You’ve probably never heard of Byron Lionel Kohlbusch from Hermann, Mo. He wrote plenty of “poison pen” corporate memos but never any famous business books. Byron was a gifted manager, who groomed great salespeople in unconventional ways. This Thanksgiving, as I reflected on my career, I was grateful for the lessons he taught me.

Here’s how he navigated spittoons, distracted driving, newbie employees, and other workplace dynamics.

Be creative with what you have

Byron led The Travelers’ Employee Benefits sales team in Knoxville, Tenn. Our sales territory included coal mines and logging camps in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. We had white-collar clients, too, but let’s just say most sales reps in our company were not requesting a tour of duty in Appalachia. They wanted Philadelphia, White Plains, N.Y., and San Francisco — areas sizzling with big, glamorous companies.

Our territory called for some creativity. Jack, our top salesperson, took his clients and prospects on hunting trips instead of wining and dining them. (read more…)

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The company I worked for in my first professional position gave all of the employees a ham for the holidays. Although I was grateful and surprised to receive anything at all, there was a bit of dismay for this gift because:

  • They didn’t ask me what I wanted
  • My salary was barely a living wage
  • Management treated employees as a commodity, with firings for minor transgressions
  • I was vegetarian (but was able to donate my ham to someone who could use it)

The next company I worked for was a wonderful place to work. We were paid well and treated as individuals and with respect. They gave us a holiday bonus which was a percentage of annual salary. I was happy and grateful about this until I worked in corporate compensation and discovered that the CEO’s holiday bonus equaled my annual salary.

Now I was getting the picture. (read more…)

I recently wrote a short article titled “Do The Right Thing.” I was excited as it was posted by SmartBrief on Leadership and InPower Women.

I cannot tell you how much appreciative feedback I received. This is great news, as it indicates just how many people want to make the good and admirable decisions and actions in business. We certainly need that.

For those who did not read the article, by right things I was not merely referring to ethical. Of course, ethical and appropriate are a given. I was also referring to being encouraging and helpful, a great teammate and communicator — in essence and spirit, being a servant leader and a source of positive energy, and only positive energy. Some of the feedback I received:

  • “The message is inspirational — developing a positive and encouraging environment is planting seeds of success in our workplace, and for our team
    members, and can produce limitless benefits for our firm’s overall success.”
  • “Reminds me — managers do things right; leaders do the right things.”
  • “Fortunately, I am in a smaller company, very leadership-focused, while in the past I worked with managers with an attitude of just do what we tell you, just comply, adhere to our procedures.
  • (read more…)

“Are you a tough boss?” asked an interviewer of John L. Weinberg, senior partner and de facto CEO of Goldman Sachs. A former Marine, Weinberg was a blunt-speaking, unabashed, and self-driven man who knew that most of Goldman’s employees sought to work as hard and as wisely as he himself did. During the period of his leadership, Goldman furthered and consolidated its rapid ascent as a global banking powerhouse.

Weinberg answered the question without hesitation. “Oh, tough is easy. Anyone can be tough.” What is really difficult, he explained, was getting a group of workers to perform to their absolute utmost and in coordination with one another. He was right, of course. The challenge facing Weinberg, and many managers, involves establishing an environment in which an already ambitious crew can deliver their best efforts and have those best efforts most advantageously applied. In my years at Goldman, that was our focus — seeking out the most able and appropriate resources within the firm to find solutions for clients and opportunities in the markets. (read more…)

Many years ago, when I was a corporate training consultant, my client hired a translator named Antonio to work with me to convert a two-day supervisory skills training program from English to Spanish.

The participants of this class all spoke English, but said they’d be more comfortable learning in their native language. Although I hold a degree in Spanish, my Spanish-speaking skills were rusty; a person more skilled in the language was necessary to bring the training to life.

Antonio and I worked together to omit English slang that didn’t translate well and modify activities to better fit the needs of the Spanish-speaking audience. When it came time to hold the training session, I facilitated the class in a combination of English and Spanish, and Antonio provided interpretation as needed. We were an excellent team and the classes went very well. I can’t help but wonder: What if I had tried to go it alone without an interpreter? (read more…)