Friday, April 30, 2010

The Mystery of Identity: Who Do You Think You Are?

Who do you think you are? This question is more subtle than it sounds. It's amazing to me how often I ask this of people and their first response is: "Well, I think I'm perceived as someone who……"

I stop them immediately, saying: "I didn't ask you to analyze how you think other people see you. I want to know who you think you are. Taking everyone else in the world out of the equation, including the opinions of your spouse, your family, and your closest friends, how do you perceive yourself?" What follows is often a long period of silence as they struggle to get their self-image into focus. After people think for a while, I can generally extract a straight answer.

So who do you think you are? How do you define yourself?

If you ask me about myself, I'll tell you simply: "I am someone who helps successful people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior." These 10 words describe how I see myself as a professional. They are so much a part of who I am and how I see myself that they might as well be tattooed on my forehead.

I didn't always define myself this way.

As a teenager in Kentucky, I was "one of the boys." A few years later, I was the first member of my family to graduate from college. By my late twenties, when I had a PhD in organizational behavior from UCLA and a teaching position at Loyola, I saw myself as a researcher and professor. Finally in my forties—more than half the average person's lifetime—I determined the self-definition that I use today: "I help successful people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior."

Now tell me: Who do you think you are?


Identity is a complicated subject and we can make it even more complicated when we're not sure where to look for the best answer. For instance, you may hurtle yourself back to your past—to signal events, memorable triumphs, painful disasters—to define yourself. You may rely on the testimony of others—the good or bad review of a boss or teacher—as a means of defining yourself. Or you may project yourself into the future, defining yourself as who you would like to be rather than who you actually are. Other people's definitions of you aren't necessarily what you want to project to people at home or those with whom you work.

Let's remove the complexity from the question. Let's make it simple—so as to understand our identity and do something about it. At its core, our identity is determined by two dynamics that complement and compete with one another.

The first dynamic is the interplay between our past and our future. Many of my clients cling to their past. Some even use it as an excuse for current and future behavior. There's no getting around the fact that much of our sense of self is determined by our past. How could it not be? Still, if we want to make positive changes in our lives, we also need some sense of a future self—not the person we think we were but the person we want to become. The push-pull between our past and future selves leaves our heads twirling as we swing back and forth between the comfort of our past self and the unknown promise of a future self.

The second dynamic tracks the tension between the image others have of us and the image we have of ourselves. It's the different weights we assign to what others say about us and what we tell ourselves. If we are too concerned about what others think of us, we will lose our sense of identity in our quest to please others. If we are not sufficiently concerned with what others think of us, we will have little idea what changes we might make to improve how we relate to others.

To understand how you relate to any activity or person, you have to understand your identity. You have to understand who you are. When you are putting this identity out into the world, you may realize that you need to either create a new identity for yourself or let go of an identity that doesn't serve you. You might even want to rediscover an identity that you have let go.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.

See my other posts at


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Getting Beyond What Others Think of You

How do you define who you are? Think about the various components that make up your vision of yourself. Where did they originate? If you're like most people, your identity is formed to a large extent by what you remember from your past and by what other people think about you and tell you about yourself.

I call the intersection of your past and other people's feedback your "reflected" identity. Here's an example. Let's say you're someone who has a problem with follow-up. It's something your boss and colleagues have criticized you for. Now your spouse is telling you the same thing about yourself, reinforcing this image of yourself as someone who isn't good at follow-up.

As a professional who relies on feedback as a tool for helping people change for the better, I would never disparage the value of this sort of information. However, I feel obligated to note that not all feedback is offered in good faith or in the most forgiving or generous of spirits. That's why you need to be careful in terms of defining yourself through your reflected identity. If you define yourself solely through your reflected identity, you may find yourself stuck identifying yourself by behaviors that you don't often do anymore, if at all.

Perhaps your spouse constantly reminds you of your one or two failures as a mate. Or maybe you have a colleague who never misses an opportunity to remind you of one of your more serious workplace mishaps. Do you have a boss whose only impression of you is some less-than-brilliant statement you made in a meeting two years ago, which he repeats to anyone who will listen whenever your name comes up?


