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April 2011


The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success


by Scott Eblin (2nd ed., Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2011)


What are the big take-aways?


Mining his own Fortune 500 executive experience and years of coaching corporate leaders, Eblin (who was one of my instructors in Georgetown University’s Leadership Coaching Program), offers straightforward advice about what skills to “pick up” and “let go of” when moving from management to executive leadership. As he explains in the introduction (page xiii):


The competence that propels leaders to the executive level can be both a blessing and a curse. There is a truth in executive coaching and leadership development that a strength, when overused, can become a weakness. It turns out that many new executives rely too much on the technical competence that served them so well earlier in their careers. A theme that came up again and again in my interviews with successful executives is that moving to the next level or meeting the expectations for different results requires the courage and confidence to let go of some of the behavior and actions that brought you to the executive team in the first place.


Eblin goes on to identify and explore nine key habits to “pick up,” with corresponding behaviors to “let go of.”


Why did I like it?


The substantial wisdom and humanity in this book is presented accessibly and with compassion for the reader. The author’s pragmatic approach to getting to “the next level” is laid out and explained clearly, with inspiring quotations – regarding both successes and mistakes – from Eblin’s executive interviewees. The “pick up” and “let go of” format is simple and elegant; it’s easy to diagnose what you need from this book and then go get it. Other features I liked were the interesting “data points” from the author’s research, and little shaded boxes throughout the book containing “coachable moments” (tips, practices and self-observations).


The two appendices are also powerful. One contains an executive success planning tool to assist the motivated reader in soliciting and leveraging colleagues’ feedback to improve leadership performance. The other is a “Situation Solutions Guide,” a chart with situations listed in one column (examples: leading disruptive change, trouble with executive peers, feeling overwhelmed, etc.) with solutions and Next Level chapter references in the other columns.


In what situations would this be useful?


I’ve recommended this book many times to friends and clients as they move up the ranks of their organizations, because it adopts such a supportive stance and provides such practical information. It is particularly useful when a promotion or reorganization happens fast and the leader feels the need to both “catch up” quickly, and confidently create an action plan for further development. That said, it would also be a terrific resource for managers seeking more executive responsibility who want to begin preparing for a desired role ahead of time, or for emerging leaders looking to enhance performance by getting into good habits early on in their careers. Even though the prevailing context for The Next Level is decidedly corporate, I’ve recommended it to folks in the non-profit and public sectors, as well, because the vast majority of principles still apply.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


Because Eblin’s book focuses on the precise behaviors and practices of effective leadership, I think Joiner & Josephs’ Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change (reviewed previously in the Leadership Library) would provide useful, mutually-reinforcing information. Joiner & Josephs offer an adult development construct that gets at the same issues that The Next Level does, in a deeper and more theoretical way; the main point of their book is that the capacity for leadership agility can be developed through enhancing a leader’s awareness and intention, primarily by using reflective and creative techniques.


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