Design the Life You Love!

As we wander through life, there are various stages where it’s a natural point to stop, reflect, and assess where we are and where we might be headed next. For instance, when we’re starting our first job, when the kids are leaving for college, or when we’re about to retire, these are stages of life when we can look at where we’ve been, think about where we’re going, and reflect on what really matters in life.

Of course we don’t have to wait until one of these life-changing transitions. We can reflect on our lives and what we want out of them any time. You’re never too old or too young to look at designing (or redesigning) your life. And, it’s never too late or too early to create the life you want!

A point at which a lot of people do not reflect on their lives and what really matters is when they are retiring. This is why you’ll see people retire and change their minds and come back to work. Remember when Brett Favre retired (in 2008)?

After announcing his retirement, Brett Favre was asked, “What are some things that you are looking forward to doing?”

“Nothing,” he replied. “And I am going to stick to that until I do something else.”

This was an extremely bad sign of the potential for Mr. Favre having a successful retirement.

In my job as an executive coach, I have spent a lot of time with leaders who are dealing with retirement. While some make the transition pretty well, for many it is a disaster. I am a little surprised that Brett lasted as long as he did.

The fact is, after being a huge success in a career that has brought benefits like leadership, relationships, contribution, meaning and happiness, playing mediocre golf with a bunch of old men at the country club isn’t really that great. Eating the same chicken salad sandwich, at the same table, and talking with a bunch of retired folks about the person you “used to be” gets old very fast. And after the third cruise, most former leaders are ready to kill the entertainment director.

Many executives who ‘retire’ immediately proceed to drive their spouses crazy. After a month or so, Brett’s wife was probably thrilled at the idea of his going back to football.

One retired military leader reported that – after three months of retirement – he was alphabetizing the cans in the kitchen. When he asked his wife if ‘baked beans’ should be placed under ‘BA’ for ‘baked’ or ‘BE’ for beans, she screamed, “Get out!”

A CEO friend of my family’s sold his business for millions of dollars. He was about Mr. Favre’s age. When I expressed grave doubts about his ability to successfully retire, he scoffed and assured me that he was different than the other leaders I had worked with. Within a few months, his wife had gotten a job selling dresses. (Hint, hint.) His kids were away at college. (Uh oh.) He was sitting at home watching sitcoms when the delivery guy came over. They had a very interesting chat. It was so interesting that he smiled and thought, “That was great! In fact, talking with the delivery guy was the highlight of my week!”

He started looking for another job the next day.

Creating a Great Rest of Your Life

When you are preparing to create a great rest of your life, there are three questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. How will I contribute?
  2. Does this have meaning to me?
  3. Will this make me happy?

If you can answer these three questions to your own satisfaction, you are on your way to designing a life you will love!

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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The #1 Most Dysfunctional Belief of Successful People!

One of the most dysfunctional beliefs of successful people is our contempt for simplicity and structure. We believe that we are above needing structure to help us on seemingly simple tasks.

For example, as Dr. Atul Gawande reported in his book, The Checklist Manifesto,central line infections in intensive care units virtually disappear when doctors follow a simple five-point checklist involving rote procedures such as washing hands, cleaning the patient’s skin, and using a sterile dressing after inserting the line.

For many years, despite the checklist’s proven success rate, doctors resisted it. After years of medical training, many doctors thought that the constant reminders, especially when delivered by subordinate nurses, were demeaning. The surgeons thought, “I shouldn’t need to use a checklist to remember simple instructions.”

This is a natural response that combines three competing impulses:

  1. Our contempt for simplicity (only complexity is worthy of our attention);
  2. Our contempt for instruction and follow-up; and
  3. Our faith, however unfounded, that we can succeed by ourselves.

In combination these three trigger an unappealing exceptionalism in us. When we presume that we are better than people who need structure and guidance, we lack one of the most crucial ingredients for change: humility.

In my book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, I talk about the 20 bad (behavioral) habits of which everyone I have ever met has at least one or two of these to some degree. Many of these habits have to do with a lack of humility. None more so than my old favorite, #20, “an excessive need to be me.”

Every one of us has a pile of behaviors that we define as “me.” These are the chronic behaviors, positive and negative, that we think of as our inalterable essence.

