Archive for the ‘Happiness’ Category

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.

Marshall

https://MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com

http://www.MarshallGoldsmithFeedForward.com

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.

Marshall

MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com

www.MarshallGoldsmithFeedForward.com

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

Love What You Do

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

I wrote an article for Fast Company awhile ago about loving what you do.

I talked about Warren Bennis. Warren Bennis has always been one of my heroes. Dr. Bennis is a distinguished professor and founding chairman of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California and a visiting professor at Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School. His books on leadership have sold over a million copies. Along with being one of the greatest teachers and writers in our field, he’s also a good guy. At various stages in my career, he has taken the time to give me words of recognition, support, and encouragement. His consideration has meant a lot to me. Besides being successful and brilliant, he’s thoughtful. These words don’t always go together.

One day Warren and I were speaking to a group of educators from many of the top MBA programs. As Dr. Bennis was discussing his latest views on leadership, he decided to “take a detour.” He began to ponder his own journey through life and the lessons he’d learned. He openly reflected upon his personal struggles — not as a teacher of leadership but as a practitioner of leadership — when he was the president of the University of Cincinnati. His voice noticeably quavered as he recalled one of the most important moments in his career. As he was speaking to a university audience in his presidential role, one of his friends in the room unexpectedly asked: “Do you love what you do?”

A long, awkward silence filled the room as he pondered the question. As a president, he searched for the right answer, but as a human, he wanted the real answer. Finally, in a quiet voice, he replied, “I don’t know.”

That revelation plunged Warren into deep reflection. It dramatically altered his path through life. He had always thought that he wanted to be the president of a university. It had not dawned on him that after he got there he might not actually enjoy the life of a university president.

Do you love what you do? This may be the seminal question of our age. In yesterday’s world, where professionals worked 40 hours a week and took four weeks of vacation, this question was important, but not nearly as important as it is today. I remember visiting, in the early 1980s, the corporate headquarters of one of the world’s most successful companies at 5 p.m. There was almost no one there. You could fire a cannonball down the hall and not hit anyone. Those days are gone. It was much easier to find meaning and satisfaction in activities outside of work when we were under a lot less pressure and worked far fewer hours. Not only did people have more time, they weren’t as tired.

Almost all of the professionals I work with are busier today than they ever have been in their lives, working 60 to 80 hours a week. They feel under more pressure than ever. Cell phones, PDAs, and emails forever tether us to our work, whether we like it or not. Put it all together and — if you don’t love what you do — it can be a kind of new-age professional hell. We can be wasting our lives waiting for a break that never comes.

My good friend Dr. Srikumar Rao puts it this way:

“Life is short. And uncertain. It is like a drop of water skittering around on a lotus leaf. You never know when it will drop off the edge and disappear. So each day is far too precious to waste. And each day that you are not radiantly alive and brimming with cheer is a day wasted.

Stop right now and evaluate your life. YOUR LIFE. As it is right now. Are you, by and large and daily variations aside, happier now than you have ever been? Do you have the inner conviction that you are on the path that is just right for you, the one that is transparently leading you to fulfillment in many dimensions – in your career, in relationships, in spiritual development?

If the answer is, NO, ask yourself, WHY NOT?  The first step to getting there is to refuse to accept anything less.”

Dr. Rao is offering his Creativity and Personal Mastery(CPM) course beginning October 5, 2008 in Los Angeles.  For more information check out: http://www.areyoureadytosucceed.com

Life is too short.  In the new world, we don’t have to love everything that we do, but we need to find happiness and meaning in most of our professional work.

Life is good.

Marshall

https://MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com

http://www.MarshallGoldsmithFeedForward.com

UPCOMING EVENTS:

August 25-26, 2008 - Indian School of Business - Hyderabad

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

Why Don’t We Ask

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Why is asking so important? In the Information Age, leaders must manage knowledge workers. Peter Drucker has defined knowledge workers as people who know more about what they are doing than their boss does. It is hard to tell people what to do and how to do it when they already know more than we do. In today’s rapidly changing world, we need to ask, listen and learn from everyone around us.

When people ask us for our input, listen to us, try to learn from us and follow up to see if they are getting better, our relationship with them improves.

This seems simple and obvious—so why don’t we do it?

