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

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

In terms of spending clients’ time – my 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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Listen: Leadership Is a Contact Sport

In her book My Life in Leadership, Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts, CEO of The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute, and one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever met, wrote one of the best descriptions of listening and leadership I’ve ever read:

“Listening is an art. When people are speaking, they require our undivided attention. We focus on them; we listen very carefully. We listen to the spoken words and the unspoken messages. This means looking directly at the person, eyes connected; we forget we have a watch, just focusing for that moment on that person. It’s called respect, it’s called appreciation – and it’s called leadership.”

Let’s explore this art of listening a bit further. Did you know that 80 percent of our success in learning from other people is based on how well we listen? In other words, our success or failure is determined before we do anything. What escapes most people is they think listening is passive. They think they are supposed to just sit there and “hear someone out.” If you re-read Frances’ description, you’ll notice there is nothing passive about it. It is active and powerful. Good listeners know this. They regard listening as a highly active process.

So what do good (active) listeners do? In essence they do three things: They think before they speak; they listen with respect; and they are always gauging their response by asking themselves, “Is it [responding] worth it?”

1) Think before you speak: What do most of us do when we’re upset? We talk. When we’re confused, surprised, shocked? Talk. However, listening is a two-part process. During one part, we listen. During the other, we speak. What we say is proof of how well we’ve listened.

2) Listen with respect: To learn from people you have to listen to them with respect. This means engaging the speaker with your eye contact and body language, showing that you are interested in what they are saying, so that you can keep learning from what they are saying.

3) Ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”: Listening also requires answering this difficult question before you speak. A good way to make sense of this question is to realize that you are in effect taking the age-old question of self-interest, “What’s in it for me?” one step further and asking, “What’s in it for her?”

You’ve heard me say it many times over, this is pretty simple stuff, but it’s not easy. If you try listening actively and with respect you’ll be amazed at how much better things get. So many of our interpersonal problems at work stem from not listening and not thinking before we speak. You say something – I get mad. I lash out, and within seconds we have a crisis of miscommunication on our hands that can stop teams, departments, and organizations from functioning well.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the weather or the latest techie gadget, the content is totally irrelevant. What matters is how easily we can slip into small behavioral patterns that create friction in the workplace—and how just as easily we can assume behavioral patterns that don’t create friction. Really, it’s up to us. We can choose to practice simple disciplines like thinking before speaking, listening with respect, and asking “Is it worth it?” at work. It’s not that difficult, we just need to do it.

For those of you who want to change for the better in this area, try to do the following techniques during your next interpersonal encounter. Keep practicing. You will reap amazing benefits!

• Listen.
• Don’t interrupt.
• Don’t finish the other person’s sentences.
• Don’t say, “I knew that.”
• Don’t even agree with the other person. Even if he praises you, just say, “Thank you!”
• Don’t use the words, “no,” “but,” and “however.”
• Don’t be distracted. Don’t let your eyes or attention wander elsewhere while the other person is talking.
• Maintain your end of the dialogue by asking intelligent questions that a) show you’re paying attention, b) move the conversation forward, and c) require the other person to talk (while you listen).
• Eliminate any striving to impress the other person with how smart or funny you are. Your only aim is to let the other person feel that he or she is accomplishing that.

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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Ask: Leadership Is a Contact Sport

“Soliciting feedback” is just what the words imply. It is when we solicit opinions from people about what we are doing wrong. As simple as it sounds, it is not always so simple. Most people have two problems dealing with negative feedback. This may not sound like many, but they are big problems. The first is we don’t want to hear it and the second is we don’t want to give it.

The reason we don’t want to hear it is because negative feedback is inconsistent with our self-image and so we reject it. Did you know that of all the classes I’ve taught 95 percent of members believe they are in the top half of their group? While this is statistically impossible, it is psychologically real. Proving to successful people that they are “wrong” works just about as well as making them change.

The reason we don’t want to give it is because our leaders and managers have power over us, our paychecks, advancement, and job security. The more successful a person is the more power they have. Combine that power with the fairly predictable “kill the messenger” response to negative feedback and you can see why people don’t want to give feedback.

