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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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The Sports section of this morning’s New York Times featured an article titled, “To Top Golfers, A Trusted Coach Is Invaluable, But Expendable.”   Prompted by Tiger Woods’ breakup with Hank Haney, his swing coach for the past six years, the article shared the perspectives of a number of top golfers and coaches about what they expect from such a relationship. The expectations ran the gamut. On one end of the spectrum, Hank Haney reported that he spent 110 days a year with Woods and stayed over at his house 50 nights a year. Doesn’t sound like much of a life.

On the other end, coaching this year’s Masters champ, Phil Mickelson, sounds like a better gig for a couple of reasons. First, Mickelson seems pretty clear about his goals for working with a coach. When he hired short game coach Dave Pelz in 2003, Pelz asked him, “Phil, what in the world do you need me for?” Mickelson told him that he had a very clear goal of a one stroke improvement in the major tournaments. A year later, he won his first Masters by one stroke.

Mickelson also, I think, has the right expectations for working with a coach.  He says, “What has been important to me in working with my coaches… is that they give me all the information and advice from their years of experience and then help me blend it into my approach and the way I’ve been doing things.  And that’s what makes it work, because it is collaborative.”

Since I’ve been coaching executive leaders for the past 10 years, the article got me thinking about what prospective clients should and shouldn’t expect from their coach.  Here are three things I would put on each of those lists:
I don’t remember who it was that first told me this, but somewhere along the way when I was growing up someone gave me some pretty powerful advice. They said, “If you want something, ask for it. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? They just say no. You’re no worse off than you were before you asked.” 

So, right now, many of you are thinking, “Yeah, that makes sense.” And, there are also a lot of you who are thinking, “That’s a really rude and pushy approach to life.”

That, in a nutshell, sums up the point of an interesting column that Oliver Burkeman wrote for the Guardian recently.

One thing you can count on if you’re in a leadership role is that it’s going to end someday. If you’re lucky, you’ll leave the role with tributes and parties in your honor. If you’re not so lucky, you may not have much time to make the transition from leader to follower. 

Such was the case this week with former British prime minister Gordon Brown. With not a lot of notice on Tuesday, he stepped in front of the cameras in front of 10 Downing Street to announce that, following the results of last week’s election, he was resigning and heading immediately to Buckingham Palace to recommend to the Queen that she ask David Cameron to be the new prime minister. Within a couple of hours, David Cameron was in and Gordon Brown was out.

This week’s VBC features a modern day classic, Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team . In this video clip, I give a quick overview of each of the five dysfunctions and share my secret theory about why Pat’s book has been so darned successful.

How to Share Power

by on May 10, 2010 11:30am
in The Next Level

Uk-election1 The most interesting political story this week is the negotiation among David Cameron of the U.K.'s Conservative Party and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats to reach a power sharing agreement to establish a coalition government following last week's elections in the U.K.  Of course, the current prime minister, Gordon Brown is in the mix as well but, according to the Financial Times, it seems the smart money is on Cameron and Clegg working out a deal.

Leaders everywhere should be paying attention to this case study in the making because, in a matrixed world, power sharing among leaders is more and more common. It's a good idea to learn how to do it. Effective power sharing starts with establishing some clear agreements. It seems that's what Cameron and Clegg are doing now. I don't have any idea what process they're using for doing that, but here's a simple framework for establishing clear up front agreements when you need to share power with one or more leaders.
Quotes There was an interesting article in the Washington Post this week about an invention developed by a United Methodist pastor in Salem, VA named Ken Dupin. After thinking about the dilemma of seniors who need extended care but don’t want to move to a nursing home Dupin has come up with a prototype for a 300 square foot technology equipped home that can be set up in a backyard. He calls his invention the MEDcottage.  (You can see a graphic of the structure here.) It’s pretty amazing what Dupin has done with his imagination and limited resources. He’s put a team together to build the prototypes, gotten funding to start a company to build the cottages and gotten the Virginia state legislature to approve a bill that allows the structures to be placed in back yards under certain conditions.

And here is where the quote of the week award winner comes into the picture.  As you might imagine, public officials in high population density areas like Northern Virginia are concerned about cottages springing up in the back yards of quarter acre lots and turning zoning laws upside down. They’re also concerned about the misuse of the cottages. Here’s how the quote of the week award winner, Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay sums up his concerns:
“Is it a good idea to throw people into a storage container and put them in your back yard?  This is the granny pod.  What’s next?  The college dropout pod?”
Even though I can see both sides of the MEDCottage issue, I have to confess that I laughed out loud when I read McKay’s quote. It’s a classic in terms of framing an issue in a punchy, memorable, definable way. If you’re a leader who needs to communicate your points clearly (and are there any leaders who don’t?), there are a few things you can learn from McKay’s quote:
Pavlovs-dog Anyone who had Intro to Psychology in school knows the story of Pavlov’s dog. The Russian psychologist is best known today for his research in conditioned response. In his most famous experiment, he would ring a bell every time he gave his dog a tasty treat. The dog learned to associate the sound of the bell with food and, pretty soon, was salivating at the sound of the bell even when Pavlov wasn’t throwing a kibble his way.

I’ve read a couple of articles lately that have really made me think about the way we train leaders today. In their own way, they both reminded me of Pavlov. The articles point out the paths of least resistance that can condition society’s most promising young leaders into salivating when the bell is rung.
This week’s Video Book Club is a flat out recommendation for the classic book, The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford. This book is one I frequently recommend to clients because it does such a great job of combining wisdom with common sense advice. It’s written with consultants and other professional service providers in mind, but I think it speaks to leaders in roles far beyond that industry.

Perfect or Good Enough?

by on May 3, 2010 11:30am
in The Next Level

OilslickOne of the issues that a lot of my high potential leader clients find challenging is summed up in this item from the list of leadership behaviors in our Next Level 360 degree survey:
  • Effectively differentiates between efforts that require perfection and those for which “good enough” is sufficient.
It’s easy to understand why that one is a challenge to get right. As the oil rig explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico shows, there are some things that absolutely have to be perfect. Good enough isn’t in those cases. 

Still, not everything that we as leaders or our team does has to be perfect. In fact, the urge to always have the optimal solution in every circumstance can almost ensure that we won’t get perfection when we need it.  There’s simply too much to do to optimize everything. How do you know, though, when going for the “good enough” solution is the right way to go?

I’ve been talking with my clients about that question and here are some criteria we’ve come up on how to decide between going for the perfect solution or embracing the good enough solution:
One of my mentors in high school was fond of saying, “True insincerity is hard to find.”  Running for reelection in Britain this week, prime minister Gordon Brown demonstrated what that line is all about. In case you haven’t heard, Brown was out in the neighborhoods talking to the “real people” about their concerns when he struck up a conversation with an older woman who had a list of complaints including her take on British immigration policy. Brown talked with her for five minutes, then left the scene in his motorcade. Unfortunately, he forgot to take the TV network’s wireless microphone off his lapel and, as he was driving away, was caught on tape referring to the lady as a “bigoted woman.” 

The conversation with the woman and his off camera remarks can be seen in this clip. It’s about five minutes long with Brown’s gaffe coming around the 4:50 mark. If you’re at all a student of leadership insincerity, I encourage you to watch the whole thing. It’s too rich.

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