Archive for the ‘Coaching’ Category

20 Key Habits

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

People who have read my book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There often tell me they found themselves several times in the book!

What habits could you stop that are holding you back from getting to the top?

Look at the list below to find the 20 habits I often find in successful people. I help successful leaders become even more successful by helping them stop these habits:

1. Winning too much: the need to win at all costs and in all situations - when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point.

2. Adding value: the overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.

3. Passing judgment: the need to rate others and impose our standards on them.

4. Making destructive comments: the needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.

5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”: the overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”

6. Telling the world how smart you are: the need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.

7. Speaking when angry: using emotional volatility as a management tool.

8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: the need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked.

9. Withholding information: the refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.

10. Failing to give proper recognition: the inability to praise and reward.

11. Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: the most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.

12. Making excuses: the need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.

13. Clinging to the past: the need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.

14. Playing favorites: failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.

15. Refusing to express regret: the inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.

16. Not listening: the most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.

17. Failing to express gratitude: the most basic form of bad manners.

18. Punishing the messenger: the misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help us.

19. Passing the buck: the need to blame everyone but ourselves.

20. An excessive need to be “me”: exalting our faults as virtues simply because they”re who we are.

Source: ©2007 by Marshall Goldsmith, with Mark Reiter, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, pp. 40-41 Hyperion Books. Available from

Life is good.


Marshall Goldsmith’s 24 books include What Got You Here Won’t Get You There  - a New York Times best-seller, Wall Street Journal #1 business book and Harold Longman Award winner for Business Book of the Year. His latest book Succession: Are You Ready? - is the newest edition to the Harvard Business ‘Memo to the CEO’ series.


April 14, 2009 in Boston - Linkage: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There one day program

April 16, 2009 in New York City - IMS full day program

May 6, 2009 in Hanover, New Hampshire - Dartmouth one day program

May 11, 2009 in Chicago - Linkage OD Summit

June 16, 2009 in Chicago - Linkage: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There one day program

June 30, 2009 in Edinburgh - IMS full day program

Looking Forward

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

“Feedforward” sounds like some eating technique you’d see advertised on late-night TV, guaranteeing weight loss with a faster metabolism. Sorry, folks: Feedforward won’t make you thinner, but it may make you happier.

Instead of feedback - rehashing a past that cannot be changed - Jon Katzenbach (author of The Wisdom of Teams) and I coined feedforward to encourage leaders spending time creating a positive future. In practicing feedforward, coworkers are taught to ask for suggestions for the future, listen to ideas, and just say thank you. No one is allowed to critique suggestions or to bring up the past.

How many hours of organizational time and productivity are lost in the endless retelling of our coworkers’ blunders? How much internal stress do we generate reliving real or imagined slights?

On too many occasions, “team building” feedback degenerates into “Let me tell you what you did wrong” and not “Let me ask you what we can do better.”

A Buddhist parable illustrates the challenge - and value - of letting go of the past. Two monks were strolling by a stream on their way home to the monastery. They were startled by the sound of a young woman in a bridal gown, sitting by the stream, crying softly.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she gazed across the water. She needed to cross to get to her wedding, but she was fearful that doing so might ruin her beautiful handmade gown.

In this particular sect, monks were prohibited from touching women.

But one monk was filled with compassion for the bride. Ignoring the sanction, he hoisted the woman on his shoulders and carried her across the stream–assisting her journey and saving her gown. She smiled and bowed with gratitude as he noisily splashed his way back across the stream to rejoin his companion.

The second monk was livid. “How could you do that?” he scolded. “You know we are forbidden even to touch a woman, much less pick one up and carry her around!”

The offending monk listened in silence to a stern lecture that lasted all the way back to the monastery. His mind wandered as he felt the warm sunshine and listened to the singing birds. After returning to the monastery, he fell asleep for a few hours. He was jostled and awakened in the middle of the night by his fellow monk. “How could you carry that woman?” his agitated friend cried out. “Someone else could have helped her across the stream. You were a bad monk!”

“What woman?” the tired monk inquired groggily.

“Don’t you even remember? That woman you carried across the stream,” his colleague snapped.

“Oh, her,” laughed the sleepy monk. “I only carried her across the stream. You carried her all the way back to the monastery.”

The learning point is simple: Leave it at the stream.

Have you ever been amazed by a colleague’s near- photographic memory of your previous “sins,” which have been meticulously catalogued and are then shared with you as part of an ongoing effort to help you improve? How much does this really help?

Try to remember the last time someone told you something that sounded like this: “Let me point out what you did wrong in the past.” How did that make you feel? What happened to the quality of your relationship? Were you more inspired?

