Smart Boss

The Blog

Laser-focused and timely distillations of what's working now in leadership.

How to correct "failure to launch"


Have you read the statistics about unemployed young people?

Right now, we have a big chunk of a whole generation of young adults who are


Stuck unemployed,

Stuck under-employed,

Or, just stuck on the couch.


Image: 10,000 Americans turn 21 every day this year


Image: 63% of Millennials hold college degrees.

But in a recent Gallup poll, only 13% of Americans strongly agreed  that today’s college grads are well prepared for workplace success.

So what’s being done about this? Many frustrated parents are sending their unlaunched young adult children to psychologists … or giving them “tough love.” Psychologists are the place to go if there is a legitimate mental-health issue, but aren’t much help when there is no such issue. And tough love can be hurtful for all involved!

So what’s the fix?
I’m an Executive Coach. I help leaders become better at their jobs. A couple of years ago, some of my clients began asking me to talk with their children … young adults who were stuck.

I applied Executive Coaching tools to my conversations with those young people.

And they all got jobs.

What I learned is that there are several fixable problems – gaps in skills and understanding that are hurting these young adults.

Business is NOT what you see on "Shark Tank"!
Some millennials have a bias against business. They think business is what they see on “Shark Tank,” so when they go into interviews, they think they’re supposed to give their “pitch.” They express little interest in the employer – they’re busy talking about themselves.


Businesses exist to make a profit.
Although they say they do, many young adults don’t seem to understand that businesses exist to make a profit. If businesses aren’t profitable, they don’t get to continue to exist. So, when a prospective employer asks, “What questions do you have?”, rather than asking about benefits and the potential for promotion, they should be asking questions that will help them understand how the business serves its customers and how it makes money … and then sharing how they might contribute to those goals.


"You're FIRED!" - Working in business is NOT like "The Apprentice"
Some millennials, especially young women, have told me that they think business is “brutal”. They envision Donald Trump on “The Apprentice” shouting “You’re fired!” and they want no part of such a nasty and personal attack. I’ve learned that it’s helpful to draw a distinction between entertainment programming and the actual business world.


Times have seriously changed.
Too many older adults claim they “just don’t understand” millennials (those born 1980-2000). It’s important to appreciate that these young people are the product of a different time than Generation Xers (those born 1965-1979) or Baby Boomers (those born 1946-1964). Growing up during a time of serious challenges in the economy, and seemingly endless war with nothing that looks like victory on the horizon … with few jobs available and lots of debt due to the fast escalation in the cost of college, the combination of these factors adds up to discouragement for many millennials.

It’s helpful to remember that, while YOU went out and got a job, the skills you used to do so likely don’t apply in today’s marketplace. If you want to support a millennial in his or her job search, first familiarize yourself with today’s job-search realities. And if you’re interviewing millennials, you might keep this in mind; they’re not another species. Like all of us, millennials are just a product of their experiences.


If you know a millennial who’s struggling, consider offering them a Coaching session with me. Let’s get them off the couch and contributing to the future of business!

Read More

What problem do you solve?

Do you struggle to innovate?

If you read business books or articles, innovation is a topic you’re probably already thinking about. “Innovate or die!” some say. “We missed a trend,” other leaders lament, as financial results disappoint.

At Harvard Business School, I attended a presentation by Dr. Clayton Christensen – probably the most famous of current HBS professors. Clay is an amazing man: clearly a brilliant mind, but struggling following a stroke, and walking with a cane.

He has a new theory. And he illustrated it by talking about … wait for it … McDonald’s milkshakes!

The theory is this: Most potentially-successful innovations focus on a job that people need to do.

This is much better than just innovating because you can: because you can deliver X or Y service, doesn’t mean that you necessarily SHOULD do so. It’s better to think in terms of what job people (that is, your potential customers) need to do, and how you can help them do it better, cheaper, faster or more pleasantly.

So, what job does a McDonald’s milkshake do – what problem does a McDonald’s milkshake solve?

The research uncovered this: for many people, the milkshakes are helping to make more pleasant the long and boring drive to work!

If you knew that, would it help you market that milkshake?


So, what problem do YOU solve?

Here’s my answer: I help leaders to feel more confident in their decision making. I’m thinking of adding, at the end of that sentence, “and happier.”

