Stop Defining Yourself as a Jerk!

We all have that relative who is always late.  She comes in and says, “Oh I am so sorry, I am always late.”

Or, we hear another relative who always makes embarrassing gaffes like Ralph Cramden. He excuses himself saying, “I always say the wrong thing.”

In reality, these people who “admit” their mistakes are setting themselves up for a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, they are giving themselves permission to always say the wrong thing or always be late.

The fact is that what we say about ourselves positive and negative defines who we are.

How about the boss who, on the positive side, says things like… “I am usually able to figure these things out,” or “I am dedicated to outworking the competition.”

On the negative side, the boss may say things like…”I am a bad listener” or “I am not detail oriented.”

These little sayings add up to our definition of who we are. I consider them a pile of behaviors that we define as “me.” The more we talk, the more we define our unalterable essence.

Well. Let me alter your perspective.

If we buy into our behavior definition of “me,” which most humans do, we can learn to excuse almost any annoying action by saying, “That’s just the way I am!”

As you read this column, think about your own behavior. How many times does your “need to be me” get in the way of building positive relationships with the important people in your life? How many times have you rationalized inappropriate behavior by saying, “That’s just the way I am!”?

A CEO Who Refused to Be Phony

Some years ago, I worked with a CEO who was generally regarded as a great leader of people but was seen as lacking in the ability to provide positive recognition. As we reviewed his 360-degree feedback report, he snorted, “What do you want me to do, go around praising people who don’t deserve it? I don’t want to look like a phony!”

“Is that your excuse for not giving recognition?” I asked. “You don’t want to look like a phony?”

“Yes,” he replied.

We went back and forth as he desperately defended his miserable scores on giving recognition. He was very animated in articulating his defense. For example, he went into a tirade about when he shouldn’t give recognition that included the following comments:

  1. He had high standards and people didn’t always meet them.
  2. He didn’t like to hand out praise indiscriminately, because this cheapened the value of praise when it was deserved.
  3. He believed that singling out individuals could weaken the team.

While pointing out when he shouldn’t give recognition, he completely failed to deal with the fact that there were lots of times when he should be giving positive recognition. After his dazzling display of rationalization, I finally stopped him and said, “No matter what you say, I am not impressed with your excuses, and I don’t think that handing out praise makes you a phony. Your real problem is your self-limiting definition of who you are. You are afraid that if you recognize others, it won’t really be ‘me’ who is doing the recognition. That’s what the definition of phony is, not ‘me.’”

I asked him, “Why can’t doing a great job of providing positive recognition be you? It’s not immoral, illegal, or unethical is it?”

“No,” he conceded.

“Will it make people feel better?”

“Yes.”

“Will they perform better as a result of this well-deserved positive recognition?”

“Probably.”

“So please explain to me, why aren’t you doing it?”

He laughed and replied, “Because it wouldn’t be ME!”

That was the moment when change became possible, when he realized that his stern allegiance to himself was pointless vanity. He realized that he was not only hurting his employees’ and company’s chances for success, he was hurting his own chance for success!

He realized that he could shed his “excessive need to be me” and not be a phony. He could stop thinking about himself and start behaving in a way that benefited others.

Sure enough, when he let go of his devotion to a pointless definition of “me,” all his other rationalizations fell by the wayside. He realized that his direct reports were talented, hard-working people who did indeed deserve his praise. He finally understood that giving recognition when deserved didn’t damage his reputation as a leader who had high expectations.

The payoff was enormous. Within a year his scores on giving recognition were in line with his other positive scores on leadership, all because he had lost his excessive “need to be me.”

The irony was not lost on him. He accepted the fact that the more he focused on his employees, the more they worked to benefit the company, and that benefited him.

An Equation for Life: Less Me + More You = More Success

It’s an interesting equation: less me + more them = more success as a leader.

Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself resisting change because you are clinging to a false, and/or probably pointless, notion of “me.”

And when you see the boss, relative, or colleague who gives him or herself permission to be enclosed in a “prison of me,” remind yourself that you can be freed. And with freedom you’ll find endless possibilities!

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Your Boss – Seriously Successful or Downright Deluded?

Strangely enough, the answer is probably both!

One night over dinner, I listened to a wise military leader share his experience with an eager, newly minted General, “Recently, have you started to notice that when you tell jokes, everyone erupts into laughter—and that when you say something ‘wise’ everyone nods their heads in solemn agreement?” The new General replied, “Why, yes, I have.” The older General laughed, “Let me help you. You aren’t that funny and you aren’t that smart! It’s only that star on your shoulder. Don’t ever let it go to your head.”

