What You Should Know about Making Excuses at Work

There is simply no excuse for making excuses at work – or anyplace else for that matter.

When you’re late to an appointment and you hear yourself saying, “I’m sorry I’m late but the traffic was murder,” stop at the word “sorry.” Blaming traffic doesn’t excuse the fact that you kept people waiting. You should have started earlier. You certainly won’t have to apologize for: “I’m sorry I’m early, but I left too soon and the traffic was moving along just fine.”

If the world worked like that, there would be no excuses.

I like to divide excuses into two categories: blunt and subtle.

The blunt, “dog ate my homework” excuse sounds something like this: “I’m very sorry I missed our lunch date. My assistant had it marked down for the wrong day on my calendar.”

Translation: “You see, it’s not that I forgot the lunch date. It’s not that I don’t regard you as so important that lunch with you is the unchangeable, non-negotiable highlight of my day. It’s just that my assistant is inept. Blame my assistant, not me.”

The problem with this type of excuse is that we rarely get away with it — and it’s hardly an effective leadership strategy. After reviewing thousands of 360-degree feedback summaries, I have a feel for what qualities direct reports respect and don’t respect in their leaders. I have never seen feedback that said, “I think you are a great leader because I love the quality of your excuses,” or, “I thought you screwed up, but you really changed my mind after you made that excuse.”

The more subtle excuses appear when we attribute our failings to some genetic characteristic that’s apparently lodged in our brains. We talk about ourselves as if we have permanent genetic flaws that can never be altered.

You’ve surely heard these excuses. Maybe you’ve even used a few of them: “I’m impatient.” “I always put things off until the last minute.” “I’ve always had a quick temper.”

Habitually, these expositional statements are followed by saying, “I’m sorry, but that’s just the way I am.”

It’s amazing how often I hear otherwise brilliant, successful people make willfully self-deprecating comments about themselves. It’s a subtle art because, in effect, they’re stereotyping themselves and using that to excuse otherwise inexcusable behavior.

Our personal stereotyping frequently comes from stories or preconceived notions about ourselves that have been preserved and repeated for years, sometimes going back as far as childhood. These stories may have little or no basis in fact. But they imprint themselves in our minds and establish low expectations that become self-fulfilling prophecies.

The next time you hear yourself saying, “I’m just no good at …” ask yourself, “Why not?”

This doesn’t just refer to our aptitudes at mathematics or mechanics. It also applies to our behavior. We excuse our tardiness because we’ve been running late all our lives, and our family, friends and colleagues let us get away with it. These aren’t genetic flaws. We weren’t born this way, and we don’t have to be this way.

If we can stop excusing ourselves, we can get better at almost anything we choose.

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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Three Things Successful People Do!

If you’ve read my best-selling book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, you know that most of us are successful in spite of certain behaviors. For instance, most highly successful people have the bad habit of Winning Too Much.

Winning too much is the #1 challenge for most people, because it underlies nearly every other behavioral problem. If we argue too much, it’s because we want our view to prevail (in other words we want to win). If we put other people down, it’s our way to position them beneath us (again, winning). If we withhold information, it’s to gain an edge over others. If we play favorites, it’s to gain allies so “our side” has an advantage. Our obsession with winning crosses the spectrum of our lives. It’s not just an issue in our professional lives, it works its way into our personal lives as well. It is incredibly difficult for smart, successful people not to constantly win.

Another classic behavioral challenge of smart, successful people is Adding Too Much Value. This bad habit can be defined as the overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion. A slight variation on Winning Too Much, Adding Too Much Value is common among leaders who are used to running the show. It is extremely difficult for successful people to listen to other people tell them something that they already know without communicating somehow that (a) they already knew it and (b) they know a better way.

These are just a couple of the behaviors that the most successful leaders I know work on to become even better. A lot of leaders choose to forego change, believing that they are “successful enough” and that change therefore isn’t necessary.

What makes the most highly successful leaders different is what makes them some of the greatest leaders in history. I believe there are three characteristics that differentiate good leaders from great leaders.