For more on Dr. Clayton Christensen’s thinking, here’s a new interview with him, published to promote his new book.


Read More

Be Careful About What Inspires You!


It’s interesting what passes for inspirational these days.


I volunteer as a mentor to a 14-year-old high school student. I was sent a video that she and her classmates recently viewed. It’s a video of a football player, probably high-school-level, crowing that his team’s victory was “all about their attitude” and that “attitude is all you need to succeed.”

I’m going to go out on a limb, here, and say that victory – in business or in sports – is never purely about attitude.

The best attitude in the world won’t make up for leadership mistakes. Here are a few I’ve seen lately:


  1. The “just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it” mistake. If you’re hired to be a leader, you’re expected to lead – not just wait for your boss to tell you what to do. Don’t keep running to your boss for day-to-day things that you should be able to handle at your level.
  2. The “I don’t have time to learn about this” mistake. If you don’t know how to handle a situation, don’t pretend that you do. Ask for some advice. And ask for best practices! It’s one thing to get someone’s opinion; it’s another to learn what we know are the ways this type of situation has actually been handled successfully by real leaders.
  3. The “add it to my To Do list and then ignore it” mistake. I seldom get to the end of my To Do list, and you may have the same experience. But don’t allow your To Do list to be the graveyard where ideas go to rot! If I’m serious that something needs to get done, I also need to schedule the time when I will work on it in my calendar. And when that time comes and goes, if I haven’t completed the project, I MUST schedule the next block of time when I’ll attack it again.
  4. The “get overwhelmed and just coast” mistake. Most people benefit from looking at their To Do list at the end of each day and then writing up a Post It note with no more than 7 things that you absolutely will complete tomorrow. I have today’s Post It right here on my desk – writing this article is item #5!


Read More

Summertime and the frustration is growing.

Once the kids are out of school, too many people go into “maintenance mode”: they’re just maintaining in their jobs, rather than driving the business forward.

Leaders like you may be experiencing fewer “breakthroughs” and more that happens when people call in sick. Or “sick”.

I’ve seen this too much, and when I diagnose the issue, I usually come I usually come up with a criticism of too many meetings. Why do we have “standing meetings” (meetings that are held at the same time every week) anyway? Because we think there are going to be issues, so we set them up.

But then we don't plan for them.


Every meeting
needs these things:

Every meeting
does not need CHAIRS.

A person who is in charge, and will keep the meeting moving forward.

An agenda. It’s WHAT we’re going to talk about, and it’s distributed to attendees in advance, so they can prepare their thoughts on those issues.

A stop time. (That’s the time after which we will take discussions up individually, rather than detaining the entire group for the discussion.)

I’ve seen some of the best meetings ever conducted while standing up! In those circumstances, people get to the point fast, and the meeting ends much sooner.

If you’re fighting the summer doldrums yourself –
if you’re thinking more about your time off
than your time on the job
– fix that; it’s contagious.

What will get YOU motivated? What isn’t done yet that will make a difference?

Who have you failed to speak with -- or to follow-up with -- whose contribution to your team might be much greater?

What are the goals – for today, this week, this month, this summer – and is every member of your team both aware and supportive of them?

Does each member of your team know what his or her contribution to those goals is going to be, and are they clear that exceptional performance against their goals is the key to pay increases and promotion opportunities?

Read More

Click the logos below for testimonials.

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I just landed $300K in funding from the Department of Homeland Security's Human Factors Group – historically a very difficult customer. The customer actually gave me $75K more than what I'd asked for. Since then, I have developed a trusted advisor position with this PM. She asks my opinion on program ideas and continues to send money almost without my asking for it. I attribute this success directly … specifically to the coaching I have been getting from Lenann.”

Dr. Ann Speed
Cognitive Psychologist, Sandia National Laboratories

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Observing the positive effects of Lenann's executive coaching with a colleague, I reached out. I was impressed after our first conversation with how well she listened -- not just to the concept I was trying to convey, but also the words I chose to describe situations. As she reflected those words back to me with insightful questioning, I began to fundamentally understand myself better and what communication tools were needed to be more effective in management and leadership. What reinforced my learnings from our sessions further were the reflections and readings after our sessions. As Lenann heard about my interest in analytics she provided me with a very detailed overview of specific degree programs that were exactly what I was interested in pursuing. This again is evidence of how carefully and deliberately Lenann listens and invests in her clients. Furthermore, dedicated to her clients, Lenann was extremely responsive and always available. I have benefitted immensely from my time with Lenann and recommend her highly for anyone who finds themselves wondering how they can grow or improve themselves professionally. I use the tools and techniques I developed with Lenann's assistance regularly. My only regret is that I could have met Lenann sooner!”

