You’ve Changed! Why Didn’t They Notice?

It’s much harder to change others’ perceptions of our behavior than it is to change our own behavior. People’s perceptions of us are formed when they observe a sequence of actions we take that resemble one another. When other people see a pattern of resemblance, that’s when they start forming their perceptions of us.

For example, one day you’re asked to make a presentation in a meeting. Speaking in public may be the greatest fear among adults, but in this instance you don’t choke or crumble. You give a great presentation, magically emerging as someone who can stand up in front of people and be commanding, knowledgeable, and articulate. Everyone in attendance is impressed. They never knew this side of you. That said, this is not the moment when your reputation as a great public speaker jells into shape. But a seed has been sown in people’s minds. If you repeat the performance another time, and another, and another, eventually their perception of you as an effective speaker will solidify.

Negative reputations form in the same unhurried, incremental way. Let’s say you’re a fresh-faced manager looking at your first big crisis at work. You can react with poise or panic, clarity or confusion, aggressiveness or passivity. It’s your call. In this instance, you do not distinguish yourself as a leader. You fumble the moment and your group takes the hit. Fortunately for you, this is not the moment when your reputation as someone who can’t handle pressure is formed. It’s too soon to tell. But again, the seed has been sown—people are watching, waiting for a repeat performance. Only when you demonstrate your ineffectiveness in another crisis, and then another, will their perception of you as someone who wilts at crunch time take shape.

Because we don’t keep track of our repeat behavior, but they do, we don’t see the patterns that others see. These are the patterns that shape others’ perceptions of us—and yet we’re largely oblivious to them! And once their perceptions are set, it is very difficult to change them. That’s because, according to the theory of cognitive dissonance, people see what they expect to see, not what is there! So, even if you finally do choke a presentation – people will excuse it saying you just had a bad day or they will think it was great because that’s what they expect. And, even if you save the day in a crisis, it will not change people’s perceptions of you. They will consider it a one-off event or they will not notice your part in it at all.

So, what do you do? The challenge is that just as one event doesn’t form people’s positive perceptions of you, neither will one corrective gesture reform their views of you. Change doesn’t happen overnight. You need a sequence of consistent, similar actions to begin the rebuilding process. This is doable, but it requires personal insight and, most of all, discipline. A lot of discipline.

You have to be consistent in how you present yourself—to the point where you don’t mind being “guilty of repeating yourself”. If you abandon the consistency, people will get confused and the perception you are trying to change will get muddied by conflicting evidence that you are just the same as you were.

Finally, you have to follow up with those whose perceptions you are trying to change. Go to them every month or two and ask, “Ms. Co-Worker, It’s been one month [two months, three months] since I told you I was going to try to change this behavior. How am I doing?” Your co-worker will pause and reflect, “You’re doing good Co-Worker. Keep it up!” In this way, they will repeatedly acknowledge that they are seeing a change in your behavior. And, if you do fall back into an old behavior one time after a few months, they will remember how you have been doing great for such a period of time and will likely let it slide!

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was selected as one of the 10 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50 in both 2011 and 2013. He was also selected as the World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinker in 2011. Marshall was the highest rated executive coach on the Thinkers50 List in both 2011 and 2013. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was listed as a top ten business bestseller for 2013 by INC Magazine / 800 CEO Read (for the seventh consecutive year). Marshall’s exciting new research on engagement will be published in his upcoming book Triggers (Crown, 2015).

 

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Behavioral Change as Simple as 1, 2, 3!

My mission is to help successful leaders achieve positive, long-term, measurable change in behavior. The following process is being used by coaches around the world for this same purpose. When these steps are followed, leaders almost always achieve positive, measurable results in changed behavior – not as judged by themselves, but as judged by pre-selected, key co-workers. This process has been used with great success by both external coaches and internal coaches.

If the coach will follow these basic steps, clients almost always get better!

