Coaching Great Leaders, by Marshall Goldsmith

Posted by Marshall Goldsmith

Feed It Forward

I have observed more than 50,000 leaders from around the world as they participated in a fascinating experiential exercise in which I ask participants to play two roles.

In one role, they provide FeedForward: They give another participant suggestions and, as much as they can, help with a specific issue. In the second role, they accept FeedForward: They listen to suggestions from another participant and learn as much as they can.

Step by Step

The exercise typically lasts 10-15 minutes, and the average participant has six or seven such sessions in that time. Participants are asked to

  • Pick one behavior they would like to change. Change in this behavior should make a significant, positive difference in their lives.
  • Describe this behavior to randomly selected fellow participants in one-on-one dialogues. It can be done quite simply, e.g., "I want to be a better listener."
  • Ask for FeedForward that might help them achieve a positive change in their behavior. If participants have worked together in the past, they are not allowed to give any feedback about the past. They are only allowed to give ideas for the future.
  • Listen attentively to the suggestions and take notes. Participants are not allowed to comment on the suggestions in any way, nor are they allowed to critique the suggestions, even to make positive statements, e.g., "That's a good idea."
  • Thank the other participants for their suggestions.
  • Ask fellow participants what they would like to change about themselves.
  • Provide FeedForward—two suggestions for helping the other person change.
  • Say, "You are welcome," when thanked for the suggestions. (The entire process of both giving and receiving FeedForward usually takes about two minutes.)
  • Find another participant and keep repeating the process until the exercise is stopped.

When the exercise is over, I ask the participants to complete the following sentence, "This exercise was...," with the one word that best describes their reaction to the experience. The words selected are almost always positive, such as "great," "energizing," "useful" or "helpful." One of the most common words used is "fun."

What is the last word most of us think of to describe the experience of receiving feedback, coaching and developmental ideas? Fun!

Reasons to Try FeedForward

I ask participants why this exercise is fun and helpful as opposed to painful, embarrassing or uncomfortable. Their answers offer a great explanation of why FeedForward can often be more useful than feedback as a developmental tool:

  1. We can change the future. We can't change the past. FeedForward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past. Race-car drivers are taught to look at the road ahead, not at the wall. By giving people ideas on how they can be even more successful, we can increase their chances of achieving this success in the future.
  2. FeedForward can come from people whom we have never even met. It does not require personal experience. One very common positive reaction to the exercise is that participants are amazed by how much they can learn from people they don't know. For example, if you want to be a better listener, almost any fellow human can give you ideas. They don't have to know you.
  3. Face it! Most of us hate getting negative feedback, and we don't like to give it. I have reviewed summary 360-degree feedback reports for more than 50 companies. The items "provides developmental feedback in a timely manner" and "encourages and accepts constructive criticism" almost always score near the bottom on coworker satisfaction with leaders. Traditional training does not seem to make a great deal of difference. If leaders got better at providing feedback every time the performance appraisal forms were "improved," most would be perfect by now!
  4. FeedForward can cover almost all of the same material as feedback. Imagine you have just made a terrible presentation in front of the executive committee. Your manager is in the room. Rather than make you relive this humiliating experience by detailing what went wrong, your manager might help you by offering suggestions for future presentations. These suggestions can be very specific and still delivered in a positive way—without making you feel even more humiliated.
  5. FeedForward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback. An excellent technique for giving ideas to successful people is to say: "Here is an idea for the future. Please accept it in the positive spirit in which it is offered. If you can use it, great! If not, just ignore it." With this approach, almost no time is wasted judging the quality of the ideas or trying to refute the suggestions. This kind of debate is usually negative, wastes time, and is often counterproductive. By eliminating judgment of the ideas, the process becomes much more positive for the sender as well as the receiver.
  6. FeedForward can be a useful tool with managers, peers and team members. Rightly or wrongly, feedback is associated with judgment. This can lead to very negative—even career-limiting—consequences when given to managers or peers. FeedForward does not imply superiority of judgment. It is more focused on being a helpful colleague than an expert. As such, it can be easier to hear from a person who isn't in a position of power or authority.
  7. People tend to listen more attentively to FeedForward than feedback. One participant in the FeedForward exercise noted: "I think that I listened more effectively in this exercise than I ever have in my life!" When asked why, he said, "Normally, when others are speaking, I am so busy composing a reply that will make sure that I sound smart that I am not fully listening to what the other person is saying. In FeedForward, the only reply that I am allowed to make is ‘thank you.' Since I don't have to worry about composing a clever reply, I can focus all of my energy on listening to the other person!"

