It is told that Distinguished 17th Century architect Sir Christopher Wren, shared a story about Employee Engagement. Yes, there was interest in employee engagement in the year, 1678.

Wren, who was highly regarded for many of London’s finest church designs, was visiting the job site of his St. Paul’s Cathedral project in London.  

His visit took him to the stone mason’s pit.

He came upon a mason and asked: “What are you doing?” the worker answered: “I am cutting these stones to a certain size and shape.” He asked the same question of a second worker and the worker answered, “I am cutting stones for a certain wage.”  He came to a third mason and asked the question again. This time the worker got up from his work, straightened himself and replied: “I am helping Sir Christopher Wren build St. Paul’s Cathedral.”

This story hits my heart every time I think about it because it is exactly the world and situation I am trying to help my clients create.  I want their folks to stand tall and say, “I am helping John build the best company he can, I am not anonymous or irrelevant.”

On the scale of engagement, who would you say was the most engaged mason?

In our world of ICI (instant competitor imitation*), the one thing that cannot be instantly copied are engaged employees.  You know who they are, they are your folks who believe in your vision, assume accountability, live in a productive reasoning mode, are not fearful and defensive; who stand up, hold their shoulders back and say I am part of the team and we are doing this.

I train owners and leaders in the use of tools that allow them to consistently hire and motivate employees who stand tall and think of their work as more than their job. They are teammates on a team driving to a common vision, a common goal. 

* ICI – Instant Competitor Imitation: I lived in this world, my company, Layline, was the industry thought leader and what came with this were imitators/copycats… and with the advent of the internet, the speed that a competitor could adjust to a message or offering was basically overnight. The only thing that allowed a gap was incredibly engaged team mates who added that special something, caring, whatever you want to call it, that the customers could feel and appreciate. Employee engagement is still the only defensible position against Instant Competitor Imitation.



The problem with Millennials is…

You can complete that sentence any way you wish. Like all stereotypes it will be false and the odds are favorable that I’ve heard whatever you come up with.   I am lucky, in a typical year I get to spend 8 hours a day across 125 days huddled with senior leadership teams of 30 different companies doing the gutsy work of improving their organizations. The biggest problems at organizations have to do with people and through the years, I’ve noticed that complaints about people often include the Millennial stereotype excuse. 

This confused me. Every week I worked with Millennials who are part of my senior teams, Millennials who are not only smart, engaged, and hard-working, but also poised to take over the world. Why the disconnect? The teams and organizations I worked with did not share a bias against Millennials. What was it that we were doing together breaking this Millennial stereotype?

I went verbal with these Millennials. I started pulling them aside, having discussions with them, trading thoughts and emails, looking for the pattern, probing for what made them different, what was breaking the mold.  I distilled my analysis and used it to discover the seven fundamental principles that distinguished companies that were happy with their Millennials from those that were not. From these principles came the Seven Questions at the heart of this book. 

As I refined the Seven Questions and shared them with everyone from programmers, receptionists and salespeople to CEOs and business owners, I realized that I had discovered not just questions but jewels. Everyone I tested the The Seven Questions with felt that I was getting at all of the things that motivated and engaged them at work. It did not seem possible to hit all the areas that would satisfy, inspire, and empower team members with just seven fundamentals, but as I looked for an eighth question, people told me again and again that I had covered all the bases with 7Q.

With the 7Q I discovered something equally as exciting as the solution to the Millennial bias. It turns out that every team member wanted the same thing as a Millennial did. They want to Belong, to Believe, and to be Accountable. They want to be able to embrace the ways they are  Measured and to feel that they were Heard. They wanted their organizations to offer opportunities for Development and Balance. 

It was simple. There were seven simple principles. When I presented them in the form of questions, I realized that when leaders could get all team members to say yes in these seven areas, most of the complaints will disappear. The dysfunction would fade, and the organization would enjoy the kind of advantage leaves competitors dazed. 

Digging deeper, I discovered that the common thread tying these Seven Questions together was Patience. Seven “yeses” built perseverance, wisdom, and grit into organizations. It helped them to establish an authentic vision, and create the goals and strategies to realize it. It created an approach that is best described as Patient. Answering yes to the Seven Questions makes you a Patient Organization.

