brand in order to run for president. I thought that might produce a “NOT TODAY!” response, but he passed.


10. Interesting and a somewhat edgy panel with CEO’s of MinuteClinic, plus an urgent care operation, and the newly appointed head of the AMA. On one hand, the need for ubiquitous retail healthcare presence and access is so evident, yet on the other, it conjurs up images of nurse practitioners working in the back of your neighborhood Seven-Eleven (no offense intended).


11. My 2nd biggest take-away came from GSK chief, Sir Andrew Witty, on sales compensation. GSK drug reps are no longer compensated on pill volume, but on, “What their customers say about them.” Wow!


12. Random droppings:

  • “The next blockbuster drug is patient engagement.”
  • The shortage of PCP’s is expected to reach 45,000 by the year 2020.
  • And one last tidbit to chew on: A prediction was offered from an extremely knowledgeable and respected industry source that within 5 years, employers will be completely out of the health insurance providing business.


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 Richard, Management

Why Contingent Telecommuting is a Good Idea

No Comments 08 October 2013

telecommuterTelecommuting isn’t for everyone. It may, however, be the best way to get to work for thousands of workers where I live,  Jacksonville, Florida, for at least the next month or so.

On Thursday, September 26, a retractable (but unretracted) crane atop the USNS 1st LT Harry L. Martin slammed into the deck of the 60-year-old John E. Mathews Bridge, a major crossing over the St. Johns River in Florida’s most populous city. (That’s right – Jacksonville is Florida’s most populous city. Don’t believe it? Look it up.) Fortunately, nobody was hurt. But many thousands are pretty cranky over it, as the bridge, which carries about 56,000 vehicles daily, will be closed, in the words of the Florida Department of Transportation, “indefinitely”. They’re now saying “4-6 weeks”. “Indefinitely” almost sounds better.

top-post-mathews bridge composite

Although the numbers are on a smaller scale, this is proportionally like closing the San Francisco Bay Bridge for a month. The Mathews connects downtown Jacksonville to the beaches and dozens of other communities on the eastside of the river. I live 5 minutes from it. I’m just thankful I work at home. The bridge is, however, between home and work for both my wife and my daughter. Did I mention cranky? And who can blame them?

But they’re among the lucky. Each works in a fairly traditional office setting, but – and under the circumstances, this is a big but – both have the ability to work from home when necessary. And never has it been more necessary.

Earlier this year, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer created an uproar when she decreed that it was time for all Yahoo staff to come back to the office and spend some serious face time together. This blog supported (and still supports) Mayer’s position. She’s the boss, and she had some pretty good reasons for calling the big get-together, known in some organizations as “coming to work”.

But we’re not against telecommuting. Anything but. The practice comes with many benefits – and risks – for employee and employer alike. And for the right people, in the right circumstances, it does lots of good. Whether or not you’re going to establish such a working relationship, on a full-time or most-time basis, is a decision that should be subjected to important questions: how will it affect your customers, your productivity, your home life, and especially, your career development (out of sight, out of mind, and all that)?

But what we call contingent telecommuting is a different story altogether. Contingent telecommuters are regular fixtures in their traditional workplaces. Most days, they mount some form of public or private transportation, and do their work, physically among their colleagues, like people have been doing for ages. But they’re set up – prepared for working from home when it makes sense. Like when the bridge between your house and your office gets whacked by a Navy ship. Or when any of the following comes your way:

  • a rare snowfall closes the roads, and your city doesn’t have snow removal equipment
  • your kids are sick
  • you are sick, as in, contagious, but feel well enough to work
  • the plumber is coming, and has given you an arrival window of something like 8am to 6pm

These are but a few examples.

