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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Jamieoliver My amazing wife Diane and I were talking last night about a post she wrote yesterday on her gluten-free, dairy free cooking blog. She’s really into British chef Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution show on ABC because Oliver has gone to my childhood hometown, Huntington, WV, to help the community learn to eat healthier.  In her post, Diane was talking about an episode in which Jamie got a bunch of high school kids together to cook a fancy and healthy dinner for 80 of the movers and shakers in Huntington. Everything went great with the meal and the kids took a lot of pride in learning to cook and serving it to the big shots. The point of Diane’s post was the value of getting your kids in the kitchen to teach them an important life skill like cooking a healthy meal.

We were talking about the importance of taking the time to call out what you want the next generation to learn. That’s a key role for both parents and leaders. That’s one of the points I was trying to make in my post earlier this week about world-renowned chef Thomas Keller training the next generation of chefs in the kitchen of his Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry. Our conversation reminded me of a real life situation that happened to me years ago that taught me the value of calling out what needs to be said. I mentioned it to Diane and she said I had never told her the story. I couldn’t believe that because it’s one of my favorite stories. I told her the story and she loved it. So, I’ll share it with you too. Maybe you’ll love it.
Disconnect-cans In my work as an executive coach, I regularly work with the executive leaders of “staff” functions such as IT, finance, human resources, legal and the like.  When I interview the colleagues of these clients to learn what others think about what makes them effective and what they could do to be even more effective, I often hear comments about the distinction between staff and line leaders. That distinction is almost always made by the “line” executives. These are the folks responsible for manufacturing, sales and delivery of the product or service to the customer. As most of them would tell you themselves, they’re the people who make the money. 

Here’s the challenge I see for staff leaders. Rightly or wrongly, most line leaders feel like what they do is way more important than what the staff leaders do. As a result, they often don’t have a lot of patience with the different initiatives or requirements promoted by staff leaders. One result is a disconnect between the line and the staff. Lots of time and effort is spent on initiatives that don’t get a lot of traction because the line leaders don’t value them and spend as little time as possible on them. So the result of that for staff leaders is that their roles and internal brand become diminished and they don’t make the contributions they could or should.

One of my mentors, Dave Ulrich, summed up the solution to this dilemma in a simple mathematical statement years ago:

D > d

You may not think that an entire book about checklists could possibly be interesting, but surgeon Atul Gawande pulls it off in The Checklist Manifesto. A skilled and engaging story teller, Gawande uses examples from medicine, aviation, finance, cooking, construction and other industries to explain how checklists raise performance in complex situations. Since so much of what we do today involves a series of complex steps, knowing how to construct and use a checklist is a good skill to have.

Chefkeller Food is a big deal in my house. My wife, Diane, is an accomplished cook and food blogger and, lucky for me, I get to eat her great meals. So, we were both interested in an article that ran in the Financial Times  over the weekend about how one of the best chefs in the world, Thomas Keller, is training the next generation of great chefs at his acclaimed Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry. It takes at least six months to get a dinner reservation there. Some good friends of ours had dinner there last week and Diane is getting together with one of them today to hear all the details. Dining at The French Laundry is definitely on our bucket list.

The FT article focused on a couple of young chefs who are in the midst of three month stints in the kitchen of The French Laundry. Both of these guys are accomplished in their own rights and one of them comes from a family of French chefs that owns a Michelin three star restaurant of its own. They’re no slouches themselves and, yet, they take three months off to apprentice alongside Keller and the rest of his team.

The Wine Spectator ran a special issue on Keller last month and part of the package was a two page spread on the dozens of great chefs around the world who have trained with him. Along with creating great food, Keller is clearly passionate about building a legacy of talent that will carry on long after he’s hung up his apron. How is he teaching this next generation? Here are a few things I learned from the FT article on his apprenticeship program that could apply to just about any leader who wants to build a legacy for the future:
Globa1Earlier this week, I received a study on Developing the Global Executive from Jeff Del Rossa a new friend of mine at Development Dimensions International (DDI). The study was authored by some colleagues of Jeff’s at DDI along with two other good friends, Scott Saslow and Nancy Thomas of the Institute of Executive Development (IED).I looked through the study with interest last night as one of the focal points for the second edition of The Next Level is to broaden the global executive perspective of the book through new interviews with leaders who have significant international experience. As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, Listen and They Will Talk, one of the big themes that has come through in those interviews is the importance of listening skills to leadership success in a global environment.

