7Jul/110

An Interview with Marshall Goldsmith, by Wendy Johnson and Donna Mills

Posted by WABC


By any objective measure, you have had an extremely successful career. What are the highlights?

Often, people complain because they don't get enough credit, so I guess someone has to get too much credit. That's me! My work has been recognized in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Business Week, The Economist, Fast Company, Business Strategy Review, Project Management Magazine, and by most professional organizations in our field.

My professional work involves four basic activities: Executive education, executive coaching, writing and editing, and providing executive coaching services through our coaching network, Marshall Goldsmith Partners.

My mission is to help successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior. My greatest success comes when my clients reach that goal, and help their co-workers do the same. Those leaders serve as role models in their organizations, effectively working with and through others to accomplish objectives. This is what constitutes "good leadership skills." Great achievement is about "me"—great leadership (or great coaching) is about "them."

Who are your clients?

I have worked in all sectors—corporate, non-profit, military and education—with a worldwide client base. Today, my personal coaching is strictly with C-level executives in major organizations. As a pioneer in customized 360-degree feedback, my executive coaching only addresses behavioral change. Coaching helps leaders turn feedback into positive changes in behavior, and changes in behavior lead to changes in attitude. People may change through training, but are much more likely to change through coaching.

What differentiates you from other business coaches?

I only charge my clients if they achieve positive, lasting change in agreed-upon behavior, as determined by agreed-upon co-workers. I don't get paid for "activity" or "time." Prior to an engagement, the CEO agrees that major improvement in pre-selected behaviors is worth the time and money invested in the coaching process.

How did you decide to offer this guarantee?

By accident. A CEO client grunted, "It would be worth a fortune to me if this guy would change."

I replied, "I like fortunes.  Maybe I can help him."

He laughed and said, "I doubt it!"

I thought for a second, and took a leap by replying, "If he gets better, pay me. If he doesn't get better, it's all free!"

The CEO said, "Sold!"

I have been paid only for results ever since.

How has the results guarantee impacted your practice?

Since my clients have high personal integrity, and are definitely results-oriented, the guarantee makes them more likely to do the work necessary to obtain the result. They want to meet and exceed the measurement.

I get paid for about seven of every eight client engagements. When I don't get paid, it's my fault. No one makes me work with anyone, and I always learn when I don't get paid. Perhaps I was just the wrong person for the job or company—there wasn't the right "fit."

How do you translate your personal spiritual practice of Buddhism into your coaching work?

There are many schools of Buddhist thought, and mine has been very important in influencing my coaching process. Letting go of the past and "feed forward" are Buddhist concepts. I have also realized that most of the "issues" I see in the world are simply aspects of myself that I have trouble accepting. Almost every time I become self-righteous or judgmental, I am making more of a statement about my own problems than I am about the conditions of others.

How do you see the links between world issues and self issues?

In 1984 I spent nine days in Africa with the Red Cross, and I saw lots of people who were starving to death. If we want to get upset about the unfairness of life, we can always be upset. When we are upset at what is happening in the world, we are often illustrating aspects of our own ego that we are having trouble dealing with.

What was your best preparation for your work as a business coach?

Experience has been my best preparation. I have worked with over 70 major CEOs and their management teams, and most of what I've learned has come from that experience.

What advice would you give to a novice business coach?

Determine what type of coaching is the best fit for you. Then, either establish a great personal reputation or work with someone who has already established one. Meet the world's experts in your chosen niche and learn from them. Pay your dues.

How about a more experienced coach seeking the next level of success?

Write, speak and network. If you believe in yourself and in the value of what you do, work hard to do the marketing required to establish a great brand and invest in it. Don't be ashamed to market yourself. It is not complicated—it just requires a lot of work!

What issues do the business coaching industry and the WABC need to address?

We need to be clear on the various types of business coaching available. Each type of coach needs to be clear on how success is measured. The WABC can offer examples of great coaches who provide different types of services that meet different client needs, expanding beyond "generic" coaching to include specialists in strategy and organizational execution.