  1. Involve the leaders being coached in determining the desired behavior in their leadership roles. Leaders cannot be expected to change behavior if they don’t have a clear understanding of what desired behavior looks like. The people that I coach (in agreement with their managers) work with me to determine desired leadership behavior.
  2. Involve the leaders being coached in determining key stakeholders. Not only do clients need to be clear on desired behaviors, they need to be clear (again in agreement with their managers) on key stakeholders. There are two major reasons why people deny the validity of feedback, wrong items, or wrong raters. Having clients and their managers agree on the desired behaviors and key stakeholders in advance helps ensure their “buy in” to the process.
  3. Collect feedback. In my coaching practice, I personally interview all key stakeholders. The people who I am coaching are all CEOs or potential CEOs, and the company is making a real investment in their development. However, at lower levels in the organization (that are more price sensitive), traditional 360° feedback can work very well. In either case, feedback is critical. It is impossible to get evaluated on changed behavior if there is not agreement on what behavior to change!
  4. Reach agreement on key behaviors for change. As I have become more experienced, my approach has become simpler and more focused. I generally recommend picking only one to two key areas for behavioral change with each client. This helps ensure maximum attention to the most important behavior. My clients and their managers (unless my client is the CEO) agree upon the desired behavior for change. This ensures that I won’t spend a year working with my clients and have their managers determine that we have worked on the wrong thing!
  5. Have the coaching clients respond to key stakeholders. The person being reviewed should talk with each key stakeholder and collect additional “feedforward” suggestions on how to improve the key areas targeted for improvement. In responding, the person being coached should keep the conversation positive, simple, and focused. When mistakes have been made in the past, it is generally a good idea to apologize and ask for help in changing the future. I suggest that my clients listen to stakeholder suggestions and not judge the suggestions.
  6. Review what has been learned with clients and help them develop an action plan. As was stated earlier, my clients have to agree to the basic steps in our process. On the other hand, outside of the basic steps, all of the other ideas that I share with my clients are I just ask them to listen to my ideas in the same way they are listening to the ideas from their key stakeholders. I then ask them to come back with a plan of what they want to do. These plans need to come from them, not me. After reviewing their plans, I almost always encourage them to live up to their own commitments. I am much more of a facilitator than a judge. I usually just help my clients do what they know is the right thing to do.
  7. Develop an ongoing follow-up process. Ongoing follow-up should be very efficient and focused. Questions like, “Based upon my behavior last month, what ideas do you have for me for next month?” can keep a focus on the future. Within six months conduct a two- to six-item mini-survey with key stakeholders. They should be asked whether the person has become more or less effective in the areas targeted for improvement.
  8. Review results and start again. If the person being coached has taken the process seriously, stakeholders almost invariably report improvement. Build on that success by repeating the process for the next 12 to 18 months. This type of follow-up will assure continued progress on initial goals and uncover additional areas for improvement. Stakeholders will appreciate the follow-up. No one minds filling out a focused, two- to six-item questionnaire if they see positive results. The person being coached will benefit from ongoing, targeted steps to improve performance.

While behavioral coaching is only one branch in the coaching field, it is the most widely used type of coaching. Most requests for coaching involve behavioral change. While this process can be very meaningful and valuable for top executives, it can be even more useful for high-potential future leaders. These are the people who have great careers in front of them. Increasing effectiveness in leading people can have an even greater impact if it is a 20-year process, instead of a one-year program.

People often ask, “Can executives really change their behavior?” The answer is definitely yes. At the top of major organizations even a small positive change in behavior can have a big impact. From an organizational perspective, the fact that the executive is trying to change anything (and is being a role model for personal development) may be even more important than what the executive is trying to change. One key message that I have given every CEO that I coach is “To help others develop – start with yourself!”

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was selected as one of the 10 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50 in both 2011 and 2013. He was also selected as the World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinker in 2011. Marshall was the highest rated executive coach on the Thinkers50 List in both 2011 and 2013. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was listed as a top ten business bestseller for 2013 by INC Magazine / 800 CEO Read (for the seventh consecutive year). Marshall’s exciting new research on engagement will be published in his upcoming book Triggers (Crown, 2015).

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What Does Uncoachable (and Unchangeable) Look Like?

Even if you are the best coach in the world, if the person you are coaching shouldn’t be coached, the coaching isn’t going to work. The good news is that the “uncoachables” are easier than you think to spot.