We all want to hear what we want to hear. We want to believe those great things that the world is telling us about ourselves. Your boss is no different. It’s our belief in ourselves that helps us become successful and it can also make it very hard for us to change. As the wise older General noted—we aren’t really that funny, and we aren’t really that smart. We can all get better—if we are willing to take a hard look at ourselves. By understanding why changing behavior can be so difficult for our leaders, we can increase the likelihood of making the changes that we need to make in our quest to become even more successful.

Why We Resist Change

We all delude ourselves about our achievements, our status, and our contributions. We

  • Overestimate our contribution to a project;
  • Have an elevated opinion of our professional skills and standing among our peers;
  • Exaggerate our project’s impact on profitability by discounting real and hidden costs.

Many of our delusions come from our association with success, not failure. We get positive reinforcement from our successes and we think they are predictive of a great future.

The fact that successful people tend to be delusional isn’t all bad. Our belief in our wonderfulness gives us confidence. Even though we are not as good as we think we are, this confidence actually helps us be better than we would become if we did not believe in ourselves. The most realistic people in the world are not delusional—they are depressed!

Although our self-confident delusions can help us achieve, they can make it difficult for us to change. In fact, when others suggest that we need to change, we may respond with unadulterated bafflement.

It’s an interesting three-part response. First we are convinced that the other party is confused. They are misinformed, and they just don’t know what they are talking about. They must have us mixed up with someone who truly does need to change. Second, as it dawns upon us that the other party is not confused—maybe their information about our perceived shortcomings is accurate—we go into denial mode. This criticism may be correct, but it can’t be that important—or else we wouldn’t be so successful. Finally, when all else fails, we may attack the other party. We discredit the messenger. “Why is a winner like me,” we conclude, “listening to a loser like you?”

These are just a few of our initial responses to what we don’t want to hear. Couple this with the very positive interpretation that successful people assign to (a) their past performance, (b) their ability to influence their success (as opposed to just being lucky), (c) their optimistic belief that their success will continue in the future, and (d) their over-stated sense of control over their own destiny (as opposed to being controlled by external forces), and you have a volatile cocktail of resistance to change.

So, as you can see, while your boss’s positive beliefs about herself helped her become successful. These same beliefs can make it tough for her to change. The same beliefs that helped her get to her current level of success, can inhibit her from making the changes needed to stay there – or move forward. Don’t fall into this trap!

As the wise older General noted, as you move up the ranks and get that star—don’t let it go to your head. Realize that every promotion can make it harder to change. Always balance the confidence that got you here—where you are—with the humility required to get you there—where you have the potential to go.

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Millennials Speak! 5 Future Leadership “Must Haves”

Millennials speak up! You need an “equal say” in your company’s future leadership. Here is why.

To begin, let’s start with a premise I hear over and over.

The most important job of the CEO and the Board is to pick the next CEO.
Succession is critical.

The next CEO, or the next leaders, are about the future. So, why do most companies go about picking their next generation mired in the past?

Think about it. What are the chances that the typical current CEO, most likely a baby boomer, is well positioned to identify all the characteristics of the organizations’ future leaders?

And, should that CEO be joined in picking those CEO characteristics with a board filled with his or her same generation?

The truth is that companies that only choose wise, experienced people for this task of succession are mired in myopia.

Those companies are much less likely to find the best and most comprehensive leadership qualities and candidates, because they are limiting their view of the world.

It is a company looking into the future like a horse with blinders. They see only what is in front of them. They do not envision the periphery of all of what could be in front of them.

The Proof

My proof is based upon work between Accenture Consulting (with the Alliance for Strategic Leadership). We engaged in a multi-country research project aimed at helping global organizations understand the most important characteristics of the leader of the future. As part of our research we asked leading companies to identify future leaders who have the potential to be the CEO of a global organization.

Rather than the usual process of asking today’s leaders (who will not be there) to describe the future of leadership, we decided to ask tomorrow’s leaders.

In comparing the desired characteristics of the leader of the future with the desired characteristics of the leader of the past we found both similarities and differences.

Characteristics like vision, integrity, focus on results, and ensuring customer satisfaction were seen as factors that were critical in the past and will be so in the future.