I continued testing my thesis.  As a team coach, I have worked with industrial rigging and construction companies, IT companies, software companies, for-profit healthcare businesses, a nonprofit battling homelessness, a boutique real estate brokerage, a local SPCA branch, ORNL the national research lab, a coffee company, a hair salon franchise, and many more. The Seven Questions worked for all of them – enormous, tiny, for-profit, nonprofit. If your organization has people, the Seven Questions apply, and this book is for you. 

I began posting the Seven Questions on walls. I help leadership teams implement the Entrepreneurial Operating System. An Organizational Operating System, if you aren’t familiar with the term, allows an organization to codify how it operates. A concrete set of OOS tools helps owners set priorities, review team members, track numbers, develop marketing strategies, and communicate. I’ve used EOS to help transform the cultures and boost the bottom-lines of more than 125 companies at press time.

Having the perspective of growing and running four companies of my own, I was smitten by the EOS model and its results but could never fully explain why it worked so well. Over time, I made yet another discovery: Organizational Operating Systems work because they maintain yes to the Seven Questions. The tools of an OOS must help an organization maintain yes on the Seven Questions, and the best Organizational Operating Systems leave no gaps.

The beauty of the Seven Questions is in their thoroughness and simplicity. Only seven, a few words each, and yet they can transform an entire organization. This is not to say that getting to yes is easy. On the contrary, it’s difficult, takes time, and often causes pain. My goal in this book is to make yes as smooth as possible, so that you can begin enjoying the advantages of a Patient Organization. 

In Part I, I begin with some of the theory that underlies organizational life, Organizational Operating Systems, and my views of Patience, leadership, and dysfunction are presented. This is the 25,000-foot view. It’s the shortest section because this is not a purely theoretical book. Part I is intended to be extremely practical and hands-on, with concrete steps you can begin using tomorrow. In Part II, we’ll roll up our sleeves to see how and why the Seven Questions work, identify the obstacles to avoid, and supply a diagnostic to see how far from yes your organization is on each Question. Part III will help you understand how to get to the first yes, what I call the Heavy Lift, and what to look for in an OOS to help you maintain yes

Patience is much more than a virtue. Instilled in an organization through the Seven Questions, it is a way to motivate team members who belong and believe, to make decisions that align with your core values, and to realize a vision that makes you a fierce competitor.




Most organizations begin with a dream.  Someone is passionate about a product, service, or cause and at some point, realize they can provide it better or faster or cheaper than the next guy.  Founders take on the considerable risk of starting businesses because they know they are good at this thing, whatever it is, and they have a vision for an organization, a dream. Most worked for others before striking out on their own and were dissatisfied if not disgusted with the way those companies operated – the mismanagement, missed opportunities, mistreatment.

So many misses!

The more they think about it, the more they yearn for the chance to have a hit, to build an organization on their values, one that will maximize profit and its people’s potential. Their organizations will be innovative, react nimbly to markets, grow at a steady clip. They will surround themselves with talented hard-workers and create the place where they always wanted to work.

For a while, sometimes many years, the dream inches toward reality. Founders surround themselves with hard-workers who believe in the same thing, communicate well, and work together on targets. Profits start to flow and the business grows. “Business,” actually feels like the wrong word for what they’re creating. This thing that began as a dream is alive and growing. This thing has a soul. 

The team expands. Founders are no longer pleased with everyone, but maybe this is inevitable, just as growth was bound to make communicating tougher. It’s hard to say exactly where or why communication is failing these days, but too many fires need dousing now to worry about that. 

Profits aren’t quite where the owners hoped, so they introduce various business-school measures (there’s now an MBA, or several in the picture). Improvement comes in fits and starts, but they keep bumping into that invisible something that drains the momentum, and they can’t seem to break through. Key projects stall and important tasks slip. Too many employees lack drive and initiative. The status quo is seeping in. Owners have never worked harder or had less to show for their effort. They have never needed a vacation more or felt less able to take one. Their stomachs churn at the thought that the horrible old cliché has come true – they aren’t running the business, it’s running them.

What happened to the dream? It has become something awful – a company, or worse yet, a business. The once-living thing has morphed into a soulless machine. Like a machine, it is static and rigid. It can’t grow, evolve, or adapt, and founders aren’t sure where things went wrong.

