One Vital Thing Successful People Do Differently

Most of us go through life unaware of how our environment shapes our behavior.

When we experience “road rage” on a crowded freeway, it’s not because we’re sociopathic monsters. It’s because the temporary condition of being behind the wheel in a car, surrounded by rude, impatient drivers, triggers a change in our otherwise jovial demeanor. We’ve unwittingly (and that is the key word) placed ourselves in an environment of impatience, competitiveness, and hostility – and it alters us.

What I’ve noticed about successful people, is that they are never completely oblivious to their environment. They do one very important thing differently: They anticipate and prepare for what is next, and, they do what they can to create the environment they want when they get there.

Take for instance trial attorneys – they don’t ask questions to which they don’t already know the answers! Their entire line of questioning is based on one thing: anticipation.

Another example, a public official chairing a town meeting about a divisive issue. The official anticipates that some comments will be said in anger, that the exchanges could become inflammatory and personally insulting. In a heated environment, she reminds herself to stay cool and be fair. She may even prepare some mollifying remarks.

The challenge for most of us is to anticipate our environment even in the minor moments when we’re not trying to be successful, when we’re not “on” or trying to achieve. Most of our day consists of these lesser moments. We’re not thinking about our behavior because we don’t associate the situation with any consequences – we think it’s not important enough to give it much thought.

These seemingly benign environments, ironically, are when we need to be most vigilant. When we’re not anticipating the environment, anything can happen!

For instance, after a long day at work, we get home. It’s a beautiful summer day with three hours of daylight left. We could take a walk, call a friend, cook a nice meal, catch up on bills, or finish the book we’ve been reading. Instead, we take the easy road, we grab a bag of pretzels and a soda, turn on the TV, and plop down on the sofa to mindlessly watch a rerun of something we’ve seen at least 20 times before.

Why didn’t we do what was good for us? Because we didn’t anticipate our environment and create a way to continue our successful day when we got home.

What could we have done to anticipate and create our environment? We could have called or texted a friend earlier in the day to meet us for dinner, we could have put our shoes by the door so we’d remember to take a walk when we got home, we could have placed our book on top of the remote as a reminder that we want to read. These things aren’t difficult to do before you get home after a long day, but in the moment, when we’re tired and depleted, they are practically impossible.

When I consider the behavioral edge that anticipation provides, my only question is: “Why would anyone say no to a little more anticipation?”

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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4 Things Successful Leaders Do to Empower Employees

As a manager or leader, do you let your people assume more responsibility when they are able? Do you know when that is, or do you keep telling yourself that they aren’t ready yet?

In my travels around the world, I talk with thousands of people every year who want to be treated as “partners” rather than as employees. They want information to flow up as well as down. But, oftentimes, leaders do not want to give up control.

I knew a CEO who was the leader of one of the world’s largest global organizations. He received feedback that he was too stubborn and opinionated. He learned that he needed to do a better job of letting others to make decisions and to focus less on being right himself. He practiced this simple technique for one year: before speaking, he would take a breath and ask himself, “Is it worth it?” He learned that 50% of the time his comments may have been right on, but they weren’t worth it. He quickly began focusing more on empowering others and letting them take ownership and commitment for decisions, and less on his own need to add value.

Your employees understand their jobs. They know their tasks, roles, and functions within the organization, and it’s time for you to let them do what they need to do to get the job done. But there is a critical point that is often missed: It isn’t possible for a leader to “empower” someone to be accountable and make good decisions. People have to empower themselves. Your role is to encourage and support the decision-making environment, and to give employees the tools and knowledge they need to make and act upon their own decisions. By doing this, you help your employees reach an empowered state.

The process does take longer — employees will only believe they are empowered when they are left alone to accomplish results over a period of time — but it’s effective and worth the time. If a company has a history of shutting down or letting go of initiators, for instance, the leader can’t just tell employees, “You are empowered to make decisions.”

Part of building an empowering environment is dependent on the leader’s ability to run interference on behalf of the team. The leader needs to make sure people are safe doing their jobs. To make sure this happens, an ongoing discussion of the needs, opportunities, tasks, obstacles, projects, what is working and what is not working is absolutely critical to the development and maintenance of a “safe” working environment. You are likely to spend a lot of time in dialogue with other leaders, employees, team members, and peers.

