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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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Harrypotter-scott-diane This past Monday night, my wife Diane and I had a once a lifetime experience.  We got to attend the red carpet premiere of the last Harry Potter movie at Lincoln Center in New York.  Diane has to be in the top 1% of Harry Potter fans in the world and she won the trip through a local radio station.  It was a blast and a surreal experience to be in the same room with the cast and people behind the biggest movie franchise of all time.  If you want the inside scoop on red carpet night, Diane wrote it all up on her blog and included some really great pictures of the cast speaking before the movie started.

Harrypotter1 No doubt, many of you will be seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this weekend and in the days to come. Enjoy it. It’s a wonderful film and a fitting end to the movie. If you have any mental and emotional bandwidth left over as you’re watching Harry save the world, you might also put your leadership lens on for some examples of servant leadership in action.

Servant leadership is based on the principle that the leader is the servant of the people that he or she leads. They have a desire to serve first and lead second. The concept was first articulated by an AT&T executive named Robert Greenleaf in the mid 20th century and he eventually wrote a book on the subject. Today, the Robert K. Greenleaf Center shares and builds on his work. 

The president of the Greenleaf Center, Larry Spears, has identified ten characteristics of servant leaders.  Having been immersed in all things Potter in my house for the last ten years, it seems to me that Harry embodies all or most of them. Here they are:

Dalai-lama1 This month, the Dalai Lama is in Washington, DC for a couple of weeks to lead a multi day series of Buddhist teachings called a Kalachakra.  This past Saturday morning, he came out to the West Lawn of the US Capitol to talk about world peace with about 20,000 people.  I was one of them.

You can read a nice account and see some pictures of the talk in a blog by Matteo Pistono for The Washington Post.  Here are a few leadership impressions that landed with me from being there.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been ignoring articles in the Financial Times about a cell phone hacking scandal in England. This morning, the New York Times picked up the story in a big way and I started paying attention.

News-world Here’s the very quick recap.

Earlier this year, I was with an executive who was proudly showing me the Power Point presentation he had prepared for an upcoming strategic offsite.  

Boring-ppt We got through three slides and he turned to me and asked me what I thought so far.  I asked if he really wanted to know and he said yes. My response was that I had seen the same exact presentation at a company conference in an entirely different industry just the day before. He looked crestfallen,  but, to his credit, he asked for details.  As kindly as  I could, I made a little “Blah, blah, blah” motion with my right hand and said that his first three slides were classic signs that the rest of the presentation was going to stink.

They’re classic because they’re so overused that when the audience sees them appear it immediately shuts down with a “Seen it before,” barely suppressed yawn.  Does your presentation deck have them? 

Here’s the checklist:

Yoga-headstand So, let me first assure you that the picture that comes with this post has not been Photoshopped.  That is me in my business clothes standing on my head alongside Melissa, one of my good buddies from yoga. The back story is that yesterday I went straight from a meeting with clients to the Down Dog Yoga studio to sneak in the lunch time class. The folks there are more used to seeing me in shorts and sandals than a jacket and slacks. As soon as I walked in, Alison, the instructor, said "We've got to take pictures of you doing poses in your suit. It will be the business power hour!" I have a hard time saying no to Alison and the next thing I knew, there we were going upside down.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you might remember a post I wrote about six months ago called Leadership Lessons from Yoga.  When I wrote it, I had been going to yoga for a couple of months and was about as flexible as your average 2x4. The fact that I was doing a headstand in my work clothes for a joke photo yesterday kind of blows me away when I think about it.  The first time I ever did a headstand in my life was in a yoga workshop a couple of weeks before I turned 50 years old. Now, a couple of months later, I'm cranking them out on request. 

Never imagined that I'd be doing that which brings me to a few new leadership lessons from yoga:

Riggleman The big buzz in baseball last week was the sudden resignation of Washington Nationals manager, Jim Riggleman. As Dave Sheinin reported in the Washington Post, the Nats had just beaten the Seattle Mariners to go over .500 in June for the first time in six years. It was then that the team’s general manager walked into the club house to tell the players that their on-field skipper had just quit.