For instance, if we’re the type of person who’s chronically poor at returning phone calls—we mentally give ourselves a pass every time we fail to get back to callers. “Hey, that’s me. Deal with it.”

If we are incorrigible procrastinators who habitually ruin other people’s timetables, we do so because we’re being true to “me.”

If we always express our opinion, no matter how hurtful or non-contributory it may be, we are exercising our “right” to be “me.”

You can see how, over time, it would be easy to cross the line and make a virtue of our flaws—simply because our flax constitute what we think of as “me.” This misguided loyalty to our true natures is one of the toughest obstacles to making positive long-term change in our behavior.

Change is possible when we recognize that this stern allegiance to our self-definitions is pointless vanity. When we stop thinking about ourselves, when we stop being so devoted to “me,” we can start behaving in a way that actually benefits others!

The lesson is this: the less we focus on ourselves the more we benefit. It’s an interesting equation: Less me. More them. Equals success. Try it.

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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It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It!

And, it’s not what you ask but how you ask it!

In my work as an executive coach, I teach people about the importance of self-reflection as a daily practice to changing behavior and becoming more successful. This daily practice that I teach, as you may know, comes in the form of the Daily Questions. I do this process myself every day and it has made a world of difference in my behavior!

When it comes to self-reflection, I’ve discovered that asking ourselves active questions rather than passive questions changes the focus of our answers and empowers us to make changes that we wouldn’t otherwise consider.

Let’s take me for example. If I ask myself, “Do I have good relationships at work?” or “How engaged was I today?” I am asking myself passive questions. These passive questions describe a static condition. They cause me to think of what is being done to me rather than what I am doing for myself.

Let’s analyze my first question, “Do I have good relationships at work?” If the answer is yes, I think about how I like to work with someone. If the answer is no, I think about what I don’t like about another person that makes it a bad working relationship. Either answer is an “environmental” answer. The reasons attributed to either answer are external factors. Answering such passive questions, seldom cause me to look within to take responsibility for my own relationships at work.

Now, let’s change this question to an active question, such as “Did I do my best to build positive relationships at work?” This question challenges me to describe or defend my actions with regards to whether or not I did my best to build positive relationships that day. It puts the responsibility for my relationships at work squarely on me. If positive relationships at work are important to me and I ask myself this question every day, I will start doing my best to build positive relationships! (In other words, I will get better!)

I have six active questions that I ask myself. These six questions are the first of the 32 daily questions that I ask myself every day. These 6 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?

The Daily Questions Process has made a huge difference in my life and everyone who tries the process agrees that it is immensely helpful in the journey toward changed behavior.

I hope that you will try this process for yourself! If you would like my Daily Questions, send me an email at marshall@marshallgoldsmith.com and I would be happy to send you my questions and an article about the process. I hope to hear from 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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Make Me Better, Please!

Wouldn’t it be great if we could command someone to make us better at those things about ourselves that we really want to change? It would be easier if someone else did the work and the result was our being happier and more engaged. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible, as you probably already know. We have to change ourselves, ourselves.

So for those of us who really want to change, the question becomes, “How do I achieve a high level of happiness and engagement, while living an often hectic and distraction-packed life?”

It’s not easy. I teach all of my clients the daily self-reflection process that I have done for years. I call it the Daily Questions. And, recently, I’ve expanded my questions to include active questions. For instance, instead of asking myself, “How meaningful was my day?” I ask myself, “Did I do my best to create meaning in my day?” This difference in wording may seem slight, but in the realm of behavioral change, it is humongous.

Changing Focus

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 explained, is that despite 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 surveys on 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 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!

The Alternative to Passive Questions

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 marshall@marshallgoldsmith.com!)

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’m looking forward to hearing from 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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How to Get Better at Almost Anything!

For several years, I’ve performed what some might consider an unusual daily ritual.

At a pre-arranged time, I get a phone call from a person who I have hired solely for the purpose of listening to me report my scores on a brief self-test. The questions, which I wrote myself, function as a simple checklist of my main priorities. For instance, have I done my best to exercise, set goals, have positive interactions with others, etc. My caller listens politely, records my scores, and then we hang up.

What’s the purpose of this self-rating? This process, which I call the “daily questions,” keeps me focused on becoming a happier, healthier person. It provides the discipline I sorely need in my chaotic working life as an executive coach, teacher and speaker, which involves traveling 180 days out of the year to countries all over the globe. And, it helps me get better at almost everything!

