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Leadership Success with Dr. Marshall Goldsmith

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is a world authority on leadership and employee relations, demonstrating how good management can achieve positive, lasting change in the age of globalization.

What we’ve learned is by challenging ourselves everyday, we can really build our own mojo, without waiting for the rest of the world to give it to us.

SPEAKING.COM: Would you please describe some ways leaders can keep their mojo and get it back if they lose it?

GOLDSMITH: Mojo is that positive spirit toward what you’re doing now, that starts on the inside and radiates to the outside. It’s very important, for leaders to take some personal responsibility for maintaining their own mojo. I’ve done some fascinating new research with my daughter, Dr. Kelly Goldsmith from Northwestern, and what we found is by simply asking six questions everyday that all begin with the words, “Did I do my best?” people end up with a very, very positive change in their mojo.

These six questions are:

1) Did I do my best to set clear goals?

2) Did I do my best to make progress for achieving my goals?

3) Did I do my best to find meaning?

4) Did I do my best to be happy?

5) Did I do my best to build positive relationships?

6) Did I do my best to be fully engaged?

What we’ve learned is that by challenging ourselves everyday, we can really build our own mojo, without waiting for the rest of the world to give it to us.

SPEAKING.COM: What are a few of the 20 annoying personal habits that get leaders into trouble?

GOLDSMITH: I was interviewed in the Harvard Business Review and asked a question, “What is the number one problem of all the successful people you’ve ever coached?” And my answer was “Winning too much.” What does that mean? If it’s important, we want to win. If it’s meaningful, we want to win. If it’s critical, we want to win. If it’s trivial, we want to win. I have a case study I use in my book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, that illustrates what this means.

Say you want go to dinner at restaurant X. Your husband, wife, friend or partner wants to go to dinner at restaurant Y. You have a heated argument. You go to restaurant Y. You then have two choices:
Choice 1:, you can critique the food and point out how your partner was wrong and how this mistake could have been avoided if he or she had only they listened to you. Or you could make choice 2:, you can shut up, eat the stupid food, try to enjoy it and have a nice evening.

Our mission in life is to make a positive difference, not to win and prove we’re right all the time.

Then I asked my clients, “What would you do?” “What should you do?” Well, almost all of my clients said, “What would I do? Critique the food.” In other words, they wanted to win. What they didn’t seem to realize was that by proving they were right, they essentially risk ruining a very nice evening; they also risk losing a chance to connect meaningfully with their partner.

Peter Drucker taught me a wonderful lesson: Our mission in life is to make a positive difference, not to win and prove we’re right all the time.

The second annoying habit is called “adding too much value.” What does that mean? A young, smart, enthusiastic go-getter comes to us with an idea. We think it’s a great idea, but rather than saying, “Great idea,” our natural tendency is to say, “That’s a nice idea. Why don’t you add this to it?”

The problem with this tendency is the quality of the idea may then go up 5%, but the person’s commitment to execute it may go down 50%. Effectiveness of execution is a function of the quality of the idea and one’s commitment to make it work. Often, we get so wrapped up trying to improve the quality a little bit, we deflate the motivation to commit to it.

Another one of the habits I talk about is playing favorites. Avoiding favoritism. We all think that we don’t play favorites, but I’ve interviewed many people in my classes, and I ask them a question. “How many of you have a dog?” And then they say, “Yeah, I have dogs.” Then I say, “What family member gets the most unqualified, positive recognition? Your wife, your kids or your dog?” And in most cases, it’s the dog.

Why is this?? Without meaning to, we tend to devote more attention to people who devote attention to us. The dog doesn’t talk back or complain or argue, which engenders more positive feeling toward the dog, which in turn, motivates us to treat him well.

So, to summarize, the most annoying personal habits I talk about are playing favorites, not adding too much value, and winning too much.

SPEAKING.COM: What are a few of the most important competencies for global leaders?

