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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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Tourre There probably aren’t many kids who grow up thinking, “Someday I want to be a Wall Street executive and testify in front of a Senate committee that’s loaded for bear.” Yet, that’s what happened this week for eight or nine executives from Goldman Sachs. Who would have predicted that a few years ago? Probably about as many people who predicted the subprime mortgage crisis that Goldman shorted while selling a lot of their clients the long position. Call me strange if you like, but I spent a lot of the morning listening to the hearing on CNBC while I was working on the second edition of The Next Level (manuscript has to go to the publisher this week, hence the big push). There really wasn’t a lot of light shed on what actually happened but it was interesting to hear all the ways that questions could be asked and not answered. The star of the show had to be Fabian “Fabulous Fab” Tourre, the young Goldman banker who put together a lot of the questionable deals. For the color commentary, check out Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post.

The whole issue of predictable and unpredictable situations that executives will face in their career has been on my mind for the past couple of days. One of the appendices in the next edition of the book is an expanded Situation Solutions Guide in which I list a series of situations that executives will predictably face in their careers and provide some tips for how to deal with those situations. As I was thinking through the list last weekend, I put out a question to my friends on Linked In, Facebook and Twitter asking for their take on the situations that executives will likely face. The first person to respond was my blogging friend, Wally Bock at Three Star Leadership. We ended up having a nice conversation and talked through Wally’s experience in advising leaders in how to handle both predictable and unpredictable situations. 

So, testifying before Congress is probably on the unpredictable side of the equation. I did, however, hear back from a couple of dozen people with their predictable situations. It’s a really interesting list and I thought you’d want to see it. Here’s my two part request. First, what predictable situation would you add to the list?  Second, what’s your best advice for handling one of the situations already on the list? I’d really like to hear from you on either or both questions.

In the meantime, here’s the list. (It’s about a page long.  I think you’ll find it worth the read):
It’s not often when I knock off a 400 page plus book in a week, but that was the case with Game Change by John Heileman and Mark Halpern. If you enjoyed the drama and story arc of the 2008 presidential campaign, you’ll love this book. If you’re interested in how people in leadership roles respond under pressure, you’ll really love this book.

I read a couple of articles yesterday that provided clear explanations of some complex topics – the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud charge against Goldman Sachs and the Obama administration’s efforts on nuclear non-proliferation. Before you click away from this post, hang in there with me because there’s a quick leadership point the long term perspective that I want to make.

But first, here’s the set-up.

Among the many things I like about our group coaching program, Next Level Leadership™,  one of my favorites is when the high potential leader participants share with each other what they learned in their senior executive shadow days. Here’s how the shadow day works. To broaden their perspective on the organizational presence aspect of leadership, the participants spend the day shadowing a senior leader in their business. The agenda is simple - be the senior executive’s shadow for the day. Attend her staff meetings, go to her briefings, sit in on meetings she has with the C suite or board members, meet with the customers. The high potential leader is there to observe and learn from whatever the senior exec is doing that day. If the senior executive is responsible for a different part of the organization than the high potential leader comes from, so much the better. It helps broaden the perspective of the high potential that much more.

It’s almost always an eye opening experience for the high potential leaders in the program. The fun part for me is listening to everyone come back together and tell their stories about what they did and saw on their shadow day. We had one of those sessions yesterday in a Next Level  Leadership™ program. As we’ve been having these shadow day debriefing sessions in different companies over the past few years, I’ve been keeping some notes about the traits of the senior executives that the group coaching participants admire the most. Here are five traits of the most admired leaders that show up on the list again and again:

In this week’s VBC, I address two compelling questions. What is a giant hairball and why should you consider orbiting one? The answers are contained in the gently subversive classic, Orbiting the Giant Hairball by the late Gordon MacKenzie. As the self-appointed Creative Paradox at Hallmark Cards, MacKenzie figured out how to work successfully in a big organization and still keep your personality and sense of humor intact. 

