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September 09, 2011

What It Takes to Be Ready

There are a lot of memories coming to the surface as the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaches. Of course, some of the most vivid memories are of the first responders who showed so much courage and skill in the minutes, hours and days after the attacks. Even though they had never dealt with such a situation at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon, they were ready to respond and saved lives in the process.

Last month, I got to spend a weekend with a ship full of 80 people like that when I was onboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Venturous. In the past couple of weeks on this blog, I’ve shared What I Learned on a Coast Guard Cutter and Three Things The Coast Guard Does to Prepare for Emergencies. Today, I want to focus in one member of the Venturous crew that I spent a lot of time with – Main Propulsion Assistant Jim O’Brien. Jim is from Boston and is a 28 year veteran of the Coast Guard. He knows every inch of his ship and spent a good bit of time showing me what goes on below decks.

When you hang out with Jim O’Brien, you see a guy who loves and takes a great deal of pride in what he does. As you watch the short video that comes with this post, you’ll see Jim searching every nook and cranny of the ship with his flashlight looking for water or other fluids that might be early indicators of trouble. You’ll see how easily he can explain every system and function on the ship. You’ll see how he teaches his crew to pay attention to the details in the way that he does. (By the way, you might want to wear some hearing protection for the first minute or so of the video. It’s pretty loud in the cutter’s engine room.)

It’s people with the experience, passion and dedication of Jim O’Brien who get our first responders ready to protect and help the rest of us. He’s a leader in every sense of the word. He knows his stuff.  He shares what he knows. He’s dedicated. He cares about his people. He teaches his people. He gives a damn in every respect. Thank goodness we have leaders like Jim.

September 07, 2011

The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post called Can This Marriage (Customer, Team, Leader) Be Saved? in which I referenced a book called The 5 Love Languages and riffed a bit on how those might be applied at work.  A couple of days later, I got a nice email from Dr. Paul White letting me know that he was co-authoring a book with Dr. Gary Chapman, the author of Love Languages, on how they could be applied in the workplace. 

Book-chapman It’s out now and is called The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.  I spent some time talking with Dr. White yesterday and, with his permission, recorded the call so you could listen in. He talks about what the research says about motivating through appreciation and the top ways in which most people want to be appreciated. Here’s the interview:


He was also nice enough to share his top ten easiest ways to show appreciation to almost anyone.  You can download that here

This stuff is easy to do and likely to make a difference, folks. Think about it:

  • What kind of difference does it make for you when your boss or a co-worker expresses their appreciation?
  • What kind of difference would it make for your team members if you expressed your appreciation in a way that works for them (hint:  something beyond the “great job everyone” email)?
  • What is your number one idea for anyone who wants to do a better job of showing appreciation to others at work?


September 06, 2011

The Strategic Viewer’s Guide to the President’s Jobs Speech

Potus-tv There’s lots of speculation about what President Obama will say in his jobs creation strategy speech to Congress on Thursday night.  Will he be bold?  Will he be meek?  Will he seek compromise? Will he draw a line in the sand?

Perhaps the most important question is will he offer a viable strategy for creating jobs and reducing the unemployment rate? Lately, I’ve been reading a book that will help you and me answer that last question.  It’s called Good Strategy Bad Strategy  by UCLA business professor Richard Rumelt. Back in December 2008, Rumelt wrote in the McKinsey Quarterly  that the great recession was not the typical downturn, but a structural break that would require difficult fundamental changes to get the economy back on track. Almost three years later, it looks like he called it.

Since one of the basic jobs of leadership is to define a strategy that can lead to success, Thursday’s speech provides an opportunity for an evaluative case study.  In Good Strategy Bad Strategy, Rumelt says that there are three key elements that represent the kernel of any good strategy. Conversely, there are three signs of a bad strategy. 

So, building on what Rumelt offers, here’s your viewer’s guide to whether the President is offering a good jobs strategy or a bad jobs strategy on Thursday night. (The guide just might help you in your next strategy conversation as well.)

