Ten Years On: Semi-random Reflections from a Decade of Coaching

Posted 12.01.2010

10years Ten years ago today, December 1, 2000, my wife and I started our business, The Eblin Group.  In a commencement speech at Stanford a few years ago, Steve Jobs made the point that you can never connect the dots prospectively.  You can only connect them retrospectively. It's only by looking back that we see how things developed and how one thing led to another. A ten year anniversary seems like a good time to look back.

Take a look at the U.S. and the world for example. Ten years ago, Bill Clinton was president and not many people had even heard of Barack Obama.  There weren't many people beyond intelligence agents who knew who Osama bin Laden was. In the past ten years, we've had two major wars and a near meltdown of the global economy.  Who would have guessed any of that at the end of 2000?  Mark Zuckerberg was in middle school and hadn't gotten around to inventing Facebook.  Hard to say if Steve Jobs had the iPhone in mind back then but I doubt even he had a vision of someone like me typing this post on their iPad. 

In our family, like yours, there have been a lot of changes in the past 10 years.  Births, deaths, graduations, health challenges, recoveries, joys and setbacks, friends gained and lost.

In our business, we've grown from landing our first coaching client on December 15, 2000 to having coached hundreds of leaders in individual and group programs over the last 10 years. I've given something north of 300 speeches and presentations on leading at the next level and the second edition of my book on that subject just came out last month. This is my 463rd blog post and I've probably written close to 300,000 words on my blog over the past two years.  I'm not writing any of that as a horn tooting exercise. My point is who knew? I certainly didn't back in 2000.  It's been a time of great learning for me and a time of great good fortune.  All of that comes down to the good fortune of the people I've had the opportunity to learn from, work with and become friends with. 

As I look back and connect the dots, there are a lot of things I notice.  Here are a few of them.

People are resilient.   One of my vivid memories of the past 10 years was my first visit to New York City about four years after 9/11.  I used to work on Wall Street and knew the Ground Zero area really well.  On a trip to see a client in 2005, I flew into Newark and took the trains to Lower Manhattan.  As the PATH train emerged from underneath the Hudson, I realized that we were coming up through the foundation of what used to be the World Trade Center.  My first view of Ground Zero was from within it.  I guess I expected everyone on the train to have the reaction that I did which was sorrow and awe.  It occurred to me in the next minute that the people around me reading their newspapers and listening to their music made that commute everyday. Commuting to the PATH station at the WTC site was just what they did to get to work everyday. It was a lesson in how resilient we human beings can be.

People can change.  If you're going to coach leaders for a living, it helps a lot to believe people can change. In the past 10 years, I've seen a lot of people change for the better and a lot stay stuck where they are. I think the difference between the two groups is that the first understands that whatever others perceive about them is, in fact, the reality they have to deal with. Once they accept that, it's usually pretty easy to identify behaviors that can be adopted or eliminated to improve the situation.  The trick, it seems, is to break it down to the vital few behaviors that will make the biggest difference and then look for and act on practicing those new behaviors in the school of real life.  With that kind of focus and repetition, it doesn't take that long for new behaviors to become habits.

Reflection is harder than it used to be.  Ten years ago, it wasn't uncommon for me to spend 90 minutes to two hours in conversation with a client every couple of weeks.  These days it's more like 30 to 60 minutes every three weeks or so.  Leaders seem to be exponentially busier today than they were ten years ago.  A lot of this, I think, is driven by the 24/7 expectations that are made possible by our communications technology.  The problem is people are left with very little time to reflect and ask themselves questions like, "What am I really trying to do here?"  I really like Ron Heifetz' idea that leaders need to be intentional about periodically getting off the dance floor and up onto the balcony.  Just having the idea of taking regular balcony time is a step in a positive direction.

Leadership is more complicated.  Technology, globalism, competition, structural shifts in the economy, generational expectations and so many other factors have merged together to make the practice of leadership – influencing people to work together on common goals – a lot more complicated than it was ten years ago.  I think we've blown past Leadership 2.0 and are already on to Leadership 3.0.  To get anything done, leaders are going to have to be a lot more present to what's going on around them and flexible enough to adapt on the fly on a continuous basis.

The line of progress is not straight up and to the right.  This is something I've noticed in my own business. Progress and breakthroughs usually come after a period of not a lot of movement and sometimes setbacks.  I think most of my clients would make the same observation about progress in their organizations. If you were to graph it, the line would zig and zag up and down. It's very rare when progress is straight up and to the right.

Nothing gets done by yourself.  Try this experiment. Pick an accomplishment you're really proud of and ask yourself, "How did this happen?"  If you reverse engineer it back to the beginning, you'll almost certainly see that you had a ton of direct and indirect help from people you've met along the way.  I saw this myself when I started writing the acknowledgments for the the first edition of  The Next Level.  It took four pages to thank everyone because there were so many people to thank.  It's the same story for everything significant I've ever done. Try it for yourself.  Bet you find the same thing.

So, if you've read this far, thank you.  Even if you haven't, thank you. It's been a great ten years. I've had a lot of fun and learned a lot.  Hope that I've helped some in the process.  Here's to the next ten years and what it holds for all of us. Since this is the first night of Hanukah, I'll close for now with Mazeltov!