Helping People Achieve Awesomeness!

E73: Leaderless Leaders – Featuring Ervin (Earl) Cobb

Ervin (Earl) Cobb and Dr. Dave Cornelius

Dr. Dave: Okay, awesome. Let’s just get started. Hey, just welcome to the KnolShare with Dr. Dave podcast. I’m just really excited to have you on today. We’ve been having conversations back and forth via LinkedIn and through the Project Management Institute. I’m so excited to be able to talk to you about leadership. Do us a favor and just give us a one minute pitch about yourself so the audience can learn more about you. So whenever you’re ready, just jump on in and we’ll go from there.

Earl: Yep. Very good. Yeah. The one minute pitch that I have formulated and that I give now most of the time is that when they say, who is Earl Cobb? I say, well, Earl Cobb currently is a very satisfied retired technology executive, 34 years. Most of that was with Motorola and at various levels. I ran venture companies. I was the CEO of a startup back in the late 90s called MedContrax. And my last corporate task, before I retired, I ran all of the critical data centers for Wells Fargo Bank, right before the Wachovia merger.

After that merger, that’s when I got a chance to almost 10 years ago now to the corporate shield and just having a ball as a small business owner, entrepreneur, author, grandfather, loving husband, taking care of a wife who still is employed and traveling the world.

Dr. Dave: Hey, all good stuff?

Earl: He’s a blessed guy, put it that way. Yes.

Dr. Dave: Man, that is so good to hear that you’re a blessed guy. Today we’re going to talk about leaderless leaders. A very interesting way of talking about leaders in a different way. So for you, how would you define a leaderless leader in your words, your experience?

Earl: That’s a very interesting way to qualify leaders in terms of leaderless. What I’ve found, having studied and written about and talked about leadership specifically for the past 10 years, of course, 20 years before that actually having the responsibilities of an executive and leading large companies and initiatives. The idea of a leader, the way you would describe it within an organization is normally someone, supervisor, manager, team leader, VP executive, okay, who has a responsibility and finds out that a lot of other skills, a lot of other capabilities, but they run short on having the leadership skills and the leadership acumen that they need to do and be successful at the thing that they’re being asked to do right now. That’s how I would define a leaderless leader.

Dr. Dave: Earl, if you think about the traits or attributes that you would expect out of a leaderless leader, what are some of those traits that you would think of?

Earl: That’s interesting because when you think of leadership traits and for those who are somewhat of students of leadership, it’s normally classically defined in terms of traits and attributes and those types of things. But think about this, a trait, an attribute, whether it’s presence and vision, clarity, persistence they’re all nouns. From an experience standpoint, I mean when you actually are out there, when you’re actually faced with the need to elevate your level of leadership, you quickly find out that leadership is really a verb. Or this is how you describe an action.

Earl: And when you think of all the traits out there, you can Google and go through all the research, dozens of traits. And most of the traits that you think about fall into the category of that one challenge that a particular individual had at that time. Whether it’s bringing a company out of a bankruptcy or whether it’s turning around a corporate culture, or whether it’s starting, taking an unknown company and all of a sudden it becomes Starbucks, or becomes a new startup. So, you think about it that way.

Earl: Matter of fact, in my book Leadership Advantage, what I did, was I actually went about taking all of these attributes and came up with a set of attributes. 10 as a matter of fact, persistence, vision, clarity, motivation, selflessness, deliberation, courage, respect, and focus and put them together because I’ll tell you why, leadership is not a single attribute. Leadership is a combination of skills and attributes that you’re able to deploy at a certain time based on the challenge to be effective in achieving that mission.

Dr. Dave: Often times we run into these different experiences with leaderless leaders that either and often times we go like, they can’t lead their way out of a paper bag. Some of the comments that we make. And so personal experience from you, what have you ran into that you had a leaderless leader in your organization, what was that like for you? Share a story, I’d like to hear more about how did that affect you?

