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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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Kenlewis1 The end of last week brought a couple of mirror image stories about leaders in the world of finance.  The first was the sudden announcement from Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis that he intends to retire at the end of the year.  As reported in The Economist, the B of A board is going to have to scramble to come up with a successor. In contrast is the news coming out of JP Morgan Chase that CEO Jamie Dimon has named a new head of investment banking in what he acknowledges is a key building block of a leadership succession plan.  Jamiedimon1 As quoted in the New York Times, Dimon said, “It’s my duty to the board to focus on succession.  It’s important that we have people trained and tested with experience to succeed me.”

As Joe Nocera pointed out in his weekly Talking Business column, one of the most important duties of a leader is to prepare his or her successor. This is true not just for CEO’s, but for leaders at any level. How do you do it?  Here are five simple yet actionable ideas for preparing your successor:

Leadership Lessons from U2

by on October 2, 2009 1:00pm
in The Next Level

U2-1 Any week you can check something off your bucket list is a good week.  This was one of those weeks for me as I checked off a long held goal of seeing U2 in concert. Bono and his band mates are on a six week tour and they stopped at FedEx field here in the DC area to rock the house. Thanks to some really nice long term planning on my wife’s part (she bought tickets for my birthday back in April), the two of us  were there.  I’ve been to countless concerts in my life and (I don’t think it’s just the recency effect speaking here) this one was the best.  (In case you’re U2-2wondering what they’re playing on this tour, here’s a very cool web site with the set list and links to performances of each song.)  The show that U2 put on was a combination of rock concert, multimedia extravaganza,  political rally, massive party and religious revival.  And, oh yeah,  anytime somebody is keeping 90,000 people standing up for two and a half hours singing, dancing and completely engaged there’s probably something to be learned about leadership.

While it’s unlikely that most of us are going to be global rock stars anytime soon, I saw some great leadership lessons from Bono and the band that I want to pass on for your consideration.
This is the last of three posts that I’m writing based on some great presentations I heard at the Inc. 500 conference in Washington, DC last week. The primary keynoter for the conference was leadership guru Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great and the new book, How The Mighty Fall. I had never heard Collins speak before and when I found out he was going to be speaking in my hometown zone, I signed up for the conference.  It was the right decision. Jim Collins is a fantastic speaker. He offers incredibly rich and though provoking content delivered with the passion and energy of a world class evangelist.  If you get a chance to hear him speak, take it. You won’t be sorry.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share with you the top 10 to-do’s for leaders that he offered at the end of his two hour segment.  (These are paraphrased based on my notes.) It’s unlikely that all ten will resonate with you, but my guess is that you (like me) will find at least two or three that hit home.  Here they are:
This week I’ll be sharing some insights I picked up at the recent Inc. 500 conference in Washington, DC.  Today’s come from Jet Blue’s founding CEO, David Neeleman who was one of several terrific speakers at the conference.

Jetblueceo

Lots of people in the United States are familiar with Jet Blue and have experienced the energetic service, seat back TV’s and Terra Blue potato chips that the airline is known for. What may not be as familiar is the story of Jet Blue’s founder David Neeleman and that he is now involved in starting his fourth airline. The first was Morris Air which was a regional carrier that began as a travel agency. In his Inc. presentation, Neeleman told the story of being approached by Herb Kelleher, the legendary CEO of Southwest Airlines, and being asked if he wanted to sell his company to Southwest. Neeleman idolized Kelleher and told the audience that he would have sold Morris to Southwest for a lot less than he did to get the chance to work with Kelleher.  Neeleman hit the ground running at Southwest and started pushing big changes on a number of fronts.  Five months after getting there, Kelleher took Neeleman to lunch at a Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Dallas and told him he was fired because he was just too impetuous. Neeleman told us he cried after that conversation.
I’m taking some time to feed the mind this week by attending the Inc. 500 conference taking place in Washington, DC.  There have been some notable speakers on the agenda including Good to Great author Jim Collins and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. The most thought provoking speaker I’ve heard so far is the CEO of Zipcar Scott Griffith.

Zipcar

By now, you’ve probably heard of Zipcar, the car sharing service that is sprouting up in metro areas around the U.S. and the world. (Maybe you’re a Zipster yourself.) Backed up with some great technology, the Zipcar model is pretty simple. You join the program for a modest annual fee.  When you need a car you reserve one online or on the phone. You walk to your car’s reserved parking space and unlock it using your Zipcard.  You drive away for a low hourly fee which includes your gas and insurance coverage. When you’re done, you park the car in its spot, lock it up and walk away.