Now try to remember the last time you asked someone for suggestions and heard, “Here are some ideas for the future. I hope that some are helpful to you.” How did you feel then? What happened to the quality of your relationship? Were you more inspired?

I have watched tens of thousands of leaders practice feedforward. After this practice, I ask them which words best describe this activity. “Helpful,” “great,” “useful,” and “practical” are often mentioned. And the most commonly mentioned word? “Fun.”

What is the last word that you think of when you get feedback about the past? Fun. Remember when a boss called you up and sternly requested, “Why don’t you come to my office? I have some feedback for you.” I doubt your reaction was a joyous “Sounds like fun.”

I am not suggesting that we should always let go of the past. Feedback is sometimes necessary and sometimes useful. However, we can often cover almost all of the same ground by just sharing ideas for the future.

Race-car drivers are taught, “Look at the road ahead.”

Who knows? Not only may it help you win the race but you’ll definitely have a better trip around the track.

Life is good.


Seven Steps to Boost Leadership Self-Confidence

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

I was asked what advice I have for a leader when their boss says they need to exhibit more self-confidence while still being collaborative and authentic. This is a great question.

I rarely encounter this issue in my work with CEOs and potential CEOs because people at the top of huge organizations don’t often have self-confidence problems. But I have had several inquiries lately about helping future leaders who need to demonstrate more self-confidence.

Here are a few suggestions that I give leaders who have self-confidence issues:

1. Decide if you really want to be a leader. Many of the MBAs who report self-confidence issues are brilliant technicians. They often find the uncertainty and ambiguity of leading people very unsettling. They are looking for the “right answers” – similar to the ones in engineering school. In some cases, brilliant technical experts should continue to be brilliant technical experts – and not feel obligated to become managers.

2. Make peace with ambiguity in decision making. There are usually no clear right answers when making complex business decisions. Even CEOs are guessing.

3. Gather a reasonable amount of data, involve people, then follow your gut and do what you think is right.

4. Accept the fact that you are going to fail on occasion. All humans do.

5. Have fun! Life is short. Why should you expect your direct reports to demonstrate positive enthusiasm, if they don’t see it in you?

6. Once you make a decision, commit and go for it. Don’t continually second guess yourself. If you have to change course, you have to change course. If you never commit, all you will ever do is change course.

7. And finally, demonstrate courage on the outside, even when you don’t feel it on the inside. We are all afraid on occasion — that is just part of being human. If you are going to lead people in tough times, you will need to show more courage than fear. When direct reports read worry and concern on the face of a leader, they begin to lose confidence in the leader’s ability to lead.

Originally published in Harvard Business Online, 2008.

Life is good.



December 2, 2008 in San Francisco - Linkage: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” one day program

February 7, 2009 in San Diego - Society of Consulting Psychology and the Society of Psychologists in Management Annual Meeting,  San Diego Hilton, Mission Bay

March 19, 2009 - The New Reality of Business Conference - London

April 14, 2009 in Boston - Linkage: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” one day program

June 16, 2009 in Chicago - Linkage: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” one day program


Behavior of Leaders Means More than Words on a Wall

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Companies have wasted millions of dollars and countless hours of employees’ time agonizing over the wording of statements that are put on plaques and hung on walls. There is a clear assumption that people’s behavior will change because the pronouncements on plaques are “inspirational” or because certain words “integrate our strategy and values.” There is an implicit hope that when people — especially managers — hear great words, they will start to exhibit great behavior.

Sometimes these words morph to keep up with the latest trends in corporate-speak. A company may begin by striving for “customer satisfaction,” then advance to “total customer satisfaction,” and finally reach the pinnacle of “customer delight.”

But this obsession with words belies one very large problem: There is almost no correlation between the words on the wall and the behavior of leaders. Every company wants “integrity,” “respect for people,” “quality,” “customer satisfaction,” “innovation,” and “return for shareholders.” Sometimes companies get creative and toss in something about “community” or “suppliers.” But since the big messages are all basically the same, the words quickly lose their real meaning to employees — if they ever had any in the first place.

Enron is a great example. Before the energy conglomerate’s collapse in 2001, I had the opportunity to review Enron’s values and even saw a wonderful video on Enron’s ethics and integrity. I was greatly impressed by the company’s espoused high-minded beliefs and the care put into the video. Examples of Enron’s good deeds in the community and the professed character of Enron’s executives were particularly noteworthy. It was one of the most smoothly professional presentations on ethics and values that I have ever seen. Clearly, Enron spent a fortune “packaging” these wonderful messages.