OK, so unlike 10 years ago, virtually everyone’s got a computer and high speed Internet access at home these days. That’s the starting point. Regular telecommuters have all this stuff set up, all the time. Contingent telecommuters, and their employers, will want to make sure these things are in place and ready to deploy when needed:

  • a reliable, secure platform for logging into the office setup.
  • a quiet place to work, free from pets, or the sound of crying children (or adults, for that matter!)
  • a landline, with an easy way to bill long distance to the employer – OR – a good mobile phone with coverage better than I get at my house.
  • basic office supplies – enough to get stuff done and maintain some semblance of organization. No need for a wholesale raid of the office supply cabinet at work, but get what you need.
  • look around your cubicle or office – are there phone numbers or other bits of vital information scrawled on yellow stickies or tacked to the walls? If so, put this stuff on your laptop, or in some other manner, replicate the cubicle environment at home. Don’t waste time trying to find “that guy’s number” when everyone’s been shut out of the office because of Hurricane Whats-His-Name.

Again, this post isn’t about the pro’s and con’s of telecommuting in general. That’s a tale for another day. But get yourself, and the people you lead, at least setup to work from home when necessary, and when necessary happens, you’ll all be ready.



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, Management

Discretionary Effort Is a Big, Dot Deal

1 Comment 29 August 2013

Since commencing research on what ultimately became our first book, I have taken a rather steely-eyed approach to the subject of employee relations. A data-driven sort, I suspect that, had that research not produced clear linkage between worker attitudes and corporate performance, I would have found something very different to do for a living. But it did, and thus work at the intersection of people and profit has been the main event around here for better than fifteen years.

With each passing month, set of quarterly earnings reports, and new worker engagement survey, there is further evidence that the nexus between people and profit is a big, dot deal. Witness Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report which suggests that lost productivity due to worker disengagement now costs U.S. employers in the neighborhood of $500 billion annually, or roughly 3.3% of our $15 trillion national economy.

Let’s just say for grins and giggles that Gallup’s math is somehow off by one-third on the high side (I doubt it), and that only half of the remaining productivity loss could effectively be captured through better management performance. That still leaves better than a 1% potential improvement in GDP on the table, and very much within our grasp. In relative terms, that would cover the entire defense-related portion of the recent eight year budget sequester, with enough left over to buy the U.S. Navy a couple of new Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

The same principle holds true on an organizational level. For fifteen years we’ve documented, most recently in our 2012 book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk,  the outsized performance of employers of choice relative to their peers and market averages. As a case in point, the average annual total stock return for the twelve newly named “Contented Cow companies” during the period 2002 – 2011 was 10.7%, besting the broader market average by a whopping 9.7% annually, creating a wealth premium of approximately $70 billion annually. Nuff said?

In a recent presentation for University of Memphis School of Business students, I ventured that, over the next 20 years, discretionary effort, that extra morsel of effort that is applied exclusively at the will of the individual, will have greater effect on productivity and profits than the continued exploitation of technology. We’re not anti-technology mind you. In fact we tend to be fairly early adopters, but it seems unlikely that we’ll have another equivalent of the Internet invented every decade. Moreover, given that worker engagement levels are presently at sub-surface (whale poo) levels, let’s just say that there is a lot of low hanging fruit.

Here are a few steps wise managers and organizations are taking to improve worker engagement, and thus unlocking discretionary effort and better business performance:

1. Getting serious about personal development plans - For years (no, decades) most of us have paid lip service to creating and executing personal development plans with our staff. A funny thing happened as we began the climb out from the Great Recession. Workers at all levels began making it known in no uncertain terms that as long as they were going to have to provide their own job security, they expected more and better help in the learning and development department. Indeed, analysis of any legitimate engagement study reveals that learning and self-development are always among the top 3 engagement drivers. Aside from better developmental assignments, workers are looking for help with securing professional accreditation and KSA’s to make them more competitive for their next job (hint). As but one manifestation, overtaxed L&D organizations are turning with greater regularity to external coaches to  partner with high potential employees to help execute those plans. That is particularly the case with newly promoted organizational leaders (at all levels).