As a proficient self-marketer, what are your top five self-marketing strategies? Are those strategies available to the "average business coach"?

  • My first suggestion is to get published—books, articles, columns and/or interviews. Get writing—someone will read it!
  • Speaking is a great way to promote yourself. Consider keynotes, concurrent sessions at conferences, or local Chamber of Commerce or networking groups. Start speaking—someone will listen!
  • Teach in executive education programs, particularly if you have opportunities at colleges or universities. Start teaching—someone will want to learn!
  • Research (especially on the impact of your work) is very powerful. Research lends high credibility to your work. Start measuring—someone will care about what you discover!
  • Try to "hang out" with people who know more than you do. Many of the top thought leaders in our field are very generous, open and giving people. More experienced coaches may be willing to let you "follow them around" and learn from them.

In terms of the "average business coach," I contend that staying "average" is a choice. There is nothing wrong with average, but no one has to live there. I have made huge investments in marketing that produced absolutely no immediate revenue, and have spent hours writing, speaking and networking as an investment in my future. In life, we "get what we pay for," and some coaches want to get the benefits of being well known without paying the price. Life seldom works this way!

One of my friends was upset because another speaker was making $10,000 per day, while he was making only $1,000. He asked the client, "If my customer satisfaction scores are higher than his, can I make as much money as he does?"

The client replied, "Definitely not! He is famous and you aren't."

Some people's reaction would be, "That isn't fair!"

My reaction was, "Get famous!"

In addition to your professional role as a business coach, what are your other life roles, and how would you personally define success in each of those roles?

  • I am a Buddhist. My philosophy is to be happy now. I believe that happiness is our choice, and it is determined by what we have on the inside, not by what we possess on the outside. We cannot be happy by having more or by having less. We can only be happy with what we have.
  • I am a husband and father. I've been married for 31 years, love my wife and kids, and ask them at least once a week, "What can I do to help you have a great life?" I make no judgments about anyone else as a partner or parent. I have been lucky.

Material possessions make no difference in my happiness. People from 119 countries have visited my website in the past four months to review my material and take away whatever they want at no charge. Some of these people are from very poor countries. What is this worth? It is worth a lot to me.

If I died tomorrow, I would be more than satisfied. I was brought up poor. My whole life has seemed like a happy dream. For example, I had dinner with Bono several months ago. It turns out that he was also brought up poor, and he feels the same way that I do—he is just trying to make the world a little better.

What personal and professional legacy would you like to leave?

I would like to make my coaching process available at no charge to people around the world. Ultimately, my goal is to help as many people as possible to have better lives.

What would you most like to be remembered for?

I'd like to be remembered as a nice Buddhist guy with a great family who gave all of his knowledge away to anyone who wanted to use it—who wandered around the world being happy and helping other people to become the persons that they wanted to become.

That would be enough for me!

Any final advice?

This is a great field. Do good. Help others. Life is short—be happy now!

Marshall Goldsmith is a world authority on helping successful leaders achieve positive, measurable change in behavior for themselves, their people, and their teams. He also works extensively in the field of executive education. Last month, California's Alliant International University named their management school after him—the Marshall Goldsmith School of Management. Marshall plans to work with the school to develop a program which provides practical education at all levels, including a premier leadership development website.

In addition to writing numerous articles and columns, Marshall has authored or co-edited 20 books. The most recent, co-edited with Laurence Lyons, is the seco nd edition of "Coaching for Leadership: The Practice of Leadership Coaching from the World's Greatest Coaches." Released in October 2005, it shares the well-researched best practices of the world's greatest leadership coaches.

Marshall's articles and videos are available at www.marshallgoldsmithlibrary.com. You can also read more about Marshall in the WABC Coach Directory.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Summer 2006, Volume 2, Issue 2). Copyright © 2011 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.