Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is the author or editor of 41 books, which have sold over 2.5 million copies, been translated into 32 languages and become listed bestsellers in 12 countries. Amazon.com recently recognized their ‘100 Best Leadership & Success Books’, and Marshall’s books, “Triggers” and “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”, were both recognized as being in the top 100 books ever written in their field. Marshall is one of only two authors with two books on the list.
Marshall is the only two-time Thinkers 50 #1 Leadership Thinker in the World. He has been ranked as the World’s #1 Executive Coach, Top Ten Business Thinker for eight years, and was chosen as the inaugural winner of the Lifetime Award for Leadership by the Harvard Institute of Coaching.
Dr. Goldsmith served as a Professor of Management Practice at the Dartmouth Tuck School of Business. His Ph.D. is from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management – where he was the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. His MBA is from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business – where he was the Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year. He is one of a select few executive advisors who has worked with over 200 major CEOs and their management teams. He served on the Advisory Board of the Peter Drucker Foundation for ten years.
Marshall and Chris talk about leadership in today’s world and what leaders can to improve themselves, their business’s cultures, and their subordinates’ success. This conversation is a great look into what he writes about, teaches, and how he coaches the top executives on the planet.
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Marshall Goldsmith: The #1 Executive Coach Shares His Secrets
Joining me is Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, the author and editor of 41 books that have sold over 2.5 million copies, translated into 32 languages and have become bestsellers in twelve countries. Marshall’s books, Triggers and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There were both recognized by Amazon as being in the top 100 books ever written on leadership. He’s the only two-time Thinkers 50 Number One Leadership Thinker in the World. He’s been ranked as the World’s Number One Executive Coach and also a Top 10 Business Thinker for eight years straight. He was chosen as the inaugural winner of the Lifetime Award for Leadership by the Harvard Institute of Coaching. He’s one of only a select few executive advisors who’s worked with over 200 major CEOs and their management teams.
Harvard Business Review called him the World’s Number One Leadership Thinker. Businessweek called him One of the 50 Great Leaders in America. American Management Association called him One of the 50 Great Thinkers and Leaders who have influenced the field of management over the past 80 years. In this episode, Marshall and I talked about leadership now and what leaders need to do to improve themselves, the cultures of their companies and their subordinates’ success. This conversation is a great look into what he writes about, teaches and how he coaches the top executives in the world. Please join me with Dr. Marshall Goldsmith.
Marshall Goldsmith, thank you for joining me here. How are you doing now?
Life is good. I’m here in La Jolla.
Thank you so much for joining me. I’m so excited. You’re a bestselling author that the whole world knows and you’ve had your multiple bestselling books. You’ve sold millions of copies of books. You’ve been number one on many bestseller lists. You’ve been ranked as a top leader and a top coach for many years on many different lists. It’s cool to have a guy like you that I can bounce things off of and find out about how you got there and what you think about things. I know that you must be getting a lot of people asking you about not only your latest books but also the world we live in, leading in a time of crisis. It must be a topic that I’m sure you’re speaking a lot about, and that you have a lot of opinions on when it comes to individuals, how do we lead, and also leaders of companies and organizations. Tell me a little bit about that.
First, I talk about it from the perspective of the individual. We’re in crazy land. There are so many stimuli and so many things going on. It’s very hard for people to keep in focus. I worked a lot in India. There’s something called the Bhagavad Gita that gives you a good way to look at this. It says in the Bhagavad Gita, the world’s most famous poem, there are two characters. One character got two choices, bad and worse. The other is Krishna and he’s giving him advice. He goes on and on about how bad it is, “I have two choices, bad and worse.” He’s given a very good message, a few key learning points. One is to accept what is.
