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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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Armando Who would have thought that the feel good story of the week would be one of the biggest blown calls in the history of baseball? By now, you’ve probably heard the story of how Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga had a perfect game plucked from his grasp when first base umpire Jim Joyce called the runner safe when he was clearly out in what should have been the last play of the game. Galarraga himself was covering first and stepped on the bag with the ball in his glove a good step and a half before the runner got there.

Galarraga and the rest of the Tigers were getting ready to celebrate when he looked over to see Joyce signaling safe. That’s when a series of moments of truth began that have led to such a captivating story. In a time when oil company executives spend their time in front of Congress blaming each other for an environmental disaster and there are countless other examples of nominal leaders not taking accountability for their actions, we get a really simple and clear example of how we’d like our leaders to act and how we hope we’d respond in similar circumstances. 

Here are three simple lessons from the blown call and its aftermath:
Strawman I don’t mean to be rude with the title question of this post, but I’ve learned over the last four or five years of coaching that it’s a great question to ask yourself. Here’s why. 

How many times have you been in a conversation with a group of colleagues that goes something like this?

Wow, they totally don’t get it. They are so far removed from reality that they really just don’t know what’s going on. They should be doing something to change the situation but they don’t even know where to start. You know, what else? For the most part, they’re all like that.

Admit it. You’ve been in those conversations. Here’s how it usually plays out. A bunch of corporate directors are sitting around talking about the corporate vice presidents and how they don’t get it. Or a bunch of GS-15’s are hanging out talking about the SES leaders in their agency and how they don’t get it. I know those conversations go on because when I speak to leaders at any level, I usually ask them if they’ve been in conversations like that. As soon as I ask the question, there are a lot of embarrassed, sheepish expressions spreading throughout the room. Almost everybody’s done it. I used to do it myself on a semi-regular basis when I was a corporate executive.

If you’ve ever been a part of two organizations coming together as one, you know how challenging that can be. More mergers fail than succeed and a big reason why is a mismatch between the cultures. If you’re a leader responsible for shaping a culture that works (and what leader isn’t?), then you need to take a look at this week’s Video Book Club feature.
One of the highlights of the week for me came yesterday when I led a day long workshop on leadership coaching for a group of candidates for the Federal Senior Executive Service. We talked a lot about how important it is for leaders to know how to coach and worked on different skills and models for coaching. 

Of course, a core skill for any coach is listening. We worked on that skill by grouping up in threes with one person talking about something that mattered to them, another person listening and asking questions and the third person observing the listener. After three or four minutes of conversation between the first two people, the observer offered a minute or two of feedback to the listener. The feedback consisted of two or three things the observer appreciated about how the listener listened and one suggestion for how to be an even more effective listener. We did three rounds of this so everyone could be in each of the three roles.

As the second round ended, I asked the group to bring their attention back to me for a second so I could ask them if they were feeling what I was noticing watching them. What I was noticing was the love in the room.  Here's what I mean by that and what it might mean to you.
Dennisblair Late last week, the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, resigned from his job after a little more than a year in the job. As reporting in the Washington Post points out, Blair’s replacement will be the fourth person to hold the DNI job in just over five years. In legislation passed after 9/11, the DNI’s charge is to coordinate the collaborative work of 16 different intelligence agencies including the CIA. Just about every informed observer believes that it’s an extremely difficult job, maybe even impossible.  

In some ways (and obviously not in others), the DNI role is like a lot of other leadership roles in a matrixed organizational structure. More and more these days, leaders find themselves in jobs with a lot of responsibility but not a lot of direct authority. With a mixture of dotted lines, solid lines and no lines at all in the org chart, leaders in a matrixed environment have the unenviable task of herding the cats. 

What can you do to survive one of these jobs? It seems pretty clear that you can’t act as if you have a lot of authority to command things get done when, practically speaking, there are all kinds of ways for others to avoid or ignore doing what you want them to do. Especially in the first year or so, surviving in a matrixed leadership role depends a lot on effective change management. With that idea in mind, here are five strategies to increase the chance of survival in one of these roles:

In this week’s installment of the VBC, I’m featuring what I think is an indispensable part of a leadership coach’s (and most leaders for that matter) tool kit. It’s a book called FYI - For Your Improvement  by Mike Lombardo and Bob Eichinger.

Worldmap1 Thirty years ago, John Naisbitt took the publishing world by storm with his book, Megatrends. It was best seller for two years and sold nine million copies. Naisbitt identified ten big trends for the future by doing a deep analysis of current news stories and looking for the patterns within them. It was a classic case of what Harvard leadership strategist Ron Heifetz calls getting off the dance floor and onto the balcony.

Why We Need An MBA Oath

by on May 21, 2010 11:00am
in The Next Level

You may have heard about The MBA Oath. It was created by a couple of Harvard Business School students last year and has spread to business school campuses around the world and led to a book on the topic. As the Financial Times reports, it’s supported by the new dean of Harvard Business School but a significant percentage of the students there won’t be taking the oath on Class Day this year. Some say it’s not necessary, others say it’s cheesy. 

You can read the entire oath at For now, here are some selected excerpts:

About this time last year, I wrote a post called “Feedback Do’s and Don’ts from American Idol.” In the belief that everything you need to learn about leadership you can learn from American Idol, I thought I’d do another Idol post this year. (Before you fire off an angry comment, that was irony at work.) All kidding aside, if you put a leadership lens on, there are occasionally some interesting things to see in the show. Over the past couple of weeks, my takeaway has been about the importance of showing up with the right amount of confidence. It can make or break your effectiveness as a performer and a leader. Of course, a lot of the time there’s not a lot of difference between performance and leadership.

I’m taking a couple of different directions in this week’s Video Book Club. One is that the book is a sports biography, Andre Agassi’s Open. The other is that I read the book on an iPad. That was a first for me and I think I’m a convert.
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