There are some other difficulties with traditional face-to-face negative feedback. Most of them boil down to the fact that it focuses on failures of the past not positive actions for the future. Feedback can reinforce our feelings of failure, and our reactions to this are rarely positive. More than anything, negative feedback shuts us down. We need honest, helpful feedback, which is hard to find.

That’s enough about what’s wrong with feedback. Let’s talk about the good stuff. Feedback is very useful for telling us “where we are.” Without it, I couldn’t work with my clients. I wouldn’t know what the people around my client think about what he or she needs to change. Likewise, without feedback, we wouldn’t know if were getting better or worse. We all need feedback to see where we are, where we need to go, and to measure our progress along the way. And I have a foolproof method for securing it.

When I work with coaching clients I always get confidential feedback from their coworkers at the beginning of the process. I enlist each person to help me out. I want them to assist not sabotage the change process. I do this by saying to them, “I’m going to be working with my client for the next year. I don’t get paid if she doesn’t get better. Better is not defined by me; it is not defined by her. It is defined by you and the other coworkers involved in the process.” I then present them with four requests. I ask them to commit to:

1. Let go of the past.

2. Tell the truth.

3. Be supportive and helpful—not cynical or negative.

4. Pick something to improve themselves, so everyone is focused on more “improving” than “judging.”

As you contemplate changing your behavior yourself, without my personal assistance, you will need to do this same thing with your colleagues. Pick about a dozen people with whom you’ve had professional contact—work friends, peers, colleagues—and ask them to agree to these four commitments. When they do, which they nearly always will, you are ready to begin soliciting feedback from them about yourself.

In my experience, there are a hundred wrong ways to ask for feedback and one right way. Most of us know the wrong ways. We ask people, “What do you think of me?” “How do you feel about me?” “What do you hate about me?” or “What do you like about me?” Think about your colleagues. How many of them are your friends? How many of them really want to express to you their “true” feelings about you, to you?

A better question (and in my opinion the only question that works) is, “How can I do better?” Variations based on circumstances are okay, such as “What can I do to be a better partner at home?” or “What can I do to be a better leader of the group?” You get the idea. Pure issue-free feedback that makes change possible has to 1) solicit advice rather than criticism, b) be directed towards the future, and c) be couched in a way that suggests you are in fact going to try to do better.

Finally, when you get the answer, when someone gives you the gift of what you can do to be better, don’t respond with your opinion of their advice. It will just sound like denial, rationalization, and objection. Treat every piece of advice as a gift, a compliment, and simply say, “Thank you.” No one expects you to act on every piece of advice. Just act on advice that makes sense to you. The people around you will be thrilled!

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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Leadership Is a Contact Sport

My career as an executive coach began many years ago with a phone call from the CEO of a Fortune 100 company. I had just given a leadership clinic to the CEO’s human resources department. This is what I was doing in the late 1980s – advising HR departments about identifying future leaders in their companies and creating programs to form them into better leaders. The CEO had attended the session and from what I’d said he thought I might be able to help him with a VP who, though smart, dedicated, motivated, hard-working, and creative, was also a stubborn, opinionated, know-it-all. I was intrigued by this challenge.

I had coached many groups of mid-level managers who were on the verge of success, but never an individual who was already very successful and needed to make a change to be blasted into the stratosphere. I took the job – and I took it on a pay for results basis. If the VP improved, I’d get paid and if not I told the CEO it was free.

That was a couple of decades ago, and I did get paid. Since then I’ve worked with more than 150 CEOs and their management teams. My job isn’t to make anyone smarter or richer. It’s to help people identify a personal habit that’s annoying their coworkers and to help them eliminate it so that they retain their value to the organization. And, to help them develop their people as well, because you see, without their colleagues, their people and teams, these leaders, as successful as they might be, would have no one to lead.