One of the things that is very important now is what I call pragmatic optimism. You can be optimistic but you have to be realistic. Motivational speeches now are not going to do it or pep talks or whatever. People want someone to be authentic. It’s tough out there. Face the reality of how hard it is. Another part of the book that’s very good is that you have a clear strategy. You do your best and you don’t get fixated on the outcomes. You focus on “What I can control” not “What I cannot control.” One of the guys I worked with is a man named Harry Kraemer. He’s got a good saying. He was asked, “How can you live with yourself? You’ve got to lay people off. You’ve got to fire people.” He said, “I ask myself two questions. Am I doing what I think is right? Am I doing my best? If the answer is yes and yes, make peace.”
I’ll tell you a story, The Parable of the Golfer. The golfer is playing for the club championship. He hits the drive. On the last hole, he finally has a chance to win his little club championship. The ball goes perfectly to the left. People in front of him are rude, loud, noisy and drinking. He is annoyed but he keeps it together. All of a sudden, the ball hits something and goes into the rough. He’s going, “What’s that?” He walks toward the ball and sees a beer can. The idiots in front of him have left a beer can. He is completely angry. What does a golfer need to do? You stop and you breathe. You forget about the beer can. You forget about the shot. You forget about winning the tournament. You come up with a strategy. If you’re one shot behind, you go for the green. Who cares? If you’re three shots ahead, you pitch up the fairway. You come up with a strategy, then you hit the shot in front of you. That’s a good analogy for a day. The people out there need to block out all this stuff. They need to focus and hit the shot in front of them.
I have a strategy for the people I coach called the Six Question Coaching Process. That is have a regular dialogue with the people you lead. Focus on six issues. Number one, where are we going? The leader says, “Here’s where I think we’re going. What do you think? Where are you going? Here’s where I see you going. What do you think?” Have a dialogue. Doing well. It’s very important in times of crisis to not forget the positives, “Here’s what I think you’re doing well.” What are you proud of? What do you think you’re doing well? Suggestions for the future, I teach something called feedforward, not feedback. Don’t spend a lot of time focused on the past. Focus on what you can do and then ask the person, “If you were the coach for you, what ideas would you have? How can I help as a leader? What ideas do you have for me?”You can be optimistic but you have to be realistic. Click To Tweet
I’ve taught this process to seven major CEOs, Jim Morton, CEO of John Hancock Life Insurance Company, Stephen Sanger, CEO of General Mills, and a lot of big CEOs. It always works because it gets people to focus on what’s important. Finally, one final thing, mutual responsibility. As a leader, let people know something. Say, “This may all change next week. If you ever feel confused, lack clarity, too much ambiguity, I want you to take responsibility to talk to me. If I do my job in terms of laying out the basics and you do your job of communicating with me, there’s no reason we should have any problem with any of this alignment.” Be clear with people. This may all change, but at any second and time just like the golfer, they need to clear their minds, focus, hit the shot and realize everything may change next week, at any second. They need that clarity on what’s important.
It sounds to me like you have been doing this for so long, the principles that you’ve taught and that you’ve learned yourself. I see your UCLA shirt there. I think you got your PhD from there?
It was in the School of Management. I am the only PhD graduate who has been the Alumni of the Year. I went to UCLA. I had a great time there. To be perfectly fair, I’m not sure I could get into UCLA now. I think they had 120,000 applicants for the freshman class. I graduated when it was easier.
You still made the Number One Leadership Thinker in the World list. You were ranked number one. One of the books was ranked as the top leadership books.
I’ve done two. Amazon did a survey about the Top 100 Leadership and Success books ever written. I have two books on the list. One of them is called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. The other is Triggers. I’m the only living author who has two books on the list.
Those are two great titles, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. It’s funny because I was talking about what you’ve been learning, preaching and talking about for many years in the past, you probably still use now. You found that there are new opportunities to use these things that you teach and believe in. Going to the title of your book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, there’s a little bit of a contradiction there. You must be still teaching and believing in a lot of stuff you’ve known for many years. How does this book title differentiate from that?