The first thing successful people do is have Courage. Great leaders have the courage to get feedback and to look at themselves in the mirror, honestly. This isn’t an easy task. To truly look at yourself and to ask for, accept, and act on feedback you receive from others, you have to have courage.

The second thing successful people do is have Humility. If you’re going to get better, then that means you probably don’t think you’re perfect. This is a great place to start. Think about it. It is very hard for perfect people to get better! For someone to change, he or she first has to have the humility to admit there is room for improvement.

The third and final thing that great leaders do is they have Discipline. To be a great leader, you have to have the discipline to follow up and do the hard work to keep getting better.

There you have it: the three must-have characteristics of very great leaders: Courage, Humility, and Discipline. Are you a great leader? Do you know a great leader? How would you describe a great leader? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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One Powerful Way You Can Stand Out!

Here is one powerful way that I stand out as an executive coach. I have a unique compensation system – I only get paid if my clients get better. And, “better” means my clients achieve positive, measurable change in behavior, not as judged by themselves but by their key stakeholders. This process usually takes about 18 months and involves an average of 16 stakeholders.

My coaching approach has been described in several major publications, such as Forbes and The New Yorker. Here it is in brief:

My mission is to help successful leaders achieve positive, long-term, measurable change in behavior: for themselves, their people and their teams. When the steps in the Marshall Goldsmith coaching process are followed, leaders almost always positive behavioral change — not as judged by themselves, but as judged by pre-selected, key stakeholders. This process has been used around the world with great success — by both external coaches and internal coaches.1

I always use the same proven process. At the beginning of any coaching relationship, I get an agreement with my coaching clients and their managers on two key variables:

  1. What are the key behaviors that will make the biggest positive change in increased leadership effectiveness, and
  2. Who are the key stakeholders that can determine (six to eighteen months later) if these changes have occurred?

Then I get paid only after my coaching clients have achieved positive change in key leadership behaviors and become more effective leaders. Unlike many other coaches, I do not get paid if my clients do not get better. And, as noted above, better is not determined by me, it is not determined by my clients, it is determined by my client’s key stakeholders. It is in this “pay-for-results” fee arrangement that I truly stand out from other coaches.

Paying only for results is a good way to test if someone really believes what they’re teaching you. Ask them one question, “Do you want to bet on it?” If they say, “I believe it but I wouldn’t bet on it,” they don’t believe it that much. If they say, “Here’s the money,” they believe it! My coaching process is based on something I believe in and I bet on it every time!

Many coaches are paid for the wrong reasons. Their income is a largely a function of “How much do my clients like me?” and “How much time did I spend in coaching?” Neither of these is a good metric for achieving a positive, long-term change in behavior.

In terms of liking the coach, I have never seen a study that showed that clients’ love of a coach was highly correlated with their change in behavior. In fact, if coaches become too concerned with being loved by their clients. They may not provide honest feedback when it is needed.

In terms of spending clients’ time — my coaching clients’ are all executives whose decisions impact billions of dollars — their time is more valuable than mine. I try to spend as little of their time as necessary to achieve the desired results. The last thing they need is for me to waste their time!

How do you stand out? What makes you special? What are you willing to bet on? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Please send me a message on LinkedIn! I am looking forward to your comments.

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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8 Steps to Super Charge Your Career!

The one thing you need to have a super-charged career today is – drum roll please – an executive coach. People often ask me: Why do top level, successful executives need a coach? They are already so successful, why would they need to get even “better”? Doesn’t having a coach mean they are not that good?

My answer is simple – think Serena Williams, James Harden, Tom Brady. They are good. Can you imagine that any of them do not have a coach? Of course not! Why shouldn’t successful executives have a coach? They are trying to get better or maybe to develop the next level of leadership and help them get better.

I’m very proud of the fact that how people view coaching has changed over the years. Thirty years ago, no CEO or executive would admit to having a coach. They would have been ashamed! Today, many CEOs share their experience with the world. For instance 27 CEOs endorsed my book Triggers. I coach these 27 people. They are working on getting better and they are not ashamed to state it publicly (in my book).

