Three Star Leadership

Three star leadership is leadership that gets a star rating from your boss,
your peers and your subordinates.

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About Wally Bock

Here's Wally's own version of his bio.

I was born in New York City in 1946. My dad was a Lutheran Pastor, noted for his innovative ministries and his excellent preaching. My mother was a pastorís wife, but she also had a career of her own, very unusual for the time.

I went to the Bronx High School of Science and graduated from there in 1963. That was the golden age of the Public School System in New York City, and Bronx Science was the crown jewel. At the time, it was probably the premier academic high school in the United States.

When the time came for me to graduate, I had academic scholarships and couple of basketball scholarships as well. In those days, pastors didnít make much money, so I was going to have to pay for my college education.

One night at dinner my dad told me about a relative who was just a little older than me. He had gone off to a major university with his family paying the way. But he didnít go and study.

He avoided going to classes for a year and a half, before his father found out. I thought about that a lot. I realized that however bright I was, if I went to college right then Iíd probably do pretty much the same thing.

Iíd been fascinated by the military for years. When I was a little boy, there was an Army Master Sergeant at the local recruiting station who took a liking to me and patiently answered all my questions, and gave me all kinds of recruiting literature.

I thought about going to West Point or Annapolis, but the district where we lived had too many well-connected people going after those service academy appointments. So I started making the rounds of the recruiters.

Even in those days of the draft, the military services were on the lookout for bright young men and women. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard recruiters offered me wonderful packages of benefits if I would sign up with them. The last service I talked to was the Marines.

I walked into the recruiting station where an old guy, (he was probably thirty-five) with an almost shaved head, a jaw as big as my fist, and creases in his shirt and trousers you could cut glass with, was filling out a form. He was the Marine recruiter.

When he looked up, I told him what all the other services had offered me one-by-one. He listened quietly. I concluded by asking, ďWhat will the Marine Corps offer me?Ē

He turn back to his paperwork and growled, ďFour years of Hell. A haircut every week. And a rifle.Ē Naturally, I joined the Marines.

I served in the Marines from 1963 to 1968. It was a formative experience in my life. I learned a lot about courage and leadership and principles and about how your capacity is more than you ever imagined.

There were a lot of things that stay with me to this day, but there are two that are important here. The first one is the job of the Marine leader. It has two parts. Accomplish the mission. And care for your people. That's true for leadership anywhere.

When I was up before the Promotional Board examining me for promotion to Sergeant, I was asked what my ambitions were. I said that I wanted to acquire a commission and ultimately become Commandant of the Marine Corps.

A Marine Major was in charge of that panel. He enlisted during World War II and landed at Iowa Jima. That adventure gave him a scar that started above his hairline, ran across his cheek, and disappeared down into his collar. He fixed a steely glare on me.

ďDonít worry too much if you donít make it all the way, son,Ē he said. ďYouíre seeking promotion to the most important job in the Marines. Those Generals may win a battle or two, but itís Sergeants that win the wars.Ē

Iíve never forgotten that. It stayed with me as Iíve done research. It stayed with me as Iíve examined the results of the research of others.

I had a lot of jobs after I got out of the Marines. I worked for a small consulting firm designing training programs. I worked for a small rigging and hauling company as the office manager. I went to work for a large multi-national and got on the fast track. While I was there, I completed my degree at the Regents College of the University of the State of New York.

That was a great experience, because I could study material at night and on the weekends and then go back to my job, which was increasingly responsible, and try to apply it. But I was always frustrated. Iíd get advice about how to motivate people and the like, but nobody ever told me how to actually do it. That came to a head one afternoon.

I was still an assistant manager, and that day I had to talk to one of our warehouse people who was about twice my age, about his increasingly poor performance. Iíd read all the stuff and I thought I knew I was doing. I donít think Iíve ever been quite so wrong.

Not five minutes into the interview, my subordinate rose up across the table, towered over me while he turned bright red and slammed his fist repeatedly into the desk Ė so hard that paintings shook off the walls. He stormed out of the room and slammed the door.

I sat there for a moment, letting myself get back together. I didnít know what Iíd done wrong. Heck, I didnít even know what some of the right things to do were.

I vowed, right then, that I was going to learn how to really do the things that first-line supervisors have to do. I started reading and trying things out.

A couple of years after that, I moved on from the multi-national to a non-profit, where I was the Business Manager at a graduate school. After that, I set up my own consulting and training firm. It was only about a year after I started it that I got a call from the Oakland, California Police Department.

They were looking for someone to do supervisory training for newly promoted Sergeants. I did a needs assessment, determined that I, in fact, could do some things that would be helpful, and wound up getting the contract. I assumed that there would be plenty of good written material on what makes a good Police supervisor. Thatís another time that I was wrong.

In fact, there was next to nothing. The books, at the time, were either weighty academic tomes, filled with theory and little else, or ďThis is how I did itĒ stories of experienced supervisors. If I was going to do good training, I couldnít use those and Iíd have to come up with something different.

That turned out to be a good thing. As I developed the training, I also embarked on a multi-year research project to define what great Police Sergeants do that sets them apart from their peers. In the training world, that's called ďCompetency-based Training.Ē

The principle is pretty simple. You find out what top performers do. You train others to do what they do, and they become top performers, as well.

That initial research was supplemented by several studies since, and absorbing the studies of others. I developed good, solid training for Police Sergeants and then for Fire Supervisors, and took the same materials and adapted them to several other industry groups. Then a giant opportunity presented itself, and I went off in a different direction for awhile.

In about 1982, I discovered online discussion groups on CompuServe. I wound up selling some of my books there. I was one of the first people in the world doing what we now call e-commerce. People began asking me to talk and write about what I did.

That led to a book contract or two, and I caught the opening wave of interest in what was then called The Information Superhighway. For several years, that was my main business focus. The leadership training went on autopilot, but the research continued.

As the Internet moved more and more into the mainstream of business and life, I found my attention returning to the issues of supervision and leadership and management. After over three decades of research, writing and training, I'm convinced of several things.

Leadership is an apprentice trade. You may learn something about it from books and in the classroom, but you learn about it mostly from other people.

Most of the written material out there talks about theories and about the difference between managers and leaders. Different authors and pundits use different vocabulary and definitions. While a lot of that is good and helpful, it's more important to understand that leadership is about behavior.

Leadership is using the behavior you can control (your own) to influence the behavior of others in a group so that the group moves toward an objective. Learning about leadership should involve learning how to do that.

Leadership is a lifelong learning project. You are never done because there are always techniques and skills that you need to master. That's why my Three Star Leadership material is designed so that you can learn about what to do naturally and easily, and then have the resources to continue learning for the rest of your life.

Today, I live in Greensboro, North Carolina with my wife, Renee, and our dogs Lady Clementine and Shakespeare the Bassett. We have children and grandchildren living in several time zones.

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Copyright 2006 by Wally Bock
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