How do you know when someone is uncoachable? How do you detect a lost cause? Following are four indicators that you are dealing with one of these people:

1. She doesn’t think she has a problem.

This successful adult has no interest in changing. Her behavior is working fine for her. If she doesn’t care to change, you are wasting your time! Let me give you an example of a nice woman who didn’t think she had a problem. My mother, a lovely woman and much-admired first-grade teacher, was so dedicated to her craft that she didn’t draw the line between inside and outside the classroom. She talked to all of us, including my father, in the same slow, patient manner, using the same simple vocabulary that she used with her six-year-olds every day. One day as she graciously and methodically corrected his grammar for the millionth time, he looked at her, sighed, and said, “Honey, I’m 70 years old. Let it go.” My father had absolutely no interest in changing. He didn’t perceive a problem. So no matter how much, how hard, or how diligently she coached, he wasn’t going to change.

2. He is pursuing the wrong strategy for the organization.

If this guy is already going in the wrong direction, all you’re going to do with your coaching is help him get there faster.

3. They’re in the wrong job.

Sometimes people feel that they’re in the wrong job with the wrong company. They may believe they’re meant to be doing something else or that their skills are being misused. Here’s a good way to determine if you’re working with one of these people. Ask them, “If we shut down the company today, would you be relieved, surprised, or sad?” If you hear ‘relieved,’ you’ve got yourself a live one. Send them packing. You can’t change the behavior of unhappy people so that they become happy: You can only fix behavior that’s making people around them unhappy.

4. They think everyone else is the problem.

A long time ago I had a client who, after a few high-profile employee departures, was concerned about employee morale. He had a fun, successful company and people liked the work, but feedback said that the boss played favorites in the way he compensated people. When I reported this feedback to my client, he completely surprised me. He said he agreed with the charge and thought he was right to do so. First off, I’m not a compensation strategist and so I wasn’t equipped to deal with this problem, but then he surprised me again. He hadn’t called me to help him change; he wanted me to fix his employees. It’s times like these that I find the nearest exit. It’s hard to help people who don’t think they have a problem. It’s impossible to fix people who think someone else is the problem.

My suggestion in cases like these? Save time, skip the heroic measures, and move on. These are arguments you can never win!

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was selected as one of the 10 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50 in both 2011 and 2013. He was also selected as the World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinker in 2011. Marshall was the highest rated executive coach on the Thinkers50 List in both 2011 and 2013. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was listed as a top ten business bestseller for 2013 by INC Magazine / 800 CEO Read (for the seventh consecutive year). Marshall’s exciting new research on engagement will be published in his upcoming book Triggers (Crown, 2015).

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10 Surefire Reasons to Try Feedforward!

By Marshall Goldsmith

Leaders have to give feedback and performance appraisals have to be made. This is a given. Yet, there are many times when feedforward is preferable to feedback in day-to-day interactions. Feedforward is a group exercise, the purpose of which is to provide individuals with suggestions for the future and to help them achieve a positive change in the behaviors as selected by them. Aside from its effectiveness and efficiency, feedforward can make life a lot more enjoyable. (For a more detailed description of the Feedforward, please see the Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video entitled Feedforward: Coaching for Behavioral Change (see below):

Here are 10 reasons participants in my classes see feedforward as fun and helpful as opposed to painful, embarrassing, or uncomfortable. These descriptions provide a great explanation of why feedforward can often be more useful than feedback as a developmental tool.

1. We can change the future. We can’t change the past. Feedforward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past. By giving people ideas on how they can be even more successful (as opposed to visualizing a failed past), we can increase their chances of achieving this success in the future.

2. It can be more productive to help people learn to be “right,” than prove they were “wrong.” Negative feedback often becomes an exercise in “let me prove you were wrong.” Feedforward, on the other hand, is almost always seen as positive because it focuses on solutions – not problems.

3. Feedforward is especially suited to successful people. Successful people like getting ideas that are aimed at helping them achieve their goals. They tend to resist negative judgment. I have observed many successful executives respond to (and even enjoy) feedforward. I am not sure that these same people would have had such a positive reaction to feedback.