My coaching process doesn’t just work with the super-successful. My partners and I have trained hundreds of external and internal coaches who work with people at all levels. There may be no correlation between an individual’s standing in the corporate pyramid and what his or her co-workers think of his or her interpersonal skills. Middle managers can be just as arrogant and stubborn as CEOs – or just as open-minded. My target audience is the huge cohort of human beings who are already successful in their own way and want to become even more successful. You may be in this group!

So, say you have admitted you need a coach and your organization supports you. What does coaching look like? This depends on the type of coach you hire. If you hire a behavioral change coach like me, I won’t help you change strategy or business practices. I will help you achieve a positive, long-term, measurable change in your behavior. I’ll help you see that the behaviors and habits that have taken your to your current level of success might not be the behaviors and habits that will take you to the next level of success.

I train people to improve their behavior in the workplace – by enrolling them in a simple, yet challenging regimen. Here are the steps.

  1. First, I solicit 360° feedback from my client’s colleagues – as many as can provide valid information – from up, down and sideways in the chain of command, often including family members – for a comprehensive assessment of their strengths and challenges.
  2. I then let my clients know (in a way that protects the confidentiality of the interviewees) what everybody really thinks about them. Assuming that they accept this information, agree that they have something to improve and commit to changing behavior – I go to work and try to help them get better – at what they have chosen – and as judged by whom they have chosen.
  3. My clients learn to apologize to people concerning any mistakes from the past (because this is a great way to erase negative baggage associated with prior actions) and to ask their co-workers for help in getting better.
  4. My clients then advertise their efforts to change. As opposed to keeping their change efforts a ‘dark secret’, they tell everyone around them what they are trying to improve. If we don’t let people know that we are trying to change – and recruit them in our change process – they may never notice or appreciate what we are doing.
  5. My clients follow-up with all of the people around them to get ongoing suggestions. We have research on follow-up that involves over 86,000 respondents in eight major corporations. The findings from this research are crystal clear, leaders that follow-up in a disciplined way get better, those that don’t follow-up are not seen as changing any more than random chance.
  6. As an integral part of the follow-up process, I teach people to listen without prejudice to what their colleagues, family members and friends are saying – that is, to listen without interrupting or arguing.
  7. I teach people to express gratitude to everyone around them for what they are learning. Learning how to simply say “thank you” without qualifiers or embellishments can make a big difference.
  8. Finally, I teach people the value of feedforward, which is my “special sauce” methodology for eliciting advice from colleagues on how they can improve in the future.

It can sometimes be difficult for super-achievers to get over the hump and admit that they can benefit from changing behavior. If behavioral change can help them become more effective in their role, and if they are willing to stick with the steps in our coaching process and if they are given a fair chance – they will almost always get better – not only in their own minds but, more importantly, in the opinions of everyone they impact.

And, that is the spirit underlying all of my coaching. It is aimed at anyone who wants to get better – at work, at home, or any other venue. It will help anyone who wants to supercharge his or her career!

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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So, You Want to Be an Executive Coach?

As an executive coach, I help people understand how our beliefs and the environments we operate in can trigger negative behaviors. Through simple and practical advice, I help people achieve and sustain positive behavioral change.

My mission is simple. I want to help successful people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior; for themselves, their people, and their teams. I want to help you make your life a little better. With four decades of experience helping top CEOs and executives overcome limiting beliefs and behaviors to achieve greater success, I don’t do this for fame and accolades. I do this because I love helping people!

A number of years ago, a wonderful writer wrote an article about me which was published in The New Yorker. The writer’s name is Larissa McFarquhar and the title of the article is “The Better Boss.” In her article (the whole of which you can find here), Larissa describes me as an executive coach and a human being. It’s funny, entertaining and true. I get a great kick out of it. I hope that you enjoy it too!

Marshall Goldsmith is a happy man. He started out happy, he worked on his happiness, and now, at the age of fifty-three [I am 67 now!], he is very happy. He is, in fact, a happiness professional.