When to Use FeedForward

The intent of this article is not to imply that leaders should never give feedback or that performance appraisals should be abandoned. The intent is to show how FeedForward can often be preferable to feedback in day-to-day interactions. Aside from its effectiveness and efficiency, FeedForward can make life a lot more enjoyable. When I ask managers how they felt the last time they received feedback, the most common responses are negative. When managers are asked how they felt after receiving FeedForward, they reply that FeedForward was not only useful, it was also fun.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2009, Volume 5, Issue 2). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

(This column has been modified from "Try FeedForward Instead of Feedback" inCoaching for Leadership, M. Goldsmith and L. Lyons, eds. Jossey Bass, 2005.)

Marshall Goldsmith, MBA, PhD, is a world authority on helping successful leaders achieve positive, lasting behavioral change. His executive coaching expertise has been highlighted in Forbes, Fast Company and Business Week. He is the WSJ and NYT best-selling author of What Got You Here Won't Get You There (Hyperion, 2007) and  Succession: Are You Ready? Learn more about Marshall in the WABC Coach Directory. Contact Marshall.
If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Does Anyone Ever Really Change? By Marshall Goldsmith

Posted by Marshall Goldsmith

Are you ready?

The million dollar question for anyone in the coaching field is: "Does anyone ever really change?" I was first asked this perfectly reasonable, and for me life-altering, question by a Fortune 100 company executive vice president for whose company I was preparing training sessions. I'm not sure why he asked me this question. Perhaps he had an eye on the training budget? It's hard to say. At the time, though, I had trained thousands of people, received fabulous feedback about my coaching, and I had dozens of letters from people who believed they had changed. I was a successful coach; I had worked with some of the best companies in the world, and nobody had ever asked me this question. Worse than that, it had never even entered my mind. I never went back to these companies to see if my training sessions had had any effect or if people actually did what they had promised to do in the training sessions. I had just assumed that they understood the benefits of my imminent wisdom and would do what they had been told.

I took immediate action. I became Mr. Follow-Up. I scoured all the research and went back to my client corporations, assembling data that answered the question, "Does anyone really change?" My pool of respondents eventually numbered 86,000 participants, involving eight major corporations, each of which had invested millions of dollars a year in leadership programs.  As I studied the data, three conclusions emerged:

  1. First, not everyone responds to executive development, at least not in the way the organization desires or intends.
    Some people are trainable; some aren't. At the eight companies I surveyed, I asked participants at the end of each session if they intended to go back to their jobs and apply what they had learned. Nearly 100 percent said yes. However, a year later, when I asked their direct reports to confirm that these leaders had applied the lessons on the job, 70 percent said yes, leaving 30 percent who said their bosses did absolutely nothing! Why would 30 percent of executives go through the training, promise to implement the changes and then do nothing? Quite simply, most of the time they were just too busy and too distracted by the day-to-day demands of their jobs to implement what they had learned. This led me to my second conclusion.
  2. There is an enormous disconnect between understanding and doing.
    Most leadership development revolves around one huge, and false, assumption: If people understand, then they will do. Don't believe me? Take a look at the adamant smoker. This person knows that smoking cigarettes is bad for his health, but refuses to quit. However, this insight didn't tell me if the 70 percent who understand and do actually got better. That's when I realized the missing link was follow-up, not only in my training concepts, but also in getting people to change. I rewired my objectives and began measuring people to see not only if they got better, but why. Tracing five of my eight companies to measure the level of follow-up among the executives, I found the results were astonishingly consistent. When leaders did little or no follow-up with their subordinates, there was little or no perceived change in the leaders' effectiveness. When leaders consistently followed up, the perception of their effectiveness jumped dramatically. This led to me to the third conclusion.
  3. People don't get better without follow-up.
    Leaders who don't follow up aren't necessarily bad leaders; they are just not perceived as getting better. Follow-up shows you care about getting better. It shows you value your coworkers' opinions. Following up consistently, every month or so, shows you are serious about the process and that you are not ignoring your coworkers' input. Think about it. A leader who seeks input from coworkers, but ignores it or doesn't follow up on it, quite logically will be perceived as someone who doesn't care much about becoming a better leader.

My experience discovering the value of follow-up taught me a fourth and final very valuable lesson: Becoming a better leader (or a better person) is a process, not an event. Executive development is more than an event, training program, motivating speech or inspiring retreat. It doesn't happen in a day. It doesn't happen because someone understands the training. Leaders develop over time and the only way to know if someone is getting better by actually doing what they learned at a training program is to follow up. Follow-up turns changing for the better into an ongoing process—for leaders, their people and their teams.

(For the complete methodology, statistical results, the companies involved and my conclusions, please see "Leadership Is a Contact Sport: The Follow-Up Factor in Management Development," written with Howard Morgan, in Strategy and Business, Fall 2004.)

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Spring Issue 2008, Volume 4, Issue 1). 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.

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.