Posts Tagged ‘CEO’

“Succession: Are You Ready?” Tackles Toughest Management Challenge

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Bestselling Author Marshall Goldsmith Examines Problems of Executive Transition WATERTOWN, Mass.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–With CEO tenure on a rapid decline, many CEOs will soon be faced with the challenge of handing the baton over to a successor. But it’s not only CEOs that go through tough transitions. Any leader, as they move up, around, or out of the organization, will eventually be planning a transition and preparing their successor for the job. How should an incumbent prepare to let go? When is the right time to start identifying potential successors and what is the best way to groom them? How should stakeholders be managed during a leadership transition?

In “Succession: Are You Ready?” bestselling author Marshall Goldsmith offers candid analysis and advice on the problem of succession from the outgoing executive’s perspective. Goldsmith, ranked among the top 10 executive educators by the Wall Street Journal, has coached over 80 major CEOs through a leadership transition. Based on his experience, Goldsmith addresses the following succession issues:

·   Why leadership transition is the greatest challenge for any leader; ·   Why thinking about succession as early as possible will ensure an effective transition; ·   How to identify and mentor potential successors and build a solid pipeline; ·   How to avoid internal political disasters when more than one candidate is being considered; ·   How to understand the personal dynamics of developing a successor and how to overcome the predictable biases and blind spots; ·   How to know when it is time to step down; ·   How to work with the board and other stakeholders, and what to expect from them during the succession; ·   How to let go and hand over responsibility with class and grace. From choosing and grooming a successor while sidestepping political minefields, to finally handing over responsibility, “Succession: Are You Ready?” walks leaders through each step in the succession process. About the Author Marshall Goldsmith is a world authority in helping successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior – for themselves, their people, and their teams. Goldsmith is the New York Times bestselling author or coeditor of 24 books, including “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” which won the Harold Longman Award for Best Business Book of 2007.

His major professional acknowledgements include: BusinessWeek’s most influential practitioner in the history of leadership development; The Economist’s most credible advisers in the new era of business; The Wall Street Journal’s top 10 executive educators; Forbesfive most-respected executive coaches; Fast Company’s preeminent executive coach in America; The Times50 most influential living business thinkers; and the American Management Association’s 50 great thinkers who have most impacted the field of management over the past 80 years.

Goldsmith is the cofounder of Marshall Goldsmith Partners. In 2006, Alliant International University named its schools of business and organizational psychology the Marshall Goldsmith School of Management. He is one of the few executive advisers who have been asked to work with over 100 major CEOs and their management teams. His weekly columns appear on and Almost all of his articles, videos and audio are available online at

“Succession: Are You Ready?” by Marshall Goldsmith; Harvard Business Press; February 10, 2009; Hardcover: $18.00/HC; 110 pages; ISBN: 978-1-4221-1823-8  

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.


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.



Influencing Up

Monday, October 6th, 2008

“The great majority of people tend to focus downward.  They are occupied with efforts rather than results.  They worry over what the organization and their superiors ‘owe’ them and should do for them.  And they are conscious above all of the authority they ‘should have’.  As a result they render themselves ineffectual”.  -  Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker has written extensively about the impact of the knowledge worker on modern organizations.  Knowledge workers can be defined as people who know more about what they are doing than their managers do.  While many knowledge workers have years of education and experience in training for their positions, they often have little training in how to effectively influence upper management.  As Peter has noted, “The greatest wisdom not applied to action and behavior is meaningless data.”

The ten guidelines listed below are intended to help you do a better job of influencing your upper management.  I hope that you find them useful in helping you convert your good ideas into meaningful action!

1) When presenting ideas to upper management, realize that it is your responsibility to sell – not their responsibility to buy.

In many ways, influencing up is similar to selling products or services to external customers.  They don’t have to buy – you have to sell!  Any good salesperson takes responsibility for achieving results.  No one is impressed with salespeople who blame their customers for not buying their products.

If more time were spent on developing our ability to present ideas, and less time were spent on blaming management for not buying our ideas, a lot more might get accomplished.

The effective upward influencer needs to be a good teacher.  Good teachers realize the communicating knowledge is often a greater challenge than possessing knowledge.

2) Focus on contribution to the larger good – not just the achievement of your objectives.