Following are four things successful leaders do to build environments that empower people.

  1. Give power to those who have demonstrated the capacity to handle the responsibility.
  2. Create a favorable environment in which people are encouraged to grow their skills.
  3. Don’t second-guess others’ decisions and ideas unless it’s absolutely necessary. This only undermines their confidence and keeps them from sharing future ideas with you.
  4. Give people discretion and autonomy over their tasks and resources.

Successful leaders and managers today are willing to exercise their leadership in such a way that their people are empowered to make decisions, share information, and try new things. Most employees (future leaders) see the value in finding empowerment and are willing to take on the responsibilities that come with it. If future leaders have the wisdom to learn from the experience of present leaders, and if present leaders have the wisdom to build an environment that empowers people, both will share in the benefits!

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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Happy, Grumpy, Dopey, Sneezy: Which Dwarf Are You?

With these choices, I’ve found that most of us want to be Happy. In fact, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.

But how does an adult achieve a high level of contentment while living a frenetic and distraction-packed life? How do we not be Grumpy?

It’s not easy.

You first have to figure out how you’re spending your time personally and professionally.

I measure this in two dimensions: short-term satisfaction and long-term benefit. Both have value. It can be just as disappointing to live our lives with no meaning or pleasure in the here and now as it can be unfulfilling to live without thought for tomorrow’s plans and goals.

Questions like, “Does this activity make me happy?” or “Do I find meaning in the activity itself?” can help gauge the degree of short-term satisfaction that we get from any activity. Questions like, “Are the results achieved from this activity worth my effort?” or “Is the successful completion of this activity going to have a long-term positive impact on my life?” can help gauge our expectations for potential long-term benefit from any activity.

The accompanying graph shows five different modes of behavior and how they can characterize our relationship to any activity—either at work or at home.

MOJO quadrants

  1. Stimulating activities score high in short-term satisfaction but low in long-term benefit. The use of drugs or alcohol, for instance, can provide short-term satisfaction yet be dysfunctional for long-term benefit. At work, gossiping with co-workers may be fun for a while, but it is probably not career- or business-enhancing. A life spent solely on stimulating activities could provide a lot of short-term pleasure but go nowhere.
  2. Sacrificing activities score low in short-term satisfaction but high in long-term benefit. For instance, dedicating your life to work that you hate because you “have to” to achieve a larger goal. Or working out (when you don’t feel like it) to improve your long-term health. A life spent solely on sacrificing activities would be the life of a martyr—lots of achievement, but not much joy.
  3. Surviving activities score low on short-term satisfaction and low on long-term benefit. These activities don’t cause much joy or satisfaction in the short-term, nor do they contribute to the future. We do these activities because we feel we have to and we do not have much to show for our efforts. A life spent solely on surviving activities is a hard one indeed.
  4. Sustaining activities produce moderate amounts of short-term satisfaction and lead to moderate long-term benefits. For many professionals, the daily answering of e-mails is a sustaining activity. It is moderately interesting (not thrilling) and usually produces moderate long-term but hardly life-changing benefit. At home, the day-to-day routine of shopping, cooking, and cleaning may be viewed as sustaining. A life spent solely on sustaining activities would be “okay”.
  5. Succeeding activities score high on short-term satisfaction and high on long-term benefit. These activities are the ones that we love to do and get great benefit from doing. At work, people who spend a lot of time in the succeeding box love what they are doing and believe that it is producing long-term benefit at the same time. At home, a parent may be spending hours with a child time that the parent greatly enjoys while valuing the long-term benefit that will come to the child. A life spent in succeeding is a life that is filled with both joy and accomplishment.

No one can define what short-term satisfaction or long-term benefit means for you but you.

Consider an immigrant who leaves a poor country and come to the U.S. She works 18 hours a day at two minimum-wage jobs, yet has a great attitude toward her work and saves every cent for her children’s education. She defines her life as mostly succeeding. It is filled with short-term happiness and long-term benefit.