Earl: Well, instead of going into names, let me paint a picture. Let me use an analogy. Okay?

Dr. Dave: Yeah.

Earl: To me as a leader, you’re like a gourmet chef. And imagine that as a gourmet chef on this particular day, you’re behind the counter and in front of you are three different distinct people. They all are from different regions of the world and they all are there to enjoy what they believe should taste like gumbo. Okay?

Dr. Dave: Gumbo.

Earl: Gumbo.

Dr. Dave: Okay.

Earl: As that gourmet chef leader, if you will, the first thing you would think about or understand is that you’ve got three distinct situations here. And if you miss that point, you are moving quickly toward being leaderless as you describe it. Now, here’s the challenge and getting back to the attributes and the traits. When anyone who understands gumbo and I’ve had a good gumbo, and I tell you, since I’ve had the home here in Savannah, my wife and I just love to go down to the Riverfront and enjoy some gorgeous gumbo not like gumbo in New Orleans, but still gorgeous gumbo. But as a chef you know gumbo, and you know you’ve got three different distinct customers here with three different distinct tastes with three different expectations.

And you also know that in any gumbo, you got butter, you got flour, you got onions, you got celery, you got garlic, you got Cajun season, you got kosher salt, you got bay leaves,

You got tomatoes, you got chicken broth, you got shrimp, you got onions. And of course you got root, okay? As a leader for, and the shelf if you will, in this analogy of creating that perfect bowl of gumbo for each one of those individuals, you’ve got to determine which of those ingredients you should use, how much of each of those ingredients you should use and how you should blend them together.

So forget about as a leader, butter, flour, onions, green peppers. Think about persistence, vision, clarity, persistence, motivation, unselfishness, deliberation, courage, respect, focus, communications. All of those attributes that you have to be somehow placed to address that customer as far as the shelf is concerned. That situation, as far as the leader is concerned.

Dr. Dave: Hmm, interesting using gumbo as a metaphor for leadership and all of the different elements that you need to help an organization move forward. But how would people or organizations recover from the experiences of dealing with a leaderless leader?

Dr. Dave: Because oftentimes they may leave things very unsettled. They may impact people in a way that they have really bad experiences. I’ll just leave it in those terms. So ow do people recover and how do organizations recover so they could move forward and be better in the future?

Earl: Okay. Well, what I hear there is two questions. Certainly in terms of the organization, and then also in terms of the team members, the individuals, who were a part of that experience.

Dr. Dave: Yeah, people.

Earl: Yeah, absolutely. Now the interesting thing is, and I talk about this in my book Focus Leadership. You heard the phrase, “It’s how you play the game,” right? Well, typically in organizations where there’s a need to [inaudible 00:11:31] resources, in particular the human resources, to attack and address or achieve a mission, okay?

Yes. It’s important to have good processes. It’s important to be agile. It’s important to have benchmarks. It’s important. All of that’s important. Right? But you got to win and if you don’t win, everyone leaves the organization in the individual with a taste in their mouth of failure.

So from a recovery standpoint of an individual I think it’s easier because most people that are in situations in organizations got there, whether it’s technologists or management or whatever got there, because they had some level of expectation of working for someone and what they expect the leader to be.

So I think from an individual standpoint, the recovery is easier because most people will say, “I’m glad he’s gone. I’m glad she’s gone,”-

Dr. Dave: Of course.

Earl: Because I knew all along, I knew it was coming but I needed a paycheck. I’m not going anywhere. And so from an individual standpoint, I think it’s just hoping the next guy or the next guy, will have something different that can give me that. And I think effective leaders are so rare that I don’t think the expectations of most people in most organizations are very high.

Dr. Dave: Yeah. And I could completely relate to that. But looking into the current times right now, COVID-19 pandemic. We have social unrest that’s happening in the United States right now.

Do you think this is an effect part of the leaderless leader syndrome, that we’ve had things going on for a very long time. So I just wanted to see your context and to see if we’re in that space where we have leaderless leaders trying to steer us forward and whether they’re adding value or not or they’re getting in the way. What is your context? What is your perspective on that?