Developing as a leader is a difficult endeavor. (If you’re reading this article you can probably relate.) Demands on leaders are increasing, meaning there is less time for focusing on change. And, the catch is that as more is expected of you as a leader, the less time you have for development, and yet improving your leadership skills is more important than ever. It’s a tricky situation. With limited time, you have to learn on the job. You have to make the most of your surroundings and ask those around you for help. You have to enlist their support as you do your best to develop yourself, your people, and your teams – even them!

It’s not easy, but I’ve developed a leadership development model that has now proven to work with thousands and thousands of people. This model is just eight steps: Ask, Listen, Think, Thank, Respond, Involve, Change, Follow Up. Following is a very short description of each step. I’ll go into more depth in subsequent blogs.

1. Ask: Ask people “How can I be a better _________ (manager, partner, team member, etc.)?

2. Listen: Listen to their answers.

3. Think: Think about their input. What does it mean?

4. Thank: Thank people for sharing this valuable feedback with you.

5. Respond: Respond positively when receiving input.

6. Involve: Involve the people around you to support your change efforts.

7. Change: Change isn’t an academic exercise. Act on what you learn.

8. Follow-up: Follow up regularly and stakeholders will notice the positive actions you’re taking based their input.

This simple model for leadership development works! If you want to get better, at work or at home, try it for yourself and see. And, if I can help you consider the possibility that despite all of your success to date you might have some things that you can change to be “even better”, then I will have done my job.

 

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).

Posted in Leadership | 3 Comments

“That Is Great, BUT…”

The higher up you go in your organization, the more you need to make other people winners and not make your job about winning yourself. This is a hard concept for people who like to win to grasp. The more successful you become, the more helping others win is how you win!

For those in leadership positions, this means closely monitoring how you hand out encouragement and how you “help” others improve. If you find yourself saying, “That is great…” and then dropping the other shoe with a tempering, “BUT” stop yourself before you speak. Take a breath and ask yourself if what you’re about to say is worth it. In most cases it isn’t. If you really want to succeed and encourage others to do the same, try stopping at “great!”

This is a challenge even for those who have acknowledged they do this and think they are past it. Let me share a little story with you. A few years ago, I taught a class at a telecom headquarters. One of the men in my class mocked me when I mentioned this problem that so many of us have with “That is great, BUT…” He thought it was easy not to use the words. He was so sure of himself that he offered $100 for each time he used these words. I made a point of sitting with him during our lunch break. I asked him where he was from, and he replied Singapore.

“Singapore? I said. “That’s a great city!”

“Yea,” he replied, “it’s great, but…”

He caught himself immediately, and reached into his pocket for cash, saying, “I just lost $100, didn’t I?”

That’s how pervasive this urge to win can be. It creeps into our conversations even when the discussion is trivial, even when we should be hyperaware of our word choices, and even when it might cost us $100.

That was a description of the lighter version of those possessing this bad habit. Those who have the more serious version are even more harmful and discouraging. We all know negative people. My wife calls them “negatrons”. These are people who are incapable of saying something positive or complimentary to any of your suggestions. Negativity is their default response. You could walk into their office with the cure for cancer and the first words out of their mouth would be, “Let me explain why that won’t work.”

This is the telltale phrase of negativity. It’s emblematic of a need to share negative thoughts, even when they haven’t been solicited. “Let me explain why that won’t work,” is different from adding value—because no value is added. It’s the big, bad brother of “That is great, BUT…” because rather than hiding our negativity under the mask of agreement, it is pure unadulterated negativity under the guise of being helpful.

As with “That is great, BUT…” we employ “Let me explain why that won’t work” to establish that our expertise or authority is superior to someone else’s. It doesn’t mean that what we say is correct or useful. It’s simply a way of inserting ourselves into a situation as chief arbiter or senior critic.

If you think one or both of these phrases might be your mode of negative operandi, I’d advise you to monitor your statements the moment someone offers you a helpful suggestion. Paying attention to what you say in response to their ideas is a great indicator of how you come across to people. If you find yourself frequently saying, “That is great, BUT…” you know you need to take a breath, pay attention, and stop yourself at “great”!

Life is good.
Marshall

Marshall@MarshallGoldsmith.com
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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).

Posted in Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog | 1 Comment