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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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How to Not Be a Blockbuster

by on September 24, 2010 2:00pm
in The Next Level

Blockbuster The New York Times reports that Blockbuster Video, with a billion dollars in debts it can't pay, is filing for bankruptcy. What a great case study in how an organization can go from king of the mountain to yesterday's news. It doesn't take long these days.

When my family moved to the DC area in 1999, the neighborhood Blockbuster store was a regular destination for the four of us on Friday nights. We'd spend an hour looking at the racks and racks of VHS tapes. Seemed like the ones we really wanted were usually checked out. 

Blockbuster was fun, but the late fees drove us crazy. We could never get the movies back on time and I regularly ended up spending 20 or 25 bucks in fees the next time we rented a movie. When Netflix came along with their monthly fee, keep the movie as long as you want approach, we were happy to sign up for nine dollars a month because we were coming out ahead on the deal. Netflix is what prompted us to drop the VHS format and flip over to DVDs. In the last four months, I've started streaming Netflix movies on my iPad.

All of that in the space of 11 years. Wow. Fast Company ran a fascinating chronology of events in the life of Blockbuster this week. Back in 2000, Blockbuster had the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million. They passed. Probably a good thing for all of us movie buffs that they did. 

So what could Blockbuster have done to survive? The same thing that any organization that wants to survive and win needs to do these days - ask tough questions. If you're the leader you have to ask them, encourage them and motivate people to act on the answers. There are a lot of good questions you can ask. Some of the ones that I think would have helped Blockbuster that might help other organizations include:

A Simple Way to Avoid Group Think

by on September 22, 2010 11:00am
in The Next Level

Penguins Have you ever been in a group problem solving session that ended too soon? Your immediate response to that question may be, “How could any meeting end too soon? I spend too much time in meetings as it is, so the shorter the better.”  I’m with you. In most organizations, there are so many meetings that actual productivity suffers. (For ideas on how to deal with that, check out this recent post.)

Here’s what I mean, though, by a problem solving session that ended too soon. The way you know it ended too soon is when whatever solution that was agreed upon is ineffective at best or blows up in everyone’s face at worst. The root cause of that outcome is often because teams don’t spend enough time considering alternatives before arriving at a decision and they ignore the impact of their decision on the different stakeholders involved.

Group think is on my mind this week because I’m getting ready to coach a leadership team in an offsite tomorrow. As prep for the meeting, everyone has completed the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  At this point, it seems like every manager and leader in private and public sector America has taken the MBTI at least once. My complaint with it is it’s often used like an interesting party game – a source of entertainment, but not much practical application. I’m going to use it with this leadership team to point out what their “go-to” moves are from a problem solving and decision making standpoint and what they’re likely to overlook and ignore. If they’re like a lot of leadership teams I’ve worked with, they’re going to be long on facts and analysis and short on generating alternatives and considering the impact of their decisions.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to round out the group problem solving process so that all of the bases are touched.  Without getting into the ins and outs of the Myers-Briggs, here’s how it works:
Talent management is one of those areas where the best intentions can quickly turn into a complicated mess that everybody hates. Fortunately, Marc Effron and Miriam Ort are here to save us from ourselves with their book, One Page Talent Management.

Earth1 The second edition of my book, The Next Level, is going to be released in October. Over the next month, I’ll be sharing some highlights of what’s different in the new edition. One of the goals I had in writing the new edition was to bring more global leadership perspective to the book. In the original chapter on the importance of leaders picking up an outside–in perspective and letting go of an inside-out view of your  function, I wrote that making that shift involves a broadening of perspective from me to us to them. You first have to get over the me mindset that drives a lot of new leaders and shift to an us perspective. What’s in it for us? To really move to an outside-in perspective, you then have to take the team from the us mindset to the them mindset. What’s in it for them? The them can be any constituency on the outside – customers, competitors, suppliers, regulators, political leaders, etc. In today’s world,  just about every team has some global “thems” to consider. 

In writing the second edition, I wanted to provide some new thinking and ideas on picking up a global perspective on the outside in approach so I interviewed a lot of executives who think that way. One of those executives was James Kelly. James is the founder of what is now the global consulting firm Capgemini. After a long career of working with global organizations, James describes the trap that a lot of leaders step into:
“The fact is, there are talented people all over the world. The cultures and economic opportunities are different in different parts of the world. The more high level an executive you become, the more you have to help people connect and learn across the boundaries. You can’t just come in and say you know what has to be done and you’re going to tell people how to do it. . . . One of the barriers I’ve seen is when people come in with the mind-set of saying I need to own the answers because of my experience. [Today’s world requires] a much more collaborative and open-minded approach to listening and communicating. It requires deliberately speaking to people who may be peers or subordinates before you think you have answers and, in the process, actually engaging with other people to create those answers. In an increasingly global world, that’s extremely important.”
So how do you guard against the myopia of the inside out view and pick up that outside in perspective? As Steve Jobs might say, James Kelly has an app for that. Here’s Kelly’s three step process for picking up an outside in perspective:

Wally’s Advice for New Bosses

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

Sometimes as a leadership blogger, you just need to tip your hat to a colleague and say, “Well done, sir (or ma’am).”  That’s the case today with Wally Bock’s post, So, now you’re the boss. Wally succinctly ticks off the points that any new boss needs to remember. Here’s a taste, but you owe it to yourself to read his post (or, do a new boss a favor, and send it to them):
Flipchart Between now and April of 2011, thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of leadership teams around the world will be going “offsite” to review their progress, plan for the future and bond with each other. It’s that time of the year. The fourth and first quarters of the year is when the planning happens which I guess means that the work gets done in the second and third quarters. 

I’m actually working with a couple of client organizations on the agendas for offsites that will happen this week and next. In twenty plus years of management work and leadership coaching, I’ve been in the room for a few really great offsites and a lot of really awful ones. Based on all of those hours of participation, observation and facilitation, I’ve developed some pretty strong points of view about what’s needed to create an effective and worthwhile leadership offsite.

Here, in my humble opinion, are three things that every leadership offsite agenda has to have:

This week’s Video Book Club installment features the new release from one of my favorite authors, bloggers and thinkers on leadership – Bob Sutton. Following up on the success of his previous book, The No Asshole Rule, Bob is back with Good Boss, Bad Boss.

It’s a great read with more tips, stories and advice than can be shared in the length of one video or blog post.  That said, there is one big takeaway for me from the book which I think sums up most of what Bob is recommending. I share that in this week’s video.

Lightbulbon Maybe you’ve heard this joke about leadership coaching:

Q:  How many coaches does it take to change a light bulb?

A:  Just one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.

Humor is always funnier when there’s an element of truth in it. Over the weekend, I received an email from a reader who knows where I’m coming from with my light bulb joke. His boss is the head of the organization and he’s the deputy. He was asking for any thoughts I had on solving the problem he describes here (He’s given me his permission to answer through the blog. I’ve changed some of the details to protect the innocent.):

“She is the type that (though she wouldn't acknowledge it) believes the more information she has the more solid is her place in the organization.  Information is power. Staff don't trust her and she doesn't trust staff.
I like my job and would happily stay here but find her to be my greatest challenge that I could normally overcome but can't seem to get there. I know I have a choice and am actually looking for a change but I also know that this organization won't get where it needs to be until our chief listens, understands, and commits to working on her leadership.”
Hmmm, that’s a tough one. It’s pretty clear that the boss doesn’t want or see any reason to change and certainly isn’t open to coaching. So what can you do in this kind of situation? As the deputy suggests, you always have the option of voting with your feet and finding another gig. But what can you do if you’re not ready to throw in the towel or the timing isn’t right to move on?  What can you do if you want to try to influence things for the better?

Ah, that is the key word – influence. It all starts with putting yourself in the boss’s shoes. Here’s one way to do it that can help:

A Letter from Chile

by on September 10, 2010 9:30am
in The Next Level

Chileminers2 Last week, I wrote a post on the lessons in leadership we’re receiving from the Chilean miners trapped in their copper mine. Thanks to the editors at SmartBrief on Leadership, the post received a lot of attention and generated a lot of thoughtful comments. 

In addition to the comments, I received a moving email from Alan Cuthbert, a proud citizen of Chile. With his permission, I want to share that note with you today. For me, what Alan expressed in his email is a poignant reminder of how connected we all really are. It’s too easy these days to lose sight of that. In the case of the Chilean miners (with hopes and prayers for their safe rescue), the connection lifts up all of us.

Read Alan’s e-mail to see what I mean:

Stopwatch1 Here in the United States, the week following Labor Day tends to feel like the beginning of a new year. Kids are back in school, conferences and special events fill the schedule and the final push towards the end of the calendar year kicks into high gear in just about every organization. If you’re a leader, this is the time of year when you’re likely to start running even harder than you’ve already been. The danger is that you run flat out until you crash.

Based on 360 degree surveys my company has run for hundreds of coaching clients, that danger is real.  Out of 72 next level leadership behaviors we’re tracking in the survey, the one that is consistently rated the lowest by colleagues of peers is:

Paces himself/herself by building in regular breaks from work

If you’re like a lot of leaders, you’re thinking, “I don’t have time to take a break.” Well, actually, you do and you really can’t afford not to. Making a habit of taking mini-breaks throughout the day will increase your productivity and effectiveness by clearing your mind and renewing your body. Over the past four years, dozens of clients in our Next Level Leadership™ group coaching program have successfully taken on the challenge of pacing themselves so they show up at their best.

I’ve been keeping track of what they’ve been doing to create some mini-breaks and establish a more effective pace for themselves.  Here’s their top 10 list of proven and simple ways to pace yourself:

Ten Proven and Simple Ways to Pace Yourself
1.  Schedule 20 and 40 minute meetings instead of 30 and 60 minute meetings.

2.  Schedule planning and review time for yourself every week.

3.  Eat lunch away from your desk.

4.  Set your computer or smart phone to chime five minutes before each hour. Use the chime as a cue to step back and assess what you’re doing.

5.  Take five minutes before important meetings to ask what you’re trying to accomplish and how you need to show up to make that likely.

6.  Take a five minute deep breathing and stretching break at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

7.  Take a cue from a British client and make a habit of taking a mid-afternoon break for tea.

8.  Take a 10 minute walk in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Stop to chat with the people you see. It’s a simple way to practice management by walking around.

9.  Begin the day with exercise instead of email.

10. Set limits on the amount of time you spend responding to email in one sitting. It helps you avoid that “black hole” feeling three hours later.
So, those are pace setting tips that work for our clients. What tips would you add to the list?
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