Tech & Work

It's time to cowboy up

To cowboy up means that when things get tough you have to get up, dust yourself off, and keep trying. Executive and leadership coach John M. McKee says that it's time for leaders at all levels to do just that.

Successful leaders know not to wait around for someone to give them a break. They figure out how to move forward and then do what it takes to get there. That success creates more opportunities and even greater successes. It's the same for organizations. And nations.

Here are four key U.S. trends culled from recent headlines and surveys done by various research organizations:

1. The average U.S. male between 30 and 50 years old is now earning 27% less than he did in 1970. At $33,000 that's bad enough, but we also need to factor in that in the '70s the U.S. buck was worth a lot more than it is today. Earning power today is about equal to what a guy was making in the 1950s.

2.  Only about 63% of guys have a job today — including part time. So-called "male jobs," which include manufacturing and construction, are not showing any signs of improvement, although we may see some relief as a result of Obama's speech on September 8.

3. More cars are now registered by women than men. Typically a lack of transportation (i.e., how to get to a job) has a big impact on who is employed and who isn't.

4. Women in the U.S. are following a trend that is common in most "rich" countries — they are now graduating from college at a significantly higher rate than guys. This is important because most forecasters expect the "good" U.S. jobs will grow in a few key industries (including health, IT, knowledge industries) and you need a degree for most of these better jobs.

I've seen nothing to indicate that these trends won't continue. Here's what to expect if they do:

1.  The divide between the rich and the low-income earners will become much greater. Fewer families will fall in the range we currently contemplate as being middle class. It's the middle class who generally drives an economic recovery while fueling the services and retail industries.

2.  Can you say, "Detroit"? The U.S. government will incur far greater costs for helping to maintain many of those things we all take for granted. I'm talking about schools and community centers and controlling crime.

3. Demographically, we have a huge percentage of people over 60 years old now, and it's growing. It will be harder to keep our population healthy. Insurance costs will become an even greater share of the shrinking GDP. (And at 16%, it's already the highest of any key industrialized nation.)

4. Most of our key industries will use outsourced labor or hiring foreign nationals for key roles. And not just because it's cheaper—countries like China and Brazil have dedicated huge funding to create schools and universities that are world leaders. In the U.S., we're cutting back on this critical component of forward-moving societies. China has stated they will create "50 Harvards."

5. More Americans are losing their optimism. More so than at any time in the last 80 years, people today say they no longer see the U.S. as a place where anyone can have the American Dream. People in a funk are less likely to try as hard to move forward.

The women of this country have done a great job changing their role in society. For at least these two critical reasons, I am a strong advocate of getting more women into power:

  • Only 5% of the largest public companies are led by women today. It's just dumb that we have been so male-focused. Typically there's not much difference in the overall financial results of an organization regardless of which sex is leading it, so there's no performance reason to give men an edge at the top.
  • But women do a much better job of looking after their employees and communities according to studies by the Catalyst Organization.

For just those reasons alone, do what you can to get more women into power positions. But at the same time, focus on fixing your systems, changing your budgets, and creating new mind-sets that are so broken that they're causing men to move backward.

As a nation, we need to relearn how to cowboy up. The key is taking immediate steps to move ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities forward.

Here's to your future.



John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

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