It didn’t really matter. Despite the lofty words, many of Enron’s top executives either have been indicted or are in jail.

The situation couldn’t be more different at Johnson & Johnson. The pharmaceutical company is famous for its “Credo,” which was written many years ago and reflected the sincere values of the leaders of the company at that time. The J&J Credo could be considered rather quaint by today’s standards. It contains several old-fashioned phrases, such as “must be good citizens — support good works and charities — and bear our fair share of taxes” and “maintain in good order the property that we are privileged to use.” It lacks the slick PR packaging that I observed at Enron.

Yet, even with its less-powerful language and seemingly dated presentation, the J&J Credo works — primarily because over many years, the company’s management has taken the values that it offers seriously. J&J executives have consistently challenged themselves and employees not just to understand the values, but to live them in day-to-day behavior. When I conducted leadership training for J&J, one of its very top executives would spend many hours with every class. The executives’ task was not to talk about compensation or other perks of J&J management; they were there to discuss living the company’s values.

My partner, Howard Morgan, and I completed a study of more than 11,000 managers in eight major corporations. (See “Leadership Is a Contact Sport,” s+b, Fall 2004.) We looked at the impact of leadership development programs in actually changing executive behavior. As it turns out, each of the eight companies had different values and different words to describe ideal leadership behavior. But these differences in words made absolutely no difference in determining the way leaders behaved. Ironically, one company spent thousands of hours composing just the right words to express its view of how leaders should act — in vain. I am sure that the first draft would have been just as useful.

At many companies, performance appraisal forms seem to undergo the same careful scrutiny as credos. In fact, more effort seems to be given to producing the perfect words on an appraisal form than to managing employee performance itself. I worked with one company that had used at least 15 different performance appraisal forms and was contemplating yet another change because the present sheet “wasn’t working”! If changing the words on the page could improve the performance management process, then every company’s appraisal system would be perfect by now.

Companies that are doing the best job of living up to their values and developing ethical employees, including managers, recognize that the real cause of success — or failure — is always the people, not the words.

Rather than wasting time on reinventing words about desired leadership behavior, companies should ensure that leaders get (and act upon) feedback from employees — the people who actually observe this behavior. Rather than wasting time on changing the words on performance appraisal forms, leaders need to learn from employees to ensure that they are providing the right coaching.

Ultimately, our actions will say much more to employees about our values and our leadership skills than our words ever can. If our actions are wise, no one will care if the words on the wall are not perfect. If our actions are foolish, the wonderful words on the wall will only make us look more ridiculous.

Life is good.



December 2, 2008 in San Francisco - Linkage: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” one day program

February 7, 2009 in San Diego - Society of Consulting Psychology and the Society of Psychologists in Management Annual Meeting,  San Diego Hilton, Mission Bay

Understanding and Follow up

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

A few years ago, I was in a doctor’s office dealing with back problems (aggravated by my constant air travel). After running a few tests, the doctor sat me down and rattled off 10 different exercises that I was supposed to do regularly. He spoke very quickly. Knowing what I know about communication, I realized that there was no way I was going to remember what he said, much less understand it or do it! He assumed that once he had made the correct diagnosis and told me what to do, his job was done. He had checked the box on his to-do list. Time for the next patient!

One of the great causes of corporate dysfunction is the glaring gap between “I say” and “they do.” It’s a huge false assumption to believe that just because people understand, then they will do. Like this doctor, leaders all too often believe that their organizations operate with strict down-the-chain-of-command efficiency.

I dealt with this head-on with a client, a CEO of a major high-tech firm. He was 54 years old with a degree from MIT. He was also — like most of my clients — extremely action-oriented and impatient. Surveys indicated that his employees felt they didn’t understand the company’s mission and overall direction.

“I don’t get it,” he groaned. “I clearly articulated the mission and direction in our team meeting. I’ve summarized it in a memo, which was immediately distributed. See, here’s the memo! What more do they want?”

I thought he was kidding, that he had a very refined sense of irony. Making people understand the company’s mission doesn’t happen by fiat. It also doesn’t happen overnight. Surely this smart CEO understood how difficult it was to communicate even a simple message. But by the pained expression on his face, I could see he was serious and (if only in this one area of management) clueless.

“Let’s review,” I said. “How was this memo distributed?”

“By email,” he replied. “It went to everyone.”

“Okay. How many people actually read the memo?”

“I’m not sure,” he said.

“Of those who read the email, how many do you think understood the message?”

He thought for a second and said, “I don’t know.”

“Of those who understood it, how many actually believed it was serious - not just PR hype?”

He shook his head.

