What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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6 Questions that Will Set You Up to Be Super Successful

A Little Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what’s the alternative?

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

What is this magic move called The Daily Questions Process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I do my best to:

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

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

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

Here are more of the questions that I ask myself:

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

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

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

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

Why does this process work so well?

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

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

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

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

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My Dinner with Bono

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

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

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

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

From Regular Bloke to Rock Star

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming a Humanitarian

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

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

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

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

Avoid Self-Limiting Definitions

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

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

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

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

Overcome the Obstacles in Your Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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“I’ll Be Happy When ___________.”

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

Go ahead and fill in the blank. There are no “right” answers. This isn’t a test. It’s just a gauge of where you’re at.

You might say, “when my kids graduate,” “when I have a million dollars in the bank,” “when I retire,” “when we can move into a bigger house,” “when I get that promotion,” “when I have that relationship,” etc. Your answer can be whatever you like. It can even be more than one thing!

The list of ways we can fill in the blank is endless, but it’s an illusion. When we get the million dollars, we’re not satisfied — we want another million. When the kids are finally out of the house, we’re not really free; some other responsibility soon demands our attention. When we get that promotion, we have more work than we can handle and can’t make it home before 10 on any given night.

While we believe achieving a goal will somehow make us happy, the goal line always moves slightly beyond our reach. There’s nothing wrong with that. Without goals we would never achieve anything. Yet, the Great Western Disease of “I’ll be happy when…” – meaning we fixate on the future at the expense of enjoying the life we’re living now – is something we’d do well to look at.

Frequently, we believe that happiness is a static and finite goal, within our grasp when we get that promotion, or buy that house, or find that mate, or whatever. It’s inculcated in us by the most popular story line in contemporary life: There is a person. The person spends money on a product or service. The person is eternally happy…

This is called a TV commercial. The average American spends 140,000 hours watching TV commercials. Some brainwashing is inevitable. Is it any wonder that we become so attached to any change we make that we think it will change us forever? We set a goal, and mistakenly believe that in achieving that goal we will be changed forever, happy at last. But this just isn’t so in most cases.

So, what’s the solution?

It’s more simple than you think – but not that easy for most of us to do. The solution is to detach from the goal, to let go of the end result and focus on the effort and the process rather than achieving the goal.

When we distract ourselves from our obsession with results and outcomes, we are free to appreciate the process of change and our role in making it happen. We’re no longer frustrated by the languid pace of visible progress—because we’re looking in another direction. And, we’re not expecting a “happily ever after…” we get the car, the house, the relationship, etc., but living each day doing our best to change our lives and our behavior for the better of ourselves and of those around us.

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

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What Successful People Know that You Need to Learn!

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

This might surprise you, but success is all about structure. As a matter of fact, we do not get better, we do not change our behavior, and we do not become successful without it! Yet, most people don’t. Not only is having and utilizing structure a challenge, but you have the added test of incorporating the right structure – meaning a structure that fits the situation and personalities involved, including yours.

Yet, it’s critical. In my years of coaching and research on change, I have learned one key lesson, which has near-universal applicability: We do not get better without structure.

My friend and former coaching client Alan Mulally knew this and used his concept of organizational structure when he was CEO of Ford. It was off-the-shelf structure, but it was his shelf. It mirrored his training and mindset as an engineer. It was a structure of zero tolerance—for personality clashes, for putting self above team, for any deviation from the rules. It worked for him and Ford spectacularly.

No idea looms bigger in Alan’s mind than the importance of structure in turning around an organization and its people. I believe that the Business Plan Review (BPR) process that he has developed is the most effective use of organizational structure that I have ever observed.

When Alan arrived at Ford he instituted mandatory weekly Thursday morning meetings, known as the Business Plan Review(BPR) with his sixteen top executives and the executive’s guests from around the world. No side discussions were allowed at the meetings, no joking at the expense of others, no interruptions, no cell phones, no handing off parts of the presentation to a subordinate. Each leader was expected to articulate his group’s plan, status, forecast, and areas that needed special attention. Each leader had a mission to help—not judge—the other people in the room.

