The Nonprofit Exchange Podcast


Watch the Interview

Listen to the Interview

Leadership in the Abyss…From Bad to Worse and How Companies are Stifling Their Employees

James G. Wetrich

James G. Wetrich

James G. Wetrich, LFACHE is the CEO of The Wetrich Group of Companies. He has been in the healthcare industry for over 40 years, has worked in senior positions at Abbott and Molnlycke Health Care, and has consultedStifled with over 100 companies. He is a certified executive coach. He recently authored Stifled, Where Good Leaders Go Wrong as well as a chapter in the anthology, Quitless: The Power of Persistence in Business and Life by Alinka Rutkowska which was published on March 13, 2021, and became a USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-seller. Jim has served on numerous boards and advisory boards in both non-profit as well as for-profit corporations. Jim is an Adjunct Instructor at Texas Wesleyan University. Jim has a B.S. from the University of Southern California, an MHA from Tulane, and an MBA from Emory. He received the Outstanding Alumnus Award from Tulane University SPH&TM.

As the management guru Peter Drucker once said, managing nonprofits are some of the most challenging to lead. Family and faith are central to where we must focus.

More about James at

Participate in Future Interviews live on Zoom

Read the Interview Transcript

0:01 – Hugh Ballou Welcome to the Nonprofit Exchange. This is Hugh Ballou, Founder and President of Synervision Leadership Foundation, where we help leaders build synergy with their teams, their boards of volunteers, and their members, to accomplish their mission. And there are some important things that we need to think about in leadership. And today, my guest is James Wetrich, and James is in Texas. James, welcome to the Nonprofit Exchange. Please take a minute and tell people a little bit about who you are and why you do this important work.

0:35 – James Wetrich Thank you so much. I’m honored and delighted to be with you your guests and your listeners. I am very passionate about leadership, about management. I read Warren Bennis’ book in 1979 on becoming a leader. And it, right after it was published in, 1989, sorry. And it changed my life forever. And I’ve become a student of leadership ever since really pouring into Warren’s book. And I’ve read many books on leadership. I blog a little bit on leadership. And of course, I’ve written a book with some characteristics of good and bad leaders.

1:16 – Hugh Ballou What’s the name of your book?

1:17 – James Wetrich Stifled, where good leaders go wrong.

1:21 – Hugh Ballou Wa. Is an interesting topic. Now, we’ve titled this interview, Leadership in the Abyss, From Bad to Worse and How Companies are Stifling Their Employees. So, give us a little enlightenment about that.

1:38 – James Wetrich Yeah since I published the book 2 years ago, it’s getting worse. And that’s why we titled. I think this session from bad to worse. I can’t believe some of the things that are going on and there continue to be too many meetings, too much bureaucracy, and too much use of poor performance management companies that aren’t training their leaders. Leaders that don’t know what their job is, I, there was a Gallup poll a couple of years ago that said something like 25% of the managers don’t even know what their job is.

2:14 – James Wetrich I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s amazing. And I have a client I have worked with in the past recently who actually. Told me that after their performance management process, they had to redo all their performance management ratings because the organization decided that certain people weren’t going to have certain ratings and they needed to go back and rewrite their people after they’ve already rated them and submitted their performance review. I mean, it’s just stuff like that. You just can’t imagine.

2:43 – James Wetrich I had a friend call me the other day. They were asked for anonymous feedback on a leader. And 1 of his subordinates was called by the chief operating officer of the company, asking him to explain the feedback he provided in this so-called anonymous feedback, which was no longer so anonymous. Yeah.

3:08 – Hugh Ballou Yeah, and anonymous is questionable anyway.

3:12 – James Wetrich Of course, of course.

3:15 – Hugh Ballou So, you’ve been working in this field for a while, and you’ve seen the good, bad, and the ugly. And as you just alluded to, or you didn’t allude to, you just said it straight out. It’s getting worse. Why do you think it’s getting worse?

3:29 – James Wetrich Well, you know, Hugh, I was talking to somebody the other day, and they speculated that. It’s the pressure of the bureaucracy. In other words, if I’m working for you, you’re concerned that I’m going to do a good job because you want to look good. And the pressure from above for people to look good and be good performers is putting pressure throughout the organization. I can’t trust Jim to do his job. So I have to help manage Jim and the people below Jim, because I want to look good myself.