People love this title for speeches because so many companies have been very successful and they’ve got a great track record. The key though is what got you here is not going to get you there for the future. They want to be proud of the tradition where they’ve been, yet at the same time, look in the mirror and say, “This is not going to get it moving forward. We got to be different out there.” Leaders fall into a problem called the Superstition Trap. It sounds like this, “I did this. I was successful. Therefore, if I keep doing this, I will continue to be successful.” No. You did this. You were successful and that’s great. If you keep doing this, you may fail in the future because the world has changed. You can’t assume that what got me here to success yesterday is going to get me there to success tomorrow. That’s what the book is about.
It’s not necessarily about what got you here as a leader, as the way you think about yourself, as the way you approach problems, problem-solving and communicating with people. It’s more about some of the tools or the actions that you used in your company where your company does business needs to change.
It’s both. In my work, I coach executives for a living. I’m more famous for being a coach than anything. You have heard the term executive coach. I’m the most famous executive coach. I’ve coached the CEO of Ford, Pfizer, Glaxo, World Bank, Mayo Clinic, Walmart and Red Cross. What I love about coaching is that’s where I learn everything. Most of the stuff I speak about, I didn’t study in school. I like school, but I don’t remember any of that stuff. All of the stuff I speak about, I learned from coaching real CEOs in the real world. That’s where I’ve learned everything. What Got You Here also applies to people. As a leader, we fall into this trap, “I behave this way. I am successful. Therefore, I must be successful because I behave this way.” No. You behave this way and you are successful because you did many things right and despite doing some incredibly stupid things.
I’ve never met anyone so wonderful that they had nothing on the stupid list. The higher up you go, the harder it is because you don’t get feedback. Everybody laughs at your jokes. I do programs in my house for retiring CEOs. These things are hilarious. At one program, one of the guys there is a CEO of a huge company. He said, “I had this little joke I told. Everyone laughed at my joke. It was a clean joke. It didn’t offend anyone. They loved it when I tell a joke.” He said, “I retired and I told my little joke. No one laughed. They must be grumpy. I told my joke again in the next group. Nobody laughed.” Finally, his wife said, “You idiot. Do you really think that stupid joke was funny?” When he was the CEO, it was funny. When he was not the CEO, it’s not so funny anymore.
There’s got to be some principles and it’s not just, “Change is inevitable. You’ve got to rethink everything and you’ve got to relook.” There’s got to be some things that for many years, you’ve known to be the principles for success or the principles for being the best CEO or the best leader you can be. What are those principles?
Let me tell you what I do in coaching people. Let’s imagine you were the person I coached. I either coach the CEO or the could-be CEO.
I’m a CEO.
That’s good. I’m coaching you. When I coach a CEO, I would involve the board of directors. I would coach the CEO and they get confidential feedback. They don’t know who said what. My average client has eighteen key stakeholders they’re getting feedback from. I write these reports about here’s what you’re doing well. Here’s what you need to do better. We then go over it. You’d say, “I feel good about this. I would want to get better at that,” and then bring in the board. The board of directors would say, “Yes, we agree. This guy is doing great over here and needs to get better at that.”
In my coaching, I have a very unique billing system. I don’t get paid if my clients don’t get better. I work with them for a year and a half. If they get better, I get paid. If they don’t get better, I don’t get paid. That was a great way to test someone who believes what they’re saying. You can ask a person one question and instantly determine their level of belief. I’ve never seen the question fail, “What is it? Do you want to bet on it?” Let’s say, “I believe it, but I don’t want to bet.” They don’t believe it. If I say, “Here’s the money,” they believe it. I bet on it every time. When you get paid for results, you get practical real fast because the theory doesn’t help me. No results, no pay.
What would you say would be some of the commonalities with some of the most successful people? I’m sure you’ve been in the room with some of these CEOs and you’re like, “This guy or this gal, how did they get this job? They’re not very bright.” There’s got to the people where you’re in the room and you’re like, “I can tell this is great.” What are some of those things?