Dr. Irene Krokos
Senior Regional Medical Director, Molina Healthcare (a Fortune 500 company)

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann, you’ve been a GREAT help!  Thanks for reminding me of so many important points for my work introducing new, bleeding-edge technologies to senior banking officials.  During my days as Managing Director, Head Trader and Head of Structured Trading for a leading global securities firm, my challenge was introducing new technologies internally; now that I am introducing them to organizations of which I am not an employee, the challenges are different, and I am happy to let you know that, just today, I have been asked to represent to some high-level banking contacts the technology of a Canadian firm whose work is exemplary!  I appreciate your Executive Coaching, communications and meeting strategy advice, and specifically your advice on communications with my newest client that enabled me to secure this monthly-retainer-plus-success-fee arrangement.”

Gary W.
Gary W., Ph.D. and Senior Technology Professional, London, U.K.

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“My partners share my high evaluation of your program and recognition of your skills. Thank you for the excellent program to help our leaders.”

Igor Rodin
(Former) Vice Chairman, Deloitte Central Europe

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Closed 5 deals last week!! Thanks, Lenann, for your support, guidance and belief. The Game On Sales Coaching program we are doing with you keeps me sharp on the follow ups, value estimation and most importantly the closing rates!”

Jase P. Choenni
Head of Sales & Marketing, TMF GROUP BRAZIL

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Thanks so much for the quick follow-up to our meeting today.  I was extremely pleased and excited to see how well your work was received.  It was a beautiful thing!  Yes, I believe your calculations are correct as to the additional revenue my team has committed to bringing in!  I am thrilled that we did this, and feel we’re all excited about achieving our goals for growing our business.  I do think my change in how I am approaching leading our business went over well – I am glad I was able to vocalize that, so now I have to do it.  It was good for me to put that goal out there!”

Karen Cooper
Owner, MedCare Senior Insurance Solutions

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I was amazed at how perceptive Lenann is about issues (both personal and professional) that were impediments to my reaching sales goals. She helped me to understand that selling is first understanding the client's frame of reference, positioning through powerful, provocative statements, and a process of gaining agreement to next steps. Lenann demonstrated specifically how this is done in both verbal and written communications. In our consulting session, she distilled all the latest research and what's working in today's environment. What she taught me should become basic to my approach with all prospective clients. Lenann is brilliant, enthusiastic, and above all, very personable. The experience of working with Lenann was surprisingly pleasant, and gave me the confidence that I could also improve my selling abilities by following her recommendations. She is truly inspirational. I look forward to continuing my work with Lenann.”

Wealth Management Professional, Major Financial Institution

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“The Coaching I received from Lenann was invaluable to me. My takeaways included: Learning how to understand your client as opposed to 'knowing your client' – this has made me a far better listener and more empathetic to my clients' REAL needs; Being the 'trusted advisor' as opposed to a service provider – I had an interesting experience that I would like to share with you. I was asked by a potential client to assist with a matter that I knew we did not have the 'firepower' to assist them with. In the profession, it is unheard of to admit that your competitors are ahead of you but I tried it with the client and it worked. Today, he FIRST talks to me about any assistance that he may need and does not even ask for competitor bids; Handling difficult clients. Lenann has been a great help in honing my skills in this area. I have found myself more prepared to 'walk the road' during the client's time of difficulty than before. In my business, we are supposed to be transaction-oriented since we deal with clients on a project-by-project basis. However, where I have invested the time to deal with a client's unhappiness instead of handing the matter over to my colleagues, to my surprise, the client has 'come around' to even admitting that his/her organization was the place where the fault lies – that is a major 'coup' for us since it is very seldom that a client does that. We have managed to build a sustainable business (revenues and earnings is way up on last years' and, most importantly, we have built an impressive team) under fairly trying circumstances – Lenann has played a role in enabling me to do this.”