4:06 – James Wetrich And the only way I can guarantee that I look good is if I put pressure, they get their work done. So I think that’s interesting. And I do think there is a lot of downward pressure. And I do think that culture, for the most part, starts at the top.

4:23 – Hugh Ballou Absolutely, and I don’t know if you know my career was a musical conductor I surf mega churches and I hired major orchestras wherever I was working. But it’s exactly true in any culture. What the orchestra sees, what the choir sees is what you get.

4:40 – James Wetrich Yeah, amen.

4:42 – Hugh Ballou The culture is really a reflection of the leader.

4:45 – James Wetrich Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.

4:48 – Hugh Ballou Our whole methodology is based on how you conduct transformation. Well, you don’t, you don’t sing or you don’t play the instruments you lead.

4:58 – James Wetrich Yeah.

4:59 – Hugh Ballou It’s misunderstanding in your experience of the word leadership.

5:03 – James Wetrich What’s the biggest misunderstanding? I think people believe that it means that I need to tell you what to do, right? And I. I think that’s where a lot of leaders get into a lot of trouble. They believe, particularly when they’ve been very good individual contributors and they’re put into a new manager or leadership role, that I need to actually tell you How to do your job what to do when to do it the process to follow and they have confused being supportive and helping with development with having to actually tell people what to do.

5:54 – James Wetrich No. I don’t need you to tell me what to do as my leader. I need you to help me get my job done. I need you to help me remove barriers and roadblocks. I need you to help me develop so I can do my job, but I don’t need you to tell me what to do.

6:13 – Hugh Ballou I’d like to tell our listeners, that you and I just met and we are spot-on in alignment with what you’re talking about. And, you know, I don’t think any organization, you’re talking about corporate America, but I serve mega-churches. It’s the same bureaucracy.

6:28 – James Wetrich Yep. Yep.

6:30 – Hugh Ballou And there are larger nonprofits and of course, corporate leaders on the boards. So they bring all the bad practices from business into that.

6:39 – James Wetrich Absolutely. The horse.

6:40 – Hugh Ballou No, they do both. They bring good ones. But you know, there’s. And we have a heightened anxiety in the culture, which we don’t need to go there, but it’s there. Yes. And that infects our organization’s inside. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the writings of Mary Bowen, B-O-W-E-N, a psychiatrist, who has Bowen family systems. And we learn about ourselves from our family of origin. One of the things that he talks about is the reciprocity of over-functioning, under-functioning, and the more the leader over-functioning, the less other people are going to function.

7:14 – James Wetrich Yeah, yeah. I’m not familiar with that, but it makes complete sense. Understand it. Yeah.

7:21 – Hugh Ballou Yeah, my family systems, George is the Bowen Center, but I’ve studied that methodology for many years and it’s it is spot on to what you’re talking about. And not only do we unknowingly set up problems, but we actually make them worse, don’t we?

7:36 – James Wetrich Yeah, absolutely. There’s no doubt about it. I couldn’t agree more. Yep.

7:44 – Hugh Ballou We’re going to talk about your website and just before we you know, before we end this, we got a lot of coverage between now and then. So, let’s talk more. So, I work with leaders all over the globe, non-private leaders, church leaders. It really doesn’t matter. What you’re talking about is generic leadership.

8:03 – James Wetrich Correct.

8:04 – Hugh Ballou And in the nonprofit world, it’s the same, but it’s a whole lot more difficult.

8:09 – James Wetrich Oh, it is.

8:11 – Hugh Ballou Why is that? Why do you say that?

8:13 – James Wetrich Well, you know, I forget the exact quote. You may know it, but Peter Drucker, who I admire greatly has a great management mind. So there’s nothing more difficult than managing and managing a nonprofit or nonprofit hospital. I can’t remember which 1 it was. He said, but yeah, it’s I think. Sometimes we get a little confused and I’ve worked in nonprofits. I’ve worked in nonprofit hospitals. I’ve been on nonprofit boards, both fairly significant and very small. I think sometimes we have a conflict between what is our mission, right?

8:54 – James Wetrich And when I was running and working in non I worked at Ochsner Hospital and I remember 1 of the Louisiana Hospital Association meetings and there was debate about how much money hospitals should make and what is our mission and And 1 of the nuns running the local Catholic hospital stood up and said, no margin, no mission. So there is a balance right between serving our constituents, serving our patients, serving whoever we’re serving in the nonprofit, and also understanding that we need to have excess.

