Tag archive for "Rebooting Leadership"

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, Management, Think About It...

Business as Sport: Chris Paul Could be Coming to Your Team

No Comments 08 July 2013

Oscar Wilde told us that “life imitates art.” In a similar vein, I would suggest that business imitates sport, especially professional and major college level athletics. Think about it… Our vernacular is chock-full of sports-related terms and analogies. Sports stars are frequent keynoters at business conferences. My partner and I have shared the dais with plenty of them. A lot of business incentive programs and contests are oriented around sports themes. Professional sports invented player free-agentry. Business is perfecting it.

A recent event in the NBA foreshadows a developing theme in the business world. Los Angeles Clippers star point guard, Chris Paul, an unrestricted free agent in NBA parlance, is widely credited with putting his thumb on the scale that caused the firing of Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, and the subsequent hiring of Boston Celtics coach, Doc Rivers, who was still under contract to the Celtics. Mr. Paul made it pretty well known that he would be inclined to stay with the Clippers if the team somehow managed to recruit Rivers away from the Celtics. They did, and he did.

Buckle up, sports fans, because we’re about to see this playing out on a much larger, though less public scale in our own corner of the world. With the release of the June jobs report, evidence is accumulating that the U.S. job market is beginning to gather steam (okay, hot water). As interest in making career moves begins to stir in earnest, one of the biggest influencers on the stay vs. go decisions will be the reputation of individual leaders and the relationship people have, or want to have with them, much more so than the quality of the institution and its employment brand.

Subprime leaders will be the first to experience exodus, and in some cases star employees will, like Chris Paul, demand better leadership as a condition of staying put. Conversely, leaders of choice will become even bigger talent magnets if they stay, and higher priced players should they declare themselves free agents.

What should you be doing about it?

  1. Keep your finger on the pulse of the organization, at all levels. Stay current with employee survey data and use it, together with ‘stay interviews’ as a means of identifying at-risk leaders, and issues that might drive your talent to a competitor.
  2. Get serious about de-selecting those leaders who have lost the benefit of the doubt with their team, and coaching those who remain.
  3. Actively involve some of your stronger leaders in the recruitment process.
  4. Tighten up your recruitment and selection processes to make them more effective, efficient AND candidate-friendly.

Get moving with the four above-mentioned steps now. The Clippers can call a time out. You can’t.


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, Management

A Leadership (and Life) Lesson from Frank Lautenberg

No Comments 04 June 2013

With the passing of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D–NJ) this week, some very large shoes have opened up in our national government. I will leave it to others to speculate on how NJ Governor Chris Christie might temporarily fill those shoes, preferring instead to recall a powerful lesson I learned from Mr. Lautenberg early in my career, when we both worked at ADP. It’s a lesson worth passing on, so here goes.

Approximately six months after graduating the University of Miami school of business, I took an HR manager job with Automatic Data Processing (ADP) in Miami, and enjoyed a five year run that also included assignments in Chicago and at the company’s New Jersey headquarters. Shortly after appointment to the NJ position, I went to New Jersey for an orientation of sorts.

On the evening after my first day in NJ, my wife and I made our maiden voyage into New York City.  Driving into the city, we got stuck in an accident-induced monster traffic jam at the bottom of the Lincoln Tunnel. We sat there for about 90 minutes, breathing noxious fumes being spewed from the buses and trucks around us. After a short visit to the city, we made it back to our hotel in Clifton, NJ where we both spent a very unpleasant night being sick to our stomachs from having ingested so much foul air.

The next morning, I probably should have stayed put in the hotel, but I wasn’t about to make a bad first impression with my new bosses and co-workers, or so I thought. At the beginning of each meeting in the morning, I told my host about my little problem and asked the location of the nearest restroom. In one case, in a meeting on the executive wing (I’ll never forget the purple carpet), my host pointed to an unmarked door about twenty yards away, and said, “There’s the closest one, but since it’s Mr. Lautenberg’s private facility, you probably should use the regular men’s room unless you just can’t get there.”

