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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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My friend, Dan McCarthy of the Great Leadership Blog (Dan just gives, gives, gives and never takes.), is hosting his monthly Leadership Carnival with the wit and/or wisdom of more than 30 leadership bloggers including yours truly.

Last week I was coaching a group of high-potential leaders moving up to the executive level. Our topic was “organizational presence,” which was on point since many of these folks are working on expanding their networks beyond their immediate areas of responsibility. 

When I lead a group coaching session, I like to have everyone share examples of what they’re doing to improve their leadership skills in “real life.”  It was striking to hear the results that several leaders were getting by being intentional about asking more questions in meetings. There were two big tips in the stories. Here they are along with a “bonus tip” I shared with the group.

Sotomayor1 The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor has sparked an interesting public discussion on the place of empathy in the justice system.  As usual, there are people lining up on the left and the right to argue for or against empathy playing a role in forming the opinions of a judge.

When people are engaged in a debate on a word, I think it’s usually a good idea to first look up the definition of that word. 

Dunkindonuts If you skew a little bit “old school,” you probably remember a series of TV ads for Dunkin’ Donuts that featured a shop manager who wearily woke up at 3:00 am every day with the mordant refrain, “Time to make the donuts.”  My wife recently saw a bumper sticker with the (edited here for public consumption) phrase, “Freakin’ Donuts.”  If you’re old enough to remember, then you’re in on the joke.  Sometimes life can feel like it’s just one more day of making the donuts.

I find this happens when you get overly focused on the tasks that stack up in front of you.  All those donuts can cause you to lose sight of the bigger purpose and picture.  Leaders (and I definitely include myself here), need to pull the lens back on a regular basis and ask themselves, “What really matters to me?”  Getting clear on your answers to that question can help you clarify your priorities and even come up with some innovative ways to address them.

So, how did I come up with this point and why am I bringing it up now?  Well, it so happens that I’m married to a really excellent coach named Diane who asked me last night to make a list of the things that matter to me.  Once we covered the basics (e.g. strong marriage, healthy kids, food and shelter), I moved on to other things that matter to me.  Since I’m a leadership coach, one of the obvious answers is leadership.  But, if you think about it, good leadership is a means to an end.  So, Diane kept asking, “What else matters to you?”  Here’s my list:

Checklist As an executive coach and someone who spends a lot of my time trying to figure out how leaders can be more effective, you can imagine how excited I was to learn that there is all kinds of new data out on employee satisfaction in the federal government. The Partnership for Public Service has released the results of its biannual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report. Being the total leadership geek that I am, it’s been a lot of fun for me to get online and sort through the 74 employee survey questions that the study is based upon. What’s even more fun for me is the direct comparison between the public and private sectors on 13 benchmark questions from the Best Places to Work studies.

(I know what you’re thinking.  “Wow, he needs to find a hobby or something.”  You may be right, but hang with me as I’m getting to the really good stuff.)

In Praise of Grown-Ups

by on May 21, 2009 6:00am
in The Next Level

The level of public discourse and obvious self interest on the part of people in leadership positions can be pretty discouraging. Oftentimes, it seems like the first instinct of leaders under pressure is to call names, deny responsibility and look out only for their self interest. It literally seems childish.

On the other hand, we sometimes have the privilege of seeing leaders in action who demonstrate maturity through reasoned, principled responses and generally acting like grown-ups should act. Over the past week, I’ve noticed three public sector leaders who have done that. There are some basic principles these leaders demonstrated that I think all leaders should strive to emulate.

Bruce Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are coming to DC tonight.  Unfortunately, I don’t have tickets but I do have an iPod full of the Boss’s music and great memories of a Springsteen show I saw a few years ago.  What is it about Springsteen and the band that inspires such loyalty among their legions of followers?  Apart from drifting on rock and roll fantasies, what can leaders learn from the Boss and the heart stopping, house rocking, earth shaking, legendary E Street Band?

In a brief interview with the Washington Post's J. Freedom du Lac (how’s that for a very cool name?), E Street guitarist Nils Lofgren provides some insights on the Boss for leaders who want to rock the house.

Newseum or Mausoleum?

by on May 14, 2009 6:00am
in The Next Level

Newseum2 Last Saturday, I took my mom, dad and son into D.C. to see the Newseum, the Freedom Forum’s monument to journalism and free speech.  It’s a beautiful new building situated on Pennsylvania Avenue with an amazing view of the U.S. Capitol.  It also feels like a mausoleum to something that’s almost dead.  Literally the first thing you see before you even enter the building is a long row of display cases on the sidewalk with the daily front pages of newspapers from Newseum1 all 50 states.  One of the next things you see is a wall inside the building with more of the day’s front pages of newspapers from all 50 states and a few foreign countries.  After that, you can walk through a large room with pull out display cases of newspapers from 400 years of history through the present.  Leaving that room, you come upon a tribute to the journalism of 9/11.  What draws your eye is a large wall of reproductions of newspaper front pages covering the attack on the World Trade Center.

Newseum3 Do you sense a theme here?  Newspapers are at the heart of the Newseum.  Sure, there are exhibits on television and radio journalism.  There’s a bit on internet based journalism, but those exhibits feel like they were grudgingly bolted on by the curators.  It’s clear that when the Newseum was designed and built over the last several years that it was primarily about newspapers.  I think what it has turned out to be is a reminder of what happens when leaders become so wedded to a delivery channel or a process that they ignore what’s changing in the world around them.

Readers in the Washington, DC area are probably familiar with the annual White House Correspondents Dinner.  The latest edition took place over the weekend.  Often described as DC’s version of the senior prom, the dinner is an opportunity for journalists and politicians to dress up, make jokes at each other’s expense and to gawk at all of the celebrity guests that are invited by different media organizations. In addition to the biggest celebrity, the President, the guest list included Eva Longoria Parker, Sting, Natalie Portman, Steven Spielberg and Jon Bon Jovi. 

No doubt, there were some interesting conversations going on and, as you can see on this You Tube clip, the president delivered a pretty funny stand-up comedy routine.

What do newly suspended slugger Manny Ramirez and newly less-senior U.S.  Senator Arlen Specter have in common?  Nothing you say?  Au contraire.  I’d suggest that until very recently, perhaps, they both considered themselves to be bigger than the game they played.
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