This is when I meet most of the people I work with – some desperate, others only dissatisfied, but all aware of a significant gap between their original vision and the dysfunction they now see on a daily basis. The root of the problem – and the argument at the heart of this book – is that they are not running Patient Organizations. In this section I will explain exactly what I mean by a Patient Organization and introduce the Seven Questions that can transform even the most dysfunctional business into one. 

In case the notion of Seven Questions implies otherwise, I want to point out right away that this is not an easy process.  Just like Patrick Lencioni, author of Five Dysfunctions of a Team, says about core values, an organization considering the journey to become a Patient Organization must first come to grips with the fact that when properly done, it will inflict pain.  The 7 Questions will hold leaders to a higher standard and will make some of your teammates feel like outcasts. Getting back to your dream will not necessarily be a walk in the park. Some pain is unavoidable. 

Patience, as I’ll explore shortly, has nothing to do with dragging feet, suffering fools, or reacting sluggishly. A Patient Organization takes the time to focus, to rise above the system, to make methodical improvements, and to prioritize problems and opportunities. Patience leads to consistency and stamina, and it attracts employees who love their work. When team members and the business as a whole enjoy “yes” on the seven vital questions, they create a Patient Organization that runs smoothly and gains a massive edge over the competition.



My concept of a Patient Organization and the Seven Questions is the distillation of thirty years’ experience – twenty growing my own four businesses and another decade helping to transform the cultures of more than 125 companies as a team coach. This book is a one size fits all solution. Issues and goals vary widely from owner to owner and business to business, but when someone asks what sorts of organizations the Seven Questions can help, I pretend to think deeply, then smile and say un-ironically, “the kind with people.” Normally, this is followed by hearty laugh from both of us. 

If that’s the kind of organization you’re running – the kind with people – this book is for you. In one recent week, I spent Monday with the leaders of the Wake County SPCA, which has 78 people on payroll and hundreds of volunteers; Tuesday at an industrial rigging company that employs 1,180 people; Wednesday with an 18-person commercial real estate firm; Thursday with the team overseeing 781 people at the Oak Ridge Laboratory in Tennessee; and Friday with a team that runs five swim schools, 48 people. All are benefitting enormously from embracing the Seven Questions as I help them become Patient Organizations.

As I often tell leaders, the language of a Patient Organization is industry-agnostic. Small or enormous, for-profit or nonprofit, heavy manufacturing, software, or customer service – if the operation has people, running it well requires Patience.  Throughout the book I will give concrete examples to show in practical terms how aligning to yes on the Seven Questions can help all owners and leaders create Patient Organizations that align with their vision. 


Every problem in an organization is, at root, a people problem. Corporations exist on paper, but they aren’t real entities without the people who comprise them. As my father, a dedicated retailer running fourteen stores with 2,100 employees used to say, “It would be easy if it weren’t for the people.”

As someone who coaches senior leadership teams as part of my EOS Implementation Practice, no one knows this better than I do. I typically work with thirty or so teams at a time, meeting with each for five full days a year. This means that more than one-third of my days, around 135 per year, are spent in rooms with senior leadership. Most of the issues and problems we uncover during sessions ultimately have to do with people. 

The frustration with people is understandable. Around 70 percent of U.S. workers are not actively engaged at work, according to a recent Gallup survey. Business owners often cite Gallup’s famous engagement stats – some have them memorized – and all can supply anecdotal evidence of problems with team members and a work ethic that seems to have slipped.

This might be a good time to go to the stats. Every three years Gallup does a U.S. employee engagement survey, and the numbers look like this: 32 / 50 / 18.

Nearly one-third of folks, 32 percent, are engaged to actively engaged. This is where the magic happens, where the new ideas are formed, where the profitable and creative relationships are established. 

Half of the folks are just “neutrally engaged.” There are a couple of awareness points I like to make with my clients around this 50 percent. One is that we have to have these folks. They are the coal cars in the coal train, happily carrying heavy loads, staying in line. They don’t drag their brakes, but they don’t add a lot of energy like the engaged “engines” do either. We have them and need them, and you need to embrace that they are just fine as neutrally engaged and work to keep them happy. 