Earl: Well, from a leadership standpoint I would have to say that situations, and I won’t necessarily get into the current situation specifically, but situations that go awry in organizations that have some level of, and I use democracy not politically but in terms of everyone’s sort of involved at some point doing something for some, you know what I mean?

It’s not just a go and do this. And that’s how most projects and that’s how most businesses run now. Generally they’re so large and complex, they depend on people leaders at all levels, associates at all levels. And those types of staffing, you know, all the different functions.

Well, the way I really talk about leadership and I try to share it is that everyone has a leadership responsibility. Okay?

Dr. Dave: Sure.

Earl: Everyone has a contribution in terms of leading their family, leading their neighborhood, leading their local politics, if you will. So I think if you were to take a much broader perspective, any opportunities that may have presented themselves in the past probably showed an opportunity where if indeed there was more individual strength and leadership, instead of depending on someone to give them a talking line, depending upon someone to give them a perspective or going around shopping for perspectives.

I like that. I’ll adopt that. I’m on their team. We got a lot of team stuff going on. If each individual would take the leadership within the framework or their own home, their own family and their own study, and able to discern just like in an organization, all of the pieces of an organization.

For example, and I don’t want to put on this, but for example the loneliest job that I’ve ever had was as a CEO. Because you know how the funnel goes. You have no one to talk to you. You have no one, right?

Not only the wages and the time and the capital and the tools and the performance tool areas, but you also understand capitalism, and you understand the finances needed, and you understand all those other things.

So from your perspective if you’re a good, effective leader, you’re able to look down and look across and look beyond and sort of integrate everything.

Well, the key here, and this gets back maybe to this failure you’re talking about, is that if as a leader you don’t realize that that’s a very unique perspective. I mean, most of the people in the organization, or in the country if you will, don’t have that perspective, but they don’t have that kind of bandwidth. Okay?

Dr. Dave: Of course, yeah.

Earl: And as an effective leader, you take that … into consideration and you’re able to… and it’s just not when something occurs, but it’s in general. You’re able to articulate it from their perspective. Not to them, but to the people that you deal with that has to make the decisions, and who has the power and authority to shape the environment a little differently.

Dr. Dave: Okay. So let’s talk about you as a leader providing guidance. What are one or more resources that you believe would be beneficial to help create leadership healthy, healthy leadership styles and also, what would be beneficial in terms of steering a leaderless leader?

Earl: Right. I noticed when we were dialoguing earlier, we talked about coaching and mentoring, and those types of things. The challenge is that a leader in any form is a personality and unlike elbows, and eyes and ears, if one’s not working you can use the other one. Most of us only have one personality.

Dr. Dave: Right. Okay. You don’t have multiple personalities?

Earl: Well, let’s be wary. So first of all you got to understand that, that is the personality that you will deploy. When you’re a fresh out, that’s the personality that you will deploy. When you are a new associate, that’s the personality you will deploy. When you get promoted to a manager, that’s the personality that you will deploy when you’re put in a leadership role. The key is if you understand that, and this is how I coach. When we talk about the traits say Dr. Dave, it sounds like to me, you need to create more empathy. Okay?

Dr. Dave: Good word.

Earl: Well, well, well, empathy for Dr. Dave, is maybe you understood clearly, empathy for Earl Cobb is understood clearly. But the way Dr. Dave would do that based on his personality would be different the way Earl Cobb was do it based on his personality. Okay? You can take the empathy and replace it with any dozens of traits. So if I’m in a situation where I know, for example, take presence. Some people can walk into, and that’s a leadership trait. Some people can walk [inaudible 00:21:00] and they’ve got it. They were either born with it, or society has established in the minds of most people something that they perceive as presence. Whether it’s six foot four, or I mean whatever, right?

Dr. Dave: Yeah. Yeah.