I can mention the names of the people I work with like in my book Triggers. If you look at the book, 27 major CEOs endorsed the book. It’s hardly a secret who I work with. Let me give you a couple of the best. One of them, her name is Frances Hesselbein. Peter Drucker said she was the greatest leader that he ever met in his life. She won the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was the CEO of the Girl Scouts for fourteen years. Another one is Alan Mulally. Alan was the CEO of Ford and probably the best CEO of the century. Their stock went from $1 to $18 when he was the CEO and even more impressive, he’s in a union company. He got a 95% approval rating from UAW employees as a CEO. Think about that one. That does not happen. That was mind-blowing. He’s an amazing guy.
What are the characteristics of the great people I coach? I’m not an expert on everything, but the ones that get better, let me tell you why they get better. One, they have courage. It takes courage to do this stuff I teach. You got to look in the mirror. Anybody that’s read my book and tells me this stuff is easy, you’ve never done it before. It’s hard. It’s not easy at all. Anybody will tell you, “This stuff is hard.” If you read my book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, you read funny story after funny story. You think, “These people must be idiots.” No. They all have IQs of 150 and they’re CEOs of multibillion-dollar companies. They’re not idiots. I’ll tell you though. The stuff is easy to understand, but it’s very hard to do. What happens is they all get the feedback. They have the courage to look in the mirror. They have to have the humility to admit that they improved. What I’ve learned as a coach is I cannot help perfect people get better. If somebody is perfect, they don’t need me. They’re perfect.You can't assume that what got you here to success yesterday is going to get you there to success tomorrow. Click To Tweet
You probably can’t help insecure people who can’t take any constructive criticism.
I’m better at that. They have to have discipline because it takes a lot of discipline to do this stuff I teach. It’s courage, humility and discipline.
Give me an example of one of those three areas that you always go to. Let’s say discipline, which interests me more than the others.
I’ll take my friend, Alan. He’s a great case study. Of all the people I coached, he improved the most when he was at Boeing before he went to Ford. I spent the least amount of time with him. I said, “Alan, of all the people I’ve coached, you improved the most. You’re great to start with.” I spent the least amount of time so I made a chart, “Time spent with coach Marshall Goldsmith, the one dimension and improvement.” There seemed to be a negative correlation between spending time with me and getting better. I thought, “I’m bothered and troublesome.” I said, “Alan, the way the chart looks, and you never met me, you’d be good.” I said, “What should I learn about coaching from you?” He said to me, “It taught me a great lesson that changed my life.” He said, “Your biggest challenge as a coach is called customer selection. If you picked the right customer, this coaching process is always going to work. If you’ve picked the wrong customer, it’s never going to work.”
He said, “Two, don’t make coaching about your ego and how smart you think you are. Make it about the great people you work with and how proud you are of them.” He said, “As a CEO of Ford, my job wouldn’t be different. I don’t drive. I don’t build cars. I don’t sell cars. I have great people. Every day I tell myself, ‘Leadership is not about me. It’s about them.'” Why do I always get ranked number one coach in the world? Nobody is watching me coach anybody. Nobody knows I’m a good coach. I get ranked number one coach because I got great clients. I’ve got fantastic clients who will do the work. I’m often asked, “How do you motivate people who don’t care?” The answer is I don’t. I just work with people who do care. If they don’t care, I let it go.
What did he do as far as his discipline goes?
Let me describe it. Number one, he said, “I described my coaching process so you can get this feedback. You pick what you want to improve and the board of directors and CEO agree.” He was the head of the aircraft division back then. You follow up on a regular basis. You talk to people. You ask them for their ongoing ideas. You measure. You follow up. You measure and then you get better. He laughed and said to me, “Marshall, I built the Boeing 777 airplane.” I said, “Building an airplane is complicated.” He said, “I think I can carry this ball.”
He’s an engineer and a great project manager. After three months, it’s obvious I’m going to get paid. I said to Alan, “It’s embarrassing. I’ve done nothing here and you’re paying me a lot of money. You’re going to get better and I’m going to get paid, but maybe we should raise the bar.” He said, “Why don’t we have everybody get better?” He involved his whole team. They all tried to improve relationships across the company. Everybody picked things to improve. They followed up every week and then we measured how much is the improvement. I was hired to coach him and 200 people got better.