GOLDSMITH: We wrote a book called Global Leadership: The Next Generation. In it, we discuss some of the most important competencies for global leaders. They are:

1) Global thinking, really getting out of that domestic mindset and thinking globally in terms of “What are the global implications of life from my business?” And even if you don’t compete globally, you probably have global suppliers or global connections.

2) Cross-cultural appreciation. Diversity is not just in the United States. Diversity means diversity of cultures and different people of all different sorts.

3) Technological savvy. That doesn’t mean being a technologist. What it means is understanding how new technology is going to impact your business.

The leader of the past knew how to tell. The leader of the future will know how to ask.

4) Building alliances and partnerships. That’s reaching out across your organization to people from different backgrounds and from all levels of the organization. It’s much more important today than it’s ever been.

And then finally,

5) Shared leadership. Peter Drucker said, “The leader of the past knew how to tell. The leader of the future will know how to ask.”

These five qualities are different for the leaders of the future than in the past. There are many other competencies for the future that are important – such as vision and integrity – but these are the five that were considered the difference between the future and past.

SPEAKING.COM: How can leaders best adapt to rapid change?

GOLDSMITH: I suggest that leaders have a dialogue with each of their direct reports every couple of months to deal with six basic questions.

Question one is “Where are we going?” The leader can say, “Here’s where I think we’re going. What do you think?”

Question two is “Where are you going?” The leader says, “Here’s where I think you’re going. What do you think?” Because you want alignment between two ways, one between how the leader sees life and how the direct report sees life and the big picture and the small picture.

Question three is “Are you doing well?” The leader says, “Here’s where I think you’re doing well. What do you think?”

Question four is “Where can we improve?” The leader provides suggestions and then asks the direct report, “If you were the coach for you, what ideas would you have?”

Question five is “How can I help?”

Question six is “What ideas will help me improve as a leader?”

These are the six basic questions for coaching that I recommend.

In between check-ins, especially during periods of rapid change, the direct report needs to be given the message, “If there’s ever ambiguity, confusion, lack of clarity, please talk to me, because if I as a leader take responsibility to do my job every two to three months and then you take responsibility to do your job, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t communicate directly and clearly.”

SPEAKING.COM: In your newest book, Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts… Becoming the Person You Want to Be, you examine the emotional and psychological triggers that cause us to react in preset ways. How can people break that cycle and enact a meaningful change?

GOLDSMITH: The typical reaction is to a trigger in our environment. The trigger leads to an impulse and this impulse leads to behavior; the issue is that the behavior is often inconsistent with the person that we want to be. We become driven by the trigger.

For example, let’s say you’re driving, and your passenger says, “Look out! There’s a red light up ahead!” That may trigger us to get defensive because the passenger has startled us or seems to be questioning our driving. Our impulse may be to get angry and yell. In my book Triggers, I teach people to breathe in moments like that, to become aware of what’s going on and realize you have a choice before you exhibit behavior.

We create the person we want to become.

I have a case study where a gentleman sent me an email, and he said, “I just want to send you an email today and say thank you. Yesterday, I was having a terrible day. My wife called. She was talking about the bad day she had. I was just getting ready to point out how her problems pale into comparison to my own. Then I remembered your class. I stopped, took a breath and said, ‘I love you. Thank you for all you’ve done for our family.’ I spent $25 and bought her some flowers and told her I loved her.”

He went on to say, “That was the best $25 I ever spent. I just wanted to say thank you today.” Well, that’s what the book Triggers is about. It’s about breaking the cycle where we’re not really driven by the world around us. We create the person we want to become.

SPEAKING.COM: How can organizations help develop high potential leaders?

GOLDSMITH: I think it’s very important to identify high potential leaders, and then to put high potential leaders on a really clear program where their focus is to achieve positive long-term change in leadership behavior. Some of the companies have done a great job of this.

For example, GE has every one of their high potential leaders identify key stakeholders, develop a follow-up plan, and measure improvement. They have produced some fantastic results.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the key components of a successful top management transition?