Reviews of summary 360-degree feedback involving thousands of leaders from more than 50 organizations have shown that when the item “Asks people what he or she can do to improve” is included in the company’s leadership inventory, it almost always falls near the bottom (if not in last place) in terms of employee satisfaction. As a rule, leaders don’t ask.

I recently asked the vice president of customer satisfaction in a major organization if his employees should be asking their key customers for feedback—listening, learning and following up to ensure service keeps getting better. “Of course,” he replied.

“How important it this to your company?” I asked. “It’s damn important!” he exclaimed.

I then lowered my voice and asked, “Have you ever asked your wife for feedback on how you can become a better husband?” He stopped, thought for a second, and sighed, “No.”

“Who is more important—your company’s customers or your wife?” I asked. “My wife, of course,” he replied.

“If you believe in asking so much, why don’t you do it at home?” I inquired. He ruefully admitted, “Because I am afraid of the answer.”

Why don’t most of us ask—even though we know we should? We don’t ask, because we are afraid of the answers.

Let me give you a personal example. I am in my 50s, and at my age, one type of input that I should be asking for every year is a physical exam. I managed to avoid this exam, for not one or two years, but seven years. How did I successfully avoid a physical exam for seven years? What did I keep telling myself? I will do it when I quit traveling so much. I’ll go after I begin my “healthy foods” diet. I will get that exam after I get in shape.

Have you ever told yourself the same thing? Who are we kidding? The doctor? Our families? No, we are only kidding ourselves.

My suggestions are very simple:

As a leader:

Get in the habit of asking key co-workers for their ideas on what needs to be done. Thank them for their input, listen to them, learn as much as you can, incorporate the ideas that make the most sense and follow up to ensure that real, positive change is occurring.

As a coach:

Encourage the people you are coaching to ask questions, listen to the answers and learn from everyone around them. Be a great role model for learning, then ask the people you are coaching to learn in the same way that you are. As an executive coach, I find that my clients can learn a lot more from their key stakeholders than they ever learn from me.

As a friend and family member:

Ask your loved ones how you can be a better partner, friend, parent or child. Listen to their ideas. Don’t get so busy with work that you forget that they are the most important people in your life.

Improving interpersonal relationships doesn’t have to take a lot of our time. It does require having the courage to ask for important people’s opinions and the discipline to follow up and do something about what we learn.

Who do you need to ask?

What is your first question?

Life is good.

Marshall

MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com

www.MarshallGoldsmithFeedForward.com

Upcoming Events

Quick and Easy

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

I don’t watch much TV. But one Saturday morning, I found myself channel-surfing for about 15 minutes. I was amazed at how many of the ads were about getting in shape. Here are some of the exact phrases I heard:

“Six-second abs.”

“Easy shaper.”

“Incredible — a miracle!”

“It feels terrific! Let us show you how easy it is!”

“Quickly turn your flabby abs into that sexy six-pack!”

My favorite was one that claimed that “visible results” could be achieved in two three-minute sessions!

I am from Kentucky. Excuse the language, but a phrase from my childhood captures my feeling for these claims: “What a pile of bulls — t!”

If you want to know why so many goal setters don’t become goal achievers, you can pore over a bunch of enlightening academic studies about goals or you can watch infomercials for 15 minutes. Where did we ever get the crazy idea that getting in shape is supposed to be quick and easy? Why do we think that there will be almost no cost? Why are we surprised when working out turns out to be arduous and healthy foods don’t really taste that good?

I see the impact of this kind of thinking all the time. I recently got a call from Mary, an EVP for human resources, who was dealing with the integration of people and systems after her company had made a large acquisition. “Don, our CEO, has been hearing some serious grumbling about Bill, our chief information officer,” she groaned. “Bill is 56 years old and has great experience. No one else in the company can match it.

Unfortunately, he wants everything to be done his way. There are some brilliant people in the company we acquired who have their own ideas. Several of their top people, including our new COO, are expressing concerns about Bill. Don wants this issue resolved now!

He has suggested that we get an executive coach to work with Bill. Given Bill’s busy schedule and our immediate needs, Don would like to see a dramatic change in Bill within a couple of months. Because Bill is also very impatient, he won’t work with a coach who will waste his valuable time. Do you think that you can help us? When could you start?”

Like all of the folks who buy these miracle products to help them get in shape, Mary wanted a miracle coach to immediately change Bill.