My worst fears were realized about twenty minutes into our discussion when I was startled by a loud noise and suddenly the urge to hurl was immediate. I bolted down the purple covered hall, through the door, and nearly flattened the President and CEO of ADP as I made my way to the porcelain facility. As I was slinking out of the bathroom, Mr. Lautenberg’s assistant, Ellie Popeck looked up from her desk and said, “Mr. Lautenberg wants to see you for a minute.” That was about the last thing in the world that I wanted to hear right then.

She ushered me into his office, and I’ll never forget that he stopped what he was doing, got up, smiled (yes), shook my hand and said, “Well, we’ve already met, why don’t we get introduced?” As I resumed breathing, we probably spent fifteen to twenty minutes in which he wanted to know all about me, what I had done in my earlier ADP assignments and what I hoped to do in my new one. We also discovered that we shared a common birthday and heritages that involved lots of work but little money. This guy was listening, really listening, and he didn’t have to. After all, we were separated by two very large rungs on the org chart. But listen he did.

Later on, as I got the chance to observe him in action, it was clear that Frank leveraged his listening skill in lots of ways. He had been ADP’s first salesman, and remained quite active in selling our payroll and accounting services – a process that starts not with talking, but listening. In 1982 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and quickly earned a reputation as a legislator who could get things done, again from a willingness to listen and consider the views of others. Indeed, he was able to work across the aisle to sponsor and help pass a great deal of legislation having to do with public safety and national security. As but one example, when you travel on commercial aircraft today you can thank Senator Lautenberg for the fact that you are not seated in a cabin filled with cigarette smoke.

Let’s all take a lesson from Mr. Lautenberg and realize that no matter how big and important we get (or think we are), none of us is too big to listen to and be informed by others.


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

Six Steps for Climbing the Management Ladder

No Comments 28 May 2013

A few days ago I received a short note containing the following question from one of our readers: “I am just a simple, low-level manager, so I do not always have the chance to put all of your techniques into place.  I have read your first book and I actually believe and try to internalize what you put forth.  How do I use your tools to make the jump to the next level of management?”

While preparing a personal response to this fellow, it dawned on me that this is likely a matter that a lot of others are chewing on as well, particularly now that the job market seems to be warming a bit. Ergo, here is my now repurposed response:

First things first, I’d like to react just a bit to your statement that you are “just a simple, low-level manager.” Truth be known, as a front line leader, you have the most difficult job in any organization. You’re in a spot where you have pressure from above AND below, you aren’t senior enough to call a time out in the action, and in all likelihood, haven’t received the kind of training your position warrants. So, give yourself some credit.

A few thoughts on getting to the next rung on the ladder:

  1. Look and act the part. Without putting on airs, it is important to project an image which suggests that you’re able to move comfortably to a more responsible role.
  2. Put up the numbers. If, as we advocate, you’ve hired, communicated, and coached well, your team should be focused, fired up, and putting up the numbers to confirm that you are a high performance manager.  If they aren’t yet firing on all cylinders, take steps to improve before someone tells you to.
  3. Take on tough assignments. Show what you can do by volunteering (sensibly) for tough projects. 
  4. Ask for feedback, and use it. Ask your boss for candid feedback and coaching, and make it easy for them to give it to you. When they tell you something you don’t especially enjoy hearing, thank them, rather than making them regret having said it. In the same vein, tell them about your career aspirations and seek their support. If your boss lacks the interest or ability to do this, get a coach who will.
  5. Do what you can to pick your next boss. In most situations, particularly early in your career, who you work for is more important than the exact job you’re doing, or the organization you are working for.
  6. Do everything you can to stay sharp and prepared. This is a bit selfish on my part, but folks in your situation are the ONLY reason we wrote our 3rd book, Rebooting Leadership. Get it and read it. I think you will find it helpful. It is chock full of prescriptive advice for 1st line managers. If after reading it you have remaining questions, feel free to reach out to us again.