Apparently, Riggleman had been unhappy with both the salary and short term nature of his contract with the Nationals and told his GM before the game with the Mariners that he wanted a better deal by the end of the game or he was walking. He didn’t get the deal and he walked.

Everyone who has ever dreamed of telling their employer where to put it probably admires Riggleman at some level. You have to wonder, though, if Riggleman woke up the next day thinking, “Man, what have I done?”  The guy was perfectly within his rights to want a better deal. There’s nothing wrong with what he wanted. How he went about trying to get it is another story however. Is any other organization going to hire a manager who walked out on his team in the middle of the season?

Are you a leader who’s considering making a big statement like quitting your job on short notice?  The case of Jim Riggleman offers at least three things to consider before you do something you might regret in the morning:

Frieden-cdc Yesterday, I had the good fortune to follow Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control, as a speaker to the leadership fellows of his agency.  His remarks were so fascinating that I was honestly a little disappointed when he wrapped up and it was time for me to speak. On the other hand, as the person who had been asked to deliver a keynote talk on leading at the next level, I couldn’t have had a better set-up than Dr. Frieden.

In his talk, Dr. Frieden did a great job of using stories to demonstrate to the fellows the impact of their work in the field of public health. Most of his stories emphasized the importance of gathering data to both define the problem you’re trying to solve and to measure your progress in solving it.  He also talked a lot about the importance of establishing human to human connection in leading people to make positive changes.

One story he told that really stuck with me was about the five years in he spent India earlier in his career working to rid the country of tuberculosis. Frieden seems like a pretty self aware guy and called himself out over how proud he was of the hours he put in working the TB problem. His typical day in the office, he said, was from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm with additional hours working from home.  As his time in India drew to a close, he was meeting with his counterpart from the Indian government for a final review of their progress. In their conversation, his colleague acknowledged all the hours Frieden put in but said that really wasn’t his most important contribution. Frieden said he took a little umbrage at that until his friend said, “Tom, the most important thing you’ve done is to give us hope.”

Timer1 Today's post is short and sweet as I have about 10 minutes before they shut the door on my plane.  Which raises the question, "What can you do with a 10 minute break?"

That question is on my mind because I spent a good part of yesterday talking with rising executives in our group coaching program about how being so racked and stacked on their calendars leaves them with very little time to think ahead, reflect back or just recharge.

I've written here before about the running flat out until you crash syndrome that so many leaders are caught up in these days. It's a big problem, but the good news is it doesn't take as much time as you might think to sneak in a break. If you think about your typical day, you probably have 2 or 3 ten minute interludes between meetings or conversations. What do you do with them? Answer more emails or recharge your batteries? 

Weddingdancing Today is my 24th wedding anniversary.  You can accuse me of bias (and you might be right), but my wife, Diane, is one of the best leaders I know.  She may not be famous (although she’s increasingly becoming so to the people who follow her food blog and presence on social media) and is not running any organizations larger than our family, our business and the online communities she’s started.

She is, however, one heck of a leader.  I’ve learned a lot about leadership from Diane in 24 years. Here are just some of the reasons why she’s one of the best leaders I know:

Are You an IBM or a Dell?

by on June 17, 2011 7:30am
in The Next Level

Ibm-room The title of this post reminds me of the “I’m a Mac.  I’m a PC” TV commercials from a couple of years ago.  The question, “Are you an IBM or a Dell?” was inspired by an article I read this week in The Economist.

As it happens, this year is the 100th anniversary of the founding of IBM.  Lasting a hundred years is a pretty amazing accomplishment for any company.  For one in the ever changing field of technology, it’s especially impressive.  How has IBM managed to survive and, most of the time, thrive for that long?  Here’s how The Economist answers the question:

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