9:27 – James Wetrich Funds, right? Because we need money to fund our nonprofit and it’s okay to have excess, you know, funds in excess of our expenses, right? We have to have money to make investments and build things. And I think sometimes people don’t completely understand the nuance of nonprofits.

9:49 – Hugh Ballou Well, spot on. And actually, the word nonprofit doesn’t serve as well. It’s a lie.

9:55 – James Wetrich Correct correct correct and we.

9:59 – Hugh Ballou Get into the scarcity mindset Yeah, it’s a

10:02 – Hugh Ballou One of our biggest Assets is the people.

10:07 – James Wetrich Of course of course So so.

10:10 – Hugh Ballou Let’s uh you wrote this book, and I’m sure people can get it on Amazon can. And it’s called is it.

10:14 – James Wetrich Yes Yep,

10:18 – Hugh Ballou The title of stifled. And And it’s wet,

10:19 – James Wetrich Stifled where good leaders go wrong. Yep,

10:25 – Hugh Ballou It’s wt r I r I c h. Instead of

10:29 – James Wetrich Two words, wet rich, you got it. Dry poor.

10:36 – Hugh Ballou It’s a rich so when people look into the book, what will they find?

10:40 – James Wetrich You’ll find 17 chapters in areas where I mostly identify where leaders get into trouble and things they do that cause them to stifle their organization. There are also a couple of chapters on lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic, during the pandemic, and where I think things are going in the future. But there are a number of chapters that talk about some of the big challenges with leadership and where good leaders go wrong.

11:12 – Hugh Ballou Wow, wow. So we’ve been doing episodes for 8 and a half years. This is the 1st time we’ve covered this specific material. And of course, you’re quoting Peter, Peter Drucker. 1 of our 1st guests 8 years ago was Francis.

11:26 – James Wetrich Yes, yes, I know up for I’ve never had the pleasure and I know she’s passed, but I never had the pleasure of meeting her and I wish I had. Yeah.

11:34 – Hugh Ballou I was with her when she was 100 and her office on Madison Avenue was built for her and was marvelous. So she was a guest of five presidents, but she met Peter Drucker when she was running the Girl Scouts. She used his methodology. So she invited him to her Girl Scout office. I’ve never seen a better-run organization in my life. And she said,

11:48 – James Wetrich Yes, I think I heard that. Yes,

11:59 – Hugh Ballou Oh, you mean nonprofit? He said, no. So that’s taking a really good logic and putting it to work. Yeah. Ronald Reagan said, she joined my cabinet. She said, no, I’m busy running the Girl Scout. So that’s real differentiation. I am doing good work here. Yeah, stay here. So, when you talk about deficits of leaders, I am, I talked to a lot of leaders and 1 time was a guy who’s a Service person in a big organization, and he got a new boss MBA grad came in says, come here opens the manual says, here’s how we’re going to do things.

12:35 – Hugh Ballou Now, you know, the boss syndrome, which, by the way, is double spelled backward. And the guy held up his hand and the new boss said, what do you mean? He says, I wrote that manual. He had no clue, was going to boss him around. So besides that syndrome, you know, we don’t, you come in at a lateral move in a company, you don’t have any clue about what goes on below you. Yes. You’re like, you’ve got to have all the answers. And we teach this intervention. No, you don’t need the answers. You need good questions.

13:06 – James Wetrich Yeah, that’s right.

13:07 – Hugh Ballou So, what are some of the other deficits that we need to pay attention to as leaders?

13:14 – James Wetrich I think actually, it’s it’s really kind of an interesting situation right now, Hugh, where we’re actually creating more angst with too much communication. And by that, I mean, I don’t necessarily think people are communicating enough, but I, as an employee, I’m spending a lot of time every day looking for communication. I have to check my email. I have to check Slack. I have to check SharePoint. I have to check the intranet. I have text messages, I have all kinds of places I have to go for information.

13:55 – James Wetrich And if anything, I suggest in my coaching business to leaders. Figure out how we’re going to communicate. We don’t need 40 different places to communicate. We need a few because too many people are spending too much time chasing communication. The other thing yeah, go ahead.

14:15 – Hugh Ballou You go ahead. The other.

14:17 – James Wetrich Thing I caution leaders on is we’re often very binary and the example. I give is I was part of an organization 1 time and the senior VP stood up and said, if you want to go from sales rep to sales manager, you have to have an intermediate step and do this job over here. Then we will make you a sales manager. Okay, but this is the path you’re going to have to follow. And then a month later, a management position came open in a particular city, and they promoted the sales rep directly into that manager job.