I pointed out that Bill was a 56-year-old executive. Just as with diet and exercise, Bill’s behavioral habits took years to develop and won’t go away overnight. We all set goals to get some aspect of our lives in shape. All too often, we fail to meet them. Why? There are four major challenges that we mistakenly assess:

1. Time: “This is taking a lot longer than I thought it would,” or “I don’t have time for this.”

2. Effort: “This is a lot harder than I thought it would be,” or “I’m tired. It’s just not worth it.”

3. Competing goals: “I had no idea I would be so busy this year. I’ll just have to worry about this later.”

4. Maintenance: “After I got in shape, I celebrated by indulging in some of the actions that forced me to set my goals in the first place. Now, for some unexplained reason, I’m back where I started. What am I supposed to do? Go on some kind of diet for the rest of my life?”

We often confuse the words “simple” and “easy”. The changes I help people make are generally very simple. However, they are never easy. Just as with diet and exercise, changing behavior involves hard work. It takes time.

During the next year, Bill will be barraged with competing goals that will distract him from his efforts to change.

He needs to realize that lasting leadership development is a lifelong process. A temporary change in behavior to “look good” in the short term will only create cynicism if Bill doesn’t stick with it.

I can help Bill if he is willing to put in the time and effort. If not, hiring me would probably be a waste of everyone’s time.

Look in the mirror. Not just at how you look but who you are. If you want to be a better leader, a better professional, or just a better person — don’t kid yourself.

To achieve meaningful goals, you’ll have to pay the price. There’s no product, no diet, no exercise program, and (I hate to admit it) no executive coach who can make you better. Only you can do it.

If your source of motivation doesn’t come from inside, you won’t stick with it. This may not be material for a Saturday morning TV ad, but it’s great advice for any real achievement.

Life is good.

Marshall

MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com

www.MarshallGoldsmithFeedForward.com

MY UPCOMING SCHEDULE:

August 25-26, 2008 - Indian School of Business - Hyderabad

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

October 2, 2008 - The Conference Board - Download Schedule - Register

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

October 12, 2008 - Chicago - Linkage: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” one day program

October 13, 2008 - Palm Desert, CA - Global Institute of Leadership Development

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

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

Goals - Keeping Clients Interested

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

My daughter Kelly Goldsmith and I reviewed research on goal-setting and asked ourselves questions such as:
Why do people so frequently give up in their quest for personal improvement? Most of us understand that “New Year’s resolutions” seldom last through January – much less for the entire year! What goes wrong?

We found six of the most important reasons that people give up on goals:

Ownership

One of the biggest mistakes in all of leadership development is the roll-out of programs and initiatives with the promise that “this will make you better”.

Successful people tend to have a high need for self-determination. In other words, the more that leaders commit to coaching and behavior change because they believe in the process, the more the process is likely to work. The more they feel that the process is being imposed upon them or that they are just casually “trying it out” – the less likely the coaching process is to work.

Coaches and companies that have the greatest success in helping leaders achieve long-term change have learned a great lesson – don’t work with leaders who don’t “buy in” to the process. As coaches, we need to have the courage to test our client’s commitment to change. If clients are just “playing a game” with no clear commitment, we need to be willing to stop the process – for the good of the company and for the good of the coaching profession.

In goal-setting coaches need to ensure that the change objectives come from “inside” the person being coached and are not just externally imposed with no clear internal commitment. Coaches need to let clients know that they are ultimately responsible for their own lives. As coaches we need to make it clear that we are there to help our clients do the work – not to do the work for our clients.

Time

Goal-setters have a natural tendency to underestimate the time needed to reach targets. Everything seems to take longer than we think that it should! When the time elapsed in working toward our goal starts exceeding expectations, we are tempted to just give up on the goal. Busy, impatient leaders can be even more time-sensitive than the general population.

In setting goals with leaders it is important to be realistic about the time needed for them to produce a positive, long-term change in behavior. Habits that have taken 48 years to develop will not go away in a week. Let them know that others’ perceptions may seem “unfair” and that as they change behavior – others may not fully recognize this change for months. In this way when they face time challenges they will not feel like there is something “wrong” with them or with their co-workers. They will realize that this is a normal part of the change process. Ultimately, as the research shows, perceptions will begin to change and co-workers will begin to appreciate changed leadership behavior.

