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...


There are many reasons for the economic conditions our country finds itself in. Despite all the finger pointing we hear, most of the problems have to do with ourselves. While many find it quite easy to put the blame squarely on the backs of banks or "wealthy" folks and cling to their class/race warfare arguments, the true source of the problems get ignored and continues to infect every element of a "civil" society. In my opinion, the failures of banks and governments (municipal, state and federal) is just a sympton of the actual problems - On an individual level, i believe the problems start with a growing sense of entitlement, unquenchable desire for instant gratification, victimization mentality, a total disregard for personal responsibility and an ignorance in basic economics. Not to downplay the crony-capitalism propped up by a bloated statist government, but if people were focused on liberty, personal responsibility and true rights rather than artificially reasoned rights, then government wouldn't be such a powerful position to reward the special interests groups and to spend our money so ineffectively. The hard to bear truth is, many in our society have been conditioned to believe they are victims of someone else's succes. Their idea of 'prosperity' is driven by their illogical understanding of what are truly rights - as if we have a right to a new car, a right to be guaranteed an arbitrarirly set wage imposed by statists (and federally sanctioned monopolies), right to own a home, "free" healthcare, "free" welfare, "free" college, "free" cable tv, "free" solar panels, subsidies, etc. Meanwhile, some smooth talking union boss or politician is there promising to deliver these "rights" in exchange for their support. So, the government grows bigger as more and more people look to catch a ride on Uncle Sam's gravy train and in the process it strips us of our freedoms, self-respect, and responsibilities. The end result? More of the citizens' money inefficiently spent, propping up of failed government bureaucracies, crony-capitalists, and other special interests and people with less incentive to pay their way in life, and fewer decisions being made at the local level because of the beliefe that the nanny-state will and should be there to kiss our boo-boos.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

Inflation. Devaluation of the dollar. Unemployement rising to double digits. Before you call me a pessimist let me just say that I'm an optimist who likes to plan for the worst. It seems to me you can't tell the difference between corporate interests and state interests. And the two are very different. So anyone have any proposals for getting government for the people (rather than pseudo people Inc) back? And here is where I really hope Mr. Jefferson is wrong...

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

That the American economy is leaning out over an abyss and there ain't no more rope (in the shape of fiscal policy at the fed). Speaking of forgetting, let us not forget that in the month of August ZERO jobs were created in the U.S. First time since WWII. So I'm a lil unsure as to where to ride off to when I saddle up the horse. Other than taking a page from Thomas Jefferson and trying to make my household self sufficient that is... Much as I admire him as a statesman he didn't handle money well and left his heirs a load of debt. So you are correct in that we should not depend on the leadership from government to fix the monetary mess we are in.


Taking a stand can be tough; but usually it pays off.


...couldn't have said it better myself. I only have one thing to add - we should change his name from 'Uncle Sam' to 'Uncle Sugar.'

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