Earl: Well, if you’re lucky enough to be born grade A and got it, good. Okay? But that doesn’t mean that if you don’t have it and there’s a need for you to really extend and expand your presence in your organization, that just means that you have to work at it harder, and you’ve got to find different ways to go at it. If I’m that person that just naturally exudes presence, I don’t have to think about it.

Dr. Dave: Sure. You could always get better at it, but you mean… yeah.

Earl: Yeah. Then what I’ve got to do is I’ve got to realize that I’m not, and you’ve got to do something which means that before the talk or the presentation, I would come early and I would just on a one-on-one spend time with the individuals so they can get to know me and my personality and who I am. Then by the time I get up on that stage from their standpoint, their perception of me as presence would be totally different than if I just walked in the door and they’ve never been close to me. They’ve never seen that smile. They never know that you can tell a joke that way, or they never felt that way talking to you, you felt like my… So you’ve got to compensate and that’s how I coach.

Dr. Dave: Certainly.

Earl: So I would coach based on who your personality is, what your deficiencies are, which is what we do in our workbook, and then focus in on realizing that… Remember you’re that chef. At different times you got to throw in different ingredients. You’re that leader. There are times you got to throw in different things, and the way I would coach that is starting with self-awareness and a motivation to continue to learn and develop. Whether that’s in books, or whether that’s in videos, whether that’s in training, you’ve got to do that because the challenge is when people hire you as a manager, as a supervisor, as an executive, read that job description. It says manager. It says supervisor, says VP, says executive. It says project manager, okay? Leadership seem to be a by-product. When I say by-product I mean as an off growth or an offshoot, but the reason we’re having this conversation, you and I know is much more than just a by-product.

Dr. Dave: Without a doubt. So in terms of a preferred method to help people, a leaderless leader to become more effective. Mentoring, coaching, or training, all three, what is your preferred method?

Earl: I think coaching, depending upon the level of the individual, is much more effective. What I mean by according to the level, there’s a progression that you go through in your career. If you have maintained that progression, then you understand the basics and you’re able to read organizations and read personalities. You’re smart enough to know that if you and the guy who was heading the organization don’t see eye-to-eye, it’s time to get your resume out. You know what I mean you know those-

Dr. Dave: Yeah. Yeah.

Earl: Right.

Dr. Dave: I know those things.

Earl: So if you’ve gotten to that point, what you read in a book and what you get at training, those are fundamentals you already have. What you need is to find a way to either voluntarily get that out of you so someone can help you think through it, or have someone pull it out of you and get you to see it so you can think through it.

Dr. Dave: Sure. So if you were coaching a leaderless leader, how would you measure success? How do you know that, that person is evolving, they’re progressing, they’re obtaining the different skills and attributes that’s necessary for them to hit the level of success for themselves, or even what you have established for them?

Earl: The short answer I’ll go back of course to what I said earlier about winning. Do you remember the team that lost the most games in the 1986 NBA playoffs?

Dr. Dave: No.

Earl: You might remember the team that won, but let me answer that. I know we’re getting close to the end here, but I want to do this. About eight or nine years ago, my wife and I penned this book called Pillow Talk Consciousness. It’s intimate reflections on America’s 100 most interesting thoughts and suspicions. One of those thoughts that we wrote about was success. Each of these thoughts, okay, we didn’t just call it Pillow Talk Consciousness, is in the context of a man and wife or a mate, a couple getting ready to go to bed and it seems like it’s only at that bedtime that you… and with your mate and locked up in your home where you feel

Earl: We’ll secure that you will just be candid and really share what’s on your mind, and in this case, what success really is. And these two characters are Paul and Paulette, and please bear with me, just quickly. I think this will help the listeners tremendously if you put it in your head here. Paulette says, “Hey honey, do you feel we have been successful?” And Paul says, “I think so. What’s on your mind? And Paulette says, “Oh, this morning when I was looking in the mirror, I noticed that my face has begun to reflect what I call quote, unquote, experience.” Paul says, “Ah, that’s a good way to put it. But to me, you are more beautiful now than the day I married you.” Paulette said, “You are so sweet. However, that’s not my point. While looking in the mirror, I asked myself, ‘Paulette, does your face reflect that you have achieved the goals you have set for yourself in life?'”