Neven Hendricks
(Former) Partner Deloitte, United Arab Emirates

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I can’t wait to start having meetings with our techs about the daily Sales Tips you’ve been creating and sending me daily. I really like today’s in particular because I think our techs might believe that sales is a nasty word. This will help me get the dialogue started and hopefully help them see it in a more positive light! Again, thank you!”

Rhonda Stewart
Rhonda Stewart, Owner, RotoRooter, Victorville, California

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Here are some key things I learned from working with Lenann: 1. I like the concept of a “Challenger Salesperson.” The more interesting, engaging and informative we can be in a useful way to the client, the better. 2. I don’t spend as much time selling as I think I do. 3. The way people do business continues to change and evolve – and I have to keep my selling skills current to keep up with those changes. 4. Treat others the way they want to be treated (not necessarily how I would want to be treated if I were them). A big company we haven’t done meaningful business with in about 5 years is about to come back in a very meaningful and multi-million dollar way…”

Russ Conser
Key Account Manager, Oberthur Technologies

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann, you've been great, as always. You put me in the right direction every time we speak - you tell me to focus on the right stuff and 'build it right.' Thanks!”

Scott Price
Regional Director - Americas, Custom House Fund Services, Chicago

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann has been my coach for over 8 years now. The coaching conversations we have are worthwhile because they give me the opportunity to speak freely and honestly about the leadership challenges I am facing without fear of retaliation or negative thoughts from superiors within my organization. Her advice has often put me back on track to achieve my goals and career ambitions. The focus and accountability she provides has been extremely valuable for my success and advancement. Another unique aspect of Lenann’s coaching for me has been the female role model perspective. There are very few women throughout my career who have advanced their careers as far as Lenann has. The respect I have for her as a role model and as a professional businesswoman with a family has given me hope that I can do it all, too!”

Tina Sampson
(Former) Vice President Sales and Marketing, Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I am glad that, in addition to our Sales Training, I chose to have you sit down, one-to-one, with four of our key people. The observations you sent me about each of them are perfect and helpful, especially in cases and/or aspects which I could not put in words before, but had a feeling about.

Two of the professionals with whom you spoke continue to develop well, they are thoughtful, have considered the feedback received, and learned from it. Both have sold new engagements for us, and they are going out to sell more and more. It is nice to see how their level of confidence has increased!

Thank you again for helping me in this matter.”

Julia Varga
(Former) Managing Director, TMF Group, Hungary

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“The coaching I had with Lenann is paying off in SPADES. I’m pulling in money for other people, now. Recently I spent two hours with a prospective funder (who approached me), and followed Lenann’s selling approach (i.e., we took NO slides to the meeting and let the customer talk 95% of the time, only talking to ask questions – not to tell the customer anything about what we do). At the end of that time, I said, ‘What’s the next step?’, and the customer replied, ‘How do we send you money?’ You have to know how to conduct a conversation to make that happen – it’s 95% listening (literally!), 4% asking questions, and only 1% discussion about your content and capabilities.”

Dr. Ann Speed
PMTS, Sandia National Laboratories

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann is a very accomplished and experienced Coach, who builds her advice and coaching based on her own Executive experience. She understands the daily pressure of high level executives and through her advice is an excellent catalyst for increased productivity of her client – ultimately to the benefit of the company. She provides real value for the money, and I would any day again participate in a coaching program with Lenann given the chance.”

Claus Vorreiter Jensen
Chief Commercial Officer, Svendborg Brakes, Denmark

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann, your influence has been so positive for my career! I will never forget you. I keep close to my heart people that contribute to my growth, and you have definitely been part of my growth professionally. I hope we can always keep in touch.”

Elena Montiel
(Former) Executive of Global Business Development, TMF USA, Inc., Miami

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann was terrific! After her ‘Trust and Respect in the Workplace’ learning experience, we had the most absolute pleasant best day at work in a very long time!”

Ellen Diamond
Mark Diamond's Jewelers, Albuquerque

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Thank you for your Sales and Closing Skills Class and follow-up program for our global team. I appreciate your response to my request for your thoughts on the

  • Selling Strengths you observed on our team
  • Selling Weaknesses you observed on our team
  • Leadership Strengths you observed on our team
  • Leadership Weaknesses you observed on our team
  • Implications of all of the above for the future of our firm, and recommendations.

