What differentiates an executive from a leader? An exclusive interview with Scott Eblin


Scott Eblin, is the co-founder and president of The Eblin Group, a professional development firm that supports executives and managers in exhibiting leadership presence by being fully present. The popular coach and speaker has also penned two of our favorite business books The Next Level and Overworked and Overwhelmed, the latter of which New York Times best selling author Marshall Goldsmith says “will fundamentally change how you live each day.” We were lucky enough to have the chance to sit down with Scott recently to discuss his philosophies and how we can overcome the fight or flight feeling so many of us frequently feel.

getAbstract: With many executive roles becoming available today, due largely in part to baby boomers retiring, what is the one thing that you consider managers should do right away once they’re at executive level?

Scott Eblin: That’s really a question related to my first book, The Next Level. I think the very first thing that new executives should do when they’re new to their role, newly promoted, or hired in to a new role is to go on a listening tour. What I mean by that is to – as quickly as possible – establish  relationships and connections with your peers and your colleagues at the executive level, learning what’s important to them. It’s less about you and more about them. It’s less about “me” and more about “we.”

In the new book, Overworked and Overwhelmed I talk about different styles of listening: We can listen in a transactional way, which is more outcome oriented, or we can listen in a transformational way where we’re listening without an agenda. I would encourage new executives to toggle back and forth between transactional and transformational listening so they learn what’s important to their colleagues.

getAbstract: Right. Just to take that a step further, presumably a manager has had employees underneath them before now but how does that management relationship change once you transition from Manager to Director to VP and beyond?

Scott Eblin: It changes a lot because when you have that title people presume or imply power to you if for no other reason than because you have a bigger title. They perceive that you have power over them and they will treat you differently as a result and it’s really important to be aware of that and tune into that. You want to maintain your connection with the people that are reporting to you so you’re aware of what’s really going on and you can act early rather than late to keep things on course and to keep the relationships strong that help you eventually get the results that you’re charged with getting.

getAbstract: Scott, you ran a lot of executive leadership development programs. Could you explain to us what leadership presence means and how it differs from executive presence? What’s the differentiator?

Scott Eblin: TThat’s a great question. I love the distinction you’re making between the two. I wrote a blog post called “Three Signs You Have Too Much Executive Presence” a few weeks ago. What I meant by “too much executive presence” is that some people are just acting like an executive, they’re playing into the role – it’s like they’re from central casting as the executive, which is off-putting and it creates distance between them and the people they lead.

Leadership presence, on the other hand, is really about engagement. How do you engage others? In The Next Level I define it as personal presence, team presence and organizational presence. Those three categories and behaviors roll up to leadership presence. All that’s leadership. You can be an executive or not and practice leadership presence. It doesn’t require an executive title.

getAbstract: Right, and that’s really interpersonal presence.

Scott Eblin: Yeah, that’s a good way to say it.

getAbstract: So, to give a visual, the idea of the executive presence, kind-of fits into that ‘Mad Men’ era versus today where leadership presence is really still evolving. How do you see technology having played into that? And what’s in the evolution of leadership presence as differentiated from executive presence?

Scott Eblin: I think maybe the question is ‘What do we need more of in the world?’. We need more leadership presence than executive presence, I would say. I had the opportunity to interview Dean Williams who is a Professor at Harvard. He has a new book out called Leadership In A Fractured World. What he and others like Ron Heifetz at Harvard talk about is adaptive leadership. It’s helping the group adapt and change to address the problems that need to be solved.

Technology is a factor in that. It’s a much more complex, volatile, uncertain world than it ever has been and it moves at such a rapid pace because the technology exacerbates and enables that. So leadership is more complex than it’s ever been because of the technology and it requires really being present.

getAbstract: Exactly. When you think of clichéd executive presence, it’s the Don Drapers of the world, sitting in their office and drinking scotch, removed from the greater workforce but getting respect just by their title. But that’s really not what we expect our C-suite employees to be like anymore – we want leadership presence.

Scott Eblin: At the top level how you look is still important. How you come into a room and all that stuff matters but that’s just one part of it. Leadership presence is a lot broader and a lot more all-encompassing than executive presence. Executive presence, perhaps, depending on the situation and the person, is a part of leadership presence but it’s not nearly all of it.

getAbstract: It’s an interesting differentiator. We recently spoke with Stephen Young who is currently working on a book that focuses on the evolution of the CEO. Until recently, CEOs all looked the same – they were male, handsome, tall, suit and tie – which together created a presence in the room. Juxtapose that against today where you can no longer guess a person’s standing by their appearance because today’s CEOs are women, minorities and the jeans-and-t-shirt wearing Mark Zuckerbergs.

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