The last group makes up 18 percent of workers and they are disengaged to actively disengaged. I ask when coaching if anyone knows who I am talking about, can they picture one of these faces, and almost 100 percent of the time, folks give a resounding yes. I also ask how many engaged team members does it take to offset a disengaged team member. Gallup says the ratio is 1:1, my clients say 3:1. One client, Michael, put it this way: “Let’s have a race. I am going to run around messing up the house, and you go around, cleaning the house. Who is going to win?” Always gets a chuckle.  

Why is someone disengaged? Because they care. (See circle graph, you can download these graphics at Team members become disengaged because they care deeply about something that you are not providing. The answer is in the Seven Questions. 

And yet when we pull the two ends together at the top of the accompanying circle graph, we see that the distance between engagement and disengagement is very small, and it is easier to lose someone to the dark side / disengagement than it is to move a coal car to active engagement. Why? Because the people at the top care. 

Don’t waste your best efforts trying to move neutrally engaged folks to engagement. Work hard to keep the engaged folks engaged and to make the disengaged, engaged – or to get them to self-select out of your organization. 

Final note: “You know, some people just be crazy.” This pearl came from an Atlanta Uber driver who was quizzing me about what I do and the wisdom behind it – and he’s right. There are some people you just cannot work with, and the Seven Questions will not fix them. 

Millennials, who in 2017, ranged from college age to their mid-thirties, get a particularly bad rap. I won’t repeat the stereotypes most readers have probably encountered when it comes to this generation. I don’t for one second agree with the negative traits I’ve heard endlessly ascribed to them, but I understand business owners’ concerns. In 2016, Millennials accounted for 38 percent of the U.S. workforce, and some estimate they could be 75 percent of U.S. workers by 2025. The future health of our economy depends on harnessing the energy of these workers, so if they were particularly tough to motivate, owners would be right to worry.

At a quick glance, the Gallup stats might seem to back the stereotypes. Only 29 percent of Millennials were engaged at work in 2016, according to Gallup’s study, “How Millennials Want to Work and Live,” and a record 60 percent of them are open to new job opportunities – a higher percentage than of previous generations.  But when you look at the macro stats about engagement, you see the numbers are basically the same: 32 / 50 / 18. Damn, millennials are humans too. 

I would suggest, however, that while owners’ complaints are understandable, the real causes of their frustrations are misunderstood. That gap between perception and reality actually became the foundation for this book and the start of a ten-year journey for me, doing soft-skills research, observing patterns, and building on decades of my own experience in business. 

The spark that led to The Patient Organization was simply this: in my work with a wide range of organizations, the Millennials I met were capable, talented team-players eager to take on leadership roles. I could not reconcile my experience of team members like Kerrie, a 28-year-old company president (not an owner or relative of one) doing an exemplary job of integrating an $8 million-per-year business with 67 employees. 

What inspired Kerrie and the other hardworking Millennials I met and what made them actively engaged? I began pulling them aside to ask, having informal meetings, exchanging emails, and gathering feedback.

I discovered that Millennials, in fact, desire the same things we all do. The ones I spoke to wanted to be held accountable, and a lack of clear accountability left them frustrated. They wanted to feel like they were serving a larger purpose – don’t we all? – but many of their leaders seemed unable to articulate their organization’s why, or merely paid it lip service. The Millennials I spoke to longed to feel confident in the ways they were measured and heard and developed. Leaders who provided that confidence through clear channels received a high level of engagement and performance in return. Those who did not blamed the confusion and frustration they sewed – often with the best of intentions – on the supposedly poor motivation of a generation.

I quickly came to realize that what I was learning about Millennials applied to all team members, whether eighteen years old or eighty. They answered my questions about satisfaction and frustrations at work in many ways, some at length and some briefly, some with great precision, and others with vague unease. Some couldn’t wait to go to work in the morning, and some expressed dissatisfaction, but the same patterns kept emerging.

After years of these discussions, I noticed that the important issues mirrored the same ones I’d encountered running my own four companies. I’d addressed them in various ways as a business owner, but never spelled them out, as I was starting to in my work with leadership teams. As a coach, I eventually was able to distill those years of feedback into the seven fundamentals at the heart of this book – the Seven Questions.