His official job description is “executive coach”: he trains executives to behave decently in the office, by subjecting them to a brutal regimen. First, he solicits “360 degree feedback” — he asks their colleagues and sometimes their families, too, for comprehensive assessments of their strengths and defects — and he confronts them with what everybody really thinks. Then he makes them apologize and ask for help in getting better. It’s a simple method — “I don’t think anybody’s going to say I’m guilty of excessive subtlety,” he says — but it works. It had better work. If it doesn’t, the client gets his money back.

Goldsmith is so extraordinarily buoyant and extroverted (he scored a perfect E on his Myers-Briggs personality test) that he seems to enter a room in a tinkle of magic dust. If he were shorter (he is nearly six feet), he would look like a leprechaun. His head is round and pink and bald, his eyes are blue, and his chin juts out and upward to meet his nose, like the chin of a wooden puppet. He skips more than walks, and when he is in a bouncy mood (which he usually is) he dances along with his arms straight out and swinging. When he laughs (which he does often), he sounds like a goose. He wears the same outfit every day: green polo shirt, khakis, and moccasins. His favorite movie is “The Wizard of Oz,” and his favorite song is “Over the Rainbow.” He ends his e-mails and his conversations with what has become his signature phrase: “Life is good!”

The leprechaun quality is one of the reasons Goldsmith is successful. It is a rare executive, after all, who welcomes a man sent by his boss to reform his personality. But people who have worked with Goldsmith call him “disarming,” and say that he seems so happy with his life that when he says he is not judging them personally they believe him.

Goldsmith won’t take on a client who doesn’t want to change — someone who, as he puts it, has not a skill problem but a don’t-give-a-shit problem — but, short of that, the more obnoxious the better. “My favorite case study was in the 0.1 percentile for treating people with respect,” he says. “That means that there were over a thousand people in that company and this person came in dead last. This person would be in an elevator and someone would come up and say, ‘Hey, how’s it going?,’ and he wouldn’t even respond. He was hardworking and brilliant; he didn’t lie, cheat, or steal. He was just a complete jerk. The case was considered hopeless, but in one year he got up to 53.7 per cent.

“You know how I helped the guy to change? I asked him, ‘How do you treat people at home?’ He said, ‘Oh, I’m totally different at home.’ I said, ‘Let’s call your wife and kids.’ What did his wife say? ‘You’re a jerk.’ Called the kids. ‘Jerk.’ ‘Jerk.’ So I said, ‘Look, I can’t help you make money, you’re already making more than God, but do you want to have a funeral that no one attends? Because that’s where this train is headed.”

And, it was at that moment when the executive realized what was truly important and began making an effort to change. This is what I do. I help people who really want to change do just that, change.

When I started executive coaching in the 1980s, I was a pioneer in the field and many clients kept the coaching a secret. Today executive coaching is seen as a privilege afforded to executives that companies wish to invest in to keep long-term. I am proud of this. I am proud to have helped coaching come into its own as an industry. And, if you want to be an executive coach, I hope I can be of help to you!

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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Why Some People Really Love Their Jobs! #1 Percentage of Likes!

Recently, I had the honor to interview one of the greatest leaders of our time, Frances Hesselbein. Frances is the former executive director of the Girl Scouts of America and is currently the chairman of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute. She is also one of my best friends.

Not only do I think Frances is an extraordinary leader, the great management thinker Peter Drucker once noted that she was perhaps the most effective executive he had ever met. As a tribute to her leadership skills, President Clinton awarded Frances with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award that can be given to a U.S. civilian.

Following is a short excerpt from our interview. In this brief discussion, Frances and I discuss our hopes for the future and she gives us her thoughts on what is really important in life and what makes her love her work so much.

MG: What are some of your hopes for the future? What opportunities do you see for leaders in the future?

FRANCES: I see a bright future. Leaders of the future are not content with repeating the past, so we must ask ourselves: How can we make a greater difference in the future? How can we support one another more? We do not want to repeat the past, so I want us to work very hard individually at describing the future that we desire.