At the seminars I teach, I encourage students to try this for themselves by writing their own questions. Most of them are eager to participate. When I encounter a skeptic, he or she usually asks why I need to pay another person to remind me of such simple things – the list even includes whether I flossed my teeth. Shouldn’t I, a fully functional adult, remember to do that on my own?

Of course I should, and so should we all, but simple, daily behaviors are among the hardest things about our lives to control or change. Taken together, they can make the difference between a life well lived and a life gone hopelessly off course.

Perhaps because our culture lionizes willpower and independence, most of us believe that we aren’t supposed to need help with these fundamentals. Instead, we tend to believe help is warranted only for difficult, complex problems. From this perspective, the daily questions seem pointless at best. Why take a test for which I wrote the questions and to which I already know the answers? Not only that, I merely ask whether I’ve done my best to do achieve my goals – that’s a pretty soft standard. The only scale of success is, “Did I try?”

It sounds too easy. But after years of dedication to this process, I now hold the counterintuitive belief that the daily questions are in fact a very tough test, one of the hardest we’ll ever take.

At the moment, I have 29 daily questions. There is no correct number. It’s a personal choice, a function of how many issues you want to work on. Some of my clients have only three or four questions.

The first 13 of my questions ask whether I did my best to address a particular behavioral change or interpersonal challenge. For example, did I do my best to avoid angry or destructive comments? Did I do my best to find meaning in my work? The remaining 16 cover professional and personal self-discipline issues like how much sleep I got, how many minutes I devoted to writing, and whether I am up-to-date on my doctor appointments.

The daily work of behavioral change, which can do so much to re-orient our lives for the better, might seem overwhelming. The people we know we can be, the people we once dreamed of becoming, can recede ever farther as we try to stay afloat in our daily routines. We feel dissatisfied, and dissatisfaction slides easily into bitterness. Once the chance to make a change has passed, our bitterness solidifies into regret.

Think of the daily questions as a pragmatic antidote to those darker emotions. Put your goals on paper, or an excel spreadsheet. Measure every day, “Did I do my best to…?” Your problems won’t disappear, but you will exist in a different relation to them and you will improve. You are now the agent of change and prepared to get better at anything!

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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The Key to a Happy Life Isn’t What You Think

By Geoff Smart and Marshall Goldsmith

Marshall:  I see nearly everybody struggle with this.  Whether you are a janitor or a billionaire, you want a happy life.  But no matter how wealthy you are, you are likely looking for happiness in the wrong place.

Geoff:  The wrong place to look is the incessant pursuit of money or fame or extrinsic achievement that may or getting, getting, getting anything that may or may not happen in the future, right?

M: That’s the great Western disease—I’ll be happy when.  When I make a certain amount of money.  When I get an award.  When I complete some task.

G:  Our mutual friend Peter Drucker had a point of view on this subject, didn’t he?  I saw you quote our mentor in Triggers.  Drucker said, “Our mission in life should be to make a positive difference, not to prove how smart or right we are.”

M:  Peter Drucker saw throughout his long and expansive career how important it is to make a positive difference, for real, in other people’s lives.  He knew it was a key to success in business, and in life.

G:  I have observed that the happiest people have a spirit of generosity.  Generosity to me means giving real value to others.  At a low level, it’s being kind.  At a high level, it’s love, or leadership on a large scale.  Like Sister Rosemary in Uganda.  She rescued hundreds of girls who were kidnapped and abused by warlords and gave them jobs making jewelry.  Or Malala, who took a bullet to the face standing up for girls’ education rights.  That is generosity to the nth degree—willingness to risk your life to make another person’s life better.  But in ordinary life, it’s just a way of carrying yourself—being generous by holding a door, by giving a person a smile, by empathizing with a coworker who is having a bad day.  Basic human stuff that matters.

M:  I would tack on a yin to that yang.  Gratitude is equally important for happiness.  The most wise and happy people I have met—Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, etc.—all talk about, and they practice, deep gratitude.  What you notice when you talk with them is how freely they express gratitude.  Allowing yourself to feel deeply grateful is how you can do something bold.  Be happy now.  Not later.