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, 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 http://twitter.com/ContentedCows


by Bill, Leadership

Some Advice for New Leaders in the New Year

No Comments 08 January 2013

This week I’m recording an interview with Kathy Tuberville, a University of Memphis Fogelman College of Business instructor who has elected to use our book, Rebooting Leadership in an upper level undergrad course on leadership. As a precursor to our discussion, she posed two questions for me to address in our interview. I did my best to answer them in a fashion that I thought would be most useful to her students, and have shared my thoughts below. To the degree that you have new or young leaders in your organization, or perhaps you are one yourself, you/they may find this of interest:

What are today’s biggest leadership challenges for emerging and newly appointed leaders? The greatest challenge perhaps is that the on-ramp to today’s leadership highway is short, steep, and unforgiving. Less than a decade ago it was still conventional for newly appointed leaders to experience the benefit of some pretty intensive leadership training in their first few months on the job (if not prior), and be on a relatively short leash with their reporting senior during that period. Within reason, mistakes were expected, and were considered part of the learning curve. Today, not so much. Most of the prep work is a DIY proposition, and mistakes are things that your boss may be less able or inclined to provide air cover on, so it’s probably best that they happen to other people.

Not unlike the world of professional football (the U.S. variety), where yesterday’s rookie players (quarterbacks in particular) could expect to ride the bench for a year or more before being inserted into the starting lineup, today’s players are paid (and expected) to be fully productive from day one. And sadly, once on the field, we tend to forget that they are still rookie players, and not fully developed.

I will submit that had a lot to do with the recent re-injury of Washington Redskins’ rookie phenom quarterback, Robert Griffin III during the team’s first (and only) game of the 2012-13 NFL playoffs. As a 22 year old man who, to my knowledge has not spent any time in med school, Mr. Griffin was allowed to be the sole decider as to whether or not his previously injured leg was ready for action. He guessed wrong. It wasn’t, and hopefully he will recover.

Perhaps the most challenging part of this for the rest of us has to do with the fact that today’s newly appointed leaders can’t always count on having a good example set for them. By virtue of having a sour economy for the past five years, it is entirely likely that their boss hasn’t had the benefit of any leadership training either, ergo it’s not unusual to have the blind leading the blind.

The good news (and it is good news) is that, due to the fact that most of today’s workers are more likely to engage with (and on behalf of) their leader rather than the broader organization, the efforts of each individual leader tend to matter quite a bit more. It’s truly motivating when you realize that what you pour yourself into every day is indeed mission critical.

What are your recommendations for students to achieve success as leaders? For better or worse, here’s what I said.

1.    For openers, be bone honest with yourself about whether or not you are up for this particular ride.

  • Do you have the courage to make tough, unpopular decisions, and to deliver bad news without blaming them on someone else? How about telling a friend that they either need to change or leave?
  • Do you have the resilience to take shots and beatings that are intended for other people (your team) without whining? You better be, because that’s part of the job.
  • Are you willing to subordinate personal interest for the good of the team?
  • Are you willing to liberally share credit with others, perhaps even more than what they deserve at times? If so, proceed. We need a lot more like you.

2.    Early on, it’s important that you become a real master of your time and priorities. On day one, and every day thereafter, you’re going to have a hundred fresh emails and other incoming items of varying importance before you even get to work, and a line out the door (oops, doors are a thing of the past) when you do. How you handle that stuff and keep it in proper context will materially impact your success as a leader, not to mention your sanity.
3.    Though you must be ever mindful of the fact that accepting the mantle of leadership means that you are held to a higher standard, you must at the same time, be authentic – be real. People who are not comfortable in their own skin have a habit of becoming petty tyrants.
4.    Be grateful, and show it, every day. Really. Leadership is not about you. It’s about the mission, and it’s about them.
5.    Become a good listener. It’s one of the quickest ways of gaining the respect and trust of others, not to mention being a great path to the answers you need.
6.    Lastly, unless you find that you’ve been blessed with having a really good boss who is both competent and willing to invest a lot of time in your development, get a coach or mentor that you can rely on – somebody who has been around the block a few times, who cares about you, and won’t blow smoke up your nose.

These are my thoughts. You are invited to join the discussion.