At the other end of the professional scale, a CEO is resentful about her work because a drop in stock value means that she will have to work another couple of years to have the savings she thinks she needs in order to retire. She sees herself in the surviving category.

These two people have completely different perceptions of what an activity means to them.

My suggestion for you is simple. Spend a week tracking how you spend your time. At the end of the week calculate how many hours you spent on stimulating, sacrificing, surviving, sustaining, or succeeding. Then ask yourself what changes you can make to help you create a life that is both more satisfying in the short-term and more rewarding in the long-term.

While the activities that take up our time can be one factor in determining our happiness and achievement, our attitude toward these activities can be an equally important factor in determining the ultimate quality of our lives. If we cannot change our activities, we can at least try to change our attitude toward them and thus become who we’ve always wanted to be, Happy!

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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Hooked on Media? Blame Your Monkey Mind!

Nearly 20 years ago, I wrote an article titled “Global Communications and Communities of Choice” for The Community of the Future, a book I co-edited with Frances Hesselbein, Richard Beckhard, and Richard Schubert. It’s turned out to be a very prophetic writing on a topic about which, in this case, I wish I’d been wrong.

In the article, I wrote “Today television addiction is one of the most underrated problems in the United States (with the average child spending thousands of hours watching ‘junk’ TV). In the future, media addiction (which includes TV, the internet, and video games) may well pass drug addiction and alcohol addiction, combined, as a social problem.” It’s happened, unfortunately, and the reason is because media is like amphetamines to the monkey mind.

Mindfulness Is the Solution to Overcoming the Monkey Mind

All of us have a “monkey mind”. It’s when your mind jumps from place to place with very little consciousness about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. When this happens, you are experiencing your monkey mind.

The solution to controlling the monkey mind syndrome is to remind yourself as often as you can to be aware of the triggers that are impacting your thoughts, feelings and ultimately, your behavior.  To the degree that you can, breathe and acknowledge when you feel an impulse from an internal or external trigger. Then ask yourself, “What is the trigger?” “How am I feeling at this moment?”  “What am I thinking”  “What am I doing?”  “Why am I doing this?”  This is called being mindful. What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is just the placement of awareness and reflection between the impulse that follows a trigger and the behavior that follows the impulse.

Like almost everything that I teach.  Mindfulness is not hard to understand.  It is just hard to do, even more so as we are continually being triggered by a barrage of outside influences, from emails, cell phones, tablets, On Demand TV, movies, games, and social media to name but a few bits and pieces of 21st Century monkey mind candy.

The impact of these triggers can be very difficult to anticipate or even to understand. When we experience a trigger, it may set off a chain reaction of seemingly random associated images from our past.  These associated images from our past may then lead to projected images for our future that may change our originally intended behavior – and derail our plan for the day.

Unless we really work at ‘connecting the dots’, we may be totally unaware of why we are doing what we are doing.   Our brief moments of mindfulness can easily vanish – and we won’t even know why.

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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Environmental Activist: A Review of “Triggers”


BOOK REVIEW: Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts by Marshall Goldsmith (Crown Business) 2015

One of the most haunting elements of existence is the struggle of not always being your best self.

We say we are going to work out more and don’t, we say that we are going to save more and won’t, we say that we will forgive more and can’t. Little wonder, then, that Leonardo da Vinci once wrote that “One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery over oneself.” As truthful as that is, knowing how to go about the quest of transformation is difficult.

Enter Marshall Goldsmith, whose specialty is teaching executives and average people alike how to tweak the environment immediately around them to become the kind of people they wish they were.

His book, Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts (available at your local library and bookstores) is a delight, a whimsical trip through the psychology of what has been known in distant corners of culture for a while now: that the environment that you surround yourself with is eminently important if you want to understand why you live the life you live.

One of the most startling concepts, early on in the book, is contained in a single question: How many personas do you adopt throughout your day? If your answer is more than one – e.g., if you find that you adopt the mindset of a CEO at work and then adopt the mindset of a parent when you’re dealing with your kids – then environmental cues are obviously powerful, and it makes good sense to pay attention to how they are subtly manipulating your behavior and responses.