MG: Frances, we’re in your office and the walls are lined with your amazing achievements. For instance, 23 honorary PhDs, many books and awards and pictures of you with presidents you’ve met. After all of these achievements you still come into work every day. Why is it that, after all you’ve done, you’re still working every day, doing your best?

FRANCES: Marshall, work is love made visible. I can’t wait to get to work every day. I’m here in the New York Office Monday through Thursday. Thursdays I often leave in the afternoon and go to my home in Easton where I spend Friday and Saturday, and Sunday morning come back. It is a wonderful balance for me.

You see, to me, work is love made visible. I can’t wait to get to work every day I am here. It seems impossible, but for either years our journal, the Leader to Leader Journal, has been the number one journal in the US and that is out of 1500 journals!

We give away as much as we can. For instance, we do global webinars. The other day we spoke to 400 women in 40 countries, leaders of the future, women in action. During the webinar, I had a message from six men who were leaders in one of the poorest African countries, one of the smallest countries. It said, “Dear Lady Hesselbein, may we register for your webinar for women? We are men who are leaders but we are hungry for your message. Please may we register?” Three minutes later, they had my reply: “Gentlemen, please know how welcome you are. Please register. There is no fee. And if you know any other men who are leaders in Africa who would like to register, please tell them how welcome they are.” Marshall, it’s such fun to give it all away.

MG: You know, Frances, one thing you said that really struck me–work is love made visible. Can you talk about your inner drive–the reason that you come to work every day, the reason that you want that love to be visible?

FRANCES: To serve is to live, Marshall. Just think how long that we have been battle-buddies. Just think when that cute little blond kid walked into my Girl Scout office with his plan for organizations. That was the beginning of our great adventure. I rarely worked abroad without my friend Marshall finding a way to move things around so that we could see each other. We are partners. Your family is as close to me as my own family. It is a beautiful life because we work together – that is “work is love made visible”.

If all we ever had together were lovely social occasions, it would have been very nice and lots of fun. But Marshall, you and I have worked together for…I can’t even count how many years, maybe 25 with this organization, and probably ten with the Girl Scouts. (I hasten to mention we were both 12 at the time began.) For us to be able to work together, for me to see the way you change lives, and the spiritual depth you bring to your work as well as your great intellectual gift. Our work together Marshall is love made visible.

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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How to Successfully Leave Your Job

Transitions such as quitting one job for another opportunity or retiring from your current career are usually far harder than we imagine. It’s easy to talk about letting go, but when the time comes, it’s hard to do. The emotional aspect of departing is difficult to fathom, but at a recent meeting I attended, a marketing exec put the dilemma in succinct terms to a group of us.

She said, “My job was my best friend. It’s very hard to leave your best friend,” I watched the expressive face of this fantastic leader as she shared her personal feelings about leaving her job and her organization. The other people in the room hung on her every word. “It seemed like I was getting promoted every few years. I loved the company, my co-workers, and our customers. Going to work was a joy for me,” she said, sighing. “And then one day, it was time to leave. It hurt,” she said. “An opportunity arose that I couldn’t pass up. I had to go.”

No matter where you are in your career or how you feel about your current job and colleagues, it is good to think about what you might want to do if you leave your present position and how it will feel to leave. For some people who are unhappy in their current position, they might think leaving will be only a happy experience. While this could be true, there may be a person or two you will miss when you go or a specific part of your job that you really enjoy doing. For those like our marketing exec, who love their jobs, leaving for another opportunity can be a very emotional experience, and it’s important to think these through before you make the jump.

Below are three questions to ask yourself as you consider taking the new opportunity.

  • Will I be making a contribution?
  • Will I find meaning?
  • Will it make me happy?

Next let’s think about retiring: today people live a lot longer than they used to, and they are a lot healthier at 65. Think about it: if you have the drive and energy to become a successful leader, it is unlikely that these traits will immediately stop when you leave your company, so you better plan for an active retirement!