Difficulty

The optimism bias of goal-setters applies to difficulty as well as time. Not only does everything take longer than we think it will – it requires more hard work! Leaders often confuse two terms that appear to be synonymous – but are actually quite different – simple and easy. We want to believe that once we understand a simple concept, it will be easy to execute a plan and achieve results. If this were true everyone who understood that they should eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly would be in shape. Diet books are almost always at the top of the best seller lists. Our challenge for getting in shape – as well as for changing leadership behavior - is not understanding, it is doing!

In setting goals it is important that leaders realize that real change will take real work. Making client’s feel good in the short-term with statements like “this will be easy” and “this will be no problem for you” can backfire in the long-term when they realize that change is not easy and that they will invariably face some problems in their journey toward improvement. Letting leaders clearly understand the price for success in the beginning of the change process will help prevent disappointment that can occur when challenges arise later in the change process.

Distractions

Goal setters have a tendency to underestimate the distractions and competing goals that will invariably appear throughout the year. One good counsel that a coach can give an executive is, “I am not sure what crisis will appear – but I am almost positive that some crisis will appear!”

In planning for the future, coaches need to help executives assume that unexpected distractions and competing goals will occur. Build in time in change projections to “expect the unexpected”. By planning for distractions in advance, leaders can set realistic expectations for change and be less likely to give up on the change process - when either special problems or special opportunities emerge.

Rewards

Goal setters tend to become disappointed when the achievement of one goal doesn’t immediately translate into the achievement of other goals. For example, a dieter who loses weight may give up on his weight loss effort when women don’t immediately begin to love him.

Leaders need to personally “buy in” to the value of a long-term investment in their own development. If coaching clients think that improving leadership skills will quickly lead to short-term profits, promotions or recognition – they may be disappointed and may give up when these benefits don’t immediately happen. If coaching clients see the change process as a long-term investment in their own development – and something that will help them become more effective over the course of their careers - they will be much more likely to “pay the price” needed to achieve success.

Maintenance

Once a goal-setter has put in all of the effort needed to achieve a goal, it can be tough to face the reality of maintaining changed behavior. One of the first reactions of many dieters upon reaching their weight goal is to think, “This is great! Now I can start eating again. Let’s celebrate with some pizza and beer!” Of course this mind-set leads to future weight gain and the “yo-yo” effect that is unfortunately so common in dieters.

Coaching clients need to clearly understand – leadership is a process – not a state. Leaders can never “get there”. Leaders are always “getting there”. The only way that exercise helps people stay in shape is when they face the reality that “I have to work on this stuff for the rest of my life!” Leaders need to accept that leadership development is an ongoing process that never stops. Leadership involves relationships – relationships change and people change – maintaining any positive relationship requires ongoing effort over a long period of time. It doesn’t occur because someone “got better” and stayed in this state of “betterness” forever.

In Summary

Coaches can either help leaders set goals that increase their probability of long-term change, or help leaders set goals that may feel good in the short-term – but lead to disillusionment and “giving up” in the long-term.

Coaches that have the courage to tell the truth “up-front” and challenge leaders in goal-setting can go beyond being “highly paid friends”. Honest, challenging coaches can help leaders make a real difference – both in their organizations and in the lives of the people they lead.

Life is good.

Marshall

MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com

www.MarshallGoldsmithFeedForward.com

View my upcoming schedule

Our Stories - Our Traps

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Have you ever noticed how often people describe themselves in disparaging ways? More importantly … have you ever heard yourself saying something like this:

“I am a terrible listener. I’ve been told that for years. People at work tell me I’m a bad listener. So does my wife. I guess that’s just the way I am.”

It’s amazing how often I hear otherwise brilliant leaders make counterproductive, stereotypical comments about themselves.

You’ve surely heard them. Maybe you’ve used them to describe yourself:

• “I’m impatient!”

• “I’m always behind.”

• “I always put things off!”

We often talk about ourselves as if we have permanent genetic flaws that can never be altered.

Our personal stereotyping may originate from stories about us that have been repeated for years–often from as far back as childhood. These stories may have no basis in fact. But they can set low expectations that produce self-fulfilling prophecies, which seem to prove that our negative expectations were correct.

I’m a good example of this. I was brought up in a small town. Growing up in Valley Station, Kentucky, I might naturally have become involved in cars, tools, and mechanical things. My dad had a two-pump gas station. Many of my friends liked to work on cars and race them on weekends at the local drag strip.