4. Feedforward can come from anyone who knows about the task. It does not require personal experience with the individual. One very common positive reaction to the previously described exercise is that participants are amazed by how much they can learn from people that they don’t know!

5. People do not take feedforward as personally as feedback. In theory, constructive feedback is supposed to “focus on the performance, not the person”. In practice, almost all feedback is taken personally (no matter how it is delivered). Feedforward cannot involve a personal critique, since it is discussing something that has not yet happened!

6. Feedback can reinforce personal stereotyping and negative self-fulfilling prophecies.  Feedforward can reinforce the possibility of change. Feedback can reinforce the feeling of failure. Negative feedback can be used to reinforce the message, “this is just the way you are”. Feedforward is based on the assumption that the receiver of suggestions can make positive changes in the future.

7. Face it! Most of us hate getting negative feedback, and we don’t like to give it.  I have reviewed summary 360 feedback reports from many companies. The items “provides developmental feedback in a timely manner” and “encourages and accepts constructive criticism” always score near the bottom on co-worker satisfaction with leaders. It’s clear that leaders are not very good at giving or receiving negative feedback. It is unlikely that this will change in the near future.

8. Feedforward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback. An excellent technique for giving ideas to successful people is to say, “Here are four ideas for the future. Please accept these in the positive spirit that they are given and ignore what doesn’t make sense for you.” With this approach almost no time gets wasted on judging the quality of the ideas or “proving that the ideas are wrong”.

9. Feedforward can be a useful tool to apply with managers, peers, and team members. Rightly or wrongly, feedback is associated with judgment. This can lead to very negative – or even career-limiting – unintended consequences when applied to managers or peers. Feedforward does not imply superiority of judgment. As such it can be easier to hear from a person who is not in a position of power or authority.

And, finally, reason #10 why feedforward can work better than feedback is…

10.  People tend to listen more attentively to feedforward than feedback. One participant in the feedforward exercise noted, “I think that I listened more effectively in this exercise than I ever do at work!” When asked why, he responded, “Normally, when others are speaking, I am so busy composing a reply that will make sure that I sound smart – that I am not fully listening to what the other person is saying I am just composing my response. In feedforward the only reply that I am allowed to make is ‘thank you’. Since I don’t have to worry about composing a clever reply – I can focus all of my energy on listening to the other person!”

Quality communication—between and among people at all levels and every department and division—is the glue that holds organizations together. By using feedforward—and by encouraging others to use it—leaders can dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations, ensuring that the right message is conveyed, and that those who receive it are receptive to its content. The result is a much more dynamic, much more open organization—one whose employees focus on the promise of the future rather than dwelling on the mistakes of the past. Try it for yourself and see!

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was selected as one of the 10 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50 in both 2011 and 2013. He was also selected as the World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinker in 2011. Marshall was the highest rated executive coach on the Thinkers50 List in both 2011 and 2013. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was listed as a top ten business bestseller for 2013 by INC Magazine / 800 CEO Read(for the seventh consecutive year). Marshall’s exciting new research on engagement will be published in his upcoming book Triggers (Crown, 2015).

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Put Your $$ Where Your Mouth Is!

Coaching for Behavioral Change: Learning from a Great Leader

I believe that many leadership coaches are paid for the wrong reasons. Their income is 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 personal 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!

The story you’re about to read is the story of how, and why, I came to use a “pay-only-for-results” model in my coaching practice.

Those who know me well know that I have an unusual arrangement with my coaching clients. They only pay me if they get better—meaning they achieve positive, measurable change.

The catch? The client doesn’t determine if he or she is “better.” Their key stakeholders (bosses, colleagues, direct reports, spouses, and others who work with them closely) do. This compensation system gives everyone–coach, client, and stakeholders—an important role in the process.

This “pay-for-results” idea wasn’t mine. It came from Dennis Mudd, my boss 48 years ago. Growing up in Valley Station, KY, we were poor. My dad operated a two-pump gas station. My mom was a school teacher. When the roof on our home started to leak badly, we had no choice but to replace it. My dad hired Dennis and to save some money I worked as his assistant.

