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Bill Catlette

Bill Catlette

Bill Catlette, @ContentedCows is an executive coach and business author who helps clients build lasting competitive edge by eliminating blind-spots and improving leadership habits.

The "Vision Thing"...Passengers or Crew

Adapted from Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk

"It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that in an environment where there is a shared vision of excellence...where people can be the best they can be on a daily basis...where, when they know what is expected of them...understand that reward is linked to performance...and BELIEVE they can make a difference because they will be heard...they WILL make a difference. They will go BEYOND our expectations and great things will start to happen."

FedEx founder & CEO, Frederick W. Smith (Rhodes College 2/25/88)

Every major achievement in the history of mankind has been accompanied by one thing – significant, as in capital “C” Commitment on the part of one or more people. Think about it… Absent real Commitment, Christopher Columbus would have waited for better maps before sailing off the edge of the known universe… Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have marched in Selma, Alabama… and early NASA astronauts would have voted to send more monkeys up before strapping their butts to a relatively untested rocket. And on Presidents Day, let us remember President John F. Kennedy, without whose vision and Commitment there would have been no astronauts.

So where does Commitment start? It starts with an extremely well grasped destination or journey… a place, a concept, an over-arching purpose. What are we here for? What’s our raison d’etre? Where are we going?

What to Do If Politics Are Taking a Toll on Your Workplace Productivity

This week, I contributed to a piece Noreen Seebacher @writeNoreen wrote for CMS Wire about steps managers should take to deal with the continuing decline in productivity owing to U.S. election-related politics and governmental affairs distractions in the workspace. Here's a link:  If you find it worthy, I'm sure Noreen and CMS Wire won't mind if you give them a shout out.

Helping New Leaders Stay Out of the Weeds

by Bill Catlette

Nearly every day we witness or experience the net effect of people having been thrust into front-line leadership roles without being vetted for leadership capability, and without the benefit of any management training. The evidence pile consists of long lines at retail shops because managers don’t know how to recruit, surly or inattentive front line employees who’ve not been coached, corrected, or had their own needs attended to, lowered performance standards that owe to a manager who sees their role as being more of a buddy than a leader, or staff vacancies because A-players got tired of having to work with turkeys and voted with their feet.

It’s the equivalent of tossing someone into the deep end of a pool and walking away, or, from the new leader’s perspective, stepping into the batter’s box with 2 strikes already against you. With frightening, yet predictable regularity, they flounder, gasp for air, and take untold numbers of people down with them, at immense personal and institutional cost. This doesn’t have to happen.

Here is some admittedly tactical advice for helping your new leaders stay out of the weeds:

Sometimes Leaders Have To Put it All On The Line

Bill Catlette

In the late 1980’s I left a very good job because I refused to follow a direct order that, though legal, was contrary to both policy and practice of the organization. Moreover, carrying it out would have materially harmed the livelihood and careers of some good people for no good reason. I certainly didn’t take the matter lightly, as my family, like most, likes to eat and pay its bills. Yet, I’ve seldom looked back... until recently, when Acting U.S. Attorney General, Sally Yates similarly disobeyed an order (albeit more publicly), and paid a similar price. She got to hear the two words made famous by Donald Trump in his last job, without having to join the Screen Actors Guild.

I totally get the fact that people who refuse lawful orders in the workplace get fired. They have to, because no organization can or should tolerate insubordination.

That said, I don’t know whether Sally Yates was given a lawful order pertaining to the Muslim / Travel / Refuge Ban or not. But what I do know is that there is evidence aplenty suggesting that she firmly believed that what she was expected to do was wrong, and thus formed the basis for her refusal to comply. But this post isn’t about Sally, or me.

Three Essential Steps to Improving Your Managerial Coaching Results

by Bill Catlette

Few would argue that coaching has become an important part of any leader’s repertoire for improving human and organizational performance. Yet, most have given little thought to when, where, and under what circumstances coaching is most effective, let alone trying to define or understand its key components. Let’s try to shed some light on the latter, with an eye for things that can immediately be put into practice and used to move the needle.

Coaching Session Part 2, Debrief

by Bill Catlette

 NOTE: This post is a debrief of a mythical coaching session that was posted yesterday. If you haven’t already read that post, please do so before proceeding further.


The coach’s objectives in this case were to: 

  1. Begin to build trust thru truth
  2. Engage in a somewhat jarring, but narrowly focused session keyed to the individual’s self-interest
  3. Define and arrest, albeit momentarily, unhelpful behavior
  4. Create the first step and timely follow-up on a path to improvement and success

Coaching, particularly at senior levels, is an intensely personal, trust-dependent process. Each party must believe that the other is sincere, competent and is an interested partner. The player (President in this case) must believe that the coach has his best interest at heart.