Before you conclude that this post is an ad for Zipcar, let me explain what really rocked me about Griffith’s presentation.

Leadership and Changing Your Mind

by on September 24, 2009 5:00am
in The Next Level

Soldier-afghan

In the early morning on September 8, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. I read a little bit of news and among the stories were a number on the presidential elections in Afghanistan and the early indications of widespread voting fraud. The other main story around Afghanistan that evening was the appointment of General McChrystal as the new U.S. Commander. He was named to come up with and implement a  new plan. I’ll blame it on the semi-conscious state of being up in the middle of the night, but after my reading, I logged onto Twitter and posted the following haiku:
Have you ever felt like you were being watched? I’m not trying to induce panicked paranoia here, but if you’re a leader you should be feeling that way. The more senior a leader you are, the more you’re being watched. You need to pick up what I call a big footprint view of your role because, as a leader, your actions have a much bigger impact than you may realize.

Lindahudson

That’s a lesson that Linda Hudson learned when she became a business unit president at General Dynamics back in the 1990’s. Hudson, who is now the president of the land and armaments group at BAE Systems, described her first few days as a BU president at General Dynamics in a “Corner Office” Q&A in Sunday’s New York Times. Wanting to make a good impression in her new role, Hudson picked up some new suits at Nordstrom’s and, as part of her ensemble, learned some interesting ways to tie a scarf to complement her suits. She showed up as president on day one looking really sharp. The surprise came on day two when, as she described to the Times, she ran “into no fewer than a dozen women in the organization who have on scarves tied exactly like mine.”

When you’re the leader, people take their cues from you. When you’re aware of it, this can work for everyone’s benefit. If you aren’t aware of your footprint or ignore its impact, you can quickly set yourself and the organization up for failure.

So, with your leadership success in mind, here are five tips for how to successfully live with a big leadership footprint:
Tonydungy There’s been a lot written in the past few weeks about the demise of humility in our culture.  Fortunately, we still have some great examples of successful leaders who demonstrate humility. One of those is the Super Bowl winning former coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy.

I’ve admired Tony Dungy for a long time because of his capacity to succeed in the high stakes competitive environment of the NFL while maintaining grace and humility whether he’s won or lost. Since I’m a huge football fan and Dungy is on the broadcast crew for NBC’s Football Night in America this year, he has been on my radar screen a little more than usual these past few weeks.
Timeisshort Earlier this week, I was talking with an executive who’s recently been promoted to run a business unit that earlier this decade was generating a few million dollars a year in revenue and this year will gross a few hundred million dollars. Through acquisitions and organic growth, the business could be twice its current size in a few more years. As we were talking about the changes she might have to make in her leadership style as the business grows, I remembered a conversation I had last year with another executive who was facing the same sort of situation.
Brain-knife One thing I’ve learned in my years as an executive coach is that you can’t convince a leader who is heavily focused on results to work on relationship building skills just because it’s the “right thing” or a “nice thing” to do.  To motivate the client to change, you have to make a direct connection as to how stronger relationship skills will support the client in getting the results they’re looking for. The results oriented leader usually needs evidence of how relationships can help him achieve what he wants to achieve.

So, it was with great interest that I read David Rock’s article, “Managing with the Brain in Mind,” in the latest issue of Booz and Company’s Strategy + Business magazine.  Rock is an executive coach specializing in the connections between neuroscience and leadership. He is the author of Quiet Leadership and the forthcoming book, Your Brain at Work. In his S+B article, Rock opens with the story of recent MRI based research that demonstrates that people who feel rejected or treated unfairly activate the same regions of their brain as people who are taking a literal blow to the head. The brain’s responses to relational and physical attacks are quite similar.

Rock quotes a neuroscientist who says the link between social discomfort and physical pain makes sense  “because, to a mammal, being socially connected to caregivers is necessary for survival.”  In an economic environment where people are naturally worried about the future, this strikes me as a very important thing for leaders to pay attention to. Rock offers a helpful acronym, SCARF (which stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness), which can help leaders better understand and act on the relationship factors that people naturally need to have addressed.  He outlines a number of ideas in his article about how to act on these needs. Building on Rock’s model, I’ll offer a few of my own here:

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