I have found that most people don’t want to “do nothing’ all day. We have hopes and dreams, goals and ambitions. We want to contribute to the world, make it a better place, not “retire” from it to a life of “leisure”. For most of us, sleeping in late, lounging on the beach, improving our golf scores, and lazing about all day are great for a short time, but they hold little allure in the long-term.

The happiest “transitioned” executives I have met are still making a contribution to the world, they are finding meaning and contentment in what they do today—not just reflecting on what they did yesterday.

Think about “life after work,” and ask yourself these three questions:

  • How can I continue to make a contribution?
  • How can I find meaning?
  • What will make me happy?

You might have 20 or more years to live after your primary work is finished. How can you make this time count for yourself and the people around you?

Now is a good time to start planning.

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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Your Leadership Mission Should Fit on a T-Shirt!

My mission is simple. It is to: Help successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in their behavior. Peter Drucker instilled this short phrase in me, “Your mission statement should fit on a T-Shirt,” as he did with so many others, and it has guided my career for many decades. It has helped me focus and become pretty good at what I do, which I can describe in two words: behavioral coaching.

Today, most people who call themselves executive coaches are coaches in the area of leadership behavior. There are a few– and I would like to underline, very few– strategic coaches. For instance, Vijay Govindarajan, who does an excellent job of helping at the corporate strategy domain. Michael Porter is another great coach in this domain. When I say most, I mean upwards of 90% of people who say they’re executive coaches have backgrounds in psychology or organizational behavior. So, most executive coaches are doing what I do, helping leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior.

Peter Drucker’s advice that a mission should fit on a T-shirt has also helped me focus on what not to do as it applies to my mission statement. For instance, it helped me grapple with this interesting catch about my work: behavioral coaching only helps if a person has behavioral issues!

It sounds simple, but I receive ridiculous (to me) requests for coaching. Not long ago, a pharmaceutical company called me up, and said, “We want you to coach Dr. X.” I replied, “Interesting possibility. What’s his problem?” They said, “He’s not updated on recent medical technology.” I laughed and replied, “Neither am I!” I couldn’t help Dr. X. I can’t make a bad doctor a good doctor, a bad scientist a good scientist, or a bad engineer a good engineer. Behavioral coaching only solves behavioral issues.

The second thing I always teach is never coach integrity violations. I read an article in Forbes once I found very disturbing, about people that had integrity violations who were given coaches. People that have integrity violations should be fired, not coached. How many integrity violations does it take to ruin the reputation of your company? Just one. You don’t coach integrity violations. You fire them.

And finally, behavioral coaching doesn’t help if the person or the company is going in the wrong direction. If somebody is going in the wrong direction, behavioral coaching just helps them get there faster. It doesn’t turn the wrong direction into the right direction.

It’s your turn. What’s your mission? Can you fit it on a T-shirt? Do you use it to help guide your career decisions? If you don’t have a mission statement, write one up and post it to the comment section. I would love to see what your mission is!

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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Every Leader Has to Start Somewhere!

Every leader has to start somewhere. This is just the fact of the matter.

And, another fact? Not every leader, even some of the greatest leaders of our time, start off with flying colors.

Take my good friend Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford. Alan led the epic turnaround of the Ford Motor Company. This incredible story is told in the Wall Street Journal bestseller, American Icon. I highly recommend you read it if you want to learn about great leadership – and enjoy a thrilling page turner while you are at it!

Alan’s story at Ford is a success story, but it wasn’t always that way for Alan on his leadership journey.

Alan started out as an engineer at Boeing. Quickly promoted to a management position, his first employee quit! A bit disgruntled, the employee shared with Alan honestly that he felt Alan’s job was to help him to do his job, not to keep redoing all of his work and show him all of his mistakes.

Alan took this feedback to heart and realized he was acting out Habit #2 (Adding too much value) and Habit #6 (Telling the world how smart we are) from my book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. This was long before I met Alan or before the book was published, so I can claim no credit (Habit #11 Claiming credit that we don’t deserve)!

Wanting to learn from this experience, Alan delved into learning about management and leadership and started to understand how to be a better leader. And, he learned this valuable lesson – that leadership isn’t about telling people how to do their jobs well or doing their jobs for them; leadership is about helping people to do their jobs well. It’s about working together.