It sounds like you’re saying, it’s about following up and doing the work.
Yes. I wrote an article called Leadership is a Contact Sport. These are the people who went to the same program and taught by the same person, me. They get feedback on the same process and at the same time. We measured, “Did they get better?” The people who did all his follow-up has a huge improvement. Shockingly, the people who did nothing didn’t get better.
What’s the measurement of getting better? How can you tell if somebody got better? Do their margins get better?
No, I measure behavioral change. Everybody would pick the behaviors they want to improve. They pick the key stakeholders and overall, do the most important people think you’ve become a more effective leader, yes or no? It’s all based not on your opinion, but their opinion.
Tell me about Triggers. That’s an interesting title. What is that all about?
As we journey through life, we all make these plans, all these grandiose ideas. By February, the gym was empty. The New Year’s resolution was gone. What happens? As we journey through life, we’re bombarded by triggers. Any stimulus will impact our behavior. It could be a sight, sound or person. These triggers sometimes push us towards becoming the person we want to become but mostly, they push us away from becoming that person. What I talk about in the book Triggers is how do you learn to understand what are the triggers that impact your life? How do you use clarity and structure to help you get through life so you’re more in control of the world and the world is less in control of you?
There are two schools of thought. One school of thought is, “I control the world.” That’s true to a degree. The other school of thought is, “The world controls me.” That’s true too. To a degree, you do control the world and to a degree, it does control you. The idea of the book is to give you a little more of the, “You control the world,” and a little bit less of, “The world is controlling you.” Part of it is understanding the importance of structure. I also talked about how we overestimate willpower, “I can do it.” I ask people, “How many of you got stuff you’ve been wanting to improve for twenty years?” It’s like I’ll say, “Joe, you need to be a better listener. How many years are you going to need to be a better listener?” “About 30 years.” I say, “Raise your right hand. Repeat after me. My name is Joe. I need to be a better listener. I need to fix this by myself in 30 years.” Who am I kidding? I’m not going to fix it by myself next week. I need help and it’s okay.
Once we get over that silly macho. If you can do it on your own and you haven’t done it for 30 years, it would have been done by now. It’s okay. We all need help. One thing that I’m proud of in my book Triggers is that 27 major CEOs endorsed the book. Why am I proud of that? Several years ago, no CEO would admit to having a coach. They’d been ashamed and embarrassed. They wouldn’t admit to having a coach. This is like, “I’m the president of the World Bank, I need help. I’m the CEO of the Year in the United States, I need help. I’m the number two CEO of the Year in the United States, I need help. I won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, I need help.” These are big hitters. They all need help. We all need help. One of the greatest dancers in history is Twyla Tharp, a great choreographer. She’s had the same personal trainer for 27 years. Same routine, same trainer for 27 years. Why? She can’t do it on her own. Why does she look so good at 75 years old? She knows, “I can’t do this by myself. If the trainer doesn’t kick my butt every day, I’m not going to do this stuff. It’s too painful.”
I was watching the Frank Sinatra documentary on Netflix. At the very beginning of his career, he was already singing. He was already in a band. One day after they said to him, “You should get a lesson,” he didn’t get offended. He has never taken a vocal lesson. He said, “Who is it?” They said, “It’s this guy. You should go see him.” He met with the guy and gave him a hard time. He started seeing him. He said that he was more excited to see him than to perform or do anything else. He was excited to get better and to learn these things. His fans and the people listening on the radio could tell. They could see him getting better over all these years.
Later, he was cast in a movie and it was his third movie. The first two were flops. I can’t remember who the singer-dancer that he was with as the co-star in the movie. That guy said, “This is going to be hard. You’re going to have to learn how to dance. This is going to be difficult.” He said, “When do we start?” He was excited and ready for it. He became one of the greatest of all time in what he did because he was willing to take the feedback, do the work, improve, admit he needed help, and not be insecure about it. It sounds like that’s a common theme of what you’re saying as well.
