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Leadership Lessons Ripped from the Headlines

Through his work as an executive coach, leadership strategist, speaker and author, Scott Eblin has become known as a thought leader in identifying the behaviors that executives need to pick up and let go as they transition into new and larger roles. President of the leadership development and strategy firm The Eblin Group Inc., Scott is a former Fortune 500 executive, with a coaching client list that runs the gamut from Astra Zeneca to the U.S. Navy. He is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success which Business Book Review calls a “fascinating read” that “is full of potentially career-saving advice.”

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Tinaturner1 Today I'm at the annual alumni conference for the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program.  The first session I attended was on Love and the Bottom Line led by two fabulous coaches, Sandy Mobley of The Learning Advantage and Lori Zukin of Booz Allen Hamilton

We began the hour by talking in small conversations about remembering a time when we felt very loved and appreciated at work and a time when we didn't.

Four Dogs, One Hero

by on May 18, 2011 10:30am
in The Next Level

This has been quite a week for high profile people in leadership positions behaving like dogs.  

First, we have the head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss Kahn, charged with sexually assaulting a housekeeper in his $3,000 a night hotel room.  And, with that, what I would suspect is the only recorded episode of someone staying at both the Sofitel and Riker’s Island within a 48 hour period.  As Maureen Dowd writes in her New York Times column, the housekeeper was a young West African woman trying to make her way in the United States. Since Strauss Kahn was arrested at JFK less than four hours after the alleged assault, I can only assume that the management of the hotel immediately backed up and acted on the housekeeper’s report. Kudos to them for supporting their employee.

Rosieriveter One of the highest compliments that can be paid in our house is that someone GSD’s. While we have a somewhat colorful definition of what GSD means, the polite way to explain it is that it stands for Gets Stuff Done.

When you think about it, getting stuff done is a big part of life. One of the reasons that a lot of leaders and would be leaders are frustrated with their organizations is that it’s hard to get stuff done. Go up against the immovable object too many times and you eventually quit trying. It’s what Martin Seligman, the founding father of the positive psychology movement, calls learned helplessness.

I see this a lot in my coaching work. Even very senior leaders end up talking about “they” – as in “They will never let us do that.”  I recently worked with the senior leadership team and some high potential leaders of a client company to identify ways they could streamline their operations to scale their growing business. Prior to the meeting, three areas of opportunities were identified.  We brainstormed potential solutions for each opportunity and sorted those out using the criteria of degree of difficulty and likelihood of making a difference. There were a number of ideas that were deemed very likely to make a difference but relatively difficult to do. Almost all of those ideas required influencing or convincing “them” (in this case, staff at the corporate headquarters) to do something different. Just a few months later, I’m happy to see my client leaders using their influencing skills to encourage their corporate counterparts to make changes. They’re getting stuff done.

Someone else who has figured out how to get stuff done is a manager at Pfizer named Jordan Cohen. As recently reported in the Financial Times, Cohen successfully convinced the senior leaders at his company to adopt an initiative he dreamed up called PfizerWorks. Like a lot of people at his level, Cohen noticed that he was spending a good part of his time on low value added work like compiling spreadsheets or tweaking PowerPoint decks. His big idea was to build a network of low cost suppliers to do that work instead so the managers and leaders at Pfizer could spend more time doing the things that only they could do. In the first year of his program, 60,000 hours of employee time were freed up for higher value work.

How did he do it? The FT article provides some answers. Here’s my quick hit list for Getting Stuff Done based on what Cohen did and my own experience in working with clients who know how to do it:

Look Me in the Eyes

by on May 13, 2011 11:00am
in The Next Level

Deniro Earlier this week I gave a speech to a couple of hundred managers about how to stay on track with delegation. As part of the talk, I introduced a step by step approach to effective and worry free delegation and then had the audience split up into groups of three to practice a real life delegation conversation.  They did three quick rounds so each person had the opportunity to delegate, receive the delegated task and observe the conversation to offer feedback to the delegator. 

When they had finished all three rounds, I roamed the audience with the wireless microphone to hear what they had learned about how to improve their delegation skills. The first guy to speak up had a powerful lesson. He said, “I learned I need to look the other person in the eyes when I delegate. I need to make strong eye contact.” 

I loved his response and asked him to say a few words about why eye contact is so important when delegating. He said he had gotten feedback from his peers that he was looking down at the floor when he delegated and that led to three problems that he wanted to avoid:

Charlie-winning Wow, I had no idea what kind of nerve I was striking when I wrote a post last week on taming your inner smart aleck.  Lots of leader readers left fantastic mea culpa comments that shared stories of the moments of truth that helped cure them of entertaining themselves with caustic comments.  In spite of all of that great self-improvement work going on,  there’s still a lot of smart aleck and generally rude behavior that people have to put up with at work. 

That matters if for no other reason than people are more productive when they’re happy and rude behavior tends to make people unhappy. 