Alan began each BPR session in the same way: “My name is Alan Mulally and I’m the CEO of Ford Motor Company.” Then he’d review the company’s plan, status, forecast, and areas that needed special attention, using a green-yellow-red scoring system for good-concerned- poor. He asked his top sixteen executives to do the same, using the same introductory language and color scheme. In effect, he was using the same type of structure that I recommend in my coaching process and applying it to the entire corporation. He was introducing structure to his new team. And he did not deviate, either in content or wording.

At first a few executives thought Alan must be joking. No adult running a giant corporation could possibly believe in this seemingly simple disciplined routine, repeated week after week.

But Alan was serious. Structure was imperative at a thriving organization, even more so at a struggling one, which Ford was at that time. What better way to get his team communicating properly than by showing them step by step how great teams communicate?

Yet even with their jobs on the line if they didn’t cooperate, two executives refused to change their behavior in the BPR. It wasn’t long before these two resisters decided to become former Ford executives.

Why would executives be willing to pull the rip cord on their careers rather than adapt to such a simple routine? My only interpretation is ego. In the same way that some surgeons reject the simple proven structure of a checklist for washing their hands, many executives are too proud to admit they need structure. They consider repetitious activity as mundane, uncreative, somehow beneath them.

However, “routine” is one of structure’s major contributions to any change process. It limits our options so that we’re not thrown off course by externalities.

Here are some more examples of the benefits of structure…I’ll bet you can think of some yourself!

  • When we follow a recipe we’re relying on structure to simplify the complexity of cooking—and improve our odds of delivering an appealing dish.
  • When we formulate our bucket list we’re imposing structure on the rest of our life.
  • When we join a reading group, we’re imposing structure on our reading habits (and possibly restructuring our social life).

Successful people know all this intuitively. The rest of us discount structure when it comes to honing our interpersonal behavior. We tell ourselves, I’m a confident, successful adult. I shouldn’t have to constantly monitor if I’m being nice or if people like me. Or we’re so satisfied with how far our behavior has already taken us in life that we smugly reject any reason to change. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well, if that’s you hat’s off. Me, I want to be better and I know that having structure and doing my best to stick to it is the way to do that!

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

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If They Won’t Change, You’d Better Move on!

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

You know the people I’m talking about: she says she wants to change, but when it comes time to do so, she makes excuses and doesn’t follow through; or he says he’s eager for a new life, and then defends his old ways at every turn. It’s exhausting to keep up with the denial tactics, finger-pointing, arguments, and justifications that people who really don’t want to change can come up with!

If I’ve learned one thing over my 35 years as an executive coach, speaker and author, it’s this: change has to come from within. It can’t be dictated, demanded, or otherwise forced upon people. A man or woman who does not whole-heartedly commit to change will never change.

That seems self-evident, but I didn’t absorb this simple truth until my twelfth year in the “change” business. By then I had done intensive one-on-one coaching with more than a hundred executives, nearly all successes but a smattering of failures too.

As I reviewed my failures, one conclusion leapt out: Some people say they want to change, but they don’t really mean it. I had erred profoundly in client selection. I believed the clients when they said they were committed to changing, but I had not drilled deeper to determine if they were telling the truth.

Not long after this revelation, I was asked to work with Harry, the chief operating officer of a large consulting firm. Harry was a smart, motivated, hard-working deliver-the-numbers alpha male who was also arrogant and over-delighted with himself. He was habitually disrespectful to his direct reports, driving several of them away to work for the competition. This development rattled the CEO, hence the call to me to coach Harry.

Harry talked a good game at first, assuring me that he was eager to get started and get better. I interviewed his colleagues and direct reports, even his wife and teenaged children. They all told the same story. Despite his sterling professional qualities, Harry had an overwhelming need to be the smartest person in the room, always proving that he was right, winning every argument. It was exhausting and off-putting. Who could say how many opportunities had vanished because people loathed being pummeled and brow-beaten?