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

IT’S LEADERSHIP, STUPID… Five Things that will Make a Difference in our Current National Struggle

No Comments 20 August 2011

In 1998, Northwest Airlines endured a strike by its pilots, who were members of the Airline Pilots Association. One day while transiting the Memphis airport, I asked one of the picketing pilots what the strike was all about. After ascertaining that I was not a reporter, he gave me his view on the matter.

He told me that nearly 3 decades prior, he had been shot at on a daily basis while flying F-4 Phantom jets off a carrier deck in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Viet Nam war. It was a job that provided him a salary of about $20,000, and personal living space aboard the carrier of fewer than 50 square feet.  He then told me that while his current job paid him about 10 times as much, affording him a 6,000 square foot home, and no bullet holes in his aircraft, the old job was better, much better than his current gig. Responding to my rather obvious question as to why, he said, “Well, Mr. consultant, I know you guys like things in short, 3 word bursts, so I’ll give you one… It’s leadership, stupid!” He went on to define, with all the grace and precision of a laser-guided smart bomb, the differences between his former and then current leadership groups.

If, as a nation, we’ve ever been in a “It’s Leadership, Stupid” moment, it is now. As profiled in our new book, Rebooting Leadership, Harvard professor, Bill George has very aptly noted that the near collapse of our financial system (and ongoing debacles) had less to do with subprime mortgages than with subprime leadership. Truer words were never spoken.

In that vein, I will submit that rather than wait for someone in elected office to do the job, each of us should bear just a little more perhaps than our rightful share of responsibility, and take steps individually and collectively to pull our national automobile out of the ditch, onto the road, and set it in motion in the right (make that correct) direction.

Following are five leadership precepts that we would do well to heed at the moment:

Leaders are Optimists

Operating on the well-proven premise that you get what you expect to get, leaders are optimists. They wreak optimism. They realize that for the same reason that crowds associated with parades almost always out-number those at funerals, people will not follow a pessimist for long.

As a nation, we need to get our heads out of… the sand (I’m so tempted to say something much more graphic), and realize that America’s future is as bright today as it ever was. We just need to get our mojo back. We may not have the market cornered on brains and good ideas, but we have more than our fair share. We have abundant (yes, abundant) natural resources, including hydrocarbons that burn. Though failed by individuals at times, we have a system of government that works for the most part, and let’s be reminded that it’s a damned sight better than all the others. Most of all, we have our liberty. So, step #1 to regaining our altitude is to fix our attitude, each of us. The “good ‘ole days” weren’t all that great, and today is not as terrible as the folks on the cable “news” outlets would have us believe. And yes, I lost a bunch of money in the market this month, too.

Leaders Display Courage

Courage is defined neither by the absence of fear, nor an overabundance of brass (as in cojones). Rather, courage is at once a matter of being willing to stand tall in the face of both physical and moral pressure or threat, to be willing to do what is right regardless of possible pain, discomfort, economic loss, or unpopularity. You are afraid, but you proceed anyhow.

So, too, is courage a matter of being willing to act in the face of uncertainty. If I hear one more business leader whine that the uncertainty of tomorrow is keeping them from taking steps today to grow their business, I’m going to puke on their wingtip loafers. As Warren Buffett put it recently, “In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” There is always the risk that the world will end tomorrow, too, but we don’t hold our breath just in case it does.

Each of us needs to summon that moment from our youth, or some other time in our lives, when we stared down a mean looking dog and continued walking down the street. Just as a congressman (or woman) with an ounce of courage would say, “no” as readily to Grover Norquist as they would the Teamster’s Union, each of us must find it in ourselves to call bullies or haters by their rightful names, and evict those who like to yell, “fire” from crowded theaters. Why not insist that facts, rather than partisan objectives and shrill rhetoric rule the day for a while?

Leaders Build Commitment

The process of harnessing the attention and effort of others begins deep within the leader themselves. We must be masters of our own time, priorities, and attention if we’re asking others to follow us. We must have, and be able to credibly articulate an abiding sense of purpose, direction, and priority.