The 5 “Must Haves” for Future Leadership

Yet, five key factors emerged that were seen as being clearly more important in the future than in the past include:

  • Thinking Globally
    Globalization is a trend that will have a major impact on the leaders of the future. In the past, even major companies could focus on their own country or, at most, their own region. Those days are almost over.
    Several suggested that future leaders might need to spend time in multiple countries to better understand how multi-country trade could help their organizations achieve a competitive advantage.
    Global thinking will take a global perspective.
  • Appreciating Cultural Diversity
    Motivational strategies that are effective in one culture may actually be offensive in another culture. The same public recognition that could be a source of pride to a salesperson in the USA could be a source of embarrassment to a scientist in the UK.
    Leaders who can effectively understand, appreciate, and motivate colleagues in multiple cultures will become an increasingly valued resource in the future.
  • Demonstrating Technological Savvy
    High-potential leaders from around the world were consistent in expressing the view that technological savvy will be a key competency for the global leader of the future.
    One trend on this issue was clear—the younger the participant, the greater their emphasis in the importance of technological savvy.

    • Young future leaders often have been brought up with technology and view it as a part of their life.
    • Current leaders often still view technological savvy as something that is important for staff people, but not for the line officers that run the “real” business.

What does “technological savvy” mean? It means that leaders will need to do the following:

  1. a) Understand how the intelligent use of new technology can help their organizations;
    b) Recruit, develop, and maintain a network of technically competent people;
    c) Know how to make and manage investments in new technology; and
    d) Be positive role models in leading the use of new technology.
  • Building Partnerships
    Building partnerships and alliances of all kinds was viewed as far more important for the future than the past. Many organizations that seldom formed alliances in the past (such as IBM) are regularly forming alliances today. This trend will be even more important in the future.
    Reengineering, restructuring, and downsizing are leading to a world where outsourcing of all but core activities may become the norm. The ability to negotiate complex alliances and manage complex networks of relationships is viewed as becoming increasingly important.
    The changing role of customers, suppliers, and partners has deep implications for leaders. In the past it was clear who your “friends” were and who your “enemies” were.
    It is a world of “co-opitition.” Roles are becoming more blurred. In fields as diverse as energy, telecommunications, and pharmaceuticals the same organization may be a customer, supplier, partner, or competitor. On one initiative you are competitors, on another partners.
  • Sharing Leadership
    In a world where leading across a fluid network may become more important than leading from above a fixed hierarchy, being able to effectively share leadership is not an option.
    In an alliance structure telling partners what to do may quickly lead to having no partners. All parties will have to be able to work together to achieve the common good.
    Not only did our participants believe that the leader of the future would be different than the leader of the past, they also believed that the employee of the future would be different. Many of the future leaders saw that the management of knowledge workers was going to be a key factor in their success.
    Peter Drucker has noted that knowledge workers are people who know more about what they are doing than their managers do. In dealing with knowledge workers old models of leadership will not work.
    Telling people what to do and how to do it becomes ridiculous.

A Final Note to All CEOs

So, in thinking about sharing leadership, if you are a CEO, are you bringing Millennials to the table—or are you stuck in the past? Are you sharing leadership?

If the next generation does not have a say in tomorrow’s leadership, they will leave.

And, by the way, Millennials are a company “must have”—if they exit, there goes the succession plan.

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Why Your Boss Is a Lousy Coach

Your boss is a lousy coach. It culminates in your boss not helping you grow. There are three key reasons:

  1. You are smart. You know more than the boss: You are a knowledge worker, who already knows ten times more about what you are doing than the executive does.
  2. Your boss is too busy. The reason your boss may avoid coaching is that she is too busy and she thinks you are busy too!
  3. Your boss is afraid. He may avoid coaching because is he is afraid of alienating you.

It adds up to your boss being a poor coach.

In fact, the most common complaint I hear from direct reports about their leaders is that they do a poor job of providing coaching. I have this documented in thousands of in-depth assessments of executives. Direct reports find the leaders do not “provide effective coaching when needed.” In fact, this item consistently scores in the bottom 10 of all items when direct reports evaluate their leaders.

So, what can you do about this? How do you get the help you need from your boss? How do you turn him or her into your coach?

To answer the question of how to turn your boss into your coach, you can try the Six-Question process I have outlined here. I’ve seen it work for countless teams across the world, and I bet it can work for you too.

The Six-Question process for coaching is a one-on-one dialogue you have with your boss approximately once each quarter, answering the questions outlined below.

  1. Where are we going?

The first question deals with the “big picture”. Your boss outlines where the larger organization is going in terms of vision, goals, and priorities, then asks you where you think the larger organization should be going. By involving you in this ongoing dialogue, your boss can build alignment and commitment to the larger organizational vision.

  1. Where are you going?

Question two deals with your vision, goals and priorities for your part of the organization. You tell your boss where your part of the organization is going. Then he gives his view on where he thinks this part of the organization should be going. By the end of this discussion two types of alignment should have been achieved: 1) the vision, goals and priorities of your part of the organization should be aligned with your leader’s vision of the larger organization and 2) the individual goals and priorities of you and your leader should be aligned.

