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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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A Super Bowl Servant Leader

by on February 7, 2011 1:00pm
in The Next Level

Steelers-coach It’s Monday morning and time to break down the Super Bowl.  My main goal in this post is to share some Steelers coach Mike Tomlin-inspired thoughts on servant leadership.  Have to spend a little time first, though, on a few observations about this national holiday. (After all, is there anything else in America that draws 106 million viewers?)

First, congrats to the Packers.  Lots of great stories there.  The one I’m happiest about is summed up in the Tweet I sent as the seconds ticked down on a Packers victory, “Our long Favre nightmare is over. Thank you Packers.”   The leadership lessons from Favre about how to not leave gracefully are endless.

Next, there was the halftime show with the Black Eyed Peas.  I’ll say right now that I know less than nothing about hip-hop.  Loved their show though.  An enormous amount of energy and amazing production values.  My post show Tweet sums up my critique, “Man, Black Eyed Peas Super Bowl Halftime show rivaled opening ceremonies of Beijing Olympics. USA is back baby! Best HT show in memory.”

Then there were the commercials

Jmu-logo My oldest son, Andy, is a senior at James Madison University.  A couple of weeks ago, he told me a story about Ron Carrier who was president of JMU from 1971 to 1998.  In other words, Carrier retired as president of JMU nine years before Andy arrived as a freshman. More than a decade after he retired, JMU students are still telling Ron Carrier stories.

There’s a leadership lesson in there.

Andy told me that a few times a year Carrier would walk up to a student on campus and ask them about their GPA.  If it was solid, Carrier would tell the student to take the next day off from their classes. Carrier would attend their classes for them with the promise of taking excellent notes that he would pass on to them.

How brilliant was that? In one gesture, Carrier made a student happy, created an opportunity to personally check on the quality of JMU instruction, meet a bunch of students when he attended the classes and generate a lot of positive word of mouth buzz throughout the campus. Buzz that was so strong that students like Andy are still talking about President Carrier thirteen years later.

Simple yet elegant. What are the easy to do, likely to be remembered things that you could do as a leader to learn more about your organization and build connections at the same time? (Here’s a hint – anyone seen an episode of Undercover Boss lately?)

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Boss

by on January 31, 2011 1:00pm
in The Next Level

TigerbossBy now, you’ve no doubt heard the buzz about Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother . It’s her memoir about raising her two daughters in the strict and demanding way that her Chinese immigrant parents raised her. The buzz machine on Chua’s book went into overdrive when the Wall Street Journal ran a column of excerpts from it under the headline of Why Chinese Mothers Are SuperiorThe Irish Times does a pretty nice job of summing up Chua’s parenting approach with the following list of seven rules:

My guess is you weren’t expecting to see the two topics in the title of this post strung together. Here’s the back story. 

Egypt1 As I was scanning the headlines this morning, I read the New York Times report about tens of thousands of Egyptians flooding into the streets to protest their governments. This follows similar scenes in Tunisia a couple of weeks ago and it looks like Yemen is next up. All of these protests have been stimulated by a flood of information being shared through satellite news channels and by the citizens themselves through Twitter.  The information flow allows the protestors to learn the latest, take inspiration from it, connect with each other, collaborate and coordinate their efforts.

Earlier this week, I received an email from the Hay Group about their newly released study on the world’s best companies for developing leaders. Reading over the results, it seems to me that the leaders of these companies understand that the dynamics that are facilitating the protests in the Middle East can be leveraged for competitive advantage. To take advantage of today’s internet-enabled communications environment, the best companies are developing leaders who connect, collaborate and coordinate.

Here are a few headlines from the Hay study that illustrate that:

Sotu2011 If you’re looking for an example of how much things can change in one year, play back a recording of last night’s State of the Union address and compare it with a recording of last year’s. Last night, of course, moved by the tragedy of the shootings in Tucson this month and the grave wounding of one of their colleagues, the Members of Congress sat together in the House chamber in a bi-partisan fashion. Instead of the traditional division of Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other, they all sat together in bi-partisan pairs of friends, as mixed state delegations and, in one case, as the House women’s softball team.