“Of this dwindling group of believers, how many remembered it?”

Another sorry head shake.

“That’s a lot of unknowns for something you regard as vital to your company’s existence,” I said. “But that’s not the worst part. Once you eliminate all those people — and it’s quite possible there aren’t many people left — how many people do you think will change their behavior based upon the memo? How many will begin living and breathing the company’s mission because of your memo?”

The CEO just grimaced and shrugged his shoulders.

I tried to revive his spirits by pointing out that the deeper issue was his mistaken belief about communication, not this memo.

“The only thing you’re guilty of,” I said, “was that you checked the box. You thought your job was done when you articulated the mission and wrote the memo, just one more item on your to-do list. You moved on. Mentally, you smiled and said, ‘Next!’ ”

Like most extremely busy leaders, this CEO wanted to believe that after he communicated direction, people heard him, understood him, believed him, and then executed.

I can understand why executives persist in thinking this way. We all want to believe that our comments have great meaning. We usually assume that the people around us are smart, and they can understand what we’re saying and see the value of our remarks. We’re often busy and overcommitted. We all wish we could just move on to the next item on our list.

The good news for every manager, including my CEO friend, is that this false belief has a simple cure. It’s called “follow-up.” After communicating, follow up to make sure that people really understand, talk with them to get a read of their buy-in, and involve them to make sure that they’re committed to execution. Follow-up may take a little time, but it’s less than the time wasted on miscommunication.

Life is good.


Upcoming Events

October 29, 2008 - Japanese Business Executives - Tokoyo, Japan

October 30, 2008 - Japanese Business Coaches - Tokoyo, Japan

December 2, 2008 in San Francisco - Linkage: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” one day program

Finding a Great Coach

Monday, October 20th, 2008

How do you find the right coach for you?

First, ask the prospective coach, “What do you specialize in? What are you best at?”

I often hear, “A great coach does this, and a great coach does that”, as if there’s some generic perfect coach. I don’t believe that. Many coaches will say they can address whatever problem you have when they have no business trying to fix problems they don’t know anything about. Good coaches specialize. Get the right coach for the specific problem.

There are two mistakes executive clients often make in working with a coach. The first, as I’ve said, is getting the wrong coach. The second is to expect that it’s the coach’s responsibility to make you change. It’s not the coach’s job, it’s yours. Too many people think a “celebrity coach” will solve their problems. That’s like thinking you’ll get in shape if you have the world’s best personal trainer.

I have a track record for helping executives change. What am I doing that’s different?

A key thing is, I don’t hold myself up as “coach as expert”. I’m much more “coach as facilitator”. Most of what my clients learn about themselves, they don’t learn from me. They learn from their friends and colleagues and family. Anybody around you can help you change, and they can help you more than an executive coach can.

Let’s say you want to do a better job of listening. Rather than having some coach explain to you how to be a great listener, what you need to do is ask the people around you, “What are some ways I can do a better job of listening to you?” They’re going to give you concrete ideas that relate to them, how they perceive you as a listener, not the generic ideas a coach would give. The real coach isn’t me, it’s the people around you. If you want a better relationship with customers, who needs to be your coach? Your customers. If you want a better relationship with co-workers, who needs to be the coach? Your co-workers.

The outcome I measure is the perception of change. How do my client’s colleagues think he or she is doing? It’s much harder to change people’s perceptions of someone’s behavior than to actually change that behavior.

Let’s say the behavioral problem you want to fix is that you make too many destructive comments. Scenario A - you assume the way to fix it is to tell people you’re going to change and you’ll quit making destructive comments. But the reaction will be skepticisim. And if you have one slip-up six months later, you call some guy in finance an “incompetent bean counter”, it will confirm your colleagues’ perception of you.

Scenario B - you tell people you’re going to change, you quit making destructive comments, and you follow up. After two months, you ask your colleagues, “How am I doing at not making destructive comments?” And they’ll say, “Gee, I don’t think I’ve heard any.” Their skepticism goes down a notch. You check in at four months, then six months. Each time, they confirm you’re doing better. Not only has your behavior changed, most important, their perception of your behavior has also changed. So now, if you slip up with the guy in finance, your colleagues will likely see it as a temporary lapse.

Your approach is to target a problem behavior and change it. Some critics say that’s a flawed approach because it ignores the possibly deep psychological bases of behavior. I don’t agree with that. Therapy is valuable for some types of problems, but it generally isn’t relevant for the behavioral issues I work with.

Virtually everybody I coach has reasons that are “not his fault” that make him behave the way he does. I just tell them, “Let that go. Focus on what you can change.”