Where do you go when you really need to think and get some serious work done? If the result of that work is some first rate food for thought, you might think of the place that enables you to create it as your mental kitchen. It’s that place where you can get out of the continuous stream of incoming distractions that redirect your attention every 10 or 15 minutes. It’s the place that enables you to focus your thinking and go deep. It’s almost certainly not your office because your office is full of cues that remind you of all the urgent work that keeps you from going deep on the important stuff that you need to cook up. So where is your mental kitchen? What kind of features do you need for your mental kitchen to be a place of maximum productivity for you?
Camera1OK, I’ll admit it. Sometimes when I’m sitting in my office cranking through e-mail responses, I listen to sports talk radio. Dan Patrick’s show is my favorite. Of course, one of the challenges with hosting a three hour radio show is you have to come up with enough stuff to talk about to fill the time. Some of the topics are more consequential than others.

One of yesterday’s topics was less so. It seems that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was in a bar with a bunch of guys lately, got a little loose with his tongue and, using some colorful language, started dissing on NFL prospect Tim Tebow and his own former head coach, Bill Parcells. We know all of this because one of the guys that Jones was talking to recorded the conversation with the video camera in his smartphone. That guy sent it to a sports blog called Deadspin which “made it OK” for ESPN and all the other sports media channels to pick up the story. Since this is a PG-13 rated blog, I won’t link to Deadspin or any other sites that are running the Jones video. If you’re curious, you can find it on YouTube. The last time I looked, it had about 130,000 hits.

So, what’s my point?  It’s this. As a leader, you are always being watched. That’s what I mean when I write in The Next Level that you need to pick up a big footprint of your role. In an age when most everyone is carrying some sort of digital video camera around in their pocket, you’re not just being watched, there’s a pretty excellent chance that you’re being recorded and may not even know it until you show up on someone’s blog or Facebook page. 

Right about now, you may be thinking, “Heck, I’m not Jerry Jones. No one’s ever going to record and put me on line.”  Really? Think again. Here’s a quick story from a less famous leader about going viral along with a few thoughts about how to deal with the “always on” environment that leaders live in today:

I and It or I and Thou?

by on April 14, 2010 10:00am
in The Next Level

PrayforminersThis is one of those posts where I have to get some things off my chest. As someone who grew up in West Virginia, the coal mine explosion in Montcoal that killed 29 miners last week has been on my mind and heart.

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran brief obituaries on most of the miners.  Looking over those two pages, I said to my wife, “I feel like I knew these people.”  I grew up in Huntington, a town on the Ohio River that got its start as a rail and river town moving coal out of southern West Virginia.  When I was in high school, I travelled all over the state in a leadership role with the West Virginia District of Key Club. As a young adult, I travelled all over the state again when I worked for the governor of West Virginia and then in six years working for one of the largest banks in the state. In my mid-thirties, as VP of HR for Columbia Gas Transmission, I regularly travelled up and down the pipeline to small towns in West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and throughout Appalachia. 

So, in a way, I knew the guys who worked in that mine. I grew up with people like them. They’re good people, who work hard, care about their families and are trying to make a good life for themselves and their kids. It goes without saying that coal mining is hard and inherently dangerous work. Still, the guys who died in that mine last week deserved a hell of a lot more than what they got.
One of the things I try to do is be mindful and present in the moment. I’m not saying I’m great at it. I just try to do it. I read somewhere once that your mind is kind of like a puppy. You can tell it to stay and pay attention,  but pretty soon it’s going to go skipping off somewhere else. Like a lot of people, I’ve found that meditation is a good practice for training the puppy that is my brain to stay. That, however, is a long term project.
My post from last week on Why Staff Leaders and Line Leaders Have Disconnects generated a lot of thoughtful and provocative comments from readers both on the Next Level blog and on the Executive Coach column at Government Executive magazine’s web site.

Deliverables In case you missed it, the gist of the original post was that there is often a big disconnect between line and staff leaders because the initiatives that staff leaders drive are often seen as doing little to deliver what is actually required to achieve results. As management guru Dave Ulrich says, deliverables are greater than do-ables. That point certainly seemed to resonate with many of you and your comments offer some great ideas on how to close the line leader – staff leader gap.

In this post, I’m building on some of your ideas and adding some of my own to come up with five ways to close the gap.
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