As a child, however, I gained a different set of expectations from my mom. Almost from birth, I was told, “Marshall, you are extremely smart. In fact, you are the smartest little boy in Valley Station.” She told me that I wasn’t just going to go to college–I could go to graduate school! She also said, “Marshall, you have no mechanical skills, and you will never have any mechanical skills for the rest of your life!” (I don’t think she wanted me to pump gas, change tires and work on cars at the service station.)

How did these expectations affect my development? I was never encouraged to work on cars or be around tools. Not only did my parents know that I had no mechanical skills, my friends knew it. When I was 18 years old, I took the U.S. Army’s Mechanical Aptitude Test. My scores were in the bottom two percentile for the entire nation! In other words, I was soundly defeated by random chance.

Six years later, however, I was at UCLA, working on my PhD. One of my professors, Dr. Bob Tannenbaum, asked me to write down things I did well and things I couldn’t do. On the positive side, I jotted down, “research,” “writing,” “analysis,” and “speaking.” (In other words, I wrote, “I am smart.”) On the negative side, I wrote, “I have no mechanical skills. I will never have any mechanical skills.”

Bob asked me how I knew I had no mechanical skills. I explained my life history and told him about my dismal showing on the Army test. “How are your mathematical skills?” he asked. I proudly replied that I had scored a perfect 800 on the SAT math 1 achievement test.

Bob then asked, “Why is it that you can solve complex mathematical problems, but you can’t solve simple mechanical problems?” Then he asked, “How is your hand-eye coordination?” I said that I was good at pinball and had helped pay for my college expenses by shooting pool, so I guessed that it was fine.

Bob asked, “Why is it that you can shoot pool, but you can’t hammer nails?”

Suddenly, I realized that I did not suffer from some sort of genetic defect. I was just living out expectations that I had chosen to believe. At that point, it wasn’t just my family and friends who had been reinforcing my belief that I was mechanically hopeless. And it wasn’t just the Army test, either.

I was the one who kept telling myself, “You can’t do this!” I realized that as long as I kept saying that, it was going to remain true.

The next time you hear yourself say, “I’m just no good at . . .” ask yourself why not. The next time you’re coaching someone, and he or she says, “I’m just no good at . . .” ask them why not.

If we don’t treat ourselves–and the people around us–as if we have incurable genetic defects, we can get better at almost anything we choose. Why not?

Life is good.

Marshall

MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com

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Why We Don’t Do What We Say

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

What happens after that terrific seminar or planning session? Does everything go back to business as usual, or does everyone apply the best of what they learned?

A few years ago, I taught a series of one-day courses for the top 2,000 leaders at one of the world’s most admired companies.

As part of the program, each executive received confidential 360-degree feedback. I asked all of the participants to use that feedback to pick one or two areas for personal improvement, talk with their coworkers about what they were going to change, and ask for suggestions on how they could become more effective leaders. Then they were asked to follow up with co-workers by having short ongoing dialogues to help ensure that this process led to a positive, long-term change in their leadership behavior.

In confidential surveys after the course, almost all of the participants enthusiastically agreed that they were going to do what they were asked to do. A year later, almost 70% of the leaders actually did something related to their commitments. About 30% did absolutely nothing. The good news for the 70% was that their co-workers reported that they had become more effective leaders. As for the 30% who did nothing - well, at least they weren’t seen as getting worse! I suppose that qualifies as good news too. But the do-nothings raise an interesting question.

I have had the opportunity to follow up with the leaders in the 30% category and ask them why they didn’t do what they said they would do. Their answers seldom have anything to do with ethics or integrity. In spite of recent examples of terrible ethics violations, the huge majority of leaders I meet are highly ethical people. They are not liars or phonies. They truly believed that they should change and that this was the “right thing to do.” Their answers usually don’t have anything to do with lack of intelligence or understanding either. They are all very bright people. They not only agreed with what they committed to do, but they also understood what to do and how to do it.

So why didn’t these leaders do what they said they were going to do? Why do we often fail to do what we know we should do?

The answer can be explained by something they tell themselves. It’s something I have told myself for years. I am going to predict that you have told yourself the same thing - maybe often, maybe for years. You may be getting a little skeptical right now. You’re probably thinking, “This guy doesn’t know my mind. What is he talking about?” We will see how accurate my guess is.