It was a blazing hot summer in Kentucky, and this was HARD work! I watched Mr. Mudd as he took great care in laying each shingle. He was patient with me, despite my mistakes. He helped me learn to do the job right. I looked forward to working with Mr. Mudd every day, and my initial begrudging willingness to do the job turned into a deep sense of pride in what we were doing.

When we finished, I thought the roof looked great. Mr. Mudd presented my dad with his invoice and said quietly, “Bill, please take your time and inspect our work. If you feel that this roof meets your standards, pay us. If not, there is no charge for our work.” And he meant it.

Dad looked carefully at the roof, thanked both of us for a job well done and paid Mr. Mudd, who then paid me for my help.

I will never forget watching Dennis Mudd when he asked Dad to pay only if he was pleased with the results. I knew he was dead serious and my respect for Mr. Mudd skyrocketed. I was only 14 years old, but the incident made a huge impression on me. I knew the Mudd family. They didn’t have any more money than we did. I thought: Mr. Mudd may be poor, but he is not cheap. This guy has class. When I grow up, I want to be like Dennis Mudd.

How much would not getting paid have hurt Dennis Mudd? A lot. If my dad hadn’t paid him, it would have meant the Mudds wouldn’t have eaten very well for the next couple of months. Mr. Mudd’s pride and integrity were more important to him than money, and he had enough faith in the quality of his work, and in my father, to make the offer he did.

Dennis Mudd didn’t use buzzwords such as “empowerment” or “customer delight.” He didn’t give pep talks about quality or values. These were unnecessary. His actions communicated his values better than any buzzwords could.

The next time you are working on a project, ask yourself, “What would happen to my level of commitment if I knew I was only going to be paid if I achieved results?” Think about it. How would your behavior change?

Dennis Mudd taught me a lesson I will try to live up to for the rest of my life. What is important is not how much he impressed me. What is much more important is that he could look with pride at the person he saw in the mirror every day.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was selected as one of the 10 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50 in both 2011 and 2013. He was also selected as the World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinker in 2011. Marshall was the highest rated executive coach on the Thinkers50 List in both 2011 and 2013. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was listed as a top ten business bestseller for 2013 by INC Magazine / 800 CEO Read (for the seventh consecutive year). Marshall’s exciting new research on engagement will be published in his upcoming book Triggers (Crown, 2015).

 

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Why Didn’t You Get Better? You Didn’t Follow-up!

Clearly, affirmatively, I can tell you that you will not get better if you do not follow-up. Once you’ve mastered the subtleties of asking, listening, thanking, apologizing, involving, and initiating change in your behavior, you must follow-up relentlessly! If you don’t, all your hard work is just a flash in the pan, a “program of the month”, and another reason why people don’t trust that anything ever really changes.

I teach my clients to go back to all of their coworkers every month or two to ask them for comments and suggestions. For instance, one of my clients who had a problem sharing and including his peers in organizational happenings went to each colleague and said the following, “Last month I told you that I would try to get better at being more inclusive. You gave me some ideas and I would like to know if you think I have effectively put them into practice.” That question forced his colleagues to think, once again, about his efforts to change, to mentally gauge how he was progressing, and to keep focused on his continuous improvement.

If you do this every month, your colleagues eventually begin to accept that you are getting better, not because you say so, but because they see so and they are reminded that they are seeing you change every time you ask them to look at you! When I tell you, “I’m getting better,” I believe it. When I ask you, “Am I getting better?” and you say I am, then you believe it.

Follow-up is the last step of the Leadership Is a Contact Sport behavioral change process. You’ve walked through Ask, Listen, Think, Thank, Respond, Involve, Change – and now it’s time to follow-up. This is the longest part of the process of changing for the better. It can go on, and should go on, for 12 to 18 months. And, fittingly, with all this time spent on this last step, you will find that it is the difference maker in this whole process.

Follow-up is how you measure your progress.

Follow-up is how our efforts eventually get imprinted on our colleagues’ minds.

Follow-up is how we erase our coworkers’ skepticism that we can change.