The book is divided roughly into thirds, with sections on why we find it so difficult to change in the first place, what we need to do if we wish to live our best life now, and the importance of structure in the ongoing journey for improvement. While it is a relatively short read, there is a lot of content to be unpacked: this is a book to savor, not only for its depth of discovery, but also for the vibrancy and enthusiasm Mr. Goldsmith brings to the conversation.

In short, it is a deeply thoughtful yet entertaining guide on how to begin examining your life and what is more, change it in profound and unforgettable ways.

Zach Sumner is a student of UCO and works for the State of Oklahoma.



Marshall’s new book Triggers is available at or!
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Simple Ain’t Easy!

As an executive coach, I’ve been helping successful people achieve positive lasting change in behavior for more than thirty-five years. Most of my clients embrace the opportunity to change, and most are aware of the fact that behavioral change will help them become more effective leaders, partners, and even family members. A few are not.

My process of helping clients is straightforward and consistent. I interview and listen to my clients’ key stakeholders. These stakeholders could be their colleagues, direct reports, or board members. I accumulate a lot of confidential feedback. Then I go over the summary of this feedback with my clients. My clients take ultimate responsibility for the behavioral changes that they want to make. My job is then very simple. I help my clients achieve positive, lasting change in the behavior that they choose as judged by key stakeholders that they choose. If my clients succeed in achieving this positive change—as judged by their stakeholders—I get paid. If the key stakeholders do not see positive change, I don’t get paid.

Our odds of success improve because I’m with the client every step of the way, telling him or her how to stay on track and not regress to a former self. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of one extremely significant fact:

Meaningful behavioral change is hard to do.

It’s hard to initiate behavioral change, even harder to stay the course, hardest of all to make the change stick.

If you think I’m overstating its difficulty answer these questions:

  1. What do you want to change in your life? It could be something major, such as your weight (a big one), your job (big too), or your career (even bigger). It could be something minor, such as changing your hairstyle or checking in with your mother more often or changing the wall color in your living room.
  2. How long has this been going on? For how many months or years have you risen in the morning and told yourself some variation on the phrase, “This is the day I make a change”?
  3. How’s that working out? In other words, can you point to a specific moment when you decided to change something in your life and you acted on the impulse and it worked out to your satisfaction?

These three questions conform to the three problems we face in introducing change into our lives.

We can’t admit that we need to change—either because we’re unaware that a change is desirable, or, more likely, we’re aware but have reasoned our way into elaborate excuses that deny our need for change. In the following pages, we’ll examine—and dispense with—the deep-seated beliefs that trigger our resistance to change.

We do not appreciate inertia’s power over us. Given the choice, we prefer to do nothing—which is why I suspect our answers to “How long has this been going on?” are couched in terms of years rather than days. Inertia is the reason we never start the process of change. It takes extraordinary effort to stop doing something in our comfort zone (because it’s painless or familiar or mildly pleasurable) in order to start something difficult that will be good for us in the long run.

We don’t know how to execute a change. There’s a difference between motivation and understanding and ability. For example, we may be motivated to lose weight but we lack the nutritional understanding and cooking ability to design and stick with an effective diet. Or we have understanding and ability but lack the motivation. Our behavior is shaped, both positively and negatively, by our environment—and a keen appreciation of our environment can dramatically lift not only our motivation, ability, and understanding of the change process, but also our confidence that we can actually do it.

What makes positive, lasting behavioral change so challenging—and causes most of us to give up early in the game—is that we have to do it in our imperfect world, full of triggers that may pull and push us off course. Achieving meaningful and lasting change may be simple—simpler than we imagine. But simple is far from easy.

I hope that you enjoy this next series of videos and written blogs, which are all about how to overcome triggers and become the person you want to be!

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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What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Let’s dive into one of my favorite coaching exercises. This exercise will help you determine where you are and who you want to become. I love this exercise. I hope you do too!

First imagine you’re 95 years old. You’re just about to die. You’re given a gift. To go back in time, to this moment and to tell yourself what was really important and what wasn’t, what really mattered and what didn’t. What advice would this wise “old you” have for the “you” who is reading this page?

Take your time. Answer this question on two levels: personal advice and professional advice. Jot down a few words that capture what the old you would say to the young you.

Once you’ve written these words down, the rest is simple: Just do whatever you wrote down. Make it your resolution for the rest of the current year, and the next. You have just defined your “there”!

Though I cannot define “there” for you, I can make a rough prediction about what some features of your “there” will look like. A few years ago, a friend of mine had the opportunity to interview people who were dying and ask them what advice they would have for themselves as a younger person. The answers he got were filled with wisdom.

One recurring theme was to “reflect upon life, to find happiness and meaning now,” not next month, not next year, not when they got the car, promotion, relationship, but right now. Many older people say they were so wrapped up in looking for what they didn’t have that they seldom appreciated what they did have.

A second recurring theme was “friends and family.” Consider this: You may work for a wonderful company and you may think that your contribution to that organization is very important. Yet when you are 95 and you look around at the people at your deathbed, very few of your fellow employees will be there waving goodbye. Your friends and family will probably be the people there, so appreciate them now and share a large part of your life with them.

The third recurring theme was the reflection to “follow your dreams.” Older people who have tried to achieve their dreams are always happier with their lives. Figure out your true purpose in life and go for it! This doesn’t apply just to big dreams; it is also true for little dreams. Few of us will achieve all of our dreams. Some dreams will always elude us. The key question is not, “Did I make all my dreams come true?” The key question is, “Did I try?”

So, now that you have the wisdom of that 95-year-old you, use it! Know that you need to be happy now, to enjoy your friends and family, and to follow your dreams! Let the journey begin.

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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6 Questions that Will Set You Up to Be Super Successful

A Little Background

When it comes to self-reflection, asking yourself active questions rather than passive questions changes the focus of your answers – and empowers you to make changes you wouldn’t otherwise consider!

I learned about active questions from my daughter, Kelly Goldsmith. Kelly has a Ph.D. in behavioral marketing and teaches at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. Yes, I am a proud father!

Kelly and I were discussing one of the mysteries of my field – why is there such a poor return from American companies’ $10B investment in training programs to boost employee engagement.

Part of the problem, my daughter patiently explained, is that despite the massive spending on training, companies may end up doing things that stifle rather than promote engagement. It starts with how companies ask questions about employee engagement. The standard practice in almost all organizational survey son the subject is to rely on what Kelly calls passive questions—questions that describe a static condition. “Do you have clear goals?” is an example of a passive question. It’s passive because it can cause people to think of what is being done to them rather than what they are doing for themselves.

Passive questions almost invariably lead to an “environmental” answer. Thus, if employees answer “no” when asked, “Do you have clear goals?” they attribute the reasons for this answer to external factors, such as “Our managers are indecisive” or “The company changes strategy every month.” Answering such questions, employees seldom look within to take responsibility for their own goal-setting.

Companies then invariably take the next natural step and ask for suggestions about making changes. Again, employees answer focusing on the environment (or outside). For instance, “Managers need to be trained in goal setting” or “Our executives need to be more effective in communicating our vision” are typical responses.

There is nothing inherently bad about asking passive questions. They can be a very useful tool for helping companies know what they can do to improve. On the other hand, they can produce a very negative unintended consequence. When asked exclusively, passive questions can become the natural enemy of taking personal responsibility and demonstrating accountability. They can give people permission to “pass the buck” to anyone and anything but themselves!

So, what’s the alternative?

Active questions are the alternative to passive questions. There is a huge difference between “Do you have clear goals?” and “Did you do your best to set clear goals for yourself?” The former is trying to determine the employee’s state of mind; the latter challenges the employee to describe or defend a course of action.

As I talked about in my last blog, I challenge myself every day by answering 32 questions that represent behavior that I know is important, but that is easy for me to neglect given the pressures of daily life. (I would be happy to send you my questions and an article about the process. Just email me at!)

Here They Are: The Six Questions that Will Set You Up to Be Super Successful!