14:53 – James Wetrich Now, wait a minute, you just told a thousand people that isn’t the way it’s going to happen, right? But all of a sudden you made an exception, and that’s fine to make an exception. You know as well as I do, there are exceptions all the time. Just don’t tell people the world’s binary, say this is the intended path. We may not follow that always, but if we’re going to give you guidance, this is what we’d like you to do. But too often we get up and say, this is the way it’s going to be. And then a month later, it’s no longer that way.

15:24 – James Wetrich And people wonder, well, what else are you going to tell me that I can’t believe?

15:29 – Hugh Ballou Yes. And so it sort of interferes or damages your credibility.

15:33 – James Wetrich Of course.

15:34 – Hugh Ballou Other areas, yeah.

15:36 – James Wetrich We can avoid that by just being a little bit clearer in our communication.

15:42 – Hugh Ballou But just just hearing you talk, I want to get your book, and I encourage people to do that. And leaders are readers. Yes. Obviously, you’re well-read. Besides authors that we’ve spoken of, are there some others that you recommend people read as well?

15:59 – James Wetrich You know, gosh, I’ve got a whole long list of books I recommend, but I do like some of the work by John Maxwell and John in particular. Wrote a book and talked about leadership lessons from the Bible. I thought that was very interesting. John also says, and I quote I use all the time, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I like some of the work by Adam Grant in helping people think differently and how to have conversations and how to have debates. As I mentioned, I’m already, I’m a huge fan of Drucker.

16:40 – James Wetrich I’m a huge fan of Warren Bennis and their works. I don’t think you can pick up a Drucker book today and not learn something or something something’s out of it, even though it was published 3040 years ago.

16:52 – Hugh Ballou Absolutely. And Maxwell speaks of the law of the lid. And I think we’re, that’s invisible to us in that law of the lid, and I think it’s the 17 irrefutable laws of leadership.

17:04 – James Wetrich Yes,

17:04 – Hugh Ballou Organization. And not develop any further than the ability, the ability of the leader to lead it. That’s a pair, but you find that to be true and people are this invisible to a lot of leaders.

17:16 – James Wetrich Yes, yeah, yeah, I believe so. I believe so.

17:20 – Hugh Ballou Well, you know, there’s a lot of people that have impacted my life in my 77 years here, and people you mentioned are certainly among them. You mentioned a friend, Marcus, who died when you were in, your best friend who died in graduate school. Certain events in our lives impact us. How did that impact you and your future?

17:39 – James Wetrich Yeah, it was interesting. Hugh, we were 2 years apart. So, you know, it’s not really too common where an underclassman and an upperclassman sort of get to be good friends, but we were, we both went to the same high school and we just, we just became very close best friends. And I was, I graduated from college, and In the summer of 79, Marcus was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia, and he was admitted to the City of Hope Hospital in Southern California. And he fought a heroic fight and died in December.

18:18 – James Wetrich In fact, he died in 1979 today, on December 12th. In 1979. And I learned, Hugh, at a very young age how fragile life truly is. And Marcus was an only child. His parents were educators in Southern California in the town of Claremont. His dad actually went on to teach at Harbor Divinity School. And it just learning how fragile life is and how precious it is. I’ve never really taken things as seriously as I might have having not experienced that loss at a young age.

18:59 – Hugh Ballou Well, and paying attention and then realizing how that impacts our life and getting serious about the impact we’re going to have. So.

19:10 – James Wetrich Every day, every day is a gift to you. I wake up every day and I know it’s a gift and I tell people it’s a gift and we’ve got to do something with it. We’ve got to do something with it. We’ve got to make something happen.

19:22 – Hugh Ballou You can’t get it back.

19:23 – James Wetrich Nope.

19:23 – Hugh Ballou So, you’ve talked about purpose and mission in Simon Sinek, The Start With Why. So, we lose sight of that.

19:30 – James Wetrich Yes. Yes. We do. We do.

19:34 – Hugh Ballou How do we preserve that and how do we help our organization get their head around that?

19:39 – James Wetrich Yeah, I think that’s a great question, Hugh, and it’s something that I talk to my coaching clients about a lot. I’ve been blessed being in healthcare and working in hospitals and medical device companies, and you can see directly the impact of our products and what our service is doing. But I coached an executive with State Farm not too long ago, and I told him, I know you’re under pressure to grow your business, write more policies, do this, do that. Right, but do you stop and think about the benefit that people who have your coverage are getting in times of need when they need that insurance coverage?