While most types of feedback are quite fair, some aren't. Sure, they might be masked as the ribbing and back-slapping that is supposed to be part of a lively corporate environment, where one-liners and "humor" are meant to be fun. Sometimes these little jokes and stabs at one another aren't fun. In an environment where we tend to become what other people say we are, the wrong kind of feedback can be limiting and destructive.

People who keep reflecting your worst moments back to you, with the implication that these moments reveal the real you, are no different than the friend who sees you attempting a new diet, then reminds you about how many diets you've tried and failed to execute in the past. Such people are trying to suck you back to a past self—someone you used to be—not who you are or want to become.

It's likely that we've all found some value in paying attention to our reflected identity, but it's important to keep a healthy skepticism about it as well. At its worst, your reflected identity can be based on little more than hearsay and gossip and may tarnish your reputation. At its best, it may enhance your reputation—and help you succeed. Either way, it's not necessarily a true reflection of who you are.

Even if your reflected identity is accurate, remember that it doesn't have to be predictive. We can all change.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.

See my other posts at


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Identity: This Programming Is Interrupted

People—parents, bosses, spouses—send us messages about who we are and who we will become. When we take on other people's ideas of who we are, those people are programming our identities.

For instance, when I was a kid, my mother programmed two things into me: 1) I was smarter than all of the kids in the neighborhood; and 2) I was a slob. I realize now that the first notion was part of my mother's natural desire to have a successful son. The second was a product of my mother's own need to be neat and tidy. The result? I grew up with a delusional faith in my own intelligence, and I was a horrible slob. My mother had programmed me to believe that these attributes were integral components of what made me, well, me. It wasn't until I started understanding the dynamics of identity that I began to realize: 1) I wasn't always so smart; and 2) I didn't have to be a slob.

Imagine my shock when I arrived at graduate school to find that my professors and fellow students also had mothers, fathers, and other important people telling them how smart they were. (And, yes, some of them were much smarter than I.) I quickly realized I had to rethink my mother's programming about how smart I was. I also, if only to improve my odds of getting a date, worked on not being such a slob.

Your programmed identity has many sources. It can be influenced by the profession you enter, or the culture you grew up in, or the company you work for, or the entire industry you work in, or the people you select as your trusted friends. Each of these can shape your opinion of yourself, some more vividly than you may realize.


Recently I met up with an old friend from graduate school whom I hadn't seen for years. I remembered him as a quiet, earnest academic type who liked nothing more than dreaming up clever social experiments and writing research papers about them. Then he decided he needed more money than a life in academe would provide, so he became a trader on Wall Street. I caught up with him a few years into his new career, and the change in his personality was impossible to ignore. He was very aggressive and clearly cared a lot about making money.

"You've come a long way since the psych lab," I said, trying to make a joke about the "new" person sitting in front of me.

"It's the culture," he said. "Everyone in my company is there for only one reason: to make money. I was told that in order to succeed in this environment, I would need to become like everyone else. I guess I have."

He didn't disagree that he was a changed man, or that this change was not all positive. He simply gave himself a free pass by attributing his new personality to the way his industry programmed him and others in it to be.


And this is the potential danger of accepting our programmed identity: It can easily become a convenient scapegoat for our behavioral mistakes. I was once hired to work with a Greek-American executive who got abysmal feedback from colleagues and subordinates with regard to showing them respect. As I reviewed his co-workers' feedback with him, his first comment was, "I don't know if you've ever worked with men from Greece before …."

I cut him off and said, "I've worked with a lot of men from Greece, and most of them were not perceived as mean or disrespectful. Don't blame your problems on Socrates." He was blaming his acting like a jerk on messages he got somewhere along the way about how people with his ethnic heritage act.

Through the years I've become a connoisseur of people using their programming as an excuse. I've heard bigots blame their intolerance on the hateful small-minded town where they were raised. I've heard aggressive, don't-get-in-my-way salespeople blame their boorish behavior on their company's ruthless Darwinian culture.


For example, the U.S. Marine Corps excels at forging new identities for its recruits—and it does so in the relatively short span of eight weeks of boot camp. That's where new recruits are literally trained to think of themselves not only as soldiers but as members of a unit, whose mission is to look out for each other and perform well under the stress of combat.

