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.”
Or, that you shouldn’t believe everything you read. The firm I worked for had ten corporate values printed in the back of its annual report. Number ten was, “Have fun!” Late one afternoon, about six months into the year, one of my first year colleagues had the temerity to ask Dan, the senior associate who was our drill sergeant, “Hey Dan, one of our corporate values is ‘Have fun!’ When do we get to have fun?” Face reddening, veins bulging, Dan’s reply was “Not until your third year!”
But the biggest thing I learned that year was how not to lead. The senior partners in our department led through fear and intimidation. A typo in a proposal was cause for being publicly called out and dressed down in an all hands staff meeting. Leaving the office before 7:30 or 8:00 pm was seen as a lack of commitment. Yelling at subordinates was the norm. There were good cops and bad cops to keep you on your toes. The threat of firing was always in the air. I often said to myself, “If I ever lead a group of people, I’m going to do the exact opposite of everything they’re doing here.” That actually ended up being a pretty good running start on an approach to leadership in the jobs I had after that one.
My Wall Street days came to mind recently when I was listening to an executive speak to a group of high potential leaders I’m coaching.
Understandable but not very productive. What’s happening in these situations is illustrated by a little formula developed by leadership coach Tim Gallwey. It goes like this:
Your performance is equivalent to your potential minus the interference. A lot of people mistake the interference for an external factor like the bad boss or the sneaky peer. That’s not the interference; that’s the trigger for the interference. The interference is the story that builds and builds in your head that gets you so wound up, stressed out or ticked off that you can’t think clearly. The next thing you know, all of that internal interference has overwhelmed any potential you have to perform at your best.
So, what can you do about this?
A s I often do, I spent yesterday with a group of high potential executives in an orientation program. The point of the program was to give these newly promoted leaders an inside look at what’s expected of them and to give them some opportunities to learn and think about what’s going to be different now that they’re in executive level roles. It’s a great thing to do and these leaders are fortunate that their company creates some time for them to go off line and learn from senior executives, each other and a few outside speakers.
I was part of that last group – the outside speakers. My goal was to share some tools and frameworks that would be useful to them for leading at the next level. I had that coveted 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm slot when everyone’s energy level is at its highest (not). In spite of the time of day, we had some really lively conversations. One of them was around the value of visualizing the outcome you’re trying to create in different events and meetings and how you need to show up to make that outcome likely. I asked everyone to identify an important event on their calendar next week and then spend four minutes coaching each other in pairs around three basic questions:
What prompted this line of thinking for me was an article in this morning’s Washington Post about how DC’s mayor Adrian Fenty is being booed lustily at just about every public appearance he’s making lately. This is the reception for a guy who was consistently cheered back in 2006 when he was running for mayor and who, since he was elected, most everyone agrees has improved city services, raised test scores in schools and opened new libraries and rec centers.
He’s gotten some great results, so why the boos as he runs for reelection? He may have gotten great results but he’s blowing the relationships.
With each new guest, essentially the same question was asked, "How did this happen?" I have a terrible feeling that we're going to be asking that question about the Gulf oil spill and a lot of other disasters for years and years to come. For every time we ask it, there will be all sorts of technical answers but at the simplest level, I think there is one answer to the question.
If you Google the phrase “Tony Hayward quotes”, the first result you’ll get back will be a link to a helpful compilation of them at a website called NowPublic.com. They’re all sourced. Here are some of my favorites:
If you’ve ever said something along the lines of “If I do good work, it will speak for itself,” then you need to watch this week’s Video Book Club segment to learn why that can be a dangerous way to go. Inspired by Peggy Klaus’ book, Brag!: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It, I share two important reasons why you need to speak for the work and not just let it speak for itself.
As evidenced by the many former players including Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabar who flew in from around the country and around the world to stand watch at his deathbed, Wooden shaped lives. He did it through his coaching, his teaching, his actions and his words. One article I read about him said that he never accepted a salary at UCLA that was higher than $32,500 because it wouldn't be modest. As my mother asked me in a phone call last night, how often do we even hear the word modest anymore?
For the past year or so, I've been using the following Wooden quote to close my presentations because I love the way he described the effect of continuous improvement:
When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur... Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That's the only way it happens and when it happens it lasts.Wooden, for me, has been a Yoda like figure. Small stature, but huge in wisdom. I've been thinking the past couple of days about what he would say about the quality of leadership in the public arena these days. What would his take be on oil spills in the Gulf, safety violations that led to the deaths of coal miners, short term interest decisions that led to the near collapse of the global economy? We'll never know what Wooden would have said about the failure of leadership in these and other arenas, but by reading through some of his quotes, I think we can make an educated guess: