From Good to Great

By becoming aware of how we can improve, involving respected colleagues and following-up, we can get better at the behavior, as perceived by colleagues.

by Marshall Goldsmith

We can increase our effectiveness by changing elements of our behavior. By becoming aware of how we can improve, involving respected colleagues and following-up, we can get better at the behavior, as perceived by colleagues.

However, the key beliefs that help us succeed can become challenges when it is time to change. Successful people succeed for various reasons. Some factors can be changed; some cannot. Not every person has the potential to succeed in every activity. Different individuals have different “intelligences” that dramatically impact their potential in different fields.

Four Key Beliefs

Successful people tend to have four underlying beliefs:

1. I choose to succeed.

Successful people believe that they are doing what they choose to do, because they choose to do it. The more successful they are, the greater their need for self-determination. When we do what we choose to do, we are committed. When we do what we have to do, we are compliant. We observe the impact of this commitment in our jobs. For example, teachers who teach because they have a “calling” for the profession clearly stand out from those who teach to make a living.

Having the belief, “I choose to succeed” means that successful people need to feel a personal commitment to what they are doing (the mission). They need a sense of ownership to achieve results. They lead with their hearts and minds. They are effective in attracting and developing fellow “believers” who want to get the job done.

The more we believe that something is true, the less likely we are to change our beliefs – even in the face of clear evidence that shows we are wrong. Our commitment encourages us to “stay the course” and to not “give up” when “the going gets tough.” This commitment works in our favor in most situations; however, it can work against us when we should change course.

2. I can succeed.

Successful people believe that they can make desirable things happen. This self-efficacy is a key to success. People who believe they can succeed see opportunities where others see threats. Such comfort with ambiguity leads people with high self-efficacy to take greater risks and achieve greater returns. They try more things! They do not feel like victims of fate. They have the motivation and ability to change their world. They see success largely as a function of their ability – not luck, chance, or external factors.

If people believe that they are merely “cogs” in the system, they submit to control and manipulation. After all, that’s just the “way it is.” However, if people feel that they can improve their world, they find external control and manipulation very distasteful.

3. I will succeed. 

Successful people believe they can and will achieve beyond any one task. They communicate with confidence – one of the “top 10” elements of effective leadership. They also assume that their people will achieve. They see success as a function of people’s motivation and ability. So, they communicate their contagious sense of optimism and confidence to others. Successful people tend to pursue opportunities. If they set a goal and announce it, they tend to do “whatever it takes” to achieve the goal.

4. I have succeeded.

Successful people have a positive interpretation of their past performance. They not only believe that they have achieved results, they tend to believe that they were instrumental in achieving positive outcomes caused by external events. In a positive way, they are “delusional.” They tend to see their history as a validation of who they are and what they’ve done. This positive view of the past leads to increased optimism toward the future and boosts the odds of future success.

While a positive view of past performance has many positive benefits, it can also make it difficult to change behavior, hear disconfirming information, or objectively rate performance. About 85 percent of professionals rate themselves in the “top 20 percent” of their peer group. Professionals with high perceived social status (physicians, pilots, investment bankers) tend to have even higher self-assessments.

Six Steps to Positive Change

You can achieve a positive, measurable, long-term change in your behavior by following six steps:

1. Invite and receive input on important, self-selected behaviors as perceived by self-selected raters.

You can’t measure effectiveness in changing behavior unless you can agree on what constitutes desired behavior. Since successful people have a high need for self-determination, they (not a coach) must own the behavioral change process. The more they are involved, the more likely they are to “buy in” to modeling this behavior. They are responsive in achieving goals that they set but resist changes that make them feel judged or manipulated.

2. Publicly state that certain behavior is important and that you will strive to be a positive role model for this behavior.

Successful people desire internal consistency. So, most executives develop a profile of their “desired behaviors.” They clearly see what behaviors are desired. The challenge comes in demonstrating these behaviors.

3. Respond constructively to advice and input when you are involved in selecting the behaviors and the advisors.

When we ask leaders to describe a time when they learned something that made a key difference in their lives, most describe a situation in which they receive feedback or a challenge from someone whom they respect. The same message would not have much impact if a different person delivered it. The source of feedback and suggestions can be as important as the content. If successful people respect the source of information, they’ll likely learn and change. When the process is confidential, people tend to focus on what they need to improve.

4. After you receive input, select one or two important (high-leverage) areas for behavioral improvement.

People do not need another “laundry list” of goals. Changing just one behavior (that makes the most impact) can create a major positive difference.

5. Involve respected and supportive colleagues.

Colleagues are likely to help if they feel that they are respected and their advice is requested (not expected). Talk with colleagues: Thank them for their feedback; let them know one or two areas for improvement; ask them to provide constructive, future-oriented suggestions for achieving positive, measurable change; and recruit them to provide supportive coaching.

When you involve your colleagues in helping you improve (in a supportive way), positive measurable change is likely to occur. They need to be helpful coaches, not cynics, critics or judges.

6. Develop a follow-up process

that facilitates ongoing dialogue on selected behaviors with selected colleagues. These focused dialogues need take only a few minutes. When co-workers are trained to be supportive coaches, the follow-up process provides for ongoing constructive suggestions and recognition, reinforcing the commitment to change. Both parties are focused on improving the relationship.

By knowing how to help people change, you can get a huge ROI from your development efforts. The gain for helping people move from the “top 5 percent” to the “top 1 percent” may be greater than the gain from helping average performers move from the top 50 percent to the top 20 percent. LE

Life is good

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There has been listed as the #2 bestselling business book for 2012 by INC magazine / 800 CEO Read. This is the sixth year in a row that What Got You Here Won’t Get You There has been listed as a top ten CEO Read business best seller for the year.


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