G:  Your phrase, “Be happy now.”  I really like that.  Do you remember when our friend Chris Cappy brought that biofeedback machine to our author’s group, to show us the value of gratitude?

M:  Yes.  He showed us how “gratitude” is a mental state that a) you can most easily decide to feel, and b) has the most immediate effect on improving your physical, not just mental, wellbeing.  The challenge is to remember to do it!  It’s important to create triggers in your work and in your life to remember to focus on gratitude.

G:  That session really had a positive effect on me.  In fact, I lobbied my colleagues to include “generosity & gratitude” in my firm’s list of five values.  We refer to it a lot internally, in measuring our culture, and we use it on the scorecard of whom we hire.  Those are the triggers we use to remember it.

M:  That’s smart.  It’s a good thing you were not named Dr. Dumb, by the way.

G:  Thank you for the laugh!  And it’s a good thing you were not named Dr. Pyritesmith, by the way.  Get it?  Pyrite, as in fool’s gold?

M:  To summarize our little philosophical chat here, the key to a happy life isn’t what people think.  It’s not wealth, fame, achievement, or even relationships.  It’s putting generosity and gratitude at the center of everything you do at work and in life.

Click this link to watch a video about the best coaching advice you’ll ever get.

Dr. Geoff Smart is Chairman & Founder of ghSMART, a leadership consulting firm that exists to help leaders amplify their positive impact on the world.  Click for his downloadable free tools, and events.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is the #1 coach in the world, #1 leadership thinker, and million-selling author of 35 books. Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. Visit marshallgoldsmith.com for free articles and videos.

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Employee Engagement Isn’t Working. Now What?

Every company and leader wants the answer to this “Now what?” question. Engaged employees translate into a productive and successful organization, which is the goal of most every leader and organization I know. And, engagement also translates into a great place to work, which is what employees want.

As a Fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources, the highest award that can be given to an HR professional in the US, I’ve been to many HR conventions. At these sessions, incredibly smart, prepared HR professionals declare that to increase employee engagement we need more rewards, recognition, training, and empowerment in organizations, that companies need more and better programs to engage their employees.

And yet, these programs are not working. In the same speeches suggesting more employee engagement programs, HR professionals state that employee engagement is at an all-time low. Something is not working!

Perhaps we can take a lesson from Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford, on how to address this challenging and significant issue.

A Lesson from Alan Mulally

In 2006, when Alan assumed the role of CEO at the Ford Motor Company, Ford had just posted the largest annual loss in their 103 year history.

As his first official act at Ford, Alan brought his leadership team together and asked them to share their top five priorities for their companies, and assess the progress of each priority using a green-yellow-red scoring system for good-concerned-poor.

At that meeting, the entire team assessed each of their priorities as green (good!). This would be great, but the company was headed towards a record $17 billion loss! (This is similar to HR’s employee engagement issue. If all of the employee engagement programs are working so well, why is employee engagement at an all-time low, unless that is the goal?)

Alan told the team that if a $17 billion loss was their plan, then they were right on target. Recognizing the incongruity between their goals and reality, the team tried again and came back the following week, but still all priorities were green. It took some weeks before Mark Fields finally stood up and said “Red”.

This was a turning point for Ford. Someone had admitted there was a problem! Alan applauded Mark for standing up. He facilitated a team discussion and they worked together towards a solution. It worked! Not only did that red eventually become green, but in the coming weeks, more team members brought their challenges to the group and they all worked together in one of the greatest turnarounds in history.

Back to Employee Engagement

This to me is where we are with employee engagement. We’ve got to be able to admit that something isn’t working with all of our rewards and recognition programs, and work together towards a solution. This means everyone – not just the leaders and companies, but the employees too.

When I listen to the presentations at these HR conventions, everything that these great HR leaders talk about is focused on what the company can do to engage the employees – absolutely nothing that they discuss is focused on what the employees can do to engage themselves. These presentations are incredibly effective at describing half of the equation.

They are very persuasive at explaining how the company can increase the employee’s engagement and they completely ignore how the employees could increase their own engagement.

On American Airlines alone, I have over 11 million frequent flyer miles. Most flight attendants do a great job. On the occasional flight, there are two flight attendants, one is positive motivated upbeat and enthusiastic – while the other is negative, bitter, angry and cynical. I’m sure you have been on this flight before.