The interior monologue sounds something like this. “You know, I am incredibly busy right now. In fact, I feel about as busy today as I have ever felt in my entire life. To be honest, I just feel constantly overcommitted. To be really honest, given what is going on at work and at home, sometimes my life feels a little out of control. But, you see, I am working on some very unique and special challenges right now. I think that the worst will be over in four or five months. After that, I am going to take a couple of weeks off and get organized. I am going to start working on my personal development. Then I am going to start spending more time with my family. I’ll start exercising and eating right. When I do, everything is going to be different - and it won’t be crazy anymore.”

Have you ever told yourself something like that? I have, and so have most of the leaders whom I meet every week. Many of us have been saying this to ourselves for years.

That’s why we haven’t been doing what we know we should be doing. We are waiting until life isn’t crazy. We are waiting until we “have some time.” We are waiting for a day that may never appear.

I have learned a hard lesson trying to help real leaders change real behavior in the real world. There is no “two or three weeks.” Things don’t calm down or slow down. Look at the trend line. There is a good chance that tomorrow is going to be even crazier than today.

So here’s my suggestion. Ask yourself two very hard questions.

First, what change is going to make the biggest, positive difference? And second, what am I willing to change now? Not next week, not next month, not when everything starts to make sense. Now.

Don’t worry so much about everything else.

Just change that.

Life is good.

Marshall

MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com

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An Exercise in Listening

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

We all like to think of ourselves as important.  Here is a story about how to become really great in the eyes of the people you meet.

Two highly accomplished lawyers are sitting at the bar at Sparks Steakhouse in New York. One is my friend’s lawyer, Tom, and the other is Tom’s law partner, Kevin. They’re having a leisurely drink, waiting for their table to open up. Sparks is a landmark steakhouse where a handful of New York’s rich, powerful, and glamorous are in attendance most nights. On this night, the A-list name is superstar attorney David Boies, who argued the U.S. government’s case against Microsoft. He makes a beeline to the bar to say hello to Kevin, whom he knows from previous cases.

Boies joins Tom and Kevin for a drink. A few minutes later, Kevin gets up to make a phone call outside. Boies remains at the bar, talking to Tom for 30 minutes. “I’d never met Boies before,” Tom said. “He didn’t have to hang around the bar talking to me. And I have to tell you, I wasn’t bowled over by his intelligence, or his piercing questions, or his anecdotes. What impressed me was that when he asked a question, he waited for the answer. He not only listened, he made me feel like I was the only person in the room.”

Tom’s last 13 words perfectly describe the single skill that separates the great from the near great. When Kevin inexplicably disappeared, Boies stuck around and made a lasting positive impression on Tom. The two attorneys have different practices; the chance that Tom could somehow help Boies one day is virtually nil. Boies clearly wasn’t looking to score points. In showing interest, asking questions, and listening for the answers without distraction, Boies was simply practicing the one skill that has made him inarguably great at relating to people.

I’m not sure why all of us don’t execute this precious interpersonal maneuver all the time. We’re certainly capable of doing so when it really matters to us. If we’re on a sales call with a prospect who could make or break our year, we prepare by knowing something personal about the prospect. We ask questions designed to reveal his inclinations, and we scan his face for clues.

The only difference between us and the super-successful among us - the near great and the great - is that the greats do this all the time. It’s automatic. There’s no on-off switch for caring, empathy, and showing respect. It’s always on.

So why don’t we do it? We forget. We get distracted. We don’t have the mental discipline to make it automatic.

Ninety percent of this skill is listening, of course. And listening requires the discipline to concentrate. So I’ve developed a simple exercise to test my clients’ listening skills. Close your eyes. Count slowly to 50 with one simple goal: You can’t let another thought intrude into your mind. You must concentrate on maintaining the count.

Sounds simple, but incredibly, more than half of my clients can’t do it. Somewhere around 20 or 30, nagging thoughts invade their brain. They think about a problem at work, or their kids, or how much they ate for dinner the night before. This may sound like a concentration test, but it’s really a listening exercise. After all, if you can’t listen to yourself (someone you presumably like) as you count to 50, how will you ever be able to listen to another person?

Like any exercise, this drill both exposes a weakness and helps us get stronger. If I ask you to touch your toes and you can’t, we’ve revealed that your muscles are tight. But if you practice each day, eventually you’ll become more limber.