GOLDSMITH: I wrote a book called Succession: Are You Ready? published by Harvard Business Review about this topic, and there are three things that I focus on helping CEOs do during the transition period. One, CEOs need to obviously keep running the business because they are still the CEO. Two, they need to focus on developing the next leader. And three, which is seldom talked about, they need to focus on creating a great rest of their life, because if they focus on creating a great rest of their life, they’re ready to let go when it’s time. If they don’t, they often look at kind of a black hole of meaninglessness, and the transition doesn’t work very well.

SPEAKING.COM: Do you think the world is developing leaders that will be able to meet the economic, political and scientific challenges ahead?

GOLDSMITH: The answer is neither yes nor no. The world is developing leaders; there will be challenges, so leaders will do a more or less good job of meeting these challenges. I think, we can always say things are awful or things are wonderful. It just depends on your perspective of life.

I would say the goal is just to develop better leaders. Now, the question to me is not “Can we develop leaders?” but rather, “Can we develop leaders more effectively?” The answer to that question is definitely yes. I’ve done a research study with 86,000 people which shows that if you work on developing leaders, they develop a plan, they follow up, they measure, they can become much more effective.

One of the things I recommend for women is to not be ashamed or afraid of promoting themselves.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the unique challenges and opportunities for women in leadership?

GOLDSMITH: I’m often asked, “What is the difference in leadership feedback between women and men?” And the answer is the average woman it seems is getting better feedback than the average man as a leader. Not a lot better, but better. Women tend to have one issue more than men. Women are harder on themselves. When coaching women, I say much more often, “Don’t be too hard on yourselves” and “You cannot be the perfect everything for everybody.”

One of the things I recommend for women is to not be ashamed or afraid of promoting themselves. If they believe in themselves, if they believe in what they’re doing, they shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to really try to get ahead in life, to move for higher and higher positions. It’d probably be good for the companies in the world.

SPEAKING.COM: You’ve been the author and/or editor of 35 books. Which books are you the most proud of and why?

GOLDSMITH: There are three books I highly recommend, and they happen to be connected. The first is my book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. That book has been translated in 30 languages, sold over a million copies, and is about interpersonal relationships. I’m proud of it because it really helps you improve interpersonal relationship. The second is my book MOJO. MOJO is about intra-personal relationships, i.e. how you view yourself. The third book is my book Triggers; Triggers is about extra-personal relationships; that is, how we deal with the environment around us.

I like these three books because they look at behavioral change from three different perspectives, one, interpersonal, two intra-personal, and three, extra-personal.

The fourth book I’d recommend is my book Succession: Are You Ready. I think that’s a great book. It doesn’t apply to everyone, though. That one is limited to an audience of key executives who want to develop a successor in large organizations.

SPEAKING.COM: Who are a few current leaders in any field you most admire and why?

GOLDSMITH: Three come to mind, and I’ve coached all three of these people. By the way, even though I was in theory their coach, I’ve learned far more than them than they’ve learned from me.

Number one, Frances Hesselbein. Peter Drucker said the greatest leader he’s ever met was the CEO of the Girl Scouts. She did a spectacular job of turning around the organization, now runs the Hesselbein Institute, has 20 honorary PHDs, is the winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and is a fantastic leader who really taught me the value of servant leadership.

Two, Alan Mulally, who was ranked in Fortune Magazine as the number three greatest leader in the world last year and was the CEO of the year in the United States. He led the turn around of Ford Motor Company from near bankruptcy to huge success, probably one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of America in the last decade, and just again, a fantastic leader and a great person.

And the third one would be Dr. Jim Kim, new president of the World Bank. His mission is eradication of extreme poverty on earth. One of the most dedicated, selfless people I’ve ever met in my life, he is really a brilliant man. He is an M.D. and Ph.D. with honors from Harvard in Anthropology.


To bring Marshall Goldsmith to your organization to help your leaders become more effective, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com.

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  • Marshall Goldsmith Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is a world authority in helping successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior: for themselves, their people and their teams. He is the million-selling author or editor of 31 books, including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers, MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There—a Wall ... more

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