2. Reacting quicker to misfits and poor performers – Fans and even casual observers of Major League Baseball were witness to an unusual social drama this summer wherein two dozen or so players suspected of cheating via performance enhancing drugs were left twisting in the breeze for months as the league figured out what to do with them. In the interim, not just the involved players, but their teammates and fans grew highly agitated over the agonizingly slow pace of justice (about as slow as a Yankees vs. Red Sox game).

Taking a lesson from Major League Baseball perhaps, smart leaders recognize that being slow to move on people who either don’t fit or can’t / won’t perform is unkind to the person involved, and it poses a terrible drag on the morale and productivity of those around them. To be sure, really good leaders, the ones we call Leaders of Choice, are neither reckless nor callous about dealing with these matters, but once it is apparent that the situation is untenable, they act.

3. Getting better seed corn – Any good baker will tell you that great cakes start with great ingredients. That is as axiomatic in the workplace as the kitchen. If you want contented (read engaged), high yielding workers, it’s important to start with folks who have sufficient bandwidth, desire, and the capacity to be contented on your team. Over the course of the Great Recession and our climb out from its depths, many of us have not taken time to sharpen our sourcing and selection processes, to wit we could quickly be disadvantaged as hiring resumes (and it is).

Moreover, it has been so long since some of us were in a serious recruiting mode that we have missed much of a generational shift in the workspace. Consider, for example:

  • How mobile-friendly is your recruiting process (end to end)? For that matter, how candidate-friendly is it? (Remember, 138 characters + an RT can make a big difference.)
  • What have you done lately to establish, burnish, and take advantage of your employer brand? Are you regularly doing employee surveys to get feedback from the people who define that brand?
  • Do you have serious Millenial involvement in your recruitment process? Never mind involvement, let them run 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 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



Guest Post, Leadership

How to Gain the Leadership Experience Employers Want

No Comments 05 August 2013

Looking for LeadershipAlthough most of the posts on this blog are original, every now and then we like to feature articles we think would be helpful to you, our readers. We recently read one such article, and wanted to share it with you. It’s a great read on how younger professionals can gain the leadership experience so sought after by employers today.

Click here, and enjoy!




by Richard, Leadership, Think About It...

What Do You Think of Your Boss?

No Comments 30 July 2013

boss love hate

In January of this year, we conducted a survey to determine people’s thoughts, attitudes, and feelings toward their bosses.

Those who subscribed to our free monthly “Fresh Milk” newsletter were invited to take the survey. That particular issue was received by about 3,700 subscribers, and 183 responded by participating in the survey, over a two-week period.

It wasn’t a scientifically conducted survey, but we think the results ARE useful, and instructive.

We’ve prepared a white paper outlining, in detail, the results of the survey, along with our commentary and some recommendations. You can download the white paper for free, by clicking here.

If you want only a high-level synopsis, along with the commentary and recommendations, read on.

The first section of the survey posed this question: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your boss on each of the following attributes? 1= lousy, 10=terrific

  1. Providing relevant information when needed
  2. Integrity
  3. Listening
  4. Fairness
  5. Showing respect
  6. Expressing appreciation
  7. Fostering teamwork
  8. Maintaining high standards
  9. Inspiring us to do our best work
  10. Holding people accountable
  11. Recruiting great talent

The highest rating went to “Integrity”, followed by “Maintaining high standards” and “Showing respect”. Bringing up the rear were “Fostering teamwork”, “Recruiting great talent”, and (in dead last place) “Inspiring us to do our best work”.

Having observed this, let’s consider something about the concept of “integrity”. Having integrity is, in at least one regard, like being pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. As mathematicians would say, having a little bit of integrity is an “undefined state”. The word “integrity” comes from the Latin word for “whole”, and you simply can’t be partially whole. Still, we asked the question, and included integrity on the same scale as the other attributes. On that scale, a 7 or above was considered a “passing” grade. But under the notion that you either have integrity or you lack it, you’d have to earn a “10″ to get any “integrity credit” at all. While 66.5% of respondents gave their boss a passing grade, only 26.25% were willing to give their boss a 10. That’s disheartening, to say the least.