I found your 5-page analysis to be succinct and immediately useful and I’ve applied the lessons there. Very valuable input!”

Koen van Weezel
(Former) Group Director, Global Sales & Marketing, TMF Group, The Netherlands

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“My prospect chose to invest $2 million today – and I say ‘Thank YOU a million, Lenann!’ I couldn’t have done it without your good sales coaching yesterday! This was especially sweet because the client had expressed an interest in a discounted up-front fee, had access to plenty of managers who don't charge those fees, and yet when I took the approach you recommended, the fee wasn’t a problem. I could not have gotten that result without your guidance, Lenann.”

Wealth Management Professional, Major Global Financial Institution

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann is absolutely the best there is! I've heard Zig Ziglar, Tom Hopkins, all the gurus, but I felt 'Yeah, I've heard all this before.' Lenann changes people's lives – the way they work, think and are motivated. She makes a very real, and quite incredible, difference!”

Patti Roland
(Former) Vice President Sales & Marketing, Stonebridge Homes

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“My Executive Coaching experience with Lenann has helped me considerably. My judgment of the value of Lenann’s Coaching can best be seen in the fact that I have encouraged other members of my staff to work with her, and they have. I have seen improvement in them as well! I particularly appreciate all the ‘homework’ Lenann had me complete to get me to look at my leadership behaviors, and see ways in which I can improve. I find myself sharing materials Lenann gives me with members of my senior staff, so the learning is shared in our organization. Lenann is always the first person I mention when others ask about Coaching.”

Patty Kehoe
CEO, Molina Healthcare of NM (a Fortune 500 company)

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann, I am proud to say that our volume is up – this is very, very positive. And the growth is interesting; there are no signs of slowing down in the trend of huge sales increases we have seen. The key executive whom you are coaching is making strong progress! Thank you for the monthly Coaching Report you provide – it is an extremely useful, clear picture of where we are.
Looking forward to continuing to work with you”

Roberto Schianchi
Chief Executive Officer, ZOBELE HOLDING S.P.A

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I enjoyed Sales Coaching with Lenann so much! Lenann is very good at assessing the situation -- with a couple of simple questions she gets to the bottom of things. The one-on-one nature of Lenann’s Coaching means there’s no way you can hide (as can happen in a classroom). I was continually intrigued by Lenann’s questions and constant feedback on performance…”

Wouter Plantenga
Senior VP, Head of International Structuring Americas, TMF USA, Inc., New York

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“(Lenann’s) coaching activities are very thorough, and are a part of a modern approach which makes a lot of sense. Our sales team had a great performance in this month, and I am convinced that Lenann’s (coaching) had a big influence on this result.”

Thierry Montfort
(Former) President and CEO, Heel USA

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I feel very good about the coaching that you provided to a professional on our team. Your coaching made a critical difference. His performance was much improved after his session with you. In fact, it contributed substantially to our success last year. Thank you!”

Dr. Will Swearingen
Executive Director, TechLink

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I attribute, easily, $10 MILLION in sales directly to learning with, and coaching from, Lenann.”

Mark Walton
(Former) Partner and Global Head of Operations Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers, London

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I worked with Lenann about 5 years ago. Just this month, I once again applied what she taught me, and closed 4 of 5 proposals – over $300,000! Lenann Gardner is a combination of blazing intelligence and electrifying enthusiasm!”

Pat Davis
Vice President and Director of Consulting Services, Marketing Insights Practice, KantarHealth

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“The demands on consultants these days are immense and it's so easy to end up in a 'feast or famine' situation. When you're working an engagement with a client, it can become all encompassing. I am happy to serve as a reference for Lenann McGookey Gardner, who helped me with a Coaching program. Lenann has a very engaging personality, a person never to be forgotten. I consider the materials Lenann provided to be very useful. Most of all, Lenann's advice and tips are straightforward and readily implementable when you're engaged in demanding client engagements.”

John Corr
Director AlixPartners (A global firm of senior business and consulting professionals), Somerset, United Kingdom

Schedule a Quick Conversation

Let's explore whether Executive Consulting is right for you. There's no risk, no cost, and no pressure.