In his book, Beating the Street, uber-successful investor, Peter Lynch maintained that people ought not invest in something unless they could explain it with a crayon. The same holds true for those of us who would lead others. If we can’t explain with that same blunt instrument what we’re about and where we’re going, then we can’t explain it well enough for today’s rightfully cynical audience, and people won’t buy it. Mr. President, take note.

We must ask and expect that our elected representatives focus like a laser on things that really matter, and that are in our strategic national interest. There will always be 2nd and 3rd tier issues that can be dealt with as time permits, but at this point we have neither the time nor other resource to deal with them. If, as Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has suggested, we should get their attention by withholding campaign contributions until they figure this out, so be it.

Leaders Subordinate Self Interest

If we, as leaders, are to have any hope of gaining the commitment of followers in any endeavor, we must elevate the legitimate interests of the organization and those we lead above our own selfish wants and ambitions. We don’t have to take a vow of poverty or anything, just remain very clear about whom we are there to serve.

Indeed, one of the chief causes of the aforementioned pilot strike at Northwest Airlines was that senior, C-level officers had, at the same time that they were forcing pay cuts on company employees, like hogs at the trough, taken overt, outrageous steps to enrich themselves.

Similarly, the most glaring leadership failure of the recent debt ceiling fiasco was the nearly unanimous disregard for the financial security and reputation of an entire nation, in pursuit of narrow, partisan, and in some cases, personal interests. Many of our so-called “leaders” (more accurately, “politicians”) seemed only too willing to drag Americans (indeed the world) through weeks of clumsy, bad faith negotiations with the attendant anxiety and uncertainty, willing to allow the nation to go into default, but by golly, they weren’t going to abandon their “ideals” or do anything that might risk their political standing. In choosing such a path, many may have created their own term limits (so maybe something good will come from it, after all). Nonetheless, I’ve seen 3 year-olds behave in less self-serving ways than our elected officials have of late.

Leaders are Grown-Ups With High Standards

Deep down, we all understand that high standards are a necessary precursor to winning, and let’s face it, none of us get up in the morning saying, “I wanna go lose today. I want to hang out with mediocre people and do some really crummy work for a third rate company, or live in a AA+ nation.”

We must accept the fact that America will be exceptional only so long as we, each of us, maintains an adult perspective and is willing to live up to high standards. Whenever high standards and lofty expectations get divorced from one another, the outcome is akin to what happened at Chrysler and GM and Lehman Brothers.

Not everybody deserves an “A’, re-appointment, or re-election. Sometimes, “no” really does mean no. We can start by explaining that to our kids, together with the fact that life is not a TV reality game where the losers are voted off the island, but get to come back at season’s end.

I, for one, firmly believe that America’s glass is indeed half full and that our best days really are ahead of us. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t want to be here. Let’s get going.


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 their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

by Richard, Think About It...

Royal Caribbean Misses the Boat on Internet Access

4 Comments 14 June 2011

First, this post is not about my vacation. How boring would that be? It’s about a fundamental change in the way people stay connected, or not. But the issue came to light on my vacation, so please indulge me a sentence or two.

Last month, my wife and I took what was, for us, the trip of a lifetime, in celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary. A Mediterranean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas. In short, the cruise was wonderful. We relaxed, unplugged, saw places I’d only heard of before. The food was good and plentiful. The service – no complaints. And our accommodations were very comfortable. May I never forget how blessed and privileged we were to be able to take such a trip.

If you think these sincere words (and they are sincere) are the wind-up for a complaint, you’re right. Well, not so much a complaint as an observation.

The problem: The Internet service on board the ship was wholly abominable. Indescribably inadequate. And shockingly expensive. It took about ten minutes (and 3 dollars!) to sign in to gmail. Any site that required any bandwidth at all was blocked. And Skype? Are you kidding? One day, I spent five hours of my vacation, and $90, to do about 10 minutes’ work, to send a promised proposal to a client.

Reminder – I’m not whining. I realize how fortunate I am to have taken the trip at all. Now, I’ll continue.

And don’t, as did the “guest services agent” on the ship, give me this lame line: “But you’re on vacation. You shouldn’t be working!”