Percentage of respondents who gave each item a score of 7 or more


Next, we asked which of the 11 attributes their boss needed to improve the most. The top vote-getter, at nearly 20%, was “Holding people accountable”, followed by “Providing relevant information when needed” and “Listening.”

We asked other questions, and learned that, by and large, our respondents’ bosses were willing to get their hands dirty, two-thirds were comfortable telling their boss what they thought, and nearly as many felt that their boss cared about them as a person.

Only about 42% felt their bosses had a clue about what they (the employees) have to do to get their jobs done, only 36% have bosses who do a good job telling them how they’re doing, and only about a third have bosses who do things to help them in their jobs.

We couldn’t help but notice that more of our respondents like their boss (65.6%) than respect them (56.3%) or trust them (46.9%).

And when it comes to personality traits, our respondents’ bosses were more kind than heartless, and more cheerful than grouchy. Less than half (47.8%) are interested in their followers’ success, but 54.2% of the bosses are interested in their followers as people. 38.6% said their bosses demonstrated consistently good leadership; 64.1% rated their bosses as “competent”.

The last two questions in the survey were open-ended ones: What one thing would you change about your boss, if you could? And what positive quality about your boss do you appreciate most? The following “word clouds” depict the themes in the answers to these questions, with the most prominently appearing words commanding the most attention in the graphics.


What ONE thing would you change about your boss, if you could?















What ONE positive quality does your boss have that you appreciate most?











If we were to extrapolate the results of this survey to the workplace at large, then we could conclude the following:

* Overall, bosses treat their followers with a reasonable degree of respect, and conduct themselves with integrity, although their followers are hesitant to say they fully trust their bosses. Bosses tend to hold people to high standards, and are reasonably fair in their dealings with those on their teams.

* Employees notice and appreciate when their bosses notice and appreciate their work, especially when they express that appreciation. They also appreciate being left alone to do their work (autonomy), having their ideas considered seriously, and a boss with an open-door policy.

* Their followers would like some – but not all – bosses to spend a little more time with them. This should be meaningful time, though, and not time spent micromanaging them or their work. In fact, based on some of the survey results, we’d suggest that managers could spend more time learning how they can be of help to those on their teams, and then helping them do their jobs better.

* Overall, bosses know how to behave and conduct themselves around others, but some of the subject bosses sound like royal jerks. A few of the responses to our open-ended questions contained words that even we don’t want to publish here (or in the white paper), and the one or two anatomical references in those comments will be allowed to remain in the realm of your imagination.

* One of the most serious indictments of the subject bosses is that they fail to inspire people to do their best work. We’ve written and spoken extensively on the topic of Discretionary Effort – that extra increment of effort that people give to the job because they want to, not because they have to. It’s become clear to us that you can’t beat Discretionary Effort out of people. And you can’t buy it from people. You can only inspire it. If you, as a leader, aren’t getting enough Discretionary Effort from your followers, the first place to look for a solution may be at how well you inspire people to do their best work.

* Many bosses could do a much better job of holding people accountable, of listening, and of providing relevant information when needed.

* At Contented Cow Partners, we’ve long maintained that one of the most essential elements of any manager’s job is hiring the right people to serve on the team. In this respect, the bosses who were the subject of this survey fared particularly poorly. If that is indeed the case, these managers could make their jobs, and those of their current followers infinitely easier by constantly recruiting and then hiring top talent.



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 Richard, Favorite Folks, Leadership

Hans Tanzler: A Born Leader

1 Comment 25 July 2013

Tanzlers and HaddensWe’re often asked, “Can leadership be learned? Or is it hardwired at birth?”