When you’re over 50, blaming mom and dad is weak. Can you imagine a CEO sitting down with people and saying, “You know, I make too many destructive comments, and I analyzed why. It’s because of my father”? Forget it!

The message is, “You’re an adult. Grow up! Take responsibility for your behavior.”

It’s much harder to change what people think of your behavior than to actually change that behavior. To change others’ perception of you, first target a problem behavior, tell them you’re going to change, follow up with action, and check your progress with these people at regular intervals. That way, they are made aware of the progress you’ve made.

Life is good.



Getting the Most from Your Coach

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

A research review on the unique challenges and strategies involved in helping successful people get even better revealed some interesting findings, including:  Successful people are much more likely to accept coaching from those whom they respect and whom they see as successful. Successful people are less likely to value coaching from those whom they do not see as successful. This phenomenon tends to occur even if the content of the coaching from less successful people is very similar.

This point was made even more clearly when Beverly Kaye, Ken Shelton, and I asked great thought leaders and teachers to describe a key event when they learned something that made a significant difference in their lives. This led to our book Learning Journeys. More than half of the respondents described a situation in which they had received coaching from someone that they deeply respected.

In many cases, this coaching did not come from someone in a formal coaching relationship (like a consultant, manager, or teacher). Interestingly enough, most agreed that the same message would not have had much impact if a different person had delivered it. This made us realize that, when dealing with successful people, the source of coaching can be as important as the content of the coaching.

Another clear finding of our literature search is that positive behavioral change is much more likely to last if the individual who is trying to change has a “support group” (or at least “support person”) who is assisting in the change process. In order for these supportive coaches to be helpful, there needs to be a “two-way” respect relationship. They need to respect us and we need to respect them.

In helping you achieve a positive, measurable change in behavior, your best coaches will not necessarily be outside experts (like me) who have credentials or training in this field. Your best coaches may often be people that you respect and who impact your life on a daily basis.

A common misconception about coaching is that your coach has to be an “expert” to be helpful. This is not true. A helpful behavioral coach can be anyone that you respect. Your coach can be anyone who observes your behavior on a day-to-day basis. Your coach can be a person that is part of any valuable relationship.

Your spouse, friends, or partners may not be experts on interpersonal behavior, but they may be experts at understanding how your interpersonal behavior impacts them! They can usually describe the behavior that you need to demonstrate so that you can become more effective (at work) or happier (at home).

Who should your coaches be? In selecting coaches, you may wish to consider the key people who are impacted by your behavior. This list might include your manager, direct reports, colleagues, customers, friends, and family members. A key guideline is: don’t ask for their advice if you don’t want to hear it! Involve the people who you believe can help you get better.

After determining who you want your coaches to be, it is important to gain their commitment to the coaching process. Have a one-on-one dialogue with each person whom you are going to recruit as a coach.

Ask them if they would be willing to spend a few minutes each month during the next year to help you achieve a positive change in your behavior. When they respond, look closely at their faces; don’t just listen to their words. Only involve people who are sincerely willing to try to help you.

Be honest and direct in these dialogues. Let them know that you are going to make a sincere effort to improve. Don’t promise that you will succeed. Be realistic - let them know that you will probably “fall off the wagon” during the next year. Let them know that you will be very sensitive to the value of their time in this process.

I have found that the answers to the three simple questions that follow can be great predictors as to their future success in being your coach and in helping you change.

1. Are you willing to “let go” of my past behavior and try to help me change my future behavior?

One of the great mistakes that we make when we try to help others change is to focus on the past, not on the future. How many times have we been “helped” by a spouse, friend, or partner who is able to impress us with their near photographic memory of our previous “sins”? How much does this generally help anyone? None of us can change our past; all we can do is change our future. Focusing on the past can be demoralizing. Focusing on the future can be energizing.

For better or worse, it is often useless to have a dialogue with successful people about what they have done wrong in the past. The successful person who “receives” the feedback often becomes defensive, denies the feedback, and tries to prove that the sender is “wrong” or “doesn’t understand”. The “sender” of the feedback may feel awkward, embarrassed, uncomfortable, or even afraid. Successful people tend to resist negative feedback about their past; they almost always appreciate constructive suggestions for their future.

By focusing on the future, the coach can usually “cover the same material” in a much more constructive way. Rather than focusing on “Let’s talk about how you made an ass of yourself in front of the executive team!” the coach can focus on, “Ideas for making more effective executive presentations in the future.”

Having your coach focus on the future will make this process a lot more fun (and a lot less painful) for you. Do you really want someone pointing out everything that you have done wrong? Wouldn’t you rather work with someone who is willing to “forgive yesterday’s sins” and try to help you get better tomorrow?

2. Are you willing to be a supportive coach, not a cynic, critic, or judge?

Successful people tend to respond very well to future-oriented advice that will help them achieve their goals. Successful people tend to resist advice when they feel that they are being judged or manipulated.

Improving an interpersonal relationship involves a two-way effort. If we work hard to change our behavior so that we can have better relationships with others, and we only receive cynicism or criticism, we will generally give up on the process. Why should we work so hard to improve our relationship with people when we feel punished for our efforts?

The person whom you are recruiting to help you needs to understand that your efforts to change behavior (over the next year) will often result in failure. We all have a tendency to revert back to old behavior. The more stressful the situation, the more likely this is to be true. If your coach does not give up on you when you fail in the short run, you will be much more likely to succeed in the long run. If your coach expects you to fail and says, “I knew you could not change,” your odds for successful change go down.

The people whom we respect can create either positive or negative self-fulfilling prophecies concerning our behavior. Optimism is a key ingredient in helping people change. If your coaches consistently communicate a belief that “you can do it”, you will be much more likely to succeed. If they do not believe that you can change, they may do more harm than good.

3. Will you commit to being honest with me when you give me suggestions for the future?

Coaches who are unwilling to be honest are generally not that helpful. If the coaches are unduly negative, the person being coached may become unnecessarily demoralized. If the coaches are unduly positive, the person being coached may be getting positive reinforcement for negative behavior. Neither option is useful. Just ask your coaches to tell the truth as they see it. Point out that they are the only people in the world who can accurately provide their assessments of your behavior.

In my corporate work, hundreds of my clients have asked their colleagues these questions. The huge majority of people say yes to all three. In some cases, people say no. Perhaps the relationship has been too strained too long for them to want to fix it. Perhaps they are uncomfortable providing honest suggestions.

Perhaps they are too busy. It doesn’t really matter. If they don’t want to participate, don’t force the issue. Just thank them for their honesty in telling you how they feel. In almost all cases, there will be more than enough people who are willing to help. Work with them.

Following-up With Your Coaches

After recruiting your support group of coaches, ask them for their ideas on how you can improve. This can be done either formally (through 360 degree feedback) or informally (through merely asking for suggestions for the future).

Identify the one or two behavioral changes that can make the most positive impact. Realize that these behaviors may vary with different groups. Ask them for ongoing suggestions for improvement in these behaviors. Do not promise that you will do everything they say. Do promise to listen to their ideas, to understand their perspective, and to do what you can. Stick with the plan and make sure that you keep following-up.

Results from thousands of people who have followed these steps demonstrate a clear pattern. If you recruit supportive coaches whom you respect, ask them for ongoing suggestions, listen to their ideas, and keep following-up, you will almost always achieve a positive long-term change in your behavior. You will also improve your relationships with the most important people in your world!

Life is good.


Click here for my upcoming schedule

Make a Career Decision

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

“You can do it!” and “Follow your dreams!” We’ve all heard these speeches.

Abandoning one job or career for another is much easier to say than do. Especially when you are, by any measure, a “winner” in life and the place you’re in is pretty good. In spite of speeches that make it sound easy, changing our lives is tough. We may fail. People may laugh at us. In the words of one of my clients, “Even my mother will think that I am crazy if I give up this job!”

Many of us grapple with these issues. My friend Jill is a gifted engineer who has invested years in making a significant contribution to her firm. But her burning passion for her work is starting to cool down. When I asked her to describe her concerns, she grimaced and said, “I just don’t feel like I’m learning that much. I know I’m doing a great job, but I feel like, ‘Been there, done that.’ It’s not the company’s fault. I love my company and feel like they deserve my best. It’s just hard for me to generate the enthusiasm that I know I should.”

“What job sounds fun and exciting to you?” I asked.

Her face lit up as she replied, “I think that I could do a great job managing a project team and eventually leading a larger part of our business. I have seen other managers. I know that I can do what they do. In fact, some of the ones I respect the most have encouraged me to go for it.”

“Why don’t you try for a career in management?”

“I’m afraid of giving up what I have,” she added. “If I go into management, I’m definitely going to lose my technical edge after a few years. Nobody is going to want to hire me as an engineer anymore. I have friends who’ve been in middle management and been laid off. It can be tough for them to get another job. Besides, I’m great at what I do. I make a nice salary, and I don’t have as many headaches. Why should I take the risk?” She became animated as she defended her present position.

I laughed and replied, “Jill, it’s not my life. We’re talking about your life. Being an engineer is fine; being in management is fine. I’m just a friend who wants you to be happy. Who are you arguing with?”

“I guess that I’m arguing with myself,” she said, smiling. “I just don’t know what to do.”

A client, Dave, is also very good at what he does. In some ways he seems to have it all. He’s 50, in great shape, has an MBA from Wharton, and is an investment banker with a net worth of millions of dollars. He has a great wife and nice kids. But his burning passion for his work is also beginning to wane. He wants to teach. I asked him why he loved teaching, and he said, “It’s really fun. Every night when I come home from teaching an MBA course at the local university, my wife notices how great I feel and how positive I am. I really believe I’m making a difference in some of my students’ lives!”

But when I asked, “Why don’t you become a teacher?” Dave talked himself out of his newfound passion.

“Compared to being an investment banker, college professors don’t make any money. To make it worse, none of the real professors seem to respect me that much. I don’t have a PhD; in some ways, they kind of think that they are better than I am. Why should I put up with their crap? Many of them don’t know anything about the real world like I do. Why should I give up a great job with lots of money, status, and respect to be a second-class citizen?”

“To begin with, why do you care about money?” I laughed. “You already have more than you can spend. By the way, who are you arguing with?”

It’s very easy to talk with our friends about “going to the next level.” How many times have you heard people talk about the job that they “would love to have someday”? How many of these people actually end up doing the work they dream about?

The next time you hear yourself talking about “that job I would really like to have,” look in the mirror. How willing are you to lose what you have? All opportunity involves risk. How willing are you to face the possibility of failure or diminished success?

If you have been having the same long-standing debate — either with friends or just in your head — it’s time to make a decision. If you want to go for it, don’t kid yourself about the risk. You have to be willing to accept the possibility of failure and get started. If you decide you don’t want to give up what you have, make peace with it.

Quit wasting time debating with yourself about a future that will never happen.

Who are you arguing with?

Life is good.


People Skills

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

How would you hire people if everyone is highly skilled, well educated at the same school, and locked in a dead heat of accomplishment, posting exactly the same “lifetime batting average”?

How would you decide whom to promote and whom to cast aside?

Chances are you would start paying very close attention to how people behave — how they treat colleagues and clients, how they speak and listen in meetings, how well they extend the minor courtesies that either lubricate daily work life or create friction. Welcome to the real world at the higher levels of organizational life.

We apply these behavioral criteria to almost any successful person, whether it’s our CEO or our plumbing contractor. But sometimes we forget to apply them to ourselves. And in turn, we forget that our behavior may be holding us back.

All other things being equal, your people skills (or lack thereof) become more pronounced the higher up you go. In fact, even when all other things are not equal, your people skills often make the difference in how high you go. Who would you rather have as a CFO? A moderately good accountant who is great with people outside the firm and skilled at managing very smart people? Or a brilliant accountant who’s inept with outsiders and alienates all the smart people under him?

Not a tough choice, really. The candidate with superb people skills will win out every time, in large part because he will be able to hire people smarter than he is about money and he will be able to lead them. There’s no guarantee that the brilliant number cruncher can do that now or any time in the foreseeable future.

We all have certain attributes that helped us land our first job. These achievements go on our resumes. But as we become more successful, those attributes recede into the background and more subtle traits emerge. It’s not enough to be smart. You have to be smart — and something else. At some point, you get the benefit of the doubt on skill issues.

For example, we assume our doctors know medicine, so we judge them on their bedside manner. And not many people remember that Jack Welch has a PhD in chemical engineering. That’s because none of the problems he encountered in his last 30 years at GE were in any way related to his skill at chemical titration or formulating plastics.

When he was vying for the CEO job, the attributes holding him back were strictly behavioral: his brashness, his blunt language, his unwillingness to suffer fools. The soft behavioral skills came to the fore only after he delivered profits and ascended the GE ladder. That’s when the GE board wanted to know if he could behave as a CEO.

What if you had to prepare a resume where you couldn’t highlight the elite college you graduated from, or your five years at McKinsey, or even your title at your current job?

You can’t boast about the profits you posted, the sagging division you turned around, or the product you launched and turned into a stand-alone brand. The only data you can put on your resume are your interpersonal skills (which, for the purposes of this exercise, must be documented and authentic). What would they be?

* To be able to listen?
* To give proper recognition?
* To share — whether it’s information or credit for a success?
* To stay calm when others panic?
* To make midcourse corrections?
* To accept responsibility – and admit mistakes?
* To defer to others, even (especially) those of lesser rank?
* To let someone else be right some of the time?
* To resist playing favorites?

You see where I’m going?

