Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

His Thoughts, My Tips on How to Be a Great Leader


For the past several months, the New York Times has been running interviews on leadership with the CEO's of well known organizations. They're almost always interesting. Sometimes I agree with the points they make, sometimes I learn something new and, honestly, sometimes I find myself wondering, "How did this person become a CEO?" The latest Times interview subject is Dave Novak, CEO of Yum Brands. I think it's the best one in the series so far.

To counteract the karma of my last post about how terrible leadership helped blow up AIG, I thought I'd share seven thoughts from Dave Novak on how to be a great leader along with a tip from me on how to follow through on that thought. The bold face points are direct quotes from Novak, my accompanying tip is in plain face type:

If you have someone who's smart, talented, aggressive and wants to learn, then your job is to help them become all they can be. When you think back on your own development as a leader, you probably grew the most through big stretch assignments that took you out of your comfort zone. Look for and create opportunities for your best people to be even better by asking them to lead new initiatives or fix important things that are broken.

The best leaders are really pattern thinkers. Build your capacity for seeing the bigger picture by doing three things. 1.Get into the habit of regularly asking yourself, "What are we really trying to do here?" 2. Question your assumptions. 3. Read outside your area of responsibility or expertise and look for insights that can be applied to your work.

If you're the leader, you've got to provide the coaching. Coaching is about asking questions, not giving the answers. Accelerate the development of your best people by asking questions like, "What did you learn from this?" Help them process the lessons they can learn from experience and determine how to apply those lessons going forward.

Make sure that you're focusing on action versus activity. Think about the outcomes you're trying to create over the course of the year and then reverse engineer back from that to determine the actions that are most likely to lead to the results you want. Share this approach with your team and coach them to continually assess whether their involved in actions or activities.

No one's going to care about you unless you care about them. It's all too easy for results oriented leaders to overlook the importance of connecting with people. Make it a habit to open a meeting or conversation with a couple of questions about the other person. Learn what's important to them and look for ways to act on that.

You care enough to give them direct feedback. As Novak suggests in his interview and Ken Blanchard recommends in the The One Minute Manager, start your feedback with what they're doing that you appreciate. Tell them what the positive impact is of their action. Then connect your developmental feedback to how it will help both them and the organization be even more effective.

When you're the leader, people want to see you. The larger the leadership role, the more demands there are on your time. I encourage leaders to think about their communications and visibility strategies as both retail and wholesale opportunities. Retail visibility is in person and usually one on one or in small groups. Wholesale visibility makes use of large group meetings and technology (e.g. web conferencing, video and teleconferencing, blogging, Twitter, etc.) to consistently get key messages out and maintain dialogue with a broader audience.

There was a lot more wisdom in Novak's comments than there is space in a short blog post to cover them. Take a look at it and let me know a couple of things. What are your taking away from the Novak interview? What thoughts or tips would you add to the list of what great leaders do and how to do it?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.