Once you can complete the exercise without interruption, you’re ready for a test drive. Make your next interpersonal encounter-whether it’s with your spouse or a colleague or a stranger-an exercise in treating the other person like a million bucks. Employ these tiny tactics: Listen. Don’t interrupt. Don’t finish the other person’s sentences. Don’t say, “I knew that.” Don’t even agree with the other person.

If he praises you, just say thank you. Don’t use the words “no,” “but,” and “however.” Don’t let your eyes wander elsewhere while the other person is talking. Maintain your end of the dialogue by asking intelligent questions that show you’re paying attention, move the conversation forward, and require the person to talk (while you listen).

Your only aim is to let the other person feel that he or she is important. If you can do that, you’ll uncover a glaring paradox: The more you subsume your desire to shine, the more you will shine in the other person’s eyes. You may feel like a dullard as you listen quietly, but invariably the other person will say, “What a great guy!” You’d say the same thing about anyone who made you feel like the most important person in the room.

Life is good.

Marshall

MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com

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Documenting Soft Values

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Measuring and documenting are a way of life in business. We keep close tabs on sales, profits, rate of growth, and return on investment. In many ways, part of being an effective leader is setting up systems to measure everything that matters. It’s the only way we can know for sure how we’re doing.

When you think of the importance we put on measurement, you would think that we would be more attuned to measuring the “soft-side values” in the workplace: how often we’re rude to people, how often we’re polite, how often we ask for input rather than shut people out, how often we bite our tongue rather than spit out a needlessly inflammatory remark. Soft values are hard to quantify but, in the area of interpersonal performance, they are as vital as any financial number. They demand our attention if we want to alter our behavior — and get credit for it.

When my children were young, I decided that I wanted to be a more attentive father. So I asked my daughter, Kelly, “What can I do to be a better parent?”

“Daddy,” she said, “you travel a lot, but I don’t mind that you’re away from home so much. What really bothers me is the way you act when you are home. You talk on the telephone, you watch sports on TV, and you don’t spend much time with me.”

I was stunned, because one, she nailed me and two, I felt like an oafish dad who had unwittingly caused his daughter pain. There’s no worse feeling in the world. I recovered quickly, however, by reverting to a simple response that I teach all of my clients. I said, “Thank you. Daddy will do better.”

From that moment, I started keeping track of how many days I spent at least four hours interacting with my family without the distraction of TV, movies, football, or the telephone. I’m proud to say that I got better. In the first year, I logged 92 days of unencumbered interaction with my family. The second year, 110 days. The third, 131 days. The fourth, 135 days.

Five years after that first conversation, even though I was spending more time with my family, my business was more successful than it had been when I was ignoring them. I was beaming with pride — not only with the results, but also with the fact that, like a skilled soft-side accountant, I had documented them. I was so proud, in fact, that I went to my kids, both teenagers by this time, and said, “Look kids, 135 days. What’s the target this year? How about 150 days?”

Both children suggested a massive reduction in “Dad time.” My son, Bryan, suggested paring down to 50 days. Their message: You have overachieved.  I wasn’t discouraged. It was an eye-opener. I was so focused on the numbers, on improving my at-home performance each year, that I forgot that my kids had changed too. An objective that made sense when they were 9 and 12 years old didn’t make sense when they were teenagers.

Soft-side accounting has other benefits. If you track a number, it will remind other people that you are trying. It’s one thing to tell your employees or customers that you’ll spend more time with them. It’s a different ball game if you attach a real number to that goal, and people are aware of it. They become much more sensitized to the fact that you’re trying to change. They also get the message that you care. This can never be a bad thing.

Everything is measurable, from days spent communicating with employees to hours invested in mentoring a colleague. All you have to do is look at the calendar or your watch — and count.

Once you see the beauty of measuring the soft-side values in your life, other variables kick in, such as the fact that setting numerical targets makes you more likely to achieve them. Another measurement that I tracked was how often I spent 10 minutes each day engaging my wife and each of my kids in one-on-one conversations. Ten minutes is not a long time, but it’s a significant improvement on zero. I found that if I measured the activity, I was much more likely to do it. If I faltered, I always told myself, “Well, I get a credit toward the goal, and it only takes me 10 minutes.” Without that measurable goal, I was much more likely to blow it off.

Life is good.

Marshall

MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com

www.MarshallGoldsmithFeedForward.com