Rude behavior is a productivity killer.  What can you do to minimize it in your organization?

Here are three ways to lower the rudeness quotient and one thing to definitely avoid because doing it will only make things worse:

Levine It’s often said that effective leadership is a lot like conducting an orchestra.  Last week, I heard an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with an actual leader who conducts an actual orchestra. The conductor is James Levine and he’s led the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for forty years.  In his conversation with Terry Gross, I was moved by his perspective on leadership and felt compelled to share some of what I heard with you.

While he didn’t use the term, Levine is a servant leader. He is there to serve the people he leads.

Levine was a musical prodigy and started conducting the Met when he was 27 years old.  He formed his approach to conducting at an early age and decided as young man that he didn’t want to be a showy conductor who, as he said, practically mimes his interpretation of the music.  When he’s conducting a performance, he said:

When I went to bed on Sunday night at 10:30 pm, the last thing I expected to read when I  woke up on Monday morning was  that U.S. special forces have killed Osama bin Laden. 

Pres-obama6 As I write this, the details of the operation and the decision process that preceded it are still being reported. According to the New York Times and other outlets, U.S. intelligence operatives received a lead last August on a location in Pakistan where bin Laden might have been living.  More information was gathered, plans were developed and last Friday morning before he left to survey tornado damage in Alabama, President Obama gave his approval to launch an operation to either capture or kill bin Laden at his compound.  Early Monday morning, Pakistan time, a couple of dozen Navy SEALS rappelled from helicopters into the bin Laden compound.  A firefight began and when bin Laden resisted, he was killed. Around 11:30 pm, Washington time, on Sunday night, the President announced to the nation and the world that bin Laden had been killed and that “justice has been done.”

While I haven’t fully sorted through my thoughts on the events of the past 24 hours, I am thinking about the different aspects of leadership that are required to create this kind of result.  Here’s what I have so far (I’d like to hear what you think through your comments):

Dunder-mifflin Well, after many years in the job, Michael Scott has left the office at Dunder Mifflin to pursue other dreams. It remains to be seen how things are going to go for the team with the new boss.

You may or may not be surprised how often I hear in my coaching work about senior level bosses who are basically clueless. The cluelessness can show up in different ways – time sucking, pointless requests that come out of left field; no clear direction; much more emphasis on bluster and style than on the substance of getting things done. The list could go on and on. (Feel free to add your own observations on what makes for a clueless boss in the comments.)

As I wrote hear a few months ago, leaders can change the weather. If you’ve got a boss who is foggy and cloudy in their approach, it’s pretty easy for everyone on their team to show up foggy and cloudy. Obviously, that’s a pretty dangerous career situation for everyone in that boss’s organization. How do you help yourself and your team survive when you find yourself in a clueless boss induced fog bank?

Here are five things some of my savvy leadership coaching clients have done to survive a clueless boss:

Book-bossypants I did something this past weekend that I rarely do. I read a business book all the way through. (You see, the dirty little secret about most business books is you can get the meat from them with a heavy skim in an hour or less.)

Of course, having read the title of this post, you may be surprised to learn that Tina Fey wrote a business book. Bossypants is a lot more than a business book.  It’s a memoir of how a working class Greek American girl from the Philadelphia suburbs grew up to be a really powerful person in the TV and movie business. It’s about how she overcame sexism in the comedy business and how she seeks to strike the balance between the joys of being really great at her work and the joys of being a mom, spouse, daughter, friend, family member, etc. It’s also about what she learned at high school drama camp, what she learned on her honeymoon cruise and how she learned to do her Sarah Palin impression.

If you like Tina Fey’s brand of intelligent, snarky, slightly off center humor (I do), and if you’re interested in what a successful woman has learned about leadership, you’ll like Bossypants and likely laugh out loud as you read it. If you’re offended by occasional profanities and body part references, it may not be your cup of tea.

Either way, there are some important leadership lessons from Tina Fey in Bossypants. Here are a few that stood out for me:

Amidol-jlo If you been reading this blog for awhile, you know that this is the time of year when my corporate friend, Jennifer, and I handicap and kibitz about American Idol in emails we send each other. We both agree that the show is way better than we expected it to be in the post Simon Cowell era. It's actually less stressful and more entertaining to watch without all of the genuflecting toward Simon. That's probably one reason why the ratings are as strong as they've ever been. 

So, that's one thing right off the bat that leaders need to learn from American Idol. Hardly anyone is irreplaceable. If you put the right team (who knew Steven Tyler and J Lo could be so entertaining?) and processes in place, your organization can keep rocking forward even if you lose a key player.

Amidol-group Another big thing that leaders need to learn from Idol this year is that people perform better when they're allowed to play to their strengths. Unlike previous seasons when each week had narrow musical themes that forced the contestants to perform outside their comfort zones, the weekly themes this year have usually been broad enough to drive a truck through.

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