20:25 – James Wetrich Are you thinking about the people who you may have saved or repaired their house or rebuilt their house or rebuilt their car or whatever it is? And I think we get so focused on the short term and the goals and sell more insurance and sell more of this or do more of this that we don’t step back and think about the benefit, the why, as you say, and as Simon said in his book, what is it we’re really doing? And thinking about the impact of that, it’s very, very, very powerful and very meaningful.

21:01 – Hugh Ballou And those are the 2 crucial things we need to be good at in the nonprofit because money has ears. Why? You know, what are you going to do about the wine? And what’s the result? That is a leadership skill.

21:13 – James Wetrich Absolutely.

21:17 – Hugh Ballou So you have a personal credo. You want to tell us about that?

21:21 – James Wetrich Yeah, so about 30 years ago, I think, somewhere around that time, I read an obituary in the Wall Street Journal about, I believe it was a hotel chain founder, and he had a credo. And I thought, wow, that’s really cool. And the obituary mentioned employees being appreciative Of this individual living his credo and bringing it into the organization so I wrote a credo and I have it in my book. And I have it on my desk. I have it on my desk at work. I give it to people when they come visit. And for me, it helps people understand what’s really important to me.

22:15 – James Wetrich I heard a hospital CEO of one of the big hospitals in Chicago in the 80s, Bernie Lackner, talk about leadership. And he said, what is it you stand for as a group of young leadership executives? What is it you stand for? What’s important to you? And I think the credo helps people understand what’s important to me.

22:38 – Hugh Ballou And that’s important for any of us to define that. So your website, like my website, is my name, Hubeloo. So let me take people there. Now, if you’re listening to the podcast, we’re gonna give you a link. It’s his name, Jim,, and when you go there, boom, here’s the book. And so you can learn how to remove obstacles to success and adapt to engage and empower the modern workforce. You know, we forget that volunteers are part of our workforce and they’re purpose-driven.

23:19 – Hugh Ballou And I think business leaders can learn a lot by serving on a nonprofit board and working as a volunteer, don’t you think?

23:25 – James Wetrich. Absolutely, without a doubt, you a hundred and 10 %.

23:33 – Hugh Ballou So the book is there, and then there’s a menu here. What else will people find there?

23:39 – James Wetrich Um, there’s a link to the previous, um, podcasts I’ve done. There’s a brief checklist that you can download, um, and, uh, get some information about different parts of the book. Um, there’s, uh, I talk about hiring me as a speaker or an executive coach. My company does some business consulting. Yeah.

24:08 – Hugh Ballou That’s so we, you’ve given us some really good tidbits and folks when you. Get it on your app, the Nonprofit Exchange or you come to the Nonprofit Exchange Dot org, it’ll give you all of the episodes. You click on this one, and not only will you find the video and audio of this, but you’ll find the transcript. So some of those really good sound bites that you need to remember will be there for you to, oh, yes, seeing it and hearing it or help us remember it. Jim, you’ve reminded me of a lot of the core principles that are important for leaders.

24:46 – Hugh Ballou And as we’ve said, one of our most important segments, our third largest employer in America is what we call the nonprofit sector. And the burnout rate is high. So always working on ourselves is important. And that’s why we do the nonprofit exchange is to help people be encouraged to hear stories and to get tools. And you’ve done all of that today. So thank you so much.

25:09 – James Wetrich Of course, you, and thank you and everyone that you’re doing right? Because without the nonprofits in this country and in the world, we just wouldn’t have the wonderful world and life that we have today.

25:24 – Hugh Ballou Well, you said a lot today, but what do you want to leave people with a thought or a challenge yeah, I,

25:30 – James Wetrich As I mentioned to you early on, you know. I think the greatest thing we can do as leaders is to help people develop and help people grow. People want to learn generally people want to do a good job. Generally, people want to learn and develop and grow and It’s, you know, the proverbial seed, right? Plant the seed, water it, and let it grow and help your people develop and grow, I think is one of the greatest gifts you can give to an organization or to each other.

26:03 – Hugh Ballou Jim Wettrich, you’ve been such a gift to us today. Thank you for being our guest on the Nonprofit Exchange.

26:09 – James Wetrich Honored to be with you, Hugh. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

Leave A Comment