I will spend Part II exploring the Seven Questions in depth and devote Part III to strategies for aligning to and maintaining yes on them. Each question has two parts. The first is for the organization and lays the groundwork for the second part, which team members ask themselves as they work to understand and embrace what yes means. Here are the Seven Questions in brief:



The individual must say yes absolutely Part II The organization must say yes absolutely Part III
1. Do I belong? (Fit the organization’s core values and have the skillsets needed for my job) I Belong.  1. We have clearly defined our core values and skills necessary for every position.
2. Do I believe? (am motivated by the why and the strategic direction leadership is taking) I Believe. 2. We know our Why and Focus, and have a clearly laid out strategies that are consistently communicated.
3. Am I accountable? (understand the purpose of my job, what I should be thinking and doing) I am Accountable. 3. Our Accountability and Responsibility structure is clear.
4. Am I measured well? I understand and embrace how I am Measured. 4. We have metrics for our positions. Owners use them to form strategies for success.
5. Is my opinion is heard? I understand and embrace how I am heard. 5. We have clear communication – meetings, mentoring, etc. – to build trust, spur debate and solves problems.
6. Am I being developed? I understand and embrace how I am Developed. 6. How employees tone holds their development is clearly presented and systematic?
7. Do I have balance? I understand and embrace how Balance is maintained. 7. How we consider everyone’s time and life capacity for work is clearly presented and systematic.

These seven principles, I discovered, were the things that made not just Millennials but all employees feel enabled and engaged, that made them love going to work. The questions were simple. Getting team members and the business to answer yes on all of them was not, but once I understood that I had a key that could unlock success for any organization willing to use it, I knew I had to write this book.

Excited about the Seven Questions, I drilled down further and realized that Patience is the foundation they rest on. Patience had been on my mind. In my conversations with millennials, I came to understand that if they differed at all from previous generations, it was perhaps because they had more clarity about what they wanted and a little more wisdom when it came to their futures. That wisdom gave them the Patience to not simply accept the status quo or some prescribed route, or to take what someone handed them without the ability to change their circumstances. They were Patient about shaping the right futures for themselves, and they thrived as members of Patient Organizations. 

Pretty much every human I shared them with gave me an enthusiastic yes and agreed I was onto something – they did not see any holes or gaps. I was a good team coach before I had the Seven Questions, but using them with teams upped my game. They were direct and clear and made sense to everyone, from longtime business owners to new team members fresh out of school.


The Seven Questions felt almost magical to me for another reason, too. They explained how and why the things I did as team coach – and that I had done running my own businesses – worked. Let me back up here for a moment and explain briefly how I came to work as a coach for the clients I call PBOLTs – Private Business Owners with Leadership Teams (pronounced P-Bolt). In school, I studied business accounting and statistics.  (Ironically, I am a dyslexic numbers guy.) Straight out of school, I worked for a “big 8” CPA firm for four audit seasons.

In 1986, I took the IQ exam and scored low enough that I was allowed to start my own company. That’s a joke – one my wife, Anne, hates. I actually went into the mail order catalog business, selling stuff to households that included someone who raced sailboats. Readers of a certain age will remember that at the time, the Lands’ End clothes catalog appeared poised to take over the world. My catalog ideas grew into Layline (a sailing term), which became a dotcom, and expanded into equestrian-related goods – on the premise that where there’s smoke there’s fire, and where there’s a sailboat there’s probably a horse.

Through the catalog, I became good at finding European brands that wanted a foothold in the U.S. I would set up the company here and create distribution for them and then basically, sell the business back to the brand. After years of doing that successfully, we captured the attention of a family office that inquired about buying the business in 2006. 

I was on the board of Sail America, our trade association, at the time, and before I sold my company, attended a board meeting where George, the guy who ran SAIL magazine, held forth about the coach who helped with his strategic thinking and the peer board he relied on for consulting. I loved the idea and was grilling him about it, when lightbulbs went off around the table. “You’d be great at that, Walt,” was the consensus.