Over the years at Boeing, Alan kept asking for more responsibility – and he kept getting it, finally leaving the company as the president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Cut to 2006 and he was asked to lead Ford out of a deep hole, which he did, employing his unique method of facilitative leadership which he calls “working together.” By the end of his time at Ford as president and CEO, the company’s stock price was up, the board and the employees were happy, and Alan was named #3 on Fortune’s “World’s Greatest Leaders” list in 2013.

Alan is a true example of the phrase, “every leader has to start somewhere.” He didn’t start out as a great leader; he became a great leader.

On a more personal note, over the many years I have known him, I have never seen him get down on himself, his people, or his company. He has an enthusiasm that radiates to the people around him. He has an almost childlike joy in what he does. He once told me: “Every day I remind myself that leadership is not about me. It is about the great people who are working with me.” That’s how he leads, and it is this example he sets that says more about great leadership than his words can ever convey.

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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Don’t Come to Me with a Problem!

Most of us have difficulty articulating our struggles in a public forum, especially in the presence of our boss and peers. This probably stems from history we may have with bosses who said things like: “Don’t come to me with a problem, come to me with a solution!”

When you think about it this creates exactly the opposite of the environment an effective leader wants. If people have problems, you want to get them out on the table so you can help them find solutions.

The practice of executive coaching introduced corporate culture to an exciting new idea: the end of shame when it comes to needing help.

Under the guidance of a coach, it’s OK to admit what you don’t know and ask for help. My coaching process brings my clients’ shortcomings into the light, through a process of accumulating confidential feedback from their key stakeholders (colleagues, direct reports or board members, for example). If that sounds terrifying, it’s because most of us have been conditioned to hide our flaws for fear of punishment, reprisal or a rival seizing a competitive advantage.

A good coach takes away that fear, and uses feedback and self-analysis to guide clients toward positive and lasting behavioral change. The process works – which is one reason that I have seen the perception of coaching shift over the last three decades: Instead of a punishment, it’s now a mark of prestige to have a coach. It means you’re probably going places in your career.

Target transparency and applaud when you get it.

What I find so remarkable about my friend and colleague Allan Mulally is that he put these ideas into practice in across an entire organization – and in an intense, high-stakes setting. When he took over as Ford’s CEO in 2006, the company was in dire straits, with market share down 25 percent since 1990 and its very existence threatened by the great recession.

The story of how Alan turned Ford around is now well documented. The company was the only big-three automaker to emerge from the recession without a government bailout. When Alan retired from Ford in 2014, Fortune magazine ranked him as the third greatest leader in the world, behind only Pope Francis and Angela Merkel.

One important thing that Alan did early on was to effectively eliminate shame. He never said, “Don’t come to me with a problem!” Up to that point, meetings at Ford were notoriously vicious. Alan rooted out those problems through his brilliantly simple Business Plan Review program, which made meetings highly structured. Executives had to introduce themselves and report on their progress according to a precise formula (and no cell phones were allowed).

In this much calmer environment, he encouraged his reports to be honest about their problems. Instead of bravado, he encouraged them to show humility and admit where they needed help. He did this by modeling the behavior himself – the hallmark of a truly great leader. Alan was not ashamed of what he didn’t know, or what he had or hadn’t done. He simply reported on the condition of the company with an attention to detail befitting his background as an engineer. When he didn’t know how to fix a problem, he wasn’t afraid to ask for help.

It sounds simple, and it is. But it takes tremendous courage to be so forthright – so unashamed – especially in a situation like the one he faced at Ford, on the brink of collapse at one of the nation’s biggest companies in an industry that serves as the backbone of the nation’s economy. When the world is watching and the stakes are high, a lesser leader would have armed himself in ego. Alan chose the other path.

This approach has the potential to do tremendous good in settings beyond Ford. Are you or could you implement it in your organization, with your team? Could you share it with your boss? I’d love to hear what you think about this approach!

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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