Everyone I coach has to do the work. If they don’t want to do the work, I don’t judge them. I just don’t work with them. I’m not going to get paid anyway so I’m not wasting my time.
What’s one thing you make sure everybody does, which is doing the work? What’s one thing that everybody has to do?You can't make people change if they don't want to change. Click To Tweet
Apologize to everyone around them. We all make mistakes. It’s okay. You step up and say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t do this. I’m sorry, I haven’t listened as well as I could have. I’m sorry, I’ve been disrespectful.”
Even if there’s not something that needs to be apologized for understanding what you could have done better and then finding that out.
The other thing is, how many of us do not have something we need to apologize for?
I’m saying with everybody around you, you have to pick and see what it is with that person that you could have done better.
They just pick one thing in general. Usually, it’s all the same anyway. When I interview people around my clients, I have an average of eighteen people and 80% of the time, it’s all the same.
What’s the most common thing that’s the same?
Ego. It’s very hard because everyone I coached has taken test after test like thousands of tests. If they have had to do one thing thousands of time, it’s to prove how smart they are. If they have to prove how smart they are over and over again, it is incredibly difficult to stop. We are so geared to do this. It’s incredibly difficult not to win. It’s incredibly difficult not to prove how smart we are, not to prove you’re right. The higher up you go, you’ve got to stop doing that. At the bottom, that’s okay. You’re a CEO. You can’t prove you’re smarter than everyone around you. That’s very bad.
In my book, I talked about the problem of winning too much. I’ll give you two that I talked about. What is winning too much? You want to go to dinner at restaurant X. Your husband, wife or partner wants to go to dinner at restaurant Y. You have a heated argument. You go to restaurant Y. The food tastes awful and the service is terrible. You could critique the food and point out that your partner was wrong. “This mistake could have been avoided if you listened to me.” Option B, shut up, eat the stupid food, try to enjoy it and have a nice night. What would I do? What should I do? Almost everyone I work with, it’s like, what would I do? Critique the food. What should I do? Shut up. It’s hard not to win, no matter how stupid it is.
Another one is called adding too much value. I’m young, smart, enthusiastic and you’re my boss. I come to you with an idea. You think it is a great idea. Rather than saying it’s a great idea, we say, “That’s a nice idea. Why don’t you add this to it?” The quality of the idea may go up 5%, but my commitment to execute the idea just went down 50%. “It’s no longer my idea, boss. Now, it’s your idea.” It’s very hard for smart, successful people not to constantly add value, especially scientists, engineers, and people like that.
One of my coaching clients was JP Garnier who was the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline. I said, “What did you learn about leadership as the CEO of this big company?” He said, “I’ve learned a hard lesson. My suggestions become orders. If they’re smart, they’re orders. If they’re stupid, they’re orders. If I want them to be orders, they’re orders. If I don’t want them to be orders, they’re orders anyway. My suggestions become orders.” Every time you get promoted, more and more of your suggestions become orders.
For nine years, I trained the admirals in the US Navy. That’s the first thing I teach new admirals every class, “When you get that star, your suggestions become orders.” Admirals don’t make suggestions. Once they say, “Sir, yes, sir.” The suggestion is an order. I asked JP, “What did you learn from me when was I was your coach that helps you the most?” He said, “You taught me one lesson that helped me be a better CEO and have a happier life.” I said, “What was it?” He said, “Before I speak, I breathe and ask myself one question, ‘Is it worth it? Am I right?’ Maybe. ‘Is it worth it?’ No. I let it go.”
That’s great to do at home with your kids, wife, spouse, siblings or whoever. There’s another book title that you had that I love, which is Earned Life. You had said that this was coming out when?