There are some results in the DDI/IED study that seem to line up with the conclusion I’m drawing from my interviews. The study authors surveyed a wide range of global executives and development professionals who support them. One of the questions in the survey was, “What unique skills make for an exceptional global executive?” Here are the five skills that the global executives themselves think are most important:
This week, I present the last of ten videos from my overnight visit earlier this year to the USS Harry S Truman. This final installment is an overview clip which includes some parting words from the Truman’s commander, Captain Joe Clarkson, a ship to ship refueling at sea, flight deck activity, a look at how the mess staff feeds 3,000 to 5,000 sailors a day and how the crew stays healthy and fit while under way.
Streepprada If your house is like ours, there are certain movies that you watch again and again. The test of a movie like that is if you’re flipping through the channels on TV and you see a favorite movie and you start watching it all the way through from that point forward. I have to confess that Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is one of those for me. I like really stupid humor. However, one that my wife and I can both agree on is The Devil Wears Prada with Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. It’s a fun movie on a lot of levels not the least of which is Streep’s performance in which she sends up the real life editor of Vogue magazine, Anna Winotur. If people in real life are as scared of Wintour as people were of Streep in the movie, then she must have a lot of power.  From what I’ve read, Wintour’s power comes from her control over Vogue which, historically, has set the agenda for the multi-billion dollar fashion industry.

Polyvore So, it was with the Prada movie in mind that I read an article in the New Yorker last night on a web site called Polyvore. The simplest way to describe Polyvore is that it’s an online destination for over 6 million visitors a month to cut and paste clothes they see elsewhere online into sets of items that they think look good together. As someone in the article said, it’s like the cyber version of playing with paper dolls. 

For me, the article was interesting because of the larger implications it held for leaders in the digital age.  Not to oversimplify, but it seems like the command and control leadership style exhibited by Streep/Wintour in the Prada movie is a relic of the analog age. The people behind Polyvore seem to have figured out what it takes to engage and lead people in the digital age. Here are a few of the ways I think they’re doing it:
If you’re a leader, you have to deal with change on a regular basis. If you’re a leader, you need to get your own copy of William Bridges’ book, Managing Transitions. It’s a classic and an invaluable resource in helping you think through and develop a plan for productively getting your organization through change. It’s full of tips, frameworks and checklists that will help you organize your thinking, communication and action plans.

In this week’s Video Book Club, I share a couple of my favorite lessons from my dog eared, marked up copy of Managing Transitions.
Eliteeight2 This was a bit of a rough weekend for my brother, Steve. His beloved, number one seeded Kentucky Wildcats lost their bid for the Final Four. Since Steve was a student manager for the UK basketball team during one of their Final Four runs in the 1980’s, he maybe took this weekend’s loss a little harder than most. As the Cats game against WVU wound down on Saturday night, I sent Steve a text message saying I was sorry they were losing. He wrote this back in response, “Hate it. Maybe some of the freshmen will decide to stay now.”

That got me thinking about how the tournament has gone this year and a broader lesson about talent management. For the most part, the teams that have made it to the Final Four or who exceeded expectations earlier in the tournament have top scorers who are more experienced players. Take a look at the Final Four. The top three scorers for both Duke and Michigan State are two juniors and a senior. For WVU, it’s a senior and two sophomores. For Butler, it’s a junior and two sophomores. When you look at the stats for the two big Cinderellas of the tournament, Cornell and Northern Iowa, there are five seniors and one junior making up the top trios of those teams. In contrast, Kentucky’s top three was made up of two freshmen and a junior. 

The point I’m trying to make is that great teams need time and experience to gel. So, with that in mind, here’s a quick list of talent management lessons that can help keep your team from being “one and done.”
Earlier this week, I was with a group of business owners in the training and performance industry. As you might imagine, it was a pretty energetic and creative group of people. Someone at the meeting shared with us a list of rules that comes from a book called Rules of Thumb. The author is Alan Webber who is the co-founder of one of my favorite magazines, Fast Company. Knew the magazine. Didn’t know the book. Happy to have found out about it.

Webber offers 52 Rules of Thumb for life in his book. I’ve reviewed the list several times now and thought I’d share my five favorite (or 9.62%) of Webber’s 52 rules. Here they are:
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