This kind of positive programming is rare, however. Usually we reexamine our identity only when we experience an event for a second or third time and we can't blame it on anyone or anything else (e.g., getting fired or passed over for a promotion). Then it may finally dawn on us that maybe we can't lay all our problems on our programming. That's when we stop turning to the past and to others for our sense of who we are and look to ourselves.

What about yourself are you blaming on programming?

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.

See my other posts at


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Becoming Who You Want to Be

In my job as an executive coach, I help my successful clients achieve positive, lasting change in behavior. I am now realizing that often I should be helping them change their identity, the way they define themselves.

If we change our behavior but don't change our identity, we may feel phony or inauthentic, no matter how much we achieve. If we change our behavior and change the way we define ourselves, we can be both different and authentic at the same time. The people whom I have met who have been the most genuinely successful have created identities to become the human beings that they chose to be—without being slaves to the past or to other people's opinions of them.

I don't believe that anyone can become anything just because they choose to do it—for instance, I will never be a professional basketball player. I cannot wish away physical reality with positive thinking. However, I am amazed at what we can change if we do not artificially limit ourselves. I have seen leaders make massive positive changes, both in the way that they treat others (which is about behavior) and in the way that they see themselves (which is about their "created" identity).

Our created identity allows us to change, to become different people, to achieve higher goals. Our identity is not fixed; it is not immutable. It can be altered—and significantly so. One of the greatest obstacles to true happiness and meaning is the paralysis we create with the self-limiting definitions of who we are.


No one is safe from this defect. The client who hangs on to the self-image that he's bad at follow-up, long after it's true or meaningful, is literally living with a false identity. So is the boor who thinks his cultural heritage excuses his rough manner. Others know this isn't valid, but because he clings to that identity, he doesn't allow himself the possibility of changing it. These limiting identities prevent us from changing—and becoming someone better than we are.

When we define ourselves by saying we are deficient at some activity, we tend to create the reality that proves our definition. I once heard a client claim that he made a bad first impression. As someone who was favorably impressed by his manner the first time I met him, I asked, "What do you do the second time that reverses the bad first impression?"

"I'm much looser with people the second time," he said.

"Why?" I asked.

"I know them a little better, so I talk more freely, I joke around. I'm confident that I can charm them."

"Why can't you do that the first time?"

"I'm shy. Being outgoing with strangers just wouldn't be me," he answered.

"And yet, that is who you are the second time," I said. "Don't you find that odd?"

"I've always been like that," he said, as if that ended the matter, as if he was beyond forming a new version of himself and how he is with strangers.

This is a great example of self-limiting behavior. This client stopped trying to make a good first impression because he defined himself as being bad at it. The rest of us are no different. If we tell ourselves we can't sell or are bad at public speaking or don't listen well, we will usually find a way to fulfill our prophecy. We doom ourselves to failure.

Review the various components of your current identity. Where did they originate? If your present identity is fine with you, just work on becoming an even better version of who you are. If you want to make a change in your identity, be open to the fact that you may be able to change more than you originally believed that you could. Assuming that you do not have "incurable" or "unchangeable" limitations, you can create a new identity for your future, without sacrificing your past.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.

See my other posts at


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mojo: The Secret to Success

Unlike my book What Got You Here Won't Get You There, which focused on classic behaviors that successful people get wrong, my new book, MOJO: How to Get It, How to Keep It, and How to Get It Back When You Lose It, will focus on one attribute that all successful people share. I call it mojo.

My operational definition of mojo is: that positive spirit toward what we are doing now that starts on the inside and radiates to the outside. When I think about the truly successful human beings that I have met in my journey through life -- the people who are succeeding at both what they do and how they feel about themselves -- I realize they all have mojo.

There are people with mojo in every occupation and at every level of an organization. At a recent event, I watched the CEO give awards to employees who best demonstrated their organization's values. I was amazed at the great attitude -- the mojo -- shown by award-winners in such diverse occupations as cafeteria workers, technicians, nurses, and administrators. These people were all demonstrating mojo.

