Fresh Milk from Contented Cows

March 2011
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Featured Article: Seven Simple Questions for a Great Employee Conversation 

By Richard Hadden  


Two Men Talking  

We've long advocated that managers move heaven and earth to get out and spend more time with the people they lead. Borrowing a phrase from one of our favorite legendary leaders, Vietnam era Major General Melvin Zais, we call it "sitting on the footlocker". There's simply no way to lead when the only contact we have is enabled by electronic means.


In addition to sitting on the footlocker, just observing, free from any specific agenda, being available, and visible, there are times when you want to sit down, face-to-face, one-on-one, and have a meaningful conversation with each person you lead. Doing this once a year, during the annual performance evaluation, is a little like going to church only on that one Sunday when all the women wear fancy hats, like some did just a few weeks ago.


No, we think more frequent is better. How often? As with so many things, it depends. But two or three times a year probably represents an improvement, and so we'd say that's a good goal to shoot for.


Call it a coaching session, a midcourse checkup, or whatever you like. If you're like most of us, you sometimes have trouble knowing where to start, and what to say. Here are seven questions that you - and your followers - will find helpful to move the conversation along:


1. How do you think you're doing in your job?

2. What one thing do you think you could do better?

3. What help do you need to do that?

4. What one thing could others you work with do better?

5. What one thing do you like most about working here?

6. What one thing do you like least about working here?

7. If you were me, what one thing would you do differently?


The list starts with the sublimely simple, and progresses through questions that take a little more courage for others to answer. And perhaps for you to hear.


Before we sign off, some tips on making this conversation as productive as possible:


  • Be prepared to be nowhere else but right there, with the person you're talking with. Shut off the cell phone, don't answer the landline, close your email client. Clear the decks. Clear your head.
  • Learn the meaning of the number one. You'll notice that five of the seven questions say "What one thing". Stick to that limit. Otherwise, you'll likely be there all day. If there are other issues that need attention, schedule a time to explore them. For this discussion, enforce the limit of one thing.
  • Listen, listen, listen. You're in input mode here, not output. Chapter 2 in Rebooting Leadership, and Chapter 7 in Contented Cows Moove Faster can help you here. If you don't have these books, we can solve that problem for you. (Click here).
  • Underpromise, and overdeliver. Make it clear that this conversation is to get your input, not to promise immediate changes. Question 7, in particular, could lead others to think that you'll implement all of their specific recommendations. Be honest. Unless that's your intention, sincerely thank them for their input, and then weigh it up with the other feedback you get. But - and this is a big but - if you're seen to ignore everything you hear, you'll shut down the flow, and quickly. When your followers see positive changes, based on their input, your credibility, and effectiveness as a real leader, will take off.


Finally, have fun with this. This conversation should be seen as a good one. Anything but a chewing out. They'll be taking some risks if they're completely honest with you. Play with that a little. Thank them for it. And then, act.

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Readers Say the NICEST Things!
Rebooting Leadership VideoWe're thrilled to the max with the encouraging reviews we've been getting for our new book, Rebooting Leadership. Here are few reviews that readers have posted on

"Rebooting Leadership is a very quick read with excellent and timely information that incorporates practical guidance for any leader or manager who is trying to figure things out in today's turbulent and sometimes uncertain work environment." From DKE

"This is an easily read volume full of great, easy to implement tips. It's like listening to a REAL person who cares about your growth and success." From Donna Engelson

"One of the best Leadership books I have read in a long time. An easy read. The bible for developing and maintaining leadership skills. It reminds you why you do and act as you do and enhances this with additional thought provoking and practical tools for developing your role as a leader in a more volatile environment." From Carron

"What makes Rebooting Leadership unique is its conversational style, compelling metaphors, and practical tips. Kimbell, Hadden, and Catlette all bring decades of coaching experience to their collaboration which means they know what behaviors will cause leaders' careers to "crash" and which actions will lead to success." From Wendy B. Mack

"Rebooting Leadership is a down-to-earth discussion of the key elements of leadership. Practical tips follow context setting in each of the chapters." From SKMM

Order Rebooting Leadership


Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden
Contented Cow Partners, LLC