What is the difference? The difference is not what the company is providing. Both flight attendants may be making the same pay, with the same uniform, with the same customers, on the same plane, with the same employee engagement program.

What is the difference? The difference is not what is on the outside. The difference is what is on the inside.

While I respect and appreciate everything I hear from the HR leaders at these conferences, I believe we are missing the most important factor in employee engagement – the person who is doing the work.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how we can engage ourselves at work. If we work together, I know we can come up with solutions to this significant challenge of low employee engagement that address the other half of the equation – you and me!

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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Stop! Don’t Make the #1 Mistake in Business

Marshall and Geoff Smart

By Geoff Smart and Marshall Goldsmith

What’s the #1 mistake in business?

Marshall:  How do you define “#1 mistake?”

Geoff:  Let’s define it as a mistake that is most common, most damaging, and most preventable.

M:  I believe the #1 mistake in business is the failure to follow up.  Work is so fast and so complex these days.  So much chance for distraction.  In one of the largest studies ever done on the effects of executive coaching–over 70,000 respondents, we learned that the biggest mistake coaches make is in not following up.  It didn’t matter who the coach was, or what method they used.  Failing to follow up made any approach to coaching ineffective.

G: We agree on this one.  The #1 mistake is failure to follow up on the priorities that matter most.  I think following up is hard for many leaders.  They either lack the discipline to create a “cadence of accountability” for themselves and their team, or they fear being perceived as difficult.

M:  OK, so now let’s talk about how to avoid making this mistake of not following up?

G: I remember in your book Triggers you talk about Alan Mulally and his amazingly simple follow-up system he used with his senior team around regularly discussing red/yellow/green priorities.  And in my book Power Score, it’s a similar observation:  former Marine and FedEx founder Fred Smith in our interview of him was all about follow-up, follow-up, follow-up.  When people know there is going to be follow-up, they have a way of finding a way to deliver the results.  When they don’t think you are going to follow up, they allow themselves to be distracted by other things.

M:  What gets measured gets done.

G:  Inspect what you expect.

M:  I like to teach leaders about the trigger-routine-outcome cycle.  It’s related to the concept in motivational psychology of antecedent-behavior-consequence cycle.  As a leader, you create a trigger, a routine of behaviors with a daily follow-up plan, and then you are much more likely to achieve an outcome.  Most of the time when we think of creating a trigger, we create a new behavior, preserve a positive behavior, eliminate a negative behavior, or accept something that is not going to change.  And once we establish that cycle, it’s really the follow-up that makes the desired outcome happen.  Structure is good.  Follow-up doesn’t happen without structure.

G: What about entrepreneurs or people who say that following up takes too much time?

M: I say to them, you have to just decide how successful you want to be.  If you want to be busy, then be busy.  But if you want to achieve great things, it takes follow-up.

Dr. Geoff Smart is Chairman & Founder of ghSMART, a leadership consulting firm that exists to help leaders amplify their positive impact on the world.  Click for his downloadable free tools, and events.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is the #1 coach in the world, #1 leadership thinker, and million-selling author of 35 books. Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. Visit marshallgoldsmith.com for free articles and videos.

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Why Not Mess Up a Good Thing?

We rarely get credit for not messing up a good thing. A number of years ago, a politician put it this way, “The most thankless decision I make is the one that prevents something bad from happening, because I can never prove that I prevented something even worse!”

Because there’s no big show of change, there’s no shiny, new object when you make the decision to preserve something, most people rarely ask themselves “What in my life is worth keeping?”

When it comes to behavioral change, successful people, by definition, are doing a lot of things correctly, so they have a lot to preserve. Yet, they also have a baseline urge that equates steady advancement with constant improvement. They’re geared to fight the status quo, not maintain it. When they face the choice of being good or getting even better, they instinctively opt for the latter—and risk losing some desirable qualities.

In its subtle way, preserving can be transformational.

One of my best friends and all-time heroes is Frances Hesselbein. Frances, whom Fortune magazine called the “best non-profit manager in America,” became CEO of the Girl Scouts of America in 1976. Her mandate was to transform a hidebound organization with declining membership, a reliance on 120 volunteers for every paid staff member, and an antiquated image that no longer applied to young girls of the times. The urge to scrap everything and rebuild from the ground up would have been understandable.

She called it “Tradition with a Future.”