Since my conversation with Kelly, I’ve changed my first six questions to active questions. This seemingly slight change has been dramatic! It has helped me alter my behavior for the better in such a dramatic way that I now teach all of my clients and students this method of self-reflection for positive behavioral change. My six active questions are:

  1. Did I do my best to increase my happiness?
  2. Did I do my best to find meaning?
  3. Did I do my best to be engaged?
  4. Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
  5. Did I do my best to set clear goals?
  6. Did I do my best to make progress toward goal achievement?


My challenge to you? Try it for yourself and see! If you like, try this for 2 weeks and then send me a quick note and let me know how it is working for you. I can’t wait to hear from you!


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Self-Questioning: A Magical Move that Leads to Success!

Dear Followers: My new book Triggers is published! Order it now at! Life Is Good. — Marshall

The act of self-questioning—so simple, so misunderstood, so infrequently pursued—changes everything! It is a “magic move” that leads to success. It is a triggering mechanism, and its objective is to alter our behavior – for the better.

What is this magic move called The Daily Questions Process?

Daily questions are such an important part of my life that I do a self-questioning exercise every day and have for years. I value the process so much that I teach all of my clients this exercise in my coaching engagements and classes!

Every day I challenge myself by answering 32 questions that represent behavior that I know is important, but easy to neglect given the pressures that surround all of us today. The number 32 isn’t magic, the idea is to just ask the number of questions that seems ‘right for you’.

Each question is put on an Excel spreadsheet and is answered with a ‘yes’ (use a 1 to represent this on the spreadsheet) and ‘no’ (use a 0 on the spreadsheet) or a number. The process moves very quickly!

In my case, I have a woman call me and I read my answers to her. This helps ensure accountability.

One rule: there is no negative feedback. No matter what answer I give, she says nothing that might produce guilt. She might make positive comments that reinforce success – but this isn’t necessary.

Here are some of the questions that I ask myself. Please remember my questions reflect my values, and might not work for you. Please use these just for example and write your own.

First, I begin with six ‘active questions’ that lead to higher satisfaction with life. Each question begins with, “Did I do my best to…” The good thing about beginning these questions with “Did I do my best to…” is that it is very difficult to blame someone else for my failure. No one can be responsible for “Did I do my best to…” but me!

Did I do my best to:

  1. Increase your happiness?
  2. Find meaning?
  3. Be engaged?
  4. Build relationships?
  5. Set clear goals?
  6. Make progress toward goal achievement?

In terms of the happiness question, my philosophy of life is simple: Be happy now. I have a great life—wonderful wife and kids, good health, love my job, and don’t have a boss. If I am not happy today, someone is screwed up and that person is me!

In spite of all my blessings, I can still sometimes get caught up in day-to-day stress, forget how lucky I am and act like an idiot. It helps to get this daily reminder of the importance of happiness and gratitude.

Here are more of the questions that I ask myself:

  1. How meaningful were your activities?
  2. How many minutes did you watch TV?
  3. How many hours did you sleep?
  4. How many sit-ups did you do?
  5. What is your weight?
  6. Did you say or do something nice for Lyda?
  7. Did you say or do something nice for the kids?
  8. How many alcoholic drinks did you have?
  9. How many minutes did you spend trying to change things you can’t control?
  10. How many clients are not up-to-date?

Some of my questions are about health, such as “How many sit-ups did you do?” (This works. Today I did 200 sit-ups at once. Not bad for a 66-year-old guy!)

Disciplined follow-up is the key to the success of my teaching and coaching. One question is “With how many clients are you current on your follow-up?”

My relationship questions include, “Did you say or do something nice for your wife? Your son? Your daughter?” I am certainly not a perfect husband or dad, but this process helps me get better.

Why does this process work so well?

Because it forces me to look at and live my values every day. If I believe something matters I put it on the list and do it! If I really don’t want to do it, I can see the long string of 0s next to my daily attempts, face the reality that it isn’t going to happen, and let it go.

Imagine that a coach was going to call you every night and listen to you answer questions about your life. What questions would you want to ask yourself, every day?

Now, try it out. Write the questions that you would need to ask yourself every day. Even the process of writing questions will help you better understand your own values and how you live or don’t live them on a daily basis. If you really have courage, recruit a coach or friend and start asking daily questions to each other. You might be as amazed at the results as I have been.

