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Scott Eblin

Obama-pic1 Everyone’s talking about President Obama’s first 100 days and how he’s doing so far.  Since Obama is the ultimate case of a leader moving up to the next level, I thought I’d add my assessment by offering a report card on his performance as measured against the Next Level model of executive presence.  As outlined in my book, The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success, and summarized in the table below, executive leadership presence can be broken down into nine behavioral distinctions that leaders need to either pick up or let go of.  Reportcard And those nine distinctions match up with three big categories of executive leadership behaviors: personal presence, team presence and organizational presence.

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So, how is the President doing after his first 100 days of leading at the next level?  Read on for a point by point breakdown and an overall GPA.

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One of the basics in the senior leader’s communications repertoire is the town hall meeting.  Sometimes (oftentimes?), these meetings can really run off the rails.  When they do, it’s usually because the leader comes in without the answers that people care most about.  Another classic mistake is to come in with the desired information but to deliver it in a way that shows no connection whatsoever with the people in the audience.

Flubrief Fortunately for all of us, there aren’t many town hall meetings on the subject of what leaders are doing  to prevent a global pandemic of influenza.  But, that’s exactly what three senior leaders took on in front of the White House press corps that Sunday afternoon.  To share what the government is doing to deal with the rapidly developing outbreak of a new strain of swine flu, homeland security advisor John Brennan, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control Richard Besser and Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano took to the airwaves.  By chance, I watched it on CNN as it happened and I have to say it was a best practice example of how to conduct a town hall meeting.  (If you missed the briefing, you can watch it here. If you want more information on swine flu and how to stay healthy, visit the CDC website here. In about 20 minutes, these government leaders showed how it should be done when it comes to the what and how of conducting a successful town hall meeting.

Here’s what I saw in their briefing and what leaders can learn from their example.

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In just about every presentation I’ve given to leaders since last fall, I’ve recommended that everyone order their own personal copy of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges. I’ll make the same recommendation to you. If you’re a leader and you don’t have a copy of this book, you need it. After you’re done reading this post, get on Amazon and buy it.

Bridges’ book is a manual (it even includes checklists) for dealing with the biggest challenge facing leaders today which is moving everyone towards a new reality. One of my favorite lines when I was a manager and remains so today as a coach is that it’s important to understand the difference between what should be and what is.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort these days to find examples of people that are stuck on what “should be” rather than what is.

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Last week, I had the honor of keynoting the annual Executive Fire Officer Program graduate symposium sponsored by the U.S. Fire Administration.  One of the things I sometimes do is ask members of my audience what they think about an important question and then share their answers with you.

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Looking for some clear lessons in productive ways to receive feedback?  Or, conversely, some excellent examples of how not to receive feedback?  Well, if you are, there’s this TV show that runs on Tuesday nights that is full of examples on both sides of the equation.  You may have heard of it.  It’s something I like to call American Idol.

Aa_logo OK, before you bail on me and think I’ve become a total pop culture bubblehead, let me explain myself.  Yes, I will acknowledge that Idol is one of my guilty pleasures. (After all, man cannot live by the Harvard Business Review alone. )  That said, if you watch it with a bit of a leadership development lens on, you can actually learn a lot about what talented people do or don’t do with constructive feedback.

I’ve identified at least six models for receiving feedback from watching the show.  Two of them are worth emulating and four need to be avoided at all cost.  Interested in which one might apply to you or some of the people on your team?  Read on.

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In my line of work as an executive coach, one of the most frequent opportunities I see for smart and talented leaders to be even better is to improve their listening skills.  What is often the case with really bright people is that they have so many ideas and so much energy  they end up dominating conversations and creating a disconnect with everyone else in the room. You’ve probably seen this.  It happens all the time.

One of my clients is a newly promoted executive in his firm.  He fits the profile I’m talking about.  He is an extremely intelligent guy and an innovator in a very technical and fast moving field.  He is full of ideas and enthusiasm and can’t wait to share his ideas with you.  It’s all really charming in a way.  The problem is that his colleagues and the more senior executives in the firm have complained that he sucks the air out of a conversation by not leaving space for others to contribute.  Not a great situation for long term career development, right?

Score1 With my client’s permission, I want to share with you the technique he’s used to listen more and talk less over the past three months. I know from talking with his colleagues that it’s working and that they’re a lot happier with him now than they were at the beginning of the year. 

So, what’s the magic answer to his rapid improvement? It’s simple really. He’s keeping score. Here’s how he’s doing it and what he’s learned in the process.

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One thing is for sure about living in 2009. You don’t have to look very hard to find examples of what happens when people lose their grip on the boundaries that previously brought order to their lives.  Let’s take a look at a few examples that range from the seemingly ridiculous to the very serious to see what the common denominator lessons might be.

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This past Sunday was one of the rare ones when I had the chance to watch all of Meet the Press.  After such a big week of news (let’s just throw in a North Korean missile launch for good measure), I was looking forward to the show.  In particular, I was interested to see the interview with the newly appointed CEO of General Motors, the 25 year company veteran, Fritz Henderson.

Sorry to say, but Fritz did not pass the “Mom believability test.”  You probably have your own version of that.  It’s when, as I did Sunday night, you call your mom to catch up on what’s going on in the family and the world.  Like me, my mom had watched Henderson on MTP.  Her verdict?  “He was terrible.  He didn’t answer any of the questions.”  Nothing quite like cutting to the chase.

So, what can we learn from Henderson and the situation at GM about matching leadership styles with the demands of the situation?

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With so many things in play, it’s easy to lose track of all the major issues the Obama White House is dealing with. Today the focus is on the global economy and the G20 meeting. A few days earlier it was on establishing a new approach for taking on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Afpak). From the standpoint of media coverage and public attention, a quiet, but key, architect of the new Afpak policy has been Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

As the New York Times reported yesterday, Gates has now worked for eight U.S. presidents including Obama’s immediate predecessor, George W. Bush. Since leaders often have to work with a new boss (is there anyone at GM reading this?), I thought it would be interesting to see what tips can be gleaned from Gates on how to establish yourself quickly with a new boss while making a significant difference in a short amount of time.

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Strengths and Weaknesses

by Scott Eblin on March 31, 2009 11:30am

in The Next Level

I spent part of last week fulfilling some of my duties as a faculty member in the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program.  One of the topics that comes up fairly frequently  in the coaching classroom is the great debate on whether leaders should focus on playing to their strengths or improving their weaknesses.  Books like Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham and a lot of the writing coming out of the Gallup Organization advocate focusing only on your strengths.

I beg to differ. If you want to be successful as a senior leader, you have to address both sides of the equation.  Strengths and weaknesses both matter – a lot.

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