I’ve heard and used this descriptive phrase over the years to explain specific individuals and other companies. Of course, the term is pejorative. However, in the leadership arena, this ingratiating phrase has deep and resonating meaning. I’ve met many who can talk a good game but lack action, power, substance, follow-up, and follow-through to get the job done. They look good in their pressed Levi’s, polished boots, shiny belt buckles and wide-brimmed hats. They talk about how they have or will accomplish monumental feats. However, when it comes to acting, they don’t know the first thing about driving cattle from the pasture to the pen, and they lack the will, depth, tenacity and motivation, shall we say, to get’r done!
They’re all hat and no cattle!
We encounter these same people in our business environments. Internally, we make what we believe to be an excellent hire for a critical leadership position in our organization. His resume was filled with meaningful accomplishments. The interview was impressive. The references gave glowing remarks. We were anxious to get someone in place. We make the hire, then discover a month later, he was all hat and no cattle. What now? Do we invest the time and money to train, coach and mentor what we thought to be a qualified and experienced leader, or do we cut our losses and terminate his employment? If we terminate, we have to start the process all over again with renewed trepidation in rectifying our mistake. In either case, the impact on the organization is notable.
Externally, we team with other companies because of their prominence in the marketplace and their ability to shore up our exposed gaps. We do our due diligence by checking online resources, calling other parties who had done business with them, and meeting with their key leaders, asking probing questions about their business practices. We enter into an agreement satisfied that the relationship would work, submit and win the bid, and start performing. Months into the project, we issue a cure notice to our teammate for failure to perform. They were all hat and no cattle! Reputationally, the impact on our company is significant, the scramble is on to fix the problem, and resources are exhausted to rectify the teammate’s inferior performance or find a replacement.
It’s so easy to make the wrong hire or team with a lousy company. I’ve seen and experienced both when I led multiple companies. There is always excitement in believing we found the right fit for whatever malady we’re trying to solve. On paper, their credentials are impeccable, and in person, they are charming. Often we’ll look past masked flaws and focus on what we believe to be outstanding attributes. We skip being deliberative to save time and rely on our gut instead of a detailed and probing process. On rare occasions, we hit a home run and make the right pick. However, most times, we end up with a propped-up new organizational leader or essential team member who wears a lot of hat and has never herded cattle.
Develop the perfect teammate, leader avatar
So how do you guard against selecting someone or a company with a lot of hat and no cattle? Develop the perfect leader or teammate avatar for the position or gap you want to fill even before posting the search announcement. This is where a lot of leaders and companies fail. They don’t invest enough time imagining who would be the perfect fit for the organization and document these attributes. The attributes should address values and desired leadership, management and teaming skills, and experience serving in all three. Then shape a strategy on how you identify, entice, filter and qualify only the very best candidates who match your avatar. Build the slate of exceptional candidates, then step into the assessment phase.
Several assessments help you and your team understand each of the candidate’s values, personalities, behaviors, emotional intelligence, motivation, assertiveness and adaptability. Use them! Give the candidates a problem to solve and ask for their response in writing. Evaluate how they communicate through email, text and video. Then, once you’ve narrowed your slate of candidates to the very few who best meet your perfect leader or teammate avatar, proceed with the in-person interview.
Your approach to the interview should be very deliberate. Know what you’re going to ask and why you’re asking it. Anticipate various responses and follow-up questions that will reveal more about the candidate’s values, work ethics, strengths and weaknesses. Consider a committee of peers interviewing a candidate or a panel of peers interviewing a panel of candidates. The point is, invest the time in a very deliberate interview approach, and you’ll benefit by onboarding the ideal hire or teammate.
You can’t avoid bumping into or being a captive audience to a person who is all hat and no cattle. You may even be charmed by their looks and words, but don’t be fooled into following them, and most certainly, guard against bringing them into your organization or joining with them as a teammate. Hiring the right person for the right job, sitting in the right seat in the organization, going in the right direction is essential for a business. Look for those with the will, depth, tenacity and motivation, shall we say, to get’r done.
This is how we lead, think, plan and act! Now, let’s get after it.
Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions.