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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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Who’s The Boss?

by on June 23, 2010 10:00am
in The Next Level

Mccrystal If you haven’t read the full Rolling Stone article on General Stanley McChrystal, it’s worth 15 minutes of your time to do so. The RS reporter, Michael Hastings, had pretty much unfettered access to McChrystal and his top aides over the course of a month in Paris and Afghanistan. The result of that is an engrossing article that includes a number of intemperate remarks from the General and his aides which have endangered McChrystal’s career. I took some time to read the article online yesterday and was struck by something that I haven’t seen discussed in the secondary reporting.
One of the things that makes a strategy book really useful is when it introduces a model that you can use to organize your thinking for years to come. This week’s VBC feature did that for me. It’s The Discipline of Market Leaders. In this video clip, I share and show my big take away from the book and how it might help you think about executing strategy.
Classroom A long time ago in a land far away, I worked for a year as a first year associate in a now defunct Wall Street investment bank. It was a stressful, but educational experience. What did I learn? Lots of things. Things like the recruiting process is not necessarily the best indicator of what it will be like to actually work someplace.  

Or, that you shouldn’t believe everything you read. The firm I worked for had ten corporate values printed in the back of its annual report. Number ten was, “Have fun!”  Late one afternoon, about six months into the year, one of my first year colleagues had the temerity to ask Dan, the senior associate who was our drill sergeant, “Hey Dan, one of our corporate values is ‘Have fun!’  When do we get to have fun?” Face reddening, veins bulging, Dan’s reply was “Not until your third year!”

But the biggest thing I learned that year was how not to lead. The senior partners in our department led through fear and intimidation. A typo in a proposal was cause for being publicly called out and dressed down in an all hands staff meeting. Leaving the office before 7:30 or 8:00 pm was seen as a lack of commitment.  Yelling at subordinates was the norm. There were good cops and bad cops to keep you on your toes. The threat of firing was always in the air. I often said to myself, “If I ever lead a group of people, I’m going to do the exact opposite of everything they’re doing here.” That actually ended up being a pretty good running start on an approach to leadership in the jobs I had after that one. 

My Wall Street days came to mind recently when I was listening to an executive speak to a group of high potential leaders I’m coaching. 

Every so often, I’ll have a conversation with a client who is really frustrated with someone at work. It could be a really difficult boss or a peer who is only focused on his own agenda. What I frequently see with clients in these situations is a lot of pent up negative energy about the other person. You don’t have to scratch the surface very hard for the client to go off on a bit of a rant about how unreasonable the boss is or how selfish the peer is. 

Understandable but not very productive. What’s happening in these situations is illustrated by a little formula developed by leadership coach Tim Gallwey. It goes like this:

P = p – i

Your performance is equivalent to your potential minus the interference. A lot of people mistake the interference for an external factor like the bad boss or the sneaky peer. That’s not the interference; that’s the trigger for the interference. The interference is the story that builds and builds in your head that gets you so wound up, stressed out or ticked off that you can’t think clearly. The next thing you know, all of that internal interference has overwhelmed any potential you have to perform at your best.

So, what can you do about this? 

What’s Your Intention?

by on June 16, 2010 12:30pm
in The Next Level

A Leavespond s I often do, I spent yesterday with a  group of high potential executives in an orientation program. The point of the program was to give these newly promoted leaders an inside look at what’s expected of them and to give them some opportunities to learn and think about what’s going to be different now that they’re in executive level roles. It’s a great thing to do and these leaders are fortunate that their company creates some time for them to go off line and learn from senior executives, each other and a few outside speakers.

I was part of that last group – the outside speakers. My goal was to share some tools and frameworks that would be useful to them for leading at the next level. I had that coveted 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm slot when everyone’s energy level is at its highest (not). In spite of the time of day, we had some really lively conversations. One of them was around the value of visualizing the outcome you’re trying to create in different events and meetings and how you need to show up to make that outcome likely. I asked everyone to identify an important event on their calendar next week and then spend four minutes coaching each other in pairs around three basic questions:

Could You Get Reelected?

by on June 14, 2010 8:30am
in The Next Level

Votebutton1Here’s a question that might make you uncomfortable or maybe even angry. If you had to run a campaign to keep your leadership job, could you get reelected?  In this era of anti-incumbent fever, my guess is that there are a lot of non-political leaders who would be voted out of office if their followers had the chance.

What prompted this line of thinking for me was an article in this morning’s Washington Post about how DC’s mayor Adrian Fenty is being booed lustily at just about every public appearance he’s making lately. This is the reception for a guy who was consistently cheered back in 2006 when he was running for mayor and who, since he was elected, most everyone agrees has improved city services, raised test scores in schools and opened new libraries and rec centers. 
He’s gotten some great results, so why the boos as he runs for reelection? He may have gotten great results but he’s blowing the relationships.

The Answer to Any Question

by on June 11, 2010 10:00am
in The Next Level

Man_question_mark I'm in Florida on a business trip this morning and was watching the crew from Morning Joe broadcast live from Pensacola Beach as I was getting dressed and packing up in my hotel room. It's beyond sad watching the people there stay brave in the face of what they know is coming - millions of gallons of oil that's going to foul their beaches, destroy their environment and kill businesses that provide jobs and feed families.

With each new guest, essentially the same question was asked, "How did this happen?" I have a terrible feeling that we're going to be asking that question about the Gulf oil spill and a lot of other disasters for years and years to come. For every time we ask it, there will be all sorts of technical answers but at the simplest level, I think there is one answer to the question.
Bp-tony I’ll acknowledge that it’s just too easy to nominate BP CEO Tony Hayward as the worst leader of the year. Granted, he’s got some stiff competition, but he deserves every inch of the big target on his back. Like a lot of people, I’ve got a crick in my neck from shaking my head after all of the stupid things he’s said and feckless things he’s done.

If you Google  the phrase “Tony Hayward quotes”, the first result you’ll get back will be a link to a helpful compilation of them at a website called They’re all sourced. Here are some of my favorites:

Video Book Club: Brag

by on June 8, 2010 8:00am
in The Next Level

If you’ve ever said something along the lines of “If I do good work, it will speak for itself,” then you need to watch this week’s Video Book Club segment to learn why that can be a dangerous way to go. Inspired by Peggy Klaus’ book, Brag!: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It, I share two important reasons why you need to speak for the work and not just let it speak for itself.

What Would Wooden Say?

by on June 7, 2010 10:00am
in The Next Level

John_wooden It's easy to conclude that they just don't make them like John Wooden anymore. Like my grandfather, who passed away at age 93 a couple of years ago, Wooden was literally a man from another century. As so many tributes over the weekend recalled, he was the winningest coach in college basketball history leading UCLA to 10 national championships in the 1960's and 1970's. He was so much more than that though. 

As evidenced by the many former players including Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabar who flew in from around the country and around the world to stand watch at his deathbed, Wooden shaped lives. He did it through his coaching, his teaching, his actions and his words. One article I read about him said that he never accepted a salary at UCLA that was higher than $32,500 because it wouldn't be modest. As my mother asked me in a phone call last night, how often do we even hear the word modest anymore?

For the past year or so, I've been using the following Wooden quote to close my presentations because I love the way he described the effect of continuous improvement:
When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur... Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That's the only way it happens and when it happens it lasts.
Wooden, for me, has been a Yoda like figure. Small stature, but huge in wisdom. I've been thinking the past couple of days about what he would say about the quality of leadership in the public arena these days.  What would his take be on oil spills in the Gulf, safety violations that led to the deaths of coal miners, short term interest decisions that led to the near collapse of the global economy? We'll never know what Wooden would have said about the failure of leadership in these and other arenas, but by reading through some of his quotes, I think we can make an educated guess:
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