George told me all about TAB, The Alternative Board, and soon after, I bought the franchise for the Raleigh-Durham area. A month after selling my businesses, I had 27 TAB clients. I had success getting business owners on board with the TAB approach, which involves aligning personal vision with business vision, as well as following a strategic thinking method called “critical success factor” that I’m a big fan of. 

Nine months later, pleased clients were saying that they knew where they wanted to go with their lives and businesses. Could I come in to meet with their leadership teams to help them pivot and turn the ship to get there? My own companies had been Patient, nimble, and strategic, so I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Of course, I could help them in the execution.

I went to six appointments with teams, where I presented this business-school approach to strategic planning and at first, everyone around the table thought, this will be great. By the time I was halfway through the sessions, though, they were staring at the ceiling, tongues lolling, clearly thinking, Oh, no, another strategic planning retreat that’s going nowhere. Their frustration was palpable. 

I did not have a concrete, strategic way to help my clients turn the ship, it turned out. I had made those pivots in my businesses, numerous times, but I couldn’t coach someone else on how to do it. I called my clients and told them I did not yet have a way to help them execute their vision but that I knew one was out there and I was determined to find it. 

I dug in and read all the business books making waves then – Good to Great, Built to Last, How the Best Get Better, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, The E-Myth, In Search of Excellence etc. My reactions ran the gamut – no, not quite, good idea, interesting approach, horrible strategy (no particular order here, just sharing reactions). I learned a lot, but even the authors with valuable ideas were writing what I call 20,000-foot books. They all had views from an altitude of 20,000 feet, which looked beautiful (you can’t see the graffiti and potholes from up there, right?), but no one was explaining how to make their vision happen on the ground.

Miraculously, this angel, Don Tinney, and this thing called EOS– the Entrepreneurial Operating System – discovered me, and once Don laid out the EOS model and it’s tools to me, I thought without hesitation, here it is. There is no need to look any further. EOS gets to the heart of the mechanics and what I did best in my businesses but couldn’t communicate to my TAB clients. I knew in my gut that EOS provided business leaders with a key first step, an implementable Organizational Operating System. I brought the system back to the half dozen clients I’d put on hold and then ran another 27 through an EOS implementation over the next 18 months. The results were so good, I sold my TAB practice to my partner, Keith, and hung my shingle as a focused EOS implementer.

I will explore EOS, AKA Traction, and other business “organizational operating systems” in more detail in Part III, but briefly, a good Organizational Operating System provides an efficient way for businesses to clarify exactly who is responsible for what and to focus the company’s vision (why it exists, what it does, where it’s going). It is the opposite of the intangible business-school strategizing that caused my TAB clients’ eyes to glaze over during my first ill-fated attempts to help them execute their vision. 

A Patient Organization has to have an Organizational Operating System (OOS) – whether it’s developed organically, ad hoc (as mine were, when I ran Layline) or imported, with clearly articulated tools, like EOS, 4DX, Rockefeller Habits, Scaling Up, Holacracy, and others. Without one, leaders find themselves running from fire to fire, and strategic thinking suffers. Accountability, metrics, purpose – all the keys to running a successful organization – suffer because Patience is in short supply.

In my view, an Organizational Operating System’s purpose is to build Patience into the organization – the difference between responding and reacting. Both involve taking action as a result of new developments or information, but reacting is defensive, rushed, uncontrolled, survival-oriented, and often emotional. Responding is logical, thoughtful, data-based, and goal-oriented. Patience responds, panic reacts.

During the last decade, as I helped transform the culture of more than 120 businesses through my EOS work, I kept trying to understand exactly why EOS works so well. This question was a constant companion running alongside my quest to understand what Millennials want at work. The answer to both quests was the same, I realized in the end – the Seven Questions. The seven key things that inspire millennials – and all workers – are also the hidden principles on which EOS and a few other Organizational Operating Systems rest. 

The tools of a good OOS must help a business maintain yes on the Seven Questions. If the system doesn’t address and maintain all of the Seven Questions, the gaps eventually spell trouble for any business relying on it. I realize that the relationship between the two can sound a little circular, but I hope that it appears more and more symbiotic in Part II, as I explore the Seven Questions in depth, and in Part III, as I offer practical direction regarding what to look for in an OOS to help you get to and maintain yes.

Want to read the entire thing?