It’ll be out by 2021. They postponed it because of all this crisis, but the content is great. Let me give you one thing from the book. The book is built on basic Buddhist philosophy. Buddhist philosophy is, “Every time I take a deep breath, it’s a new me.” You take a deep breath and you think, “New me.” Everything that happened before the second of your life was done by an infinite set of people. Those are called the previous Chris, the previous yous. Take a breath. Think of all those previous yous. Think of all the gifts they’ve given to you that’s here right now. Think of all the nice things they’ve done.
If anybody did that many nice things, what do you say to those nice people? Thank you. Did they make some mistakes? Let go. Learn how to forgive yourself and don’t focus on the past. The good news is if you understand this philosophy. It helps people make peace with what is. It’s a new you. The negative of this that makes it hard, the Chris I’m talking to hasn’t earned one thing. Everything that you have was given to you by the previous versions of you. In many ways, the previous versions of you, the younger version of you are your parents. They created who you are right now. The older versions of you are your children.
One of my coaching clients is Dr. Jim Kim. He was the president of the World Bank, Dartmouth College and Partners in Health. He saved twenty million lives. Amazing man. If anybody in life you think should get a pass, he should get one. I told him that story. I said, “Dr. Jim, the previous versions of you, the younger you, it’s your parents. An older version of you, in many ways, that’s your children.” He said, “I hope I make mommy and daddy proud.” It’s very touching.
That sounds like a great book. What would you say then to the young entrepreneur or the up-and-coming entrepreneur or people who want to be leaders in their companies? Maybe they’re managers or supervisors. I know we touched on this in the beginning, leading at a time of crisis. What would you say to them as important for them to keep in mind as we go hopefully towards the end of this pandemic situation? What’s a mindset to have?
A couple of points. I had the privilege of spending 50 days with Peter Drucker before he died. He’s the world’s greatest authority on management. I was on his advisory board for ten years. I got ranked as the number one leadership thinker in the world. My intellect compared to him is a ten-year-old boy. He was so smart. He taught me so many things. This next piece of advice I got from him and it’s good for younger people who are earlier in their careers. A couple of points, point number one, “Our mission in life is to make a positive difference, not to prove that we’re smart and that we’re right.” We get so lost in proving how smart we are and how right we are. We forget, “I’m not here on earth to prove I’m smart. I’m not here on earth to prove how right I am. I’m here to make a positive difference. If I don’t make a positive difference, it doesn’t matter how smart and right I am.”
Learning point number two from Peter Drucker, “Every decision in life is made by the person who has the power to make the decision. Make peace with that.” It’s not the smartest person, the best person, the fair person or the logical person. Decisions are made based on one and only one variable. Whoever has the power to make the decision is going to make the decision. If you have the power to make the decision, and I need to influence you to make a positive difference in the world, there’s one word to describe you, the customer. There’s one word to describe me, salesperson. You don’t have to buy. I have to sell. For young people, that’s important because they get lost in the content. They get lost in being right. They get lost in proving things. They forget that we’re not here for that.
If I need to influence you to make the decision. You’re the customer. I’ve got to learn how to sell and you don’t have to buy. It’s not your problem. It’s my problem. Teaching that, you’d be amazed how much of my life has been spent repeating this lesson over and over. The people who have MBAs from Harvard, you think they’d figure it out. I’m working with one guy whose company is bought by a private equity firm. They took this 41-year-old kid and made him the CEO. It’s a billion-dollar company, which by this standard, not that much. Still, they made him the CEO. Do you know what he says about the private equity company? He goes, “They can’t tell me what to do. I’m the CEO.”
The people in New York calculate how much it costs to get rid of this clown. It cost $2 million to get rid of him. They don’t even care about the $2 million. He’s just a pain in the butt. They have me coached him. I’ll say his name is Joe. I told him this lecture about the customer and the decision-maker and all that. I said, “Joe, I’m going to help you. You’re the CEO. That’s good. CEO is a very good and important job. You see, they’re the owner. A better CEO is a good owner.” I said, “They can tell you what to do because it’s their money. Now they have hired me to help you. I am going to tell you exactly what to do. If you do exactly what I say, I may save your sorry butt. If you don’t, I have to go back to New York and tell mommy and daddy that I cannot help you. What is it going to be?” That was years ago. It’s a fantastic story. He saluted the flag and calmed down. He stayed with the company. They had a great relationship. He just got his ego. The term CEO sometimes leads to little ego problems. Sometimes they forget that.
