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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It’s been almost two months since my overnight visit to the USS Harry S Truman. Since then, I’ve posted video clips on Thursdays that feature some of the leaders of the ship and offer a look at life on board an aircraft carrier. Based on the stats from You Tube, the three most popular posts in the series so far have been:
There are other great clips that you can find on the Next Level Blog  by entering "Harry S Truman" in the search box.

How to Give a Pep Talk

by on March 24, 2010 9:00am
in The Next Level

Whether you’re for or against the health care bill, it’s pretty clear that the passage of the bill by the House will be one of the bigger stories of 2010. In all of the coverage of the debate, one clip I saw made a broader impression on me. It was President Obama’s speech to the congressional Democratic caucus on the day before the vote. I’ve been on West Coast time this week and when I got back to my hotel room on Saturday night, I watched the speech on C-SPAN.  (That probably says a lot about what a wild and crazy time I have on business trips.)  Anyway, the speech struck me as an interesting example of how to give a pep talk.

Sooner or later, every leader is faced with the challenge of rousing the troops to go out and do something hard. One of my favorite examples is the “Band of Brothers” speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V.  For a highlight of that speech, check out this clip of Kenneth Branagh as Henry V psyching up the troops at Agincourt.

OK, I’m doing something different with VBC this week. I’m recommending a book I haven’t read yet. It’s called Leaders Make the Future. I feel pretty confident pitching it because I just spent the better part of two days listening to its author, Bob Johansen, talking about what’s in it.

Bob is a futurist and his forecast for ten years out is essentially more of what we have today. Bob calls it VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Sound familiar? It should since that pretty much sums up the world we’re living in. In his book, Bob offers ten skills that leaders will need to master to make the future.

I’m in Phoenix this week for a meeting of companies that provide leadership and organizational development consulting and coaching. It’s a nice opportunity to learn from colleagues and I want to share with you a useful analogy I picked up today.

Our opening speaker was Dennis Bonilla, a managing director with General Physics Corporation. In talking with us about overcoming organizational fatigue in a tough operating environment, Dennis drew a comparison with metal fatigue. He asked us to think of what happens when you take a coat hanger and bend it back and forth until it breaks. The process is known as metal fatigue and it happens in three predictable phases that are analogous to what happens in organizations that are under pressure:

At this risk of reading like the opening line of a really bad novel, this post begins with the phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night.”  The thing is, it actually was.  On my January trip to the USS Harry S Truman, we had the opportunity to observe nighttime flight operations from the flag bridge.  The weather that night was terrible.  There was a complete cloud cover with no moonlight, rain blowing sideways and choppy seas that had the deck rolling from side to side.  In the midst of those conditions, Truman pilots and crew were launching and landing F-18 fighter jets about every 45 seconds.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to work with some Navy admirals and talked over lunch with a couple of them who were carrier based pilots earlier in their careers.  We were talking about night ops and one of the admirals made the point that it’s not something that anyone really enjoys.  Because it’s dark, you lose your normal visual references and only have a few lights in the middle of the ocean to line up on when you land.  When you’re flying night operations in bad weather, it gets even more tense and complicated.

They Can Handle the Truth

by on March 17, 2010 9:30am
in The Next Level

When I’m conducting feedback for a client one of the things I really like to hear from the direct reports is something like, “My manager shares information with us that other managers don’t share with their teams.  That helps us make better decisions and do better work.” The flip side of what makes me happy is that every direct report should be singing the praises of their manager sharing information with them. When you treat people like adults, they usually respond like adults. Most people can handle the truth and resent it when they feel like they’re being played.

Sharing information and telling the truth came to mind in reading a couple of interviews over the past few days.  The first was in the New York Times with the CEO of the Container Store, Kip Tindell. If you’re looking for a leader who believes in treating people like human beings, read the whole interview. For the purposes of this post on the benefits of sharing the truth and the information that people need to do their jobs, read this passage:
Coming to you semi-live from the Courtyard Marriott at BWI airport is this week’s Video Book Club installment on Primal Leadership  by Dan Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee. It’s a classic in the field of emotional intelligence and one of my favorites.

Hanging Tough with Your Boss

by on March 15, 2010 10:00am
in The Next Level

Hangtough The Washington Post ran an interesting article by Lois Romano last week on how Hillary Clinton is organizing her staff and leading at the State Department. For me, the kicker came at the very end in this passage:
Shamila Chaudary -- a self-described "backbencher" -- had toiled for years as a faceless expert on the Pakistan desk when one day she found herself invited to brief Clinton. Chaudary, 32, said the two sparred over whether it was prudent to engage non-governmental power centers in Pakistan, with Clinton expressing skepticism.

Chaudary held her ground, making the point that "we've been seen as not engaging with them, and it's hurt us a lot." She said that although she and Clinton "didn't necessarily agree . . . she said that it's very important for us to debate like this. . . . This is how she said she wants to do business."

Within 48 hours of their meeting, Chaudary was promoted to a front-line job in the office of policy planning.

Chaudary’s story came to mind the other day when I was talking with a client who’s getting ready to make a controversial pitch to one of the top executives of his organization. If you have enough responsibility and are doing your job well, you’ll eventually find yourself in a situation where you need to tell your boss something she disagrees with or flat out doesn’t want to hear. As Chaudary found out, hanging tough with your boss can be a career changing moment. Do it poorly too many times, though, and it can end up being a career ending moment. 

How do you do go head to head with your boss and still maintain the access and credibility you’ll need to be effective down the road? Here are some tips:

Listen and They Will Talk

by on March 12, 2010 1:00pm
in The Next Level

Listening3 Yesterday, I had a wrap up session with an executive I’ve enjoyed coaching for the past seven months. He was one of those clients who was great to work with because he took his colleague feedback to heart and really dedicated himself to following through on developing a few key skills that have made him an even more effective leader. As we were talking, he asked me what I had been up to lately and I told him I’ve been interviewing a lot of global executives for the upcoming second edition of my book, The Next Level. My client asked me what I was learning and hearing in the interviews. I thought for a few moments and said the theme that is coming through loud and clear in the interviews is the importance of listening. It doesn’t matter what the nationality or industry is of the executives I’ve been interviewing; they have all said that listening is a key building block of leading successfully in a global environment. Their basic point is you have to constantly be in learning mode when you’re an executive and that you learn more by listening than talking. Your goal, many of them have told me, should be to listen so that those around you will talk.

As I went on with my day, I thought a lot about that conversation and the many clients I’ve worked with over the years who have focused on improving their listening skills. At this point, we’ve had about 500 clients who have been the subject of our Next Level Success Factor 360 survey. A number of the items in the survey deal with listening. The one that has turned out to be the canary in the coal mine that signals a client needs to focus on listening as a key component of their leadership presence is:
  • Contributes to creating an environment in which everyone is comfortable engaging in open and honest dialogue.
If a client has a low score on that item, then I usually see lower ranking scores on items related to their own interpersonal effectiveness with their team and other colleagues. I also usually see lower scores on the effectiveness of their team. Clearly, it’s something important for my clients to address when they have low scores on creating an environment where people engage in open and honest dialogue. The question is, what should they work on to create that kind of environment where people talk freely?

There are just a few more weeks left of video blogs from my visit to the USS Harry S Truman earlier this year.  This week’s installment was shot during a breakfast that the Command Master Chief arranged for our group to have with some of the enlisted sailors on board.  We were able to have some long conversations with some terrific folks during the meal.  This video provides the perspective of three of them on what makes a leader.  The second sailor you’ll hear from (and the one in the screen shot below) was the Truman’s Sailor of the Year in 2009.

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