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The Next Level

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September 30, 2011

An Admiral’s Take On Admiral Mike Mullen’s Leadership

Admiral-mullen October 1, 2011 marks the retirement of Admiral Mike Mullen from the U.S. Navy and from his role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius offers a nice recap of the Mullen years in an exit interview column with the Chairman. I’m an admirer of Mullen and his leadership but have not had the opportunity to meet him.

So, as he retires, I thought I’d ask someone who knows and has worked with Admiral Mullen for his perspective on the leadership qualities he has shown over the course of his career and in his final job as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. George Sterner is a retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral. His career included command of two nuclear submarines and the Naval Sea Systems Command. He is also the first person I interviewed for my book, The Next Level.

In this guest post, Admiral Sterner uses stories to illustrate the leadership qualities of Mike Mullen including his preparation, collaboration, listening, action orientation, courage, honesty and thoughtfulness for others.

Let’s hear from Admiral Sterner:

Continue reading "An Admiral’s Take On Admiral Mike Mullen’s Leadership" »

September 28, 2011

Are You Accountable or Responsible?

Are you accountable or responsible? What’s the difference and why does it matter?

The first time I heard this distinction was years ago in one of my first coaching engagements. I was interviewing colleagues of my client and a senior executive said, “He needs to be more accountable and less responsible.” That made a lot of sense to me and the distinction ended up being one of the nine leadership pick up and let go distinctions in my book, The Next Level. The idea is that to grow and be effective as a leader, you have to pick up accountability for many results and let go of responsibility for a few results.  

Since the book came out, I’ve had a lot of conversations with leaders about the difference between being accountable and responsible. The most recent one was yesterday in a wrap up session for our group coaching program, Next Level Leadership™. As we talked through the progress the participants have made over the past seven months, one of them said he was still struggling with getting a handle on the difference between the two.

I probably gave the most succinct and clear answer I’ve ever given to what the difference is between accountability and responsibility. It worked for the leaders in the room yesterday. I hope it will be helpful to you.

Continue reading "Are You Accountable or Responsible?" »

September 26, 2011

How to Quit Kicking the Can Down the Road

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria is one of the smartest people I don’t know. His GPS (Global Public Square) show on Sunday afternoon is an oasis of civil and intelligent discussion on world events in a desert of babble and blather.  

He opened this week’s show with a commentary on the burgeoning economic crisis in the Eurozone. You can read the full transcript of his remarks on his blog, but here’s the conclusion that really caught my attention and stimulated my thinking:

“Everywhere leaders all seem to assume that if they just keep things steady, something will miraculously happen to solve the problems and jumpstart growth. It won't. The problems are actually getting worse and by sticking their heads in the sand, leaders are only deepening the inevitable crisis.”

Of course, that dynamic is not limited to the Eurozone. I’ve noticed that the phrase of the moment is “kicking the can down the road.” When you want to ignore a problem, defer it to someone else’s watch or wait for it to magically get better, you kick the can down the road.

It’s a strategy that almost never works. Take a common, everyday example. How many times have you seen a manager with a non-performing or disruptive employee not act to correct the situation in the hope that things would get better on their own? I’ve seen it lots of times and it never gets better.

So, why, as human beings who sometimes happen to be leaders, do we kick the can down the road? More importantly, what can we do to deal with problems instead of avoiding them? Here are some ideas.

Continue reading "How to Quit Kicking the Can Down the Road" »

September 23, 2011

How to Get Fired in Less Than a Year

Hp-ceo There are a lot of things you could say about the board of directors at Hewlett Packard but being afraid to pull the trigger is not one of them. With its dismissal of Leo Apotheker, the HP board has fired three CEO’s in the past six years. Apotheker lasted 11 months at HP.  He came to the company from the enterprise software giant SAP and had a vision of transforming HP from primarily a hardware manufacturer to a software services and cloud computing leader.  

Earlier this week, I wrote a post called How to Save Your Change Management Program from Cancellation. Of course, the first step to keeping it from getting cancelled is to avoid getting cancelled yourself. Apotheker is the second high profile CEO I can think of to get fired this year after less than 12 months on the job. The first was Jack Griffin, the former CEO of Time, Inc. 

Together, the stories of Griffin and Apotheker represent the top two reasons managers fail as determined in a study conducted by the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. In Griffin’s case, it was failure to demonstrate the relationship and interpersonal skills needed to lead significant change in a complex environment. I shared my lessons learned from his tenure in Five Ways to Avoid Being Fired in Five Months. The headlines back then were:

1.    Do Your Homework

2.    Pace Yourself

3.    Genuflect When Necessary

4.    Build Allies

5.    Don’t Paint Targets on Your Back 

One or more of those factors may have been in play at HP. Based on the reporting around Apotheker’s case, though, it sounds like one of the big reasons he got the boot because of the number one reason managers fail – ineffective communications skills and practices.   

Continue reading "How to Get Fired in Less Than a Year" »


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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