As an executive coach, I help people understand how our beliefs and the environments we operate in can trigger negative behaviors. Through simple and practical advice, I help people achieve and sustain positive behavioral change.
My mission is simple. I want to help successful people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior; for themselves, their people, and their teams. I want to help you make your life a little better. With four decades of experience helping top CEOs and executives overcome limiting beliefs and behaviors to achieve greater success, I don’t do this for fame and accolades. I do this because I love helping people!
A number of years ago, a wonderful writer wrote an article about me which was published in The New Yorker. The writer’s name is Larissa McFarquhar and the title of the article is “The Better Boss.” In her article (the whole of which you can find here), Larissa describes me as an executive coach and a human being. It’s funny, entertaining and true. I get a great kick out of it. I hope that you enjoy it too!
Marshall Goldsmith is a happy man. He started out happy, he worked on his happiness, and now, at the age of fifty-three [I am 67 now!], he is very happy. He is, in fact, a happiness professional.
His official job description is “executive coach”: he trains executives to behave decently in the office, by subjecting them to a brutal regimen. First, he solicits “360 degree feedback” — he asks their colleagues and sometimes their families, too, for comprehensive assessments of their strengths and defects — and he confronts them with what everybody really thinks. Then he makes them apologize and ask for help in getting better. It’s a simple method — “I don’t think anybody’s going to say I’m guilty of excessive subtlety,” he says — but it works. It had better work. If it doesn’t, the client gets his money back.
Goldsmith is so extraordinarily buoyant and extroverted (he scored a perfect E on his Myers-Briggs personality test) that he seems to enter a room in a tinkle of magic dust. If he were shorter (he is nearly six feet), he would look like a leprechaun. His head is round and pink and bald, his eyes are blue, and his chin juts out and upward to meet his nose, like the chin of a wooden puppet. He skips more than walks, and when he is in a bouncy mood (which he usually is) he dances along with his arms straight out and swinging. When he laughs (which he does often), he sounds like a goose. He wears the same outfit every day: green polo shirt, khakis, and moccasins. His favorite movie is “The Wizard of Oz,” and his favorite song is “Over the Rainbow.” He ends his e-mails and his conversations with what has become his signature phrase: “Life is good!”
The leprechaun quality is one of the reasons Goldsmith is successful. It is a rare executive, after all, who welcomes a man sent by his boss to reform his personality. But people who have worked with Goldsmith call him “disarming,” and say that he seems so happy with his life that when he says he is not judging them personally they believe him.
Goldsmith won’t take on a client who doesn’t want to change — someone who, as he puts it, has not a skill problem but a don’t-give-a-shit problem — but, short of that, the more obnoxious the better. “My favorite case study was in the 0.1 percentile for treating people with respect,” he says. “That means that there were over a thousand people in that company and this person came in dead last. This person would be in an elevator and someone would come up and say, ‘Hey, how’s it going?,’ and he wouldn’t even respond. He was hardworking and brilliant; he didn’t lie, cheat, or steal. He was just a complete jerk. The case was considered hopeless, but in one year he got up to 53.7 per cent.
“You know how I helped the guy to change? I asked him, ‘How do you treat people at home?’ He said, ‘Oh, I’m totally different at home.’ I said, ‘Let’s call your wife and kids.’ What did his wife say? ‘You’re a jerk.’ Called the kids. ‘Jerk.’ ‘Jerk.’ So I said, ‘Look, I can’t help you make money, you’re already making more than God, but do you want to have a funeral that no one attends? Because that’s where this train is headed.”
And, it was at that moment when the executive realized what was truly important and began making an effort to change. This is what I do. I help people who really want to change do just that, change.
When I started executive coaching in the 1980s, I was a pioneer in the field and many clients kept the coaching a secret. Today executive coaching is seen as a privilege afforded to executives that companies wish to invest in to keep long-term. I am proud of this. I am proud to have helped coaching come into its own as an industry. And, if you want to be an executive coach, I hope I can be of help to you!
Recently, I had the honor to interview one of the greatest leaders of our time, Frances Hesselbein. Frances is the former executive director of the Girl Scouts of America and is currently the chairman of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute. She is also one of my best friends.
Not only do I think Frances is an extraordinary leader, the great management thinker Peter Drucker once noted that she was perhaps the most effective executive he had ever met. As a tribute to her leadership skills, President Clinton awarded Frances with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award that can be given to a U.S. civilian.
Following is a short excerpt from our interview. In this brief discussion, Frances and I discuss our hopes for the future and she gives us her thoughts on what is really important in life and what makes her love her work so much.
MG: What are some of your hopes for the future? What opportunities do you see for leaders in the future?
FRANCES: I see a bright future. Leaders of the future are not content with repeating the past, so we must ask ourselves: How can we make a greater difference in the future? How can we support one another more? We do not want to repeat the past, so I want us to work very hard individually at describing the future that we desire.
MG: Frances, we’re in your office and the walls are lined with your amazing achievements. For instance, 23 honorary PhDs, many books and awards and pictures of you with presidents you’ve met. After all of these achievements you still come into work every day. Why is it that, after all you’ve done, you’re still working every day, doing your best?
FRANCES: Marshall, work is love made visible. I can’t wait to get to work every day. I’m here in the New York Office Monday through Thursday. Thursdays I often leave in the afternoon and go to my home in Easton where I spend Friday and Saturday, and Sunday morning come back. It is a wonderful balance for me.
You see, to me, work is love made visible. I can’t wait to get to work every day I am here. It seems impossible, but for either years our journal, the Leader to Leader Journal, has been the number one journal in the US and that is out of 1500 journals!