This quick list of attributes, while attractive in a junior employee, is not the sort of thing that junior employees get lauded for. But further along in your career curve, when it’s time to step up into a leadership position, you’re going to need these qualities in spades.

Stripped of your technical mastery and your hall-of-fame-quality lifetime batting average, what are the interpersonal skills that will make you rise above the leadership pack? Pick one, any skill that you feel you’re lacking. And start developing it . . . now.

Life is good.


September 15, 2008 - New York - SHRM - contact Marshall if interested

October 2, 2008 - The Conference Board - Download Schedule - Register with discount: NM1

October 8, 2008 - Boston - Linkage: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” one day program

October 13, 2008 - Palm Desert, CA - Global Institute of Leadership Development - Register with discount: GILD08-PW

October 29, 2008 - Japanese Business Executives - Tokoyo, Japan

October 30, 2008 - Japanese Business Coaches - Tokoyo, Japan

December 2, 2008 in San Francisco - Linkage: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” one day program

To view my complete schedule, click here.

Advice from Your Best Expert

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

Do you know what’s most important in your life?

I want you to imagine that you’re 95 years old – and on your death bed. Before taking your last breath - you’re given a great gift: the ability to travel back in time - the ability to talk to the person who is reading this column - the ability to help this person be a better professional and, more importantly, lead a better life.

The 95-year-old you understands what was really important and what wasn’t, what mattered and what didn’t, what counted and what didn’t really count. What advice would this wise “old you” have for the “you” who is reading this page?

Take a few seconds to answer this question – personally and professionally. Jot down words that capture what the old you would be saying to the younger you that is here now.  My next suggestion is simple - just do whatever you wrote down! Make that your resolution for this year and next.

A friend of mine actually had the chance to interview people who were dying and ask them what advice they would have had for themselves. The answers he got provide wonderful advice for all of us.

One recurring theme was to “find happiness and meaning - now,” not next month or next year. The great Western disease lies in the phrase, “I will be happy when . . .” The wise old you has finally realized that the next promotion, the next achievement, or the corner office really won’t change your world that much. Many older people said they were so wrapped up in looking for what they didn’t have that they seldom appreciated what they did have. They often wished they would just enjoyed life as they were living it.

Another common response revolved around friends and family. You may work for a wonderful company, and you may think that your contribution to that organization is very important. When you are 95 years old and you look at the people around your deathbed, very few of your fellow employees will be waving good-bye. Your friends and family will probably be the only people who care. Appreciate them now and share a large part of your life with them.

Older people offer other valuable advice: “Follow your dreams”. 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. Buy the sports car you always wanted, go to that exotic locale you always imagined yourself visiting, learn to play the guitar or the piano.

If some people think your vision of a well-lived life is a bit offbeat or even goofy, who cares? It isn’t their life. It’s yours. Old people who pursued their dreams are always happier with their lives. Few of us will achieve all of our dreams. Some will always be elusive.

So the key question is not, “Did I make all of my dreams come true?” The key question is, “Did I try?”

I was involved in a major research project involving more than 200 high-potential leaders from 120 companies around the world. Each company could nominate only two future leaders, the very brightest of its young stars. These are the kinds of people who could jump at a moment’s notice to better-paying positions elsewhere. We asked each of them a simple question: “If you stay in this company, why are you going to stay?”

The following are the top three answers.

“I am finding meaning and happiness now. The work is exciting and I love what I am doing.”

“I like the people. They are my friends. This feels like a team. It feels like a family. I could make more money working with other people, but I don’t want to leave the people here.”

“I can follow my dreams. This organization is giving me a chance to do what I really want to do in life.”

The answers were never about the money. They were always about the satisfaction. When my friend asked people on their deathbeds what was important – and I asked young, global leaders what was important – we got exactly the same answers!

When you’re looking for what’s most important, don’t look ahead. Look behind. Be happy now - enjoy your friends and family – and follow your dreams.

This is great advice for everyone who wants a fulfilling career. It’s also great advice for everyone who wants to live a meaningful life.

Life is good.


Upcoming Schedule:

September 15, 2008 - New York - SHRM - contact Marshall if interested

October 2, 2008 - The Conference Board - Download Schedule - Register with discount: NM1

October 8, 2008 - Boston - Linkage: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” one day program

October 13, 2008 - Palm Desert, CA - Global Institute of Leadership Development - Register with discount: GILD08-PW

October 29, 2008 - Japanese Business Executives - Tokoyo, Japan

October 30, 2008 - Japanese Business Coaches - Tokoyo, Japan

December 2, 2008 in San Francisco - Linkage: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” one day program