Five things that I liked about this conversation:

A 5 Minute Coaching Session With the President

by Bill Catlette

Understandably, lots of managers at all levels struggle to have work-related coaching conversations. Typically, they are not something we've learned about in school, we lack a method, and in too many cases, find ourselves without a good example. So, using a contemporary, very public situation that has played out of late, here’s one example of what a good coach might say if they had five minutes alone with the new Commander in Chief, and a mandate to make it count. Tomorrow, we'll dissect it and try to give you some tips:

Coach:  Mr. President, I’ve been retained by the American people to provide you with some executive coaching, some fresh insight perhaps. My first question is to ask whether or not you are amenable to working with a coach, because it is truly your choice.

Prez: I’m not sure I feel the need, but for now, I’m willing to hear you out. You’ve got five minutes. Use them wisely.

Coach: I’m seeing some things that I believe are keeping you from being as successful as you can, and probably would like to be in your new job. Are you interested in discussing that?

by Bill Catlette

1/24/17 4:48P Memphis

Despite unprecedented increase in the amount of digital labor-saving technology applied to our commercial processes, the U.S. rate of productivity growth has effectively been sawed in half over the last decade. You heard that right, microchips and poor productivity in the same sentence. Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen has declared this trend “a key uncertainty for the U.S. economy.” That’s about a 6.3 on the Fed-speak Richter scale.

While many are in pursuit of the next gleaming digital means to cut humanoids further, or even entirely out of the process in the interest of raising productivity, we’ve been stumbling around looking for (and finding) what world class process observer and branding expert Martin Lindstrom might term small data solutions… scraps and insights that are lying right at our feet that can be picked up and applied right now, many of them for free.

Like what? How about better ways of leading people so that they actually want to part with some of their discretionary effort in the workspace and thus contribute at a higher level. No capital expenditure involved. Here’s one:

Less Selfies, More Ussies

Bill Catlette

As a leadership coach, I work with managers up and down the ladder, helping them refine and capitalize on their strengths, discover hidden (to them) weaknesses, and rehab or minimize the impact of the latter. In a world that seems bent on becoming more inwardly-focused, where everyone is running for their next gig, one thing that we seem to be spending more time and emphasis on is maintaining steadfast focus on three core aspects of this thing called leadership:

Leaders Are Optimists

by Bill Catlette

Owing to ever tighter budgets, higher expectations, and a skinny but distracted workforce, the practice of leadership in today’s workspace is difficult enough. We unnecessarily add to that burden and materially hamper our effectiveness when we fail to maintain a positive outlook. How so? Because negativity saps our own energy, and people won’t follow a pessimist very long or far, because it saps theirs, as well.

Think about it. Reliable engagement surveys tell us that our people are less connected than ever to the organization. Job quit rates are rising, causing a lot of our staff to wonder if this is the time they should make a move. If people are trudging into work only to deal with a leader who sees every glass as half empty, it makes for a long day. Conversely, as Mary Lou Retten put it, “Optimism is a magnet. If you stay positive, good things and good people will be drawn to you.”

Just happy talk? No. We’ve all been around long enough to realize that there are days when you eat the bear, and days when the bear takes a big bite out of you. That said, as leaders, at any rung of the ladder and in any organization, we must find a way, without sacrificing who we are, to be “a dealer in hope”, as Napoleon Bonaparte put it. Three suggestions in that regard:

  1. Practice good self care. Attend to your own health. It’s hard to be upbeat when you’re tired or ill. Take breaks during the day. Get up, go outside, take a walk (or run). Adopt a hobby that requires total concentration and still offers relaxation (e.g., fly-fishing or flying). Establish a buddy system with a friend where you will call one another out, and offer a friendly ear or shoulder when needed. If you need to talk with a professional, do it.
  2. Take steps to surround yourself with positive people. The whole atmosphere changes when negativity is reduced. Be careful how much mindspace you give up to negativity. As Robert Tew put it, “Don’t let negative and toxic people rent space in your head. Raise the rent. Kick them out.”
  3. Create a bucket list. It’s amazing the positive energy you can get from anticipating doing one of your bucket list items. I’ve got one that I actually put on my LinkedIn page just to force myself to do it, and it’s coming up in a couple weeks. Look out NOLA!
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