While I enjoyed observing these exuberant and motivated people get their awards, I thought about the thousands of people in similar jobs around the world who don't demonstrate mojo, the people who had a negative spirit toward what they were doing. That, too, starts on the inside and is apparent on the outside.

When There's No MOJO

In defining a term, it is often useful to think about its opposite. Mark Reiter (my agent, fellow writer, and friend) and I struggled to come up with a word that describes the opposite of mojo. We finally found the word that we were searching for: Nojo! I love it! Even the sound of it communicates the meaning.

When you get the chance, observe two different employees doing exactly the same job at the same time. One could be the embodiment of mojo while the other is the poster child for nojo. Case in point: flight attendants. For 32 years, my work has taken me around the world. On American Airlines alone, I just passed the dubious milestone of more than 10 million frequent flyer miles! All this flying has given me the chance to interact with thousands of flight attendants.

Most are dedicated, professional, and service-oriented. They demonstrate mojo. A few are grumpy and act like they would rather be anywhere else than on the plane. They demonstrate nojo. I've seen two groups of attendants doing exactly the same activity, at the same time, for the same company, probably at around the same salary, yet the messages that each is sending to the world about their experience is completely different.

How's Your MOJO?

How can we recognize mojo or nojo in ourselves and in others? Start by evaluating yourself and the people you meet on their mojo or nojo qualities, using the table above.

What are you learning? How can you either change yourself or your activities to empty the nojo in your life and fill it up with mojo? These are great questions to ask when you want to build your mojo.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.

See my other posts at


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Friday, April 23, 2010

4 Ingredients to Building Success at Work and at Home

The pursuit of happiness and meaning is short when we realize that they can be found when we achieve two straightforward goals: loving what we do and showing it. I call this Mojo and all of the successful people I know have it. It is apparent when the positive feelings toward what we are doing come from inside us and are evident for others to see. In other words, there's no gap between the positive way we perceive ourselves -- what we are doing -- and how we are perceived by others.

Four vital ingredients need to be combined in order for you to have great Mojo.

The first is your identity. Who do you think you are?

This question is more subtle than it sounds. It's amazing to me how often I ask people this question and their first response is, "Well, I think I'm perceived as someone who..." I stop them immediately, saying, "I didn't ask you to analyze how you think other people see you. I want to know who you think you are. Taking everyone else in the world out of the equation, including the opinions of your spouse, your family, and your closest friends, how do you perceive yourself?" What follows is often a long period of silence as they struggle to get their self-image into focus. After people think for a while, I can generally extract a straight answer. Without a firm handle on our identity, we may never be able to understand why we gain -- or lose -- our Mojo.

The second element is achievement. What have you done lately?

These are the accomplishments that have meaning and impact. If you're a salesperson, this might be landing a big account. If you're a creative type, it could be coming up with a breakthrough idea. But this too is a more subtle question than it sounds -- because we often underrate or overrate our achievements based on how easy or hard they were to pull off.

The third element is reputation. Who do other people think you are?

What do other people think you've done lately? Unlike the questions about identity and achievement, there's no subtlety here. While identity and achievement are definitions that you develop for yourself, your reputation is a scoreboard kept by others. It's your coworkers, customers, friends (and sometimes strangers who've never met you) grabbing the right to grade your performance -- and report their opinions to the rest of the world. Although you can't take total control of your reputation, there's a lot you can do to maintain or improve it, which can in turn have an enormous impact on your Mojo.

The fourth element to building Mojo is acceptance. What can you change, and what is beyond your control?

On the surface, acceptance -- that is, being realistic about what we cannot change in our lives and accommodating ourselves to those facts -- should be the easiest thing to do. It's certainly easier than creating an identity from scratch or rebuilding a reputation. After all, how hard is it to resign yourself to the reality of a situation?