An effective salesperson would never say to a customer, “You need to buy this product, because if you don’t, I won’t achieve my objectives!”

Effective salespeople relate to the needs of the buyers, not to their own needs.  In the same way effective upward influencers relate to the larger needs of the organization, not just to the needs of their unit or team.

3) Strive to win the “big battles” – don’t waste your energy and “psychological capital” on trivial points.

Executive’s time is very limited.  Do a thorough analysis of ideas before “challenging the system”.  Don’t waste time on issues that will only have a negligible impact on results.  Focus on issues that will make a real difference.  Be willing to “lose” on small points.

4) Present a realistic “cost-benefit” analysis of your ideas – don’t just sell benefits.

Every organization has limited resources, time and energy.  The acceptance of your idea may well mean the rejection of another idea that someone else believes is wonderful.  Be prepared to have a realistic discussion of the costs of your idea.  Acknowledge the fact that something else may have to be sacrificed in order to have your idea implemented.

By getting ready for a realistic discussion of costs, you can “prepare for objections” to your idea before they occur.  You can acknowledge the sacrifice that someone else may have to make and point out how the benefits of your plan may outweigh the costs.

5) “Challenge up” on issues involving ethics or integrity – never remain silent on ethics violations.

The best of corporations can be severely damaged by only one violation of corporate integrity.  Hopefully, you will never be asked to do anything by the management of your corporation that represents a violation of corporate ethics.  If you are, refuse to do it and immediately let upper management know of your concerns.  This action needs to be taken for the ultimate benefit of your company, your customers, your co-worker and yourself.

When challenging up try not to assume that management has intentionally requested you to do something wrong.  In some cases, inappropriate requests may be made because of misunderstandings or poor communication.  Try to present your case in a manner that is intended to be helpful, not judgmental.

6) Realize that your upper managers are just as “human” as you are – don’t say, “I am amazed that someone at this level…”

Even the best of leaders are human.  We all make mistakes.  When your managers make mistakes, focus more on helping them than judging them.

7) Treat upper managers with the same courtesy that you would treat partners or customers - don’t be disrespectful.

While it is important to avoid “kissing up” to upper management, it is just as important to avoid the opposite reaction.  A surprising number of middle managers spend hours “trashing” the company and its executives or making destructive comments about other co-workers.

Before speaking it is generally good to ask four questions:

a.         Will this comment help our company?

b.         Will this comment help our customers?

c.         Will this comment help the person that I am talking to?

d.         Will this comment help the person that I am talking about?

If the answers are no, no, no and no – don’t say it!  There is a big difference between total honesty and dysfunctional disclosure.  As we discussed earlier, it is always important to “challenge up” on integrity issues.  It is often inappropriate to “trash down” when making personal attacks.

8) Support the final decision of the team – don’t say, “They made me tell you” to direct reports.

Assuming that the final decision of the team is not immoral, illegal or unethical – go out and try to make it work!  A simple guideline for communicating difficult decisions is to ask, “How would I want someone to communicate to their people if they were passing down my final decision and they disagreed with me?”  Treat your manager in the same way that you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed.

9) Make a positive difference – don’t just try to “win” or “be right”.

We can easily become more focused on what others are doing wrong, than how we can make things better.  An important guideline in influencing up is to always remember your goal – make a positive difference for the organizations.

Corporations are different that academic institutions.  In an academic institution the goal may be sharing ideas, not impacting the world.  Hours of acrimonious debate can be perfectly acceptable. In a corporation, sharing ideas without having an impact is worse than useless.  It is a waste of the stockholders money and a distraction from serving customers.

When I was interviewed in the Harvard Business Review, I was asked, “What is the most common ‘area for improvement’ for the executives that you meet?  My answer was “winning too much”.  Focus on making a difference.  The more other people can “be right” or “win” with your idea, the more likely your idea is to be successfully executed.

10) Focus on the future – “let go” of the past.

One of the most important behaviors to avoid is “whining” about the past.  Successful people love getting ideas aimed at helping them achieve their goals for the future.  We dislike being “proven wrong” because of our mistakes in the past.  By focusing on the future you can concentrate on what can be achieved tomorrow, as opposed to what was not achieved yesterday.  This future orientation may dramatically increase your odds on effectively influencing up.  It will also help you build better long-term relationships with people at all levels of your organization.