Earth to Royal Caribbean. As we point out in Rebooting Leadership, the lines between work and play, work and home, home and play, are forever blurred. Whether this is good or bad is a matter of opinion. The fact that it is as it is – is not.

We work in our “off-hours” (whatever those are), and, likewise, play at work. Don’t try to tell me you don’t.

Today’s work, indeed much of today’s life, is facilitated online. If you doubt that, try unplugging your home Internet (or if yours is like mine, wait until it goes down naturally; it won’t be a long wait), and turn off your smartphone. Count the number of things you start to do, before remembering that you can’t.

On the cruise, we were traveling in a group of 19 friends. Many are small business owners, like myself. Others have responsible jobs working for someone else. All of us are used to traveling, at home and abroad, and, have gotten used to being able to connect from pretty much anywhere – hotel rooms, airports, coffee shops, you name it. Call us spoiled, if you like. Overindulged perhaps. But you may definitely call us frustrated with the ship’s inability to provide a usable Internet connection. And to charge us stupid money for the frustration.

Royal Caribbean’s excuses (offered as if highly practiced) involved pointing out that we were at sea, that satellite communications are iffy at best, and that there were more than 3,000 people on the ship, many of whom were competing for limited bandwidth. All invalid. The technology exists to let passengers connect as easily as if they were in the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.

I’m pretty sure the problem persists for two reasons:

1) Royal Caribbean (and, to be fair, their competitors) don’t want to invest in making the technology work. They don’t believe Internet access on a cruise vacation is important enough to enough people to make the investment commercially advantageous. That’s shortsighted.

2) An old mindset curiously survives, and yet without nourishment from reality. A pipe, slippers, and brandy anachronism in which we commute into the office at the start of our “workday”, chain ourselves to a desk for a period of time, and then commute home. We’re generations past that. Many in the hospitality field are falling all over themselves to realize that, in order to compete. Not the cruise biz. Certainly not Royal Caribbean.

I relish my downtime. Had the Mariner of the Seas had Internet access that could be taken seriously, I would have had more of it on my vacation. For those 12 days, I could have connected, done my work, kept in touch, and taken care of business, in less than an hour a day. That would have been a small price to pay for 23 hours a day of vacation.

Here’s hoping that this summer, you have the chance to take a week or two, get away, and recharge. But I sure hope you’ve got better Internet access than I did!

Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by creating a great place to work. He and Bill 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. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.

by Bill, Think About It...

The Third Day… Knowing When It’s Time to Leave

1 Comment 19 May 2011

My father and grandfather were both fond of using the expression, “House guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” They didn’t just mouth the words, though. Each paced his visits to make sure that he didn’t darken anyone’s doorstep longer than three days. Similarly, invitations to visit were issued with the three-day rule in mind. It’s one thing, though to time a visit with friends or family, but quite another to figure out when to make a career move, or to end your working career entirely.

I thought about that a good bit last week as legendary basketball coach, Phil Jackson all but confirmed what he had suggested at the beginning of the season, that this year would be his last on the Lakers’ bench. Having advanced to the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs, Jackson’s team played nowhere near its capability, and was crushed 4-0 in the best of 7 series by the Dallas Mavericks.

Worse, some of the Lakers players embarrassed themselves and disrespected their teammates, fans, opponents, and most certainly Coach Jackson by their behavior. I cannot imagine any of Jackson’s previous teams or players producing or behaving as the 2011 version did. I feel certain that when Coach Jackson faced the post-game cameras for what may have been the last time, what he had just witnessed on the court confirmed in his mind that the time had indeed come for him to move on. I applaud his having the courage to do it.

In recent years, we have seen more than a few people who have been less adroit in exiting stage left. The names Brett Favre and U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd come to mind. What about you? How do you know when it’s time to take your act elsewhere?

One thing that can make a tremendous difference in weighing significant career decisions is having a good friend (as opposed to a Facebook or LinkedIn friend) or coach who cares enough about you to tell you the unvarnished truth. Their only agenda is your best interest, period. If you have such a friend, cherish them, and do all you can to nourish and be worthy of the relationship. If you don’t, seek to develop such a relationship. Either way, make it a point to be a friend.