Follow-up is how we acknowledge to ourselves and others that getting better is an ongoing process, not a temporary conversion.

More than anything, follow-up makes us change. It gives us the momentum, even the courage, to go beyond understanding what we need to do to change and actually doing what we need to do to change, because in engaging in the follow-up process, we are changing!

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was selected as one of the 10 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50 in both 2011 and 2013. He was also selected as the World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinker in 2011. Marshall was the highest rated executive coach on the Thinkers50 List in both 2011 and 2013. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was listed as a top ten business bestseller for 2013 by INC Magazine / 800 CEO Read (for the seventh consecutive year). Marshall’s exciting new research on engagement will be published in his upcoming book Triggers (Crown, 2015).

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Improving Your Odds for Change

If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it fall, did it make a sound? This is the general conundrum behind why it is critical that you take the next two steps of the Leadership Is a Contact Sport behavioral change model very seriously. You’ve absolutely got to do them or this whole process just isn’t going to work. So, what are they? They are involve and change.

Involving is like advertising. You have to tell everyone exactly in what area you plan to change. You’ve said you’re sorry, you’ve apologized for the behavior, now you’re going to tell people you’re going to do something about it. This is a tough one, because it’s a lot harder to change people’s perceptions of your behavior than it is to change your behavior. That’s because people view you in accordance with their existing stereotype.

For example, if you think I’m an arrogant jerk, then everything you do, think, or feel about me, will be filtered through that perception. Within this framework, it’s almost impossible for me to be perceived by you as improving, no matter how hard I try. But! (This is the case of “But” being a really good word to use, despite the previously described, “No, But, However” bad habit discussed in my Teaching Leaders What to Stop series.)

Anyway, your odds of being perceived as getting better greatly improve if you tell people you are going to try to change. Suddenly your efforts are on their radar screens. If you tell everyone how hard you are trying and repeat the message week after week, your odds improve again. Your odds improve even more when you ask people for ideas on how you can get better. People become invested in you and they are paying attention to see if you are using their suggestions. With all of this advertising, people start to accept the possibility of a new you, and you have pointed everyone’s attention in the direction of the falling tree.

Change is simple, but it’s not easy. It’s hard. You have to do it. You have to put in the time and effort that it takes to change. That’s one of the big reasons why I take what I do so seriously. When people commit to getting better, they are doing something difficult and heroic. There isn’t a quick fix or easy solution. Lasting goal achievement requires a lot of time, hard work, personal sacrifice, ongoing effort, and dedication to a process that is maintained over years.

So, you’re committed, you’re ready, you’re willing to change. What holds you back? What might keep you from following through on your commitment to change? It comes in the form of a dream that most of us have had. I have this dream often. It goes like this:

You know, I’m incredibly busy right now. In fact, I’m busier than I’ve ever been. I feel overcommitted. My life even feels a little out of control. We’re working on some unique challenges now, and I think the worst of this will be over in a couple of months. After that, I’m going to spend a couple of week, getting organized, spending time with the family, working out. Everything is going to change then and life won’t be crazy anymore.

Have you had this dream? How long have you been having this dream? How’s it working for you?

If you want to change anything about yourself, the best time to start is now. Ask yourself, “What am I willing to change now?” just do that. That’s more than enough. For now.

 

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was selected as one of the 10 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50 in both 2011 and 2013. He was also selected as the World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinker in 2011. Marshall was the highest rated executive coach on the Thinkers50 List in both 2011 and 2013. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was listed as a top ten business bestseller for 2013 by INC Magazine / 800 CEO Read (for the seventh consecutive year). Marshall’s exciting new research on engagement will be published in his upcoming book Triggers (Crown, 2015).

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Respond: Leadership Is a Contact Sport

If there is one thing I know, it’s how to respond to feedback. A pioneer in the use of customized, 360 degree feedback (confidential feedback from direct reports, peers and managers) as a leadership development tool, I’ve spent the last 30 years using feedback to help people change for the better. In 1993, I received my first national recognition for this work and was ranked by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top ten executive educators in this extraordinary field, which has evolved to become known as “executive coaching.” So, yes, I do know a little about which I speak.