In summary, think of the years that you have spent “perfecting your craft”.  Think of all of the knowledge that you have accumulated.  Think about how your knowledge can potentially benefit your organization.  How much energy have you invested in acquiring all of this knowledge?  How much energy have you invested in learning to present this knowledge – so that you can make a real difference?

My hope that by making a small investment in learning to influence up, you can make a large, positive difference for the future of your organization!

Life is good.


Upcoming Events

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

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.


They’re Not You

Monday, September 1st, 2008

A lot of executives assume that their staff members should act exactly as they do — and enjoy what they enjoy. Leaders are especially prone to this mistake when it comes to their communication style. When I began working with Bob, the CEO of a successful company, I saw this problem play out before my eyes.

The feedback on Bob didn’t quite add up. On the one hand, it said he often stifled open discussion. On the other, it said he was always changing his mind. These two characteristics are often mutually exclusive. People who discourage open discussion aren’t usually people who are always changing their mind.

Things only made sense after Bob’s chairman told me, “You have to understand, Bob is the world champion at debating with others and at arguing with himself. He was a star on one of the best college debating teams in the world.”

Time and again, Bob’s natural response with any new idea was to go into debate mode and try to shoot holes in it. Let’s say Harry, three levels below Bob in the organization, expressed his opinion in a meeting. Bob would leap into the conversation and present the other side of the argument. Harry, considering his status, wasn’t likely to be as quick as Bob and almost certainly not as good at debate. Bob just made Harry look very stupid in front of his colleagues.

Harry’s reaction to the debate was very simple: Quit expressing opinions that Bob may not want to hear. Even better, play it safe and quit expressing opinions at all. Bob thought he was debating; Harry felt like he’d been stepped on.

Bob compounded the problem by debating with himself as well. Someone would say, “Why don’t we try this?” and Bob would approve. But a few days later, after he had enough time to debate his decision with himself, he’d change his mind, saying, “Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.” In his head, he was open-minded. In his staff’s collective brain, he was confusing the hell out of them.

My job was to make Bob see the problem, which I like to call the “golden-rule fallacy.” He assumed that his people were just like him and, therefore, liked to be treated the same way he did.

When I told Bob about the feedback he had received, he quickly blurted out, “There must be some misunderstanding here! I love it when we can all take the gloves off and tell each other what we really think.”

“That’s nice. But they aren’t you,” I said.

“What’s wrong with me expressing an opinion, and someone else expressing an opinion, and we have a healthy debate?” he asked.

True to form, Bob had lured me into a heated debate. I replied, “Well, yes, but you’re the CEO — and they aren’t. You have advanced degrees and a big IQ — and they may not. You were the star debater at your top university — and they weren’t. Their odds of beating you at this game are close to zero. So they opt not to play.”

“What about Jim?” Bob countered. “The other day he and I had a heated disagreement. He told me what he thought about one of my plans in no uncertain terms. We had a real head-to-head discussion and ended up with a solution that was better than either one of us started with. Jim told me how much he appreciated my candor and how much fun it was to argue. How do you explain that?”

After laughing at Bob’s animated version of his discussion, I replied, “Jim is a younger version of you! He has a great education; he’s brilliant and quick. You don’t intimidate him. Unfortunately for you, very few people in the world are like Jim, or for that matter, like you. If they were, your style would be perfect.”

All of a sudden, the light bulb went on for Bob. He saw that he was operating under a bogus assumption about how to treat others. So he changed his behavior.

He paid close attention to his debating urges and stifled them when they put his staff at a huge disadvantage. He routinely invited people to voice their opinions in meetings and thought once, twice, three times before challenging them.

As a CEO, he started making clear decisions and quit causing confusion by publicly debating with himself. After 12 months, Bob’s team perceived him as a better boss.

The golden rule doesn’t always work in leadership. If you manage your people the way you’d want to be managed, you’re forgetting: You’re not managing you!

Life is good.

Marshall’s Upcoming Schedule:

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

October 2, 2008 - The Conference Board - Download Schedule - Register with discount: MG1

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:

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.



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