See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series and please order Triggers at Amazon!

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My Dinner with Bono

Dear Followers: My new book Triggers is published! Order it now at! Life Is Good. — Marshall

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to sit next to Bono – yes, that Bono – at a charity fund-raiser. I am 66 years old, and since his music was recorded sometime after 1975, I’d never heard of it. Fortunately for me, he did not discuss his music. He discussed his life.

After listening to Bono share his personal story, I realized that he is a wonderful example of a person who has not only changed his behavior but also his identity, or definition of who he is – while remaining authentic and not becoming a phony.

In my work as a coach, I help top executives achieve positive change in their leadership behavior. Over the years, I have begun to realize that if we want behavioral change to last, we need to focus not just on how we act. We also need to look at how we define ourselves – the personal identity we create for ourselves.

From Regular Bloke to Rock Star

Bono’s early identity was “regular guy.” He was not brought up rich and had a disdain for pretension. It was easy to see how he has maintained this identity.

In our one-on-one conversation, as well as in his after-dinner speech, Bono was self-deprecating. As we spoke, his language was very much “regular guy.” He politely apologized to me for using variations on the” f-word” a few times. (I assured him that this language was not troubling to me. As a teenager I thought it was the adjective that preceded most nouns.)

After “regular guy” he became a “rock ‘n’ roll fan.” He was animated in his discussion of the musicians that had influenced this life – and how much he enjoyed listening to them as a youth. In his speech he was generous in his praise for other musicians and in his admiration of their work.

Bono’s next identity was “musician.” He described how he had made a commitment to his craft – and how much he enjoyed what he did. He talked about the joy of playing with friends when no status or money was involved.

His next identity was “rock star.” He clearly liked being a rock star and he enjoyed the fame.

Becoming a Humanitarian

As much as he remained a regular guy, was clearly a huge rock ‘n’ roll fan, loved being a musician, and enjoyed the life of a rock star – Bono was even more excited about his new role: humanitarian.

He recounted his experience of visiting Africa during the great famine of the ’80s. (I spent time there as a Red Cross volunteer, and I could relate to this experience.) He talked about his desire to help those who needed help the most and to alleviate human suffering. It was clear that a large part of the rest of his life would be devoted to doing whatever he could to make our world a better place.

In his after-dinner speech he did not take cheap shots at politicians, governments, or anyone else – even when certain questions teed up this opportunity. He was clearly there to raise money and to help people in need – not to prove how smart or clever he was.

He was sincere in expressing gratitude to anyone who was helping out in any way. His need to help others far exceeded his need to be right. He is a man with a mission. He isn’t pretending to be a humanitarian – he is a humanitarian.

Avoid Self-Limiting Definitions

After having dinner with Bono, I reflected upon how he had changed. He did not let his definition of who he was limit his potential for who he could become.

One of our greatest challenges in changing behavior can be our self-limiting definitions of who we are. We send messages to ourselves like: “I just can’t speak in front of a group.” “I could never lead others.” “That just isn’t me!”

We often think of our identity as fixed. It doesn’t have to be. For example, if we define ourselves by saying “I am a terrible listener,” we will create the reality that we become a terrible listener. And even worse – if someone says that we are a good listener, we won’t believe them. We will say to ourselves: “That’s not the real me.”

When my clients describe self-limiting identities, such as being a poor listener, I ask them if they want to change. When they say they do, I assure them that they do not have incurable genetic defects that are stopping them from listening. Not only can they change their behavior – and become good listeners – they can change their definition of who they are.

Overcome the Obstacles in Your Mind

I’ve asked you before in this blog series, and I’m going to ask you again because it’s so important: Who is the “you” that you want to become? Have you defined yourself in a way that limits your own potential?

In the same way that Bono changed not just his behavior but his definition of who he is, you can change your definition of who you are and thereby change your role in the world.

Figure out the role you would like to play in life. Outside of real physical or resource limitations (e.g., I cannot be a pro basketball player at age 66, no matter how much I try), what is holding you back?

You may not be able to overcome all of the obstacles in the world, but you can overcome the obstacles in your own mind!

See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series and please order Triggers at Amazon!

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