Enough about me. Let’s delve into this subject of responding to feedback. Don’t spend hours and hours on it. You want your response to be positive, simple, focused, and fast.

1) Positive: Thank your stakeholder for taking the time to provide you feedback. Acknowledge that you don’t know who said what, but you are very grateful that everyone took the time to provide this helpful information.

2) Simple: Mention to your stakeholder that there were many positive characteristics that were noted in the feedback and this is helpful and makes you feel good!

3) Focused: Then say that there is a behavior that came up that you would like to change. You would like to apologize for this bad habit. You would like to work on being (fill in the blank, stubborn, opinionated, a poor listener).

4) Fast: Ask your stakeholder for ideas about how you can improve in the future. Don’t critique these ideas. Fight the urge to judge them either good or bad. Just listen to this person’s ideas and say “Thank you.”

Here is a quick explanation of apologizing, the magic move when you respond to feedback. Genuinely apologizing is one of the most magical healing, restorative gestures a person can make. Without the apology, there is no recognition or acknowledgement that mistakes have been made, there is no announcement that you intend to change, and most importantly, there is no emotional contract between you and the people you care about.

It doesn’t matter how you’ve behaved, what you’ve done, or what has compelled you to apologize. Whatever has made you want to apologize, I’m all for it. Following is the apology instruction manual:

You say, “I’m sorry.” You can add, “I’ll try to do better in the future.” This isn’t necessary, but helps a lot, because when you let go of the past, it’s always nice to hint at a brighter future. And then you say… nothing. Don’t explain it. Don’t complicate it. Don’t qualify it. Any more words and you only risk saying something that will dilute it. As Ben Franklin said, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”

Finally, when it comes to apologizing, the soundest advice I can give you is to get in and get out as quickly as possible. The sooner you get the apology over with, the sooner you can move onto telling the world you are going to change.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was selected as one of the 10 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50 in both 2011 and 2013. He was also selected as the World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinker in 2011. Marshall was the highest rated executive coach on the Thinkers50 List in both 2011 and 2013. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was listed as a top ten business bestseller for 2013 by INC Magazine / 800 CEO Read (for the seventh consecutive year). Marshall’s exciting new research on engagement will be published in his upcoming book Triggers (Crown, 2015).

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Two Magic Words – Thank You!

Thanking works because it expresses one of our most basic emotions: gratitude. Not an abstraction, gratitude is a genuine emotion. It cannot be exacted or forced. You either feel it or you don’t. Yet, when someone does something nice for you, they expect gratitude and they think less of you for withholding it. Think about the last time you gave someone a gift. If they didn’t say thank you, how did you feel about them? Great person? Or ungrateful S.O.B.?

When someone gives you a gift, you wouldn’t say, “Stinky gift!” “Bad gift!” or “I already have this stupid gift!” (Unless you are a real jerk.) You would say, “Thank you.” If you can use the gift, use it. If you don’t want to use it, put it in the closet and “let it go.”

Similarly when you receive suggestions from your key stakeholders on how you can become a more effective leader, you can look at these suggestions as gifts—and treat your stakeholders as gift-givers. Just as you would not insult the person who is trying to be nice to you by giving you a gift, when your stakeholders give you ideas, you don’t want to insult them or their ideas. You want to learn to just say, “Thank you.”

I teach my clients to ask their key stakeholders for suggestions on how they can become more effective leaders, to listen to these ideas, think about the suggestions, to try out what makes sense—keep doing what works—and let go of what does not work.

We cannot promise to do everything that people suggest we should do. We can promise to listen to our key stakeholders, think about their ideas, and do what we can. This is all that we can promise – and this is all that they expect.

This works at work – in your efforts to become a better leader, team member, or co-worker.

This works at home – in your efforts to become a better friend or family member.

Who do you need to ask, “How can I become a better …?” How do you typically respond to suggestions? Do you treat them as gifts – or do you critique them and the person making them?

Our natural tendency when others give suggestions we don’t agree with is to immediately become defensive and prove they are wrong. Our natural tendency when others give suggestions we do agree with is to point out that we “already knew that,” implying that the suggestion is unnecessary.