Frances, who years before becoming CEO had volunteered with Troop 17 of the Girl Scouts in her hometown in Pennsylvania, knew that the organization had a lot worth preserving. For instance, its door-to-door cookie sales and its identity as a moral guide for young women. Frances showed her staff and volunteers that it was more important than ever to reach out to girls, given the emerging threats of drugs and teen pregnancy. Frances’s radical combination of preserving and creating inspired the organization with new purpose. The result? In her years as CEO, membership quadrupled and diversity tripled.

Preserving may sound passive and mundane, but it is a real choice. It requires soul-searching to figure out what serves us well, and discipline to refrain from abandoning it for something else!

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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Two Leadership Titans Disagree about the #1

Marshall and Geoff Smart

By Geoff Smart and Marshall Goldsmith

What’s the #1 key to success?

Geoff: Marshall!  Let’s start by saying what we think isn’t the #1 key to success.  This should raise some eyebrows.  There are so may people with an opinion on this subject—commencement address-givers, authors, coaches, etc.

Marshall: The #1 key to success is not passion, trust, honesty, engagement, customer delight…

G: Yep, or financial tricks, being competitive, humility, or hard work.  Those are very short-term-oriented, or very common.

M:  To me, the #1 key to success is “creating lasting positive change in yourself and others.”  That is what is most rare, most difficult, and most valuable about leading people.

G:  I figured you might say that.  You are the positive behavior change guy.  I’m going to go with “hiring talented teams”—the who, not the how, of leadership.

M:  Of course you would say that.  You are the who guy.

G:  Who are you, who who, who who?

M:  Stop singing.  OK, I’ll make the case for creating lasting positive change in yourself and others.  It’s simple.  I’ve coached over 300 CEOs.  So I’ve seen what successful ones do, and what unsuccessful ones do.  And I’ve seen unsuccessful ones change into successful ones.  And in each of these cases of success, at the root I see a commitment that is made.  The commitment to make a change in behavior that will have the greatest positive affect on their performance and on their career.  It can be anything.  But by definition, committing to make the most useful change you can make, and then following through on that commitment, does more to keep people successful, or make people successful, than wishful thinking, or believing in a principle that they don’t act on.

G:  I hear you.  All we have is ourselves.  And behavior change is where the rubber meets the road.  Therefore, if we make the most positive change we can make, we have unlocked the #1 key to success.  That’s what I understand you are saying.

M:  Exactly.

G: And I love your 20 behavior derailers.  And I love how you charge your clients $20 if they fail at one of these in front of you.  Winning too much, adding too much value, passing judgment, making destructive comments, starting with no/but/however, telling the world how smart we are, speaking when angry, negativity, withholding information, failing to give proper recognition, claiming credit we don’t deserve, making excuses, clinging to the past, playing favorites, refusing to express regret, not listening, failing to express gratitude, punishing the messenger, passing the buck, excessive need to be “me.”

M:  Yes, I’m glad you read my What Got You Here Won’t Get You There book.

G:  That’s where we disagree I think.  I don’t view leadership as what one single person does.  I view a leader as an “assembler” of a talented team of people.  Like an allocator of human capital, whose job it is to identify a group’s goal and then put together the very best people to achieve it.  Therefore, what one person decides is less impactful than hiring a talented team of people.

M:  Yes yes, the talent of a team is important.  And I know your 4 steps to improving your hiring success rate from 50% to 90%:  scorecard, source, select, and sell.

G:  So you skimmed the summary of my Who book.  Nice.

M:  But a team that is not committed to their own positive behavior change, or affecting maximum positive behavior change in others, is not going to succeed.  So I’ll conclude by reiterating that the most fundamental “gene” if you will, in success, is the commitment to positive behavior change in yourself and others.

G:  And I’ll respectfully see your steadfast commitment to your own teachings and books, and raise you my own dogma.  Who matters.  And one more thing.  Don’t start a sentence with “But.”  You owe me $20.

Dr. Geoff Smart is Chairman & Founder of ghSMART, a leadership consulting firm that exists to help leaders amplify their positive impact on the world.  Click for his downloadable free tools, and events.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is the #1 coach in the world, #1 leadership thinker, and million-selling author of 35 books. Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. Visitmarshallgoldsmith.com for free articles and videos.

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