Another one, he went to the board of directors. They voted 10 to 0 and told him they don’t like this candidate for a job. They hated it. He tried to prove they’re wrong. He told them that they’re all confused. They called me in. I had to go talk to him and said, “The board of directors asked me to talk to you. They want me to point out that they don’t work for you. You’re a little confused. You work for them. They don’t own the company. They are the elected representatives of the ownership of the company. They were very clear that you work for them. They don’t work for you. They voted 10 to 0 and you told all ten that they were all confused. All ten of these smart people. Everybody is confused because of you. They talked after you left and came to a conclusion. They determined, ‘You’re confused.’ Now, they’ve hired me to help alleviate this confusion.” I have to do this over and over again. After, I explained, “Here’s how it works.” I have one woman. She owns the company. She owns all the stock. It’s her money. The CEO told her she’s an idiot. She can invest it how she wants to. You didn’t earn the money. She did it. It’s so fun to do this.
It’s like they haven’t looked at the history of their job or their title before. Even Steve Jobs was ousted from his own company by his own board. It continues to happen over and over. Some of them, you can’t save because they’re not willing to look in the mirror.
That’s it. I haven’t always been paid. I’ve failed before. I’ve not been paid. What was the major problem? Me, my own ego. I thought, “I have to save people.” I learned that lesson the hard way. If you don’t get paid for a year and a half and then you learn, “Wait a minute. Who’s the idiot here? They’re not the idiot. I’m the idiot.” My friend, Alan, told me, “I can’t make people change what they don’t want to change.” In my classes, I ask people this question, “Has any of you ever tried to change a husband and wife or partner with no interest in changing? Have you ever tried that before? How is it working for you? Has any of you ever tried to change mommy and daddy and they didn’t want to change? You’re changing your parents.”
One woman raised her hand. I said, “Are you trying to change mommy or daddy?” She said, “Daddy.” I asked her, “What is daddy’s problem?” She said, “He does not have a healthy lifestyle.” I asked her, “How old is daddy?” She said, “94.” “Leave the old boy alone. If he wants to smoke a cigarette, smoke too. He’s 94 years old. Give it a rest.” We get into this savior complex where we have to change and save everybody. It’s not so much.
These are all such great lessons. Thank you so much, Marshall. This has been so fun. You are the master. I hope we can do this regularly because there’s so much to gain. I’m going to have to go back to this because there’s so much good stuff in there. Thank you for coming to my show. I appreciate you for doing that. You’re a very busy man. Be safe. Stay well. I will talk to you soon.
Thank you so much.
About Dr. Marshall Goldsmith
World-renowned business educator and coach, Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is the leading expert in his field. His singular ability to get results for top leaders has drawn over 150 CEOs and their management teams to address change in the workplace. They want what Dr. Goldsmith offers: practical and proven methods.
- Delivering keynote speeches about leadership and coaching for professional associations, executive groups and human resource organizations.
- Providing top-rated leadership training for executives and high-potential leaders.
- Teaching leaders and HR professionals to become great coaches.
- Helping large organizations establish a peer coaching process.
- Coaching for leadership that ensures executives achieve and sustain long-term, positive behavioral change.
- Maintaining a worldwide network of coaching resources to help address clients’ leadership development needs.
- Building teamwork through the unique “team building without time wasting” process.
- Developing customized Leader of the Future profiles that describe the desired behaviors (or competencies) of future leaders in the organization.
- Designing customized 360° Leader of the Future inventories that reinforce leadership profiles.
- Delivering leadership training that helps leaders align their behaviors with their organization’s Leader of the Future profile.
- Following-up and measuring the results of coaching or training through the mini-survey process.
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