You might also consider using the following questions as a part of your decision template:

  1. Would you put this job on your bucket list today? If the answer is no, is this job an indispensable step to achieving something that is on your bucket list?
  2. If your job were open today, would you hire you to do it?
  3. Are you happy, really happy in your job? How do you know? How many days per month do you arrive at work with a real spring in your step? How many days are you trudging in? How many days per week do you breathe a sigh of relief when quitting time comes?
  4. Are you/your team consistently performing at or near peak? Be honest.
  5. Have you taken a job interview in the last three years? If not, why not? What are you afraid of?

This post is intended as nothing more than a thought starter for an important glance in the mirror. Yet, as the economy and job market continue to improve, we think it timely and appropriate that each of us re-evaluate our present situation vis-à-vis our life goals and preferences, and make course corrections as necessary. Good luck.


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 their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

by Bill, Leadership, Management, Motivation

Discretionary Effort: Why Wisconsin’s Governor (and Yours) May be Playing a Losing Game

No Comments 27 February 2011

Having already wrung needed and significant concessions from them, the newly elected Governor of Wisconsin has been making a rather poorly disguised effort to nullify the collective bargaining agreements and rights of various groups of state workers, principally teachers. As with nearly every other issue of import these days, the whole world is suddenly watching, including like-minded governors in several other states who are licking their chops at the prospect of following the lead penguin into the drink. Whoa… Full Flaps, Brakes, Stop!

In the interest of full disclosure, I am no fan of labor unions. Indeed, a significant portion of my professional effort over the course of 3 decades has focused on helping organizations obviate unions by maintaining a positive employee relations culture, a culture in which both the individual and the organization can do their best work and gain the most from it.

That said, I respect every worker’s right to make a choice as to whether or not they are willing to enter into a direct, cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship with their management. That choice is most often based on whether or not management has earned the benefit of the doubt. If the answer is yes, workers feel no need to reach out and seek (let alone pay for) the protection of organized labor. Are you with me so far? Alright, hang on.

Demonstrations notwithstanding, I believe there is an even chance that Governor Scott Walker will pull off some kind of flash bang, middle of the night vote and get his way, even if it means reinventing the law right before our eyes. Even if that comes to pass, while winning the hand, he will lose the game. Correction, the people of Wisconsin will lose. How? Because there will still be a need for thousands of teachers, and every one of them will STILL make a quiet daily decision as to whether they want to give their full measure of effort that day, or mail it in. Given the backdrop, which choice do you think they will make?

For the last twelve years we have worked almost entirely within the field of Discretionary Effort, studying, writing, speaking, and teaching leaders about that extra layer of effort that every one of us can give to a situation if, but only if we want to. Eerily consistent with similar work by Towers Watson and Gallup, our own engagement surveys suggest that barely 50% of workers are, by their own admission doing their very best work, and that most of us routinely expend no more than 60 to 70% of our maximum effort in the workspace. In other words, a lot of unspent capacity goes home with us at day’s end.

So, if just half of the 50,000 or so teachers in a state, any state choose to ratchet the ‘ole effort meter back another 10-20%, what is that going to cost to compensate for the lost productivity? Perhaps more importantly, what will it do to the level of educational performance in the state? If you’re getting a mental image of a post office being superimposed over your local school district, you’re getting the picture.

Since the publication of our first book, Contented Cows Give Better Milk in 1998, we have maintained that giving workers (be they on an assembly line at GM, or a school in Racine) benefits they haven’t earned, the market doesn’t require, and you can’t afford is the antithesis of good employee relations, because some day you have to take all that stuff back. As the folks at GM did, and now a lot of teachers and other municipal workers face that same music, the last thing in the world we, through our elected representatives ought to be doing is rubbing their faces in it, just because we can. It’s not good business or good politics, and it’s certainly not good employee relations. Motivated people move faster.

As always, your thoughts and ideas are welcome


A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. 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 their  website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows


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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