Our answer: Yes.

We wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing if we didn’t really believe that leadership skills and behaviors can be taught and learned. We’ve seen proof positive of it. But, like you, we’ve also known people who just seemed to have that “something special” – call it “presence”, or “charisma” – that sets them apart from the run-of-the-mill. This mysterious trait makes people want to follow these “born leaders”. When their leadership is channeled in a positive way, they can have a tremendous, and equally positive impact on the lives of others.

One such “born leader” was Hans G. Tanzler, Jr., who served as Mayor of my hometown, Jacksonville, Florida, from 1967-1979, and who died today, at the age of 86.

Known locally as the “Father of Consolidation”, he was credited with developing and implementing the plan which combined the local city and county governments into one entity, giving Jacksonville the distinction of being the largest city in the lower 48, in terms of land area. (Barrow, Alaska has us beat, by a long shot.)

Larger-than-life, Mayor Tanzler, who had to have been at least 6’5″ tall, became a legend in these parts, with both staunch supporters and detractors. But I never heard anyone describe him as “forgettable”.

In the summer of 2003, my family and I spent a week’s vacation in the mountain hamlet of Sky Valley, Georgia, near the North Carolina border. There, in the middle of a bucolic vale stands a picturesque country church whose Sunday morning bells beckoned us to attend services. Five minutes after the service started, a older gentleman of imposing height slipped into the pew next to me. I took one look at him and knew in an instant who he was. He didn’t know me from Adam.

During a meet-and-greet time in the service, he introduced himself (an unnecessary introduction), and was surprised and delighted to learn that he had, by chance, sat down next to a Jacksonville family, 400 miles from home, in the place in which he and his wife had a part-time home in their retirement. As it happened, he was in the process of writing a letter of advice to Jacksonville’s newly elected mayor, John Peyton, whose upcoming inauguration Hans would be unable to attend. In essence, his advice to the new mayor (40 years his junior), was to listen to the will of the people, but not to be swayed by every special interest in the city. In other words, take counsel and advice, and then, make your decisions. Good advice for any leader, we think.

After church, we exchanged phone numbers. That afternoon, the Mayor called with an invitation to join him and his wife in their home, just up the mountain, for dinner. As it turned out, when we arrived, we were joined by his son and daughter-in-law, whose son we learned was a high school friend of our daughter (such is the small town nature of Jacksonville, population 1.3 million). We were given a tour of the Tanzlers’ beautiful mountaintop retreat, which was like a museum of Jacksonville history. The Mayor regaled us with stories of the city I had grown up in, and even treated us to recitations of Shakespeare, featuring some of his favorite bits of wisdom. We then were ferried to his favorite local restaurant, a no-frills Mexican place with great food and lots of character.

We partied into the evening (partied being a relative term, but you get the picture), and had an absolutely delightful evening with our new friends, the Tanzlers.

When we got back to our chalet that evening, my wife and I both remarked that there was something about Hans that we couldn’t quite put our finger on. But he had “it”, whatever “it” is. It explained a lot about how he had done the things he’d done in his career.

Two weeks after we arrived home from vacation, I received a very gracious letter from Hans Tanzler, with a copy of the letter he had written to Mayor Peyton. And the earlier referenced advice, “you must be like Ulysses in the Odyssey, and chain yourself to the mast, so you can steer the safe course and not be tempted by the sirens who will be calling”.

What do I take from the example of Hans Tanzler? In addition to the timeless advice he passed on to the mayor of a new generation, the fact that some people have a gift, probably hardwired at birth, that makes people want to follow them. If you have this gift, my hope is that you’ll recognize it, and then nurture and develop it for the benefit of everyone you influence. To the rest of us – we CAN learn and develop the traits, the skills, the behaviors of effective leaders. Let’s try to learn something – every day – that makes others want to follow us on a positive path.

Hans Tanzler

Hans G. Tanzler, Jr.



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.



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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