The next time someone gives you an idea or counsel, listen without judgment, try to find value in what you’re hearing, and just say: “Thank you!”

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was selected as one of the 10 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50 in both 2011 and 2013. He was also selected as the World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinker in 2011. Marshall was the highest rated executive coach on the Thinkers50 List in both 2011 and 2013. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was listed as a top ten business bestseller for 2013 by INC Magazine / 800 CEO Read (for the seventh consecutive year). Marshall’s exciting new research on engagement will be published in his upcoming book Triggers (Crown, 2015).

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Think: Leadership Is a Contact Sport

Thinking before speaking is a challenge for a lot of people. It might even be hard for you, especially if you are trying to prove to the world how smart you are. Take the following little test and see if you’ve got this bad habit running through your communication with colleagues, friends, and employees.

Your assistant rushes into your office with news of an urgent document that needs your attention right away. What he doesn’t know is that you were alerted to the situation a few minutes earlier by another colleague. Do you a) accept the document and thank your assistant for his expediency and effort? b) tell your assistant you were already privy to the information and he has wasted precious time?

If you let the moment pass with a simple, “Thank you,” you’re in good shape. If you’re like a lot of people, you will find a way to communicate to your assistant that you are one step ahead of him. Your response may vary from a dismissive, “I already knew that!” to a more accusatory, “Why are you bothering me with this?” Either way, the damage is done.

It’s not hard to stop trying to prove how smart you are. This three-step drill will help: 1) pause before you open your mouth and ask yourself, “Is anything I am going to say worth it?” 2) conclude that it isn’t, and 3) say, “Thank you.” If you can stop yourself in this minor moment, with someone with whom you work closely and who knows you well, you’re in good shape. If not, try this visual on for comparison. Your CEO walks into your office with the same urgent document that you already know about. Would you tell her in the same impatient tone that you did your assistant that “you already know about it”? Probably not. It’s something to think about.

Trying to prove how smart we are is just one of the bad habits that leads us to speak without thinking. Another is speak when angry or out of control. Some people use anger as a management tool to some success. It can get people’s attention. The difficulty is that when you’re angry, you’re usually out of control, and it’s hard to lead people when you’re out of control. It’s also hard to predict how people will react to your anger. They will shut down as often as they will perk up.

The worst thing about anger is that it stifles your ability to change. Once you get a reputation for emotional volatility, it can take years of model behavior to change how others see you. But, that’s okay. You have to start somewhere.

How do you stop getting angry? My job is to show my clients that their anger is rarely someone else’s fault. It’s their flaw. A Buddhist legend tells of a young farmer paddling his boat up stream to deliver his produce to the village. As he looked ahead, he spied another vessel heading rapidly downstream, right towards him. He rowed furiously to get out of the way, to no avail. He yelled at the other vessel, “Change direction you idiot!” It didn’t work. The vessel rammed into his with a loud thud. The young farmer was enraged and yelled out to the other vessel, “You moron! You idiot! What is wrong with you?” No one responded, and the young man realized there was no one in the other boat. The lesson is simple. There is never anyone in the other boat. When we are angry, we are screaming at an empty boat.

All of us have people in our lives who drive us crazy. We’ve spent hours reliving the unfair, unappreciative, inconsiderate treatment they have inflicted on us. But getting mad at this person makes just about as much sense as getting mad at a chair for being a chair. She is who she is. If we had her genes, her background, and her parents, we would be her. It’s not easy, but you can do it. Suppress your inclination to speak when angry; bite your tongue. Once you appreciate the payoff of saying nothing (that silence keeps you from alienating people and damaging your own success), you have a chance of getting better!

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was selected as one of the 10 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50 in both 2011 and 2013. He was also selected as the World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinker in 2011. Marshall was the highest rated executive coach on the Thinkers50 List in both 2011 and 2013. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was listed as a top ten business bestseller for 2013 by INC Magazine / 800 CEO Read (for the seventh consecutive year). Marshall’s exciting new research on engagement will be published in his upcoming book Triggers (Crown, 2015).

 

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