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Daily Dairy from Contented Cows

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:

Have you noticed lately the regularity with which business and other leaders tend to begin a sentence with the word, “sure”, even if it’s not remotely related to what’s being asked or discussed? I don’t know if it’s a tic, the latest buzzword, or an unconscious effort to reassure themselves or perhaps others. At the very same time, we continue to hear a chorus from those same individuals that sounds a little like this… “We will resume investing and hiring to grow our businesses when there is greater certainty about the future.”

Earlier this year, Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta-based quick service restaurant chain, became the unwitting object of a firestorm following President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy’s direct answer to an interviewer’s question about his views on marriage. The interview was in the context of the ongoing national debate on same-sex marriage, spurred perhaps by contributions reportedly made by the Cathy family foundation, Winshape ( to some not especially LGBT-friendly entities.

Earlier this week, alongside 199 of the brightest, most talented people in the healthcare space, I attended the 2012 Forbes Healthcare Summit. Held at the The Allen Room at Jazz @ Lincoln Center in New York, the conversation and content were as spectacular as the venue. Hats off to Steve Forbes for hosting an event that lived up to its billing, and for allowing me to attend. Given that we frequently coach and train managers and executives from hospitals, big pharma, device manufacturers, and eldercare, I attended the event in an effort to stay current on the trends, opportunities and challenges in their world.

Having recently spent two hours on a plane seated next to a fellow who was clearly too ill to be in confined space with others, I was reminded that the time of year when germ transmission and attendant illness ramps up is again upon us. For many of us, between sneezes, our attention turns to discussion of worker attendance, absenteeism, and presenteeism.

A couple weeks ago, a good friend asked my opinion on the expected failure of Hostess Brands Inc., the 85 year-old maker of Wonder Bread, Twinkies, Hostess CupCakes, Ho Hos, and Ding Dongs. His question prompted a flashback to regular visits my college buddies and I made decades ago to the 24-hour lunch counter at the Hostess bakery in South Miami after some, ah-hem… late night studies.

Once again, the sports world is abuzz over the treatment of an injured player who, at least so far, has been kept on the bench despite being cleared to play. The player in this case is Alex Smith, quarterback of the San Francisco 49’ers. Since being cleared to return to play following a concussion injury, Smith has been kept on the bench by 49’ers coach, Jim Harbaugh, in favor of Colin Kaepernick, a rising star who has performed well in game situations. Nevertheless, tensions are rising.

One thing that hasn’t changed much in the last few years is the popularity of the topic of change.  The popularity and relevance of the topic has remained strong because a leader’s ability to lead people through change can often be a make-or-break contribution to a team, business unit, or entire organization.

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

Take a trip, make a major purchase, dine out, open a bank account, or just go to work, and the odds are good that you will soon be asked to complete some form of satisfaction survey. It seems that we’re practically being surveyed to death these days. Okay, maybe not “to death”, but you know what I’m referring to. You’ve doubtless experienced a significant ramping up of user, customer, and employee surveys in recent years.

Why is the process of finding a leader–whether to backfill someone or to fill a new role–often treated as an isolated event rather than an ongoing process? With the cost per hire only rising, why do so few organizations have a process for identifying and cultivating leaders within their existing talent pool?

A giant tree fell in the forest of leadership thinkers last week, with the death of Stephen Covey.

I happened to be attending the annual convention of the National Speakers Association when I heard the news. I was seated at lunch, with 7 other professional speakers, collectively representing a wide variety of topics, and each of us reflected on how much Stephen Covey had influenced the business in which we all make our respective livings, and to an even greater extent, the world of business itself.

We note with sadness the passing this week of Andy Griffith, who though he earned his living in Hollywood, never seemed to forget where he was from.

A visit to a Hollywood film lot (we highly recommend the Warner Brothers tour) comes with the admonition from tour guides, with evidence aplenty, that nothing there is at it seems. In many respects, that has become the norm throughout much of society, such that in so many respects, form, image, illusion, branding, the avatar, the lipstick on the pig takes precedence over reality.

In the days since the U.S. Supreme Court’s legal affirmation of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), we have witnessed a cacophany of celebratory victory laps and ongoing bloviating about impending doom, loss of freedom, and death panels. Whether you are an employer, an individual citizen, legislator, or health care worker we would offer two words of advice that can usually be found this time of year on signs carried by course marshals at the FedEx St. Jude Golf Tournament – Hush Y’all! It is time to stop our national food fight on this issue.

In the spirit of full disclosure, mine is a British-American family. My wife was born and raised in Scotland, and I’m the only member of our household who does not hold a British passport. We like the Royals around here and agree with most Britons that the monarchy is a positive force and should remain in place.

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