You assess it, take a deep breath (perhaps releasing a tiny sigh of regret), and accept it. And yet acceptance is often one of our greatest challenges. Rather than accept that their manager has authority over their work, some employees constantly fight with their bosses (a strategy that rarely ends well). Rather than deal with the disappointment of getting passed over for a promotion, they'll whine that "it's not fair" to anyone who'll listen (a strategy that rarely enhances their image among their peers). Rather than take a business setback in stride, they'll hunt for scapegoats, laying blame on everyone but themselves (a strategy that rarely teaches them how to avoid future setbacks). When Mojo fades, the initial cause is often failure to accept what is -- and get on with life.

By understanding the impact and interaction of identity, achievement, reputation, and acceptance, we can begin to alter our own Mojo -- both at work and at home.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.

See my other posts on


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Journey into Self-Discovery

Career Choices Are Life Choices

For the typical career professional, your daily pursuits are much more than just having a job and paying the bills. Remember the old adage about whether you "eat to live or live to eat"? We could easily compose a similar challenge about work: Do you "work to live or live to work"? Even based on the sheer number of hours we spend at work, this is an important consideration.

Assuming an eight-hour day and seven hours of sleep at night, approximately one-third of our waking hours are spent at work. For many professionals, especially physicians, this percentage is probably closer to one-half of their waking hours! That's a huge chunk of your life. This puts into perspective the significant impact our career choices can have on how we view our lives.

Understanding Culture and Language

Our language often betrays us. Notice that in the opening paragraph I used the word "spend," as in "the time I spend at work." This is how many people describe their work, and it doesn't sound like a highly satisfying pursuit!

This observation led me to create an exercise, which I have conducted with leaders regarding how they view their jobs. They are given three choices for assessing the content of their work. Please try this yourself. As I describe each of the three categories, estimate the percentage of your job that falls into each category.

The first category is "play." This is job content that is fun and what you would tend to do regardless of whether or not you were compensated for it. We have all seen people readily agree to do a task that was beyond the job description. Why? Because it was a task they viewed as fun, as an outlet for untapped creativity or a channel for self-actualization. If I tell myself, "I'm going to play," there is no resistance or creative avoidance. We all like to play.

The second category is "work." This is job content that is not play. It's work. This is activity that, although not fun, you would agree to do for reasonable compensation.

Illustration: My father was a mechanic and ran a DX gas station in Valley Station, Kentucky. He lived during a time when people might barter for goods if they didn't have the money to pay for them. A man asked my father, "I need my car repaired. Do you want to do it?" My father might reply, "No, I don't want to do it. I don't have any fun repairing cars. However, I will do it for reasonable compensation, say a 100 pounds of potatoes from your garden."

I can tell myself, "I'm going to work," and have a reasonably high level of commitment to follow through with this objective.

The third category is "misery." Job content in this category is not only not play, but there is no compensation imaginable to make it pleasurable. I tell myself, "I'm about to do something that I don't want to do and I'll be miserable doing it." I will be wonderfully creative in finding every reason to avoid that activity.

How do you see the composition of your professional experience concerning activities that are categorized as play, work, and misery? Here are the typical survey results among professionals:

* 15 percent of what professionals do is considered play;

* 75 percent of what professionals do is considered work;

* 10 percent of what professionals do is considered misery.

Assessing Instinct and Life Choices

Life should be rampant with fun. I believe that one of your life goals should be to move yourself into more activities that are fun and away from activities that bring you misery. The initial step in toward fun is to identify those activities that constitute "play." To do so, first clarify your natural tendencies for interacting with your world in order to make better life choices.

There are personal assessments that promote this aspect of self-discovery. For example, completing the self-paced "Extended DISC" assessment can aid you in making better life and career choices as well as in determining how to be more effective in your current roles. Such an assessment can help you understand your intrinsic personality traits and behavioral tendencies that coalesce in the following categories:

1. Results-oriented, take charge, make-it-happen
2. People-focused, extroverted
3. Loyal, task-focused, team-player
4. Quality-focused, detail-oriented, organizer

Certain specialties may call for different aspects of these four personality dimensions. For example, an accountant may require more of the task/quality focus and attention to detail and procedure where a sales person may be more successful in the people-focus and extroverted category. A person who has differing natural tendencies may need to moderate behavior in order to work effectively in this specialty and be successful. This is not to suggest that someone with differing natural tendencies couldn't be successful in that role--only that adaptation may be necessary for professional effectiveness and personal satisfaction.