As Harry and I reviewed his 360° feedback, he claimed to value the opinions of his co-workers and family members. Yet whenever I brought up an area for improvement, Harry would explain point by point how his questionable behavior was actually justified. He’d remind me that he majored in psychology in college and then analyze the behavioral problems of everyone around him, concluding that they needed to change. In a mind-bending display of chutzpah, he asked me for suggestions in helping these people get better.

In my younger days, I would have overlooked Harry’s resistance. Mimicking his arrogance and denial, I would have convinced myself that I could help Harry where lesser mortals would fail. Fortunately I remembered my earlier lesson: Some people say they want to change, but they don’t really mean it. It was dawning on me that Harry was using our work together as another opportunity to display his superiority and to reverse the misperceptions of all the confused people surrounding him, including his wife and kids. By our fourth meeting I gave up the ghost. I told Harry that my coaching wouldn’t be helpful to him, and we parted ways. (I felt neither joy nor surprise when I later learned that the firm had fired Harry. Evidently the CEO had concluded that an individual who actively resists help has maxed out professionally and personally.)

I often call up my time with Harry as a stark example that, even when altering our behavior represents all reward and no risk – and clinging to the status quo can cost us our careers and relationships – we resist change.

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

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The Real Harm of Goal Obsession!

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

So much has been written about ways to achieve goals. And my new book Triggers is all about the ultimate achievement, becoming the person you want to be. There is a fine line, though, between setting and achieving goals and goal obsession. When we become obsessed with achieving our goals, it can do more harm than good!

Goal obsession is one of the greatest problems that I encounter in my interactions with successful people. Goal obsession occurs when we become so focused on achieving our goal (or task) that we forget our larger mission.

Let me give you an example from Wall Street. “Mike” was always complaining because he worked too hard. When I asked him why he worked so hard, he replied, “Why do you think? Do you think that I love this place? I am working so hard because I want to make a lot of money!”

I continued my inquiry, “Do you really need this much money?”

“I do now,” Mike grimaced. “I just got divorced for the third time. With three alimony checks each month, I am almost broke.”

“Why do you keep getting divorced?” I asked.

The answer came out with a sad sigh, “My wives kept complaining that I worked all of the time. They had no idea how hard it is to make this much money!”

Over the last 30 years, I have noticed a clear trend. Almost everyone that I meet feels as busy – or even busier – than they have felt in their entire lives. I see too many older people wrecking their health in pursuit of their next achievement. I see too many younger people who are missing their youth, then postponing their love life, then not having children – all in service of their career.

For what?

There is nothing wrong with hard work. I do it myself. There is nothing wrong with choosing to dedicate your life to your career, if that makes you happy. The problem occurs when the price we pay for achieving goals, is not worth the cost we incur in our lives. Only we can determine the costs and benefits to our own lives.

One of my favorite movies is the Academy Award winner, The Bridge on the River Kwai. In this movie, the star, Colonel Nicholson (played by Alec Guiness) becomes so obsessed with his goals – build a great bridge and improve troop morale – that he completely forgets his mission – winning the war. At the end of the movie, he realizes that he has been building a fantastic bridge to support the wrong army and exclaims, “What have I done?”

Your life is your life. It is not my place to tell you how you should live it. I would just suggest that you ask yourself two challenging questions:

  1. What are the most important values in my life? Are my values reflected in the way I spend my time?
  2. What is my mission – as a human being? Am I becoming so focused on achieving my goals that I forget this mission?

At the end of your life, you don’t want to look back like Colonel Nicholson and ask yourself in dismay, “What have I done?”

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

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If They Don’t Care, Don’t Waste Your Time!

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

My job is to help people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior. Every once in a while I run across someone who doesn’t want to change. What do I do to convince them that the change is good for them?