Olbermann1 It was probably inevitable that Keith Olbermann and his managers at MSNBC would have a stressful parting of the ways. The career history of the talented, iconoclastic, maddening, entertaining (even if he’s the guy you love to hate) Olbermann has been one of resigning from or getting fired by every network he’s worked for.  As one NBC executive said to the New York Times, “Give us a bit of credit for getting eight years out of him. That’s the longest he’s been anywhere.”

About a year ago, I wrote a post called Three Reasons You Should Fire the Prima Donna. Re-reading that this morning, I’m guessing that some of those reasons came into play with Olbermann’s departure from MSNBC. If you’ve got someone on your team who is clearly a star but regularly disrupts the chi and makes life difficult for others on the team, you’ve got a tough problem as a manager. But, before you get to the point where you say, “You’re fired,” you’ll want to give it your best shot at working things out. After all, great talent doesn’t grow on trees. It’s hard to find.

So, how do you manage the superstar that has a penchant for stirring things up? Here are three tips:

Found in Translation

by on January 21, 2011 10:30am
in The Next Level

China-state-visit One of the big stories in Washington this week was the state visit of Chinese President Hu to the White House.  Most of the early analysis and reporting suggests that, all things considered, the meetings between the Chinese and the Americans were worthwhile. There are probably a lot of leadership lessons to be gained from how the meetings and dinners were handled by the principals. Here’s a quick one that dawned on me as I was listening on my car radio to the joint press conference between President Obama and President Hu.

What if we had to wait on a translator to repeat what we had just said in every meeting or conversation we’re in? 

Book-business-happiness Last week, thinks to the vision and initiative of Laura Mendelow and Kevin Keegan, two friends at Booz Allen Hamilton, I and about 90 other people had the gift of listening to and speaking with Ted Leonsis for about 90 minutes.  The event was the book club of the local ASTD chapter and he was there to talk about his book,  The Business of Happiness.

Readers in the Washington, DC area probably know the name, Ted Leonsis. If you don’t, the quick version of his life is grew up as the son of a waiter and a secretary who never made more than $30,000 a year;  founded and sold his first new media company at age 26 for $60 million; co-founded AOL; bought the Washington Capitals; won an Emmy; was nominated for an Academy Award; bought the rest of the Washington Wizards; sits on the board of Groupon.  He explains how all of that happened in his book.

What he spent most of his time talking with us about is his life list. Early in his life, Ted started making a list of the things he wanted to do. His list is in the appendix of his book.  Here are some examples.  Fall in love and get married. Check  Pay off college debts. Check. Net worth of one hundred million dollars after taxes. Check. Change someone’s life via a charity. Check. Go one on one with Michael Jordan. Check. 

He told us that several years ago someone approached him about buying the Washington Capitals NHL franchise. 

Image001 As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., I thought you might appreciate this post I ran last year on six qualities that made MLK such a great speaker.

Whether you’re looking for speaking tips, want to remember one of history’s most important leaders or both, I hope you enjoy the post and accompanying video clip.

A friend recently gave me a copy of a new book that’s out now, The Price of Everything by Eduardo Porter.  As someone who loved taking economics in college (Thank you Dr. Nelson.), I found Porter’s book to be a fun and thought provoking read. He basically takes some of the principles you learn in microeconomics to discuss why we pay what we do for different things in life. Some of the chapters include The Price of Work, The Price of Free, The Price of Faith and The Price of the Future.

As an economics geek, I figured Porter had to discuss my favorite principle, opportunity cost, somewhere early in the book. Sure enough, he says this about that in the first chapter:

“Our most important currency is, in fact, opportunity.  The cost of taking any action or embracing any path consists of the alternatives that were available to us at the time.”

Easy to say, harder to do.  My observation in working with leaders is that there is often a short circuit in their decision making process. Especially for leaders with a lot on their plate,  it can feel like there is a premium on making decisions quickly and moving on.  What gets lost is a thoughtful consideration of the opportunity cost of pursuing one decision over another. This is especially true for smart leaders who seem to get to “the answer” faster than everyone else.

So what can you do to improve the quality of your decision making?  Or, what can you do to coach someone through a more robust decision making process? 
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