  1. What is going well?

One key element of effective coaching is providing positive recognition for achievement. Your leader provides an assessment of what you and the organizations are doing well. Then she asks you a question that is seldom asked, “What do you think that you and your part of the organization are doing well?” By asking this question she may learn about “good news” that may have otherwise been missed.

  1. What are key suggestions for improvement?

Your leader gives you constructive suggestions for the future. These suggestions should be limited to key “opportunities for improvement”. Then he should ask another (seldom-asked) great coaching question, “If you were your own coach, what suggestions would you have for yourself?” By listening to you, your leader may learn that his original coaching suggestions need to be modified.

  1. How can I help?

A key to effective coaching is asking the right questions. One of the greatest coaching questions a leader can ask is, “How can I help?”

  1. What suggestions do you have for me?

By asking this question, your boss changes the dynamics of the coaching process. Traditional coaching is sometimes thought of as a one-way monologue that focuses on, “Let me tell you what you can do to improve.” The Six-Question approach creates a two-way dialogue that focuses on, “Let’s try to help each other.” You will be much more willing to be coached by your boss, if your boss is willing to be coached by you!

As implied in the final question of this process, a key to effective two-way coaching is mutual responsibility. The organizational survey in one of my clients pointed out an interesting dilemma. Direct reports criticized their leaders for not providing help when it was needed. Executives said that direct reports never asked for help! If you take the responsibility to ask for coaching (when needed) and your boss takes the responsibility to be responsive and helpful, there is a high probability that the entire process will work!

If the process does not work and your boss won’t engage, it is a sign that you should engage a new job with a new boss who will help you, help the organization, and help him or herself.

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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3 Questions for Building a Great Team!

Recently, I coached a team in a group session. The team members rated the team a 6.1 in terms of working together. I asked each team member to reflect on a challenge that he/she is currently having and share it with me and the group. There were about 10 people and 6 focused on changing what they could not change. It was an epidemic! The team prioritized this behavior as the one to focus on in their team change efforts. Over the next six months, the group took part in the Team Building without Time Wasting process and I am happy to report that it is now a highly functional team, with members rating the team an 8.6!

Following are the steps the team took to change this endemic challenge of focusing on what they could not change. Note step 7. All of the steps are critical in the process, and step 7 is the one that will take your team to the next level – it is Follow-Up – and it will ensure that the change sticks!

1. Ask all members of the team to confidentially record their individual answers to two questions: (1) “On a 1 to 10 scale (with 10 being ideal), how well are we doing in terms of working together as a team?” and (2) “On a 1 to 10 scale, how well do we need to be doing in terms of working together as a team?”

2. Have a team member calculate the results. Discuss the results with the team. If the team members believe that the gap between current effectiveness and needed effectiveness indicates the need for team building, proceed to the next step in the process.

3. Ask the team members, “If every team member could change two key behaviors that would help us close the gap between where we are and where we want to be, which two behaviors we all should try to change?” Have each team member record his or her selected behaviors on flip charts.

4. Help team members prioritize all the behaviors on the charts (many will be the same or similar) and (using consensus) determine the most important behavior to change (for all team members).

5. Have each team member hold a one-on-one dialogue with all other team members. During the dialogues each member will request that his or her colleague suggest two areas for personal behavioral change (other than the one already agreed on above) that will help the team close the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

6. Let each team member review his or her list of suggested behavioral changes and choose the one that seems to be the most important. Have all team members then announce their one key behavior for per¬sonal change to the team.

7. Encourage all team members to ask for brief (five-minute), monthly three question “suggestions for the future” from all other team members to help increase their effectiveness in demonstrating 1) the one key behavior common to all team members, 2) the one key personal behavior generated from team member input, and 3) overall effective behavior as a team member.

8. Conduct a mini-survey, follow-up process in approximately six months. From the mini-survey each team member will receive confidential feedback from all other team members on his or her perceived change in effectiveness. This survey will include the one common behavioral item, the one personal behavioral item, and the overall team member item. A final question can gauge the level of follow-up – so that team members can see the connection between their level of follow-up and their increased effectiveness.

This process works because it is highly focused, includes disciplined feedback and follow-up, doesn’t waste time, and causes participants to focus on self-improvement.

Let me close with a challenge to you (the reader) as a team leader. Try it! The “downside” is very low. The process takes little time and the first mini-survey will quickly show whether progress is being made. The “upside” can be very high. As effective teamwork becomes more and more important, the brief amount of time that you invest in this process may produce a great return for your team and an even greater return for your organization.

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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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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