Continue reading "The Strategic Viewer’s Guide to the President’s Jobs Speech" »

September 01, 2011

What Our Leaders Didn't Learn on Their Summer Vacations

Long term readers of this blog may have noticed that I don't write nearly as many posts as I used to that are based on politics. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, I try to keep this blog in the ballpark of leadership news you can use and there just aren't that many good examples coming from our national political leaders. That leads to the second reason I'm not writing about them much anymore. What they're doing is just flat out depressing.

So today's post is a bit of a combo platter. On the one hand, it's a cry of frustration. On the other, it's one of those learn what to do by not doing what they're doing posts.

Before Congress recessed for summer vacation and the President left for Martha's Vineyard, the two sides (Why is it always about the two sides anymore anyway? Ah, but I digress.)  took each other and the country to the brink by locking horns over the debt ceiling. Historians may well look back on that fiasco as the tipping point into complete dysfunction. I guess it was too much to hope that as our leaders took some vacation that they would step back, reflect on what happened and come back ready to do things differently for the good of the country.

Yeah, that was too much to hope for apparently. In scheduling his much anticipated speech on jobs creation (the New York Times has the recap), the President asked for a joint session of Congress on the same night as the first Republican debate to have all of the current candidates in the field. Of course, the White House press office claimed that this was a mere coincidence and that they had never considered big footing the GOP. Not to worry, the Speaker of the House, in a historically unprecedented move, rejected the President's request for a joint session. After an afternoon of naming, blaming and stare downs, the White House relented. The joint session speech is now scheduled for the next night, the start of the new season of the NFL. Great solution.

So, what's the leadership lesson in all of this? There aren't any good ones. So let's look for the counterfactual lessons: 

  • One, when you're a leader, focus on the real work. 
  • Two, put the greater interest ahead of your self interest. 
  • Three, to get anything done, you're going to have to occasionally work with people you don't like and don't always agree with. 
  • Four, you'll never get anything positive accomplished if you're constantly doing petty things designed to show up the other side.

I could go on, but what do you think? What lessons – positive or negative - should leaders take away from our current political state? What can we do to make things better? As for me, I'm becoming increasingly intrigued by an organization called Americans Elect and the efforts of people like Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to rally his peers to take a stand against bad leadership.

August 30, 2011

Three Things The Coast Guard Does to Prepare for Emergencies

Irene1 The turmoil and damage caused in the Northeast last weekend by Hurricane Irene is just the latest reminder of how much we rely on first responders like the U.S. Coast Guard in times of emergencies and natural disasters. There was some dramatic video released yesterday of a  Coast Guard helicopter rescue of a boater in distress off the Rhode Island coast during the storm. provides a nice summary of the Coast Guard’s Hurricane Irene operations in this article.

There’s definitely a lot of courage displayed by first responders in emergencies but there’s also a lot of preparation and training on display as well.  As I wrote here last week, I recently had the opportunity to spend the weekend at sea with the crew of the USCG Cutter Venturous. The patrol that I was on was the first time on board for about a third of the 80 person Venturous crew. The training started immediately upon departure. Once we were under way, a series of drills were executed to get the crew prepared for emergencies that might arise. First up was a man overboard drill. You can see some highlights from that in this video:

The first afternoon at sea ended with an abandon ship drill and the morning of day two started with a migrant onboarding drill. Members of the crew were given the opportunity to come up with a plan for rescuing migrants from a raft, bringing them on board, securing them, processing them and sheltering them.  Here are some video highlights of the drill:

Not surprisingly, because it was the first time doing this for many of the crew, there were some kinks and bottlenecks in the process. It was a very fortunate thing, however, that the crew had the chance to run and debrief the drill. Twenty minutes after it ended the commanding officer announced that he had just gotten word that the ship would be bringing 15 Cuban migrants on board in about three hours. He wasn’t joking. A drill had quickly turned into the real thing.

Next week, I’ll share a video of the crew preparing to bring the migrants on board but, for now, here are three things I learned about how the Coast Guard prepares for emergencies:

Continue reading "Three Things The Coast Guard Does to Prepare for Emergencies" »


As an executive coach, speaker and author of The Next Level, Scott Eblin advises hundreds of executive leaders every year. The Next Level Blog is where he shares "news you can use" to raise your leadership game.

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