Have you ever tried to change the behavior of an adult who had absolutely no interest in changing? How much luck did you have with your attempts at this “religious conversion”? Have you ever tried to change the behavior of a spouse, partner or parent who had no interest in changing? How did that work out for you?

My guess is that if you have ever tried to change someone else’s behavior, and that person did not want to change, you have been consistently unsuccessful in changing their behavior. You may have even alienated the person you were trying to enlighten.

If they don’t care, don’t waste your time.

Research on coaching is clear and consistent. Coaching is most successful when applied to people who want to improve — not when applied to people who have no interest in changing. This is true whether you are acting as a professional coach, a manager, a family member, or a friend.

Your time is very limited. The time you waste trying to change people who do not care is time stolen from people who do want to change.

As an example, back in Valley Station, Kentucky, my mother was an outstanding first grade school teacher. In Mom’s mind, I was always in the first grade, my Dad was in the first grade, and all of our relatives were in the first grade.

She was always correcting everybody.

My Dad’s name was Bill. Mom was always scolding “Bill! Bill!” when he did something wrong. We bought a talking bird. In a remarkably short period of time the bird started screeching “Bill! Bill!” Now Dad was being corrected by a bird.

Years passed. When Mom corrected his faulty grammar for the thousandth time, Dad sighed, “Honey, I am 70 years old. Let it go.”

If you are still trying to change people who have no interest in changing, take Dad’s advice. Let it go.

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

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What Is the Greatest Challenge Leaders Face?

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

In my work, I have the opportunity to talk with many leaders every day and I am frequently asked the question, “What is the greatest challenge that leaders face?”

It’s simple: Our greatest challenge is overcoming our own egos.

As a leader, you likely have a sincere desire to help and care deeply about developing others. You have learned a lot, have great qualifications, and believe in yourself. Unfortunately, these positive qualities can get in our way when it comes to helping!

Our Client’s Dedication Means More Than Our Wisdom

Of all of my coaching clients, the client who improved the most was the client with whom I had spent the least amount of time! He was the CEO of a huge organization and managed about 50,000 people. After our coaching engagement, I said to him, “I have spent less time with you than any client that I have ever coached, yet you and your team have shown the greatest improvement. What should I learn from my experience with you and your team?”

He thoughtfully replied, “Marshall, you should realize that success with your clients isn’t all about you. It is about your clients, the people who choose to work with you.” He continued, “In an important way, my situation is the same. I manage about 50,000 people. Every day, as a leader, I tell myself, ‘The success of our organization is not about me. It is about them-the great people who are working with me!’”

This remarkable leader was Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford, who was recently named #3 on Fortune’s list of the 50 greatest leaders in the world. Alan taught me a powerful lesson. That the difference in my clients’ improvements wasn’t about me, it was about them. The difference was about their dedication to achieving positive, lasting change-not my great insights or wisdom.

One of My Most Embarrassing Screw-ups

In spite of understanding the theory of ‘make it all about them, not you,’ I can still let my own ego get in the way of my work.

For example, I am sometimes honored by wonderful organizations and this makes me feel good! I love what I do, and when I am appreciated for it I feel great! Sometimes I cannot believe how lucky I am.

Although it is good to be thankful and grateful about our own lives, it is not always good to assume that our blessings are the major topic of interest for the rest of the world!

Some time back, after I received an award, I was interviewing the team members of a client executive that I was going to coach. I really loved the company and was looking forward to working with the executive. As I introduced myself to each team member during our one-on-one sessions, I was so enthusiastic about myself, the great honor I’d received, and my wonderful life that I forgot why I was there! The person who had hired me called to send her regrets, noting that the team thought I seemed to be more interested in myself than I was in them. To put it bluntly, I was fired!

I should have been fired.

And, that’s the lesson for today: The next time your start feeling ‘smart,’ ‘qualified,’ or ‘wise,’ remember this warning:

Get over yourself!!!

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

Posted in Inc. 5000 Conference Marshall Goldsmith | Comments Off on What Is the Greatest Challenge Leaders Face?