And Paul said, “Good question, Paulette. In my opinion, achieving goals in life is important, but that’s not how I would frame or define success. To me, a goal is a destination, while success is a journey.” And Paulette said, “Would you help me with that trend of thought, please?” And Paul said, “Sure. When you arrive at one of your life destinations, you stop, you take a deep breath, and you say, ‘I made it.’ However, you know that you are successful in life when you can look back on each of those stops, enjoy them in hindsight, learn from them, and then use those stops to plan and be excited about your next destination.” And Paulette said, “Oh, if I am successful, the experience I see in the mirror each morning will reflect where I am headed versus where I have been?” And of course, Paul, the guy says, “You bet, and I head over here and let me enjoy some of that success.”

Dr. Dave: There you go. That’s wonderful. That is wonderful. Great excerpt from your book with your wife. So Earl, I want to say thank you for your time, but I want to know, is there additional information you would like to share with our listeners today? Maybe how they could reach out to you, maybe buy your book, book you for a gig, something like that? You let me know how we can help and get that out there.

Earl: Yeah, you can always email me at Earl Cobb… I’m sorry. At Earl E-A-R-L, @richerlifellc.com earl@richer, R-I-C-H-E-R life, L-I-F-E llc.com. And in closing, since it is June 4th and we are where we are, not only in this country, but there are other countries around the world that’s feeling this pain, I would hope that everyone would just remember that we will get beyond this and our life will continue. Matter of fact, be even better. Because even as a nation, it’s not how we start, it’s how we finish.

Dr. Dave: Nothing left to be said. I guess I would just let you have the last word in that context. And just thank you so much again for giving your time and coming on to the KnolShare with Dr Dave podcast. I’m going to reach out to you so I can gather some information, some links, so that we could at least share with our audience and with the world, some of the great work that you’ve done and you’re currently doing. One more thing. What’s your next project, just before we go.

Earl: Well, my wife and I kicked off a, assuming you would ask. Just a few weeks ago, a new book, but it’s not just about us. What we are trying to do… It’s titled My Angel That Day, and the subtitle is True Stories of Kindness and Humanity During the Dawn of COVID-19 in America. The thing that we’ve noticed is that, first of all, it’s a start. It’s a start. And also secondly, it’s just amazing how many people in this country have extended kindness and humanity, and the Genesis is that someone did that for us back in 1st of April, and the situation that could have been really bad, that turned out really good because the kindness of someone, and in reflection, we say that person was our angel. And that’s why, angel that day. So we’re seeking stories from anyone who know someone, themselves, or have heard about a story, who was close to it, who can write, who want to just write a short story and be a part of this history. And all of the net proceeds will go to charities that are supporting those that are most affected and will be affected for a long time from the pandemic. My Angel That Day.

Dr. Dave: My Angel That Day. Wonderful. Earl, I’ll reach out to you. We’ll gather some more information, make sure that it’s on our website so people could actually download it, and as people listen to this podcast on Google Play, iTunes, and Spotify, they’ll have an opportunity to learn about you and the wonderful work you’re doing, so… Go ahead.

Earl: Continue to do what you do, Dr Dave. You do good stuff.

Dr. Dave: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Well, God bless and have a great day and we’ll talk soon, for sure. Okay? All right.

Ervin (Earl) Cobb Contact:

Author/Lecturer/Speaker/Consultant. Experience-Based Leadership and Business Development 

Web: www.earlcobb.com

Email:   earl@richerlifellc.com

LinkedIn Profile:  www.linkedin.com/in/ervin-earl-cobb-26687254

New Book Website:  www.leadershipchecklist.com

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