When you have to adapt yourself to fit a role, you may not be miserable, but it will likely be hard work. For this reason, it's best to choose roles that match your personality and behavioral styles.

When you are in a role that has some mismatches, plan for some conscious moderation to enhance working relationships and performance.

Understanding Your Mojo

There is another concept that can have significant impact on your day-to-day energy and performance. Also, it can promote a greater sense of "ownership" and job satisfaction.

Ask yourself: "Given a set of circumstances, how can I make the situation not only more palatable, but how can I transform it by my 'positive spirit'?" This is referred to as "mojo"--literally, a type of magic charm. For purposes of discussion, it can be regarded as "that positive spirit toward one's activities that originates from the inside and radiates to the outside."

Your mojo is not fixed or limited in quantity at birth such that "when it's gone, it's gone." It is renewable and each person governs how it gets renewed -- and it changes with different activities and circumstances over time.

The goal in renewing mojo is two-fold: First, choose activities that more naturally maximize it, and, second, generate as much of it as possible regardless of the activity. On the inside, high mojo results in personal excitement about the activity in which you are engaged at the moment. As it radiates to the outside, which it will, you will experience spreading positive energy to everyone around you.

What You Bring to Work

The first aspect investigates what you bring to a certain activity in personal or professional pursuits. This includes enthusiasm and energy, knowledge and "know-how", skills, confidence, genuineness, and authenticity. Obviously, you bring differing amounts of these attributes depending on the activity. For some activities, you might bring high amounts of several of these attributes, and for other activities you might bring lesser amounts.

What You Gain from Work
The second aspect deals with what a certain activity brings to you. An activity can bring both short-term and/or long-term returns. For the short-term, an activity can be stimulating and rewarding and promote personal happiness. In the long-term, an activity can provide meaning and help you to learn and grow. Overall, an activity can engender a sense that it was a valuable use of time, promoting feelings of gratefulness.

As with your inputs, the short- and long-term returns differ by activity. Some activities might have either a short- or long-term impact, whereas other activities may bring both short- and long-term impact.

Concluding Thoughts

Ideally your day is filled with activities that score high on most of the above inputs and returns. Over time, if you know which activities bring you happiness and meaning and which don't, the intent is to manage your life so that you do more of those activities which bring up your mojo and minimize or eliminate altogether those that don't.

But, life is not ideal. The reality is that we all have to do things we don't like some times. However, we're not stuck. Here are some quick suggestions for how you might engage, retain, or regain mo, even while you're doing the most mundane activities.

1. Validate that the activity must be done and/or must be done as you are currently doing it. If it is not a necessary task, stop it and focus on a high-mojo activity. Don't assume that just because it's being done that it's important and must continue. On the second point, if you have options for changing it to any degree, see the next suggestion.
2. Brainstorm ideas for reframing or redefining the activity to more closely align it with what reflects your positive spirit. That might increase the short- and/or long-term returns. If you can simply add a little fun to the activity, the short-term stimulation might be worth it. If you can learn something new or find a deeper meaning in the process, then you've gained long-term value.
3. Identify actions for enriching what you bring to the activity. Perhaps training or coaching would enhance your knowledge or skills. That, in turn, could build greater self-confidence. Increased confidence could drive enthusiasm and create energy.
4. Rehearse expectations from the activity. Perhaps the activity, though not presently stimulating, is providing a long-term opportunity for growth. Conversely, an activity may not offer any long-term meaning, but, in the present, really brings happiness and stimulation. The attendant value of an activity, either in the short- or long-term, may not be obvious. Have a talk with yourself and deliberately focus on the value proposition for you.

Life is much too short to simply tolerate it. Continually pursue some aspect of self-discovery as we talked about earlier. Take responsibility for forging a new path that is a better fit with your personality make-up. If that seems unlikely, and that is the reality for most of us, then take responsibility for being more effective in your current situation.

As simple as it may sound, by increasing your effectiveness, you can elicit a more positive response from others. Finally, take action to discover and enhance your own happiness and meaning--through new pursuits, by reframing current activities, by extending what you bring to the situation, or by finding hidden value. In so doing, you will experience more positive associations with others and a richer, more satisfying life in general.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.