We give away as much as we can. For instance, we do global webinars. The other day we spoke to 400 women in 40 countries, leaders of the future, women in action. During the webinar, I had a message from six men who were leaders in one of the poorest African countries, one of the smallest countries. It said, “Dear Lady Hesselbein, may we register for your webinar for women? We are men who are leaders but we are hungry for your message. Please may we register?” Three minutes later, they had my reply: “Gentlemen, please know how welcome you are. Please register. There is no fee. And if you know any other men who are leaders in Africa who would like to register, please tell them how welcome they are.” Marshall, it’s such fun to give it all away.
MG: You know, Frances, one thing you said that really struck me–work is love made visible. Can you talk about your inner drive–the reason that you come to work every day, the reason that you want that love to be visible?
FRANCES: To serve is to live, Marshall. Just think how long that we have been battle-buddies. Just think when that cute little blond kid walked into my Girl Scout office with his plan for organizations. That was the beginning of our great adventure. I rarely worked abroad without my friend Marshall finding a way to move things around so that we could see each other. We are partners. Your family is as close to me as my own family. It is a beautiful life because we work together – that is “work is love made visible”.
If all we ever had together were lovely social occasions, it would have been very nice and lots of fun. But Marshall, you and I have worked together for…I can’t even count how many years, maybe 25 with this organization, and probably ten with the Girl Scouts. (I hasten to mention we were both 12 at the time began.) For us to be able to work together, for me to see the way you change lives, and the spiritual depth you bring to your work as well as your great intellectual gift. Our work together Marshall is love made visible.
My mission is simple. It is to: Help successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in their behavior. Peter Drucker instilled this short phrase in me, “Your mission should fit on a t-shirt,” as he did with so many others, and it has guided my career for many decades. It has helped me focus and become pretty good at what I do, which I can describe in two words: behavioral coaching.
Today, most people who call themselves executive coaches are coaches in the area of leadership behavior. There are a few– and I would like to underline, very few– strategic coaches. For instance, Vijay Govindarajan, who does an excellent job of helping at the corporate strategy domain. Michael Porter is another great coach in this domain. When I say most, I mean upwards of 90% of people who say they’re executive coaches have backgrounds in psychology or organizational behavior. So, most executive coaches are doing what I do, helping leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior.
Peter Drucker’s advice that a mission should fit on a T-shirt has also helped me focus on what not to do as it applies to my mission statement. For instance, it helped me grapple with this interesting catch about my work: behavioral coaching only helps if a person has behavioral issues!
It sounds simple, but I receive ridiculous (to me) requests for coaching. Not long ago, a pharmaceutical company called me up, and said, “We want you to coach Dr. X.” I replied, “Interesting possibility. What’s his problem?” They said, “He’s not updated on recent medical technology.” I laughed and replied, “Neither am I!” I couldn’t help Dr. X. I can’t make a bad doctor a good doctor, a bad scientist a good scientist, or a bad engineer a good engineer. Behavioral coaching only solves behavioral issues.
The second thing I always teach is never coach integrity violations. I read an article in Forbes once I found very disturbing, about people that had integrity violations who were given coaches. People that have integrity violations should be fired, not coached. How many integrity violations does it take to ruin the reputation of your company? Just one. You don’t coach integrity violations. You fire them.
And finally, behavioral coaching doesn’t help if the person or the company is going in the wrong direction. If somebody is going in the wrong direction, behavioral coaching just helps them get there faster. It doesn’t turn the wrong direction into the right direction.
It’s your turn. What’s your mission? Can you fit it on a T-shirt? Do you use it to help guide your career decisions? If you don’t have a mission statement, write one up and post it to the comment section. I would love to see what your mission is!
For the great achiever, it’s all about “me.”
For the great leader, it’s all about “them.”
Over the years, I have worked with many great leaders as an executive educator and coach. One client, Charlie (not his real name), in particular is still one of my favorites. He is the one who showed the most improvement — and he is the one who I spent the least amount of time with.
Charlie was president of a division with more than 50,000 employees. His CEO recognized his talents and asked me to help Charlie expand his role, provide more leadership, and build synergy across the organization. Charlie eagerly involved his team in this project. Each person took responsibility for creating positive synergy with cross-organizational colleagues. They regularly reported their efforts, learned from their colleagues, and shared what they learned. They thanked people for ideas and suggestions and followed up to ensure effective implementation.
What I find interesting is that of all the clients I have ever coached, Charlie is the client I spent the least amount of time with. This inverse relationship between our spending time together and he and his team getting better was very humbling. At the end of our project, I told Charlie about this observation. “I think that I spent less time with you and your team than any team I have ever coached, yet you and your team produced the most dramatic, positive results. What should I learn from my experience?”
Charlie thought about my question. “As a coach,” he said, “you should realize that success with your clients isn’t all about you. It’s about the people who choose to work with you.” He chuckled; then he continued: “In a way, I am the same. The success of my organization isn’t about me. It’s all about the great people who are working with me.”
There is a big difference between achievers and leaders. For the great achiever, perhaps someone on Charlie’s team, the focus is all about “me” and reaching individual goals. For Charlie, one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever met, leadership is all about “them” and their success. He truly exemplifies the oft-quoted proverb says: “The best leader, the people do not notice. When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’”
This isn’t what most of the conventional wisdom of leadership dictates. Most leadership literature exaggerates, even glamorizes, the leader’s contribution. The implication being that everything begins with the leader, that she is responsible for your improvement, she guides you to victory, without the leader there is no navigator.
Truly great leaders, like Charlie, recognize how silly it is to believe that a leader is the key to an organization’s success. The best leaders understand that long-term results are created by all of the great people doing the work — not just the one person who has the privilege of being at the top.