See my other posts on


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Self-Help Can't Get You Mojo

In my work, the most frequent question I hear is: "What is the one quality that differentiates truly successful people from everyone else?" My answer is always the same: Successful people spend a large part of their lives engaging in activities that simultaneously provide meaning and happiness.

In other words, truly successful people have what I call mojo. The twin goals of meaning and happiness are what govern my operational definition: Mojo is that positive spirit toward what we are doing now that starts from the inside and radiates to the outside. Our mojo is evident when the good feelings we have toward what we are doing come from inside us and are apparent for everyone else to see. There is no gap between the positive way we perceive ourselves—and how we are perceived by others. Of course, the only person who can define meaning and happiness for you is you, and my goal in writing my most recent book, Mojo, is to help people define and achieve it.

An exercise you can do easily is to ask yourself after a typical activity that you do every day: How happy was I? How meaningful was it? Rate your answers on a 1-to-10 scale. There are no right or wrong answers, and this is not a one-time test. This is something you can do for a few days, and you will find that patterns emerge. You'll soon see areas where you have strong mojo and where you have weak mojo. Once you see the patterns, you may ask yourself: "Is this really what I should be doing?"

Enlisting a Friend

Measuring your mojo is not a simple task, and even though it's very personal, it is not something you should feel obligated to do alone. This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give you. If you want to improve your performance at almost anything, your odds of success improve considerably the moment you enlist someone else to help you.

I know this from personal experience, because for several years I have enlisted the help of a friend, Jim Moore, in achieving my own personal goals. Every day, no matter where either of us is in the world, we try to connect by phone so Jim can ask me a series of questions. They're important day-to-day lifestyle questions, such as: "Did you say or do anything nice for Lyda [your wife]?" "How much do you weigh?" or "How many minutes did you write?" Jim happens to be an esteemed expert in leadership development, but his qualifications for this ritual rest more on the fact that he's a friend who's genuinely interested in helping me and will always make himself available for our daily phone call.

Each question has to be answered with a yes, no, or a number. I record the results on an Excel spreadsheet and at the end of the week get an assessment of how well I'm sticking to my objectives. (I return the favor by asking Jim a series of questions about what matters to him.) Here are a few of my daily questions. I recommend you start with similar questions and expand to your own list of 20-25 questions.

1. How happy were you today? (1-10)

2. How meaningful was your day? (1-10)

3. How many angry or destructive comments did you make?

4. How many hours did you sleep?

5. How many minutes did you spend walking?

The results have been astonishing. After the first 18 months of adhering to this ritual, Jim and I both weighed exactly what we wanted to weigh, exercised more, and got more done (and I am nicer to my wife). As an experiment, we quit for about a year to see what would happen. Each of us put the weight back on and failed to achieve nearly as much—a result that was both predictable and depressing—and sent us rushing back to the program, where we resumed hitting our targets immediately. I was never unhappy, but my life seems happier and more meaningful to me when I use this process.

(To see my daily questions and Jim's daily questions, and to get an article describing this process, go to

The lesson is clear: We don't have to rely on self-help.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.

See my other posts on


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Saturday, April 17, 2010

An Excessive Need To Be Me

Mark Reiter is a top literary agent and a master with words. Mark and I worked together on my new book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There. In the book, we discuss 20 annoying habits of successful people - and then talk about how to break these habits and achieve positive, lasting change in behavior.

One of the 20 habits discussed in our book is "an excessive need to be me." What do we mean by "an excessive need to be me?"

Each of us has a pile of behaviors that we define as "me." These are the behaviors, both positive and negative, that we think of as our unalterable essence.

While many of these "me" behaviors may be positive (e.g., "I am smart" or "I am hard working"), some may be negative (e.g., "I am a bad listener" or "I am always late").

If we buy into our behavior definition of "me," which most humans do, we can learn to excuse almost any annoying action by saying, "That's just the way I am!"

As you read this column, think about your own behavior. How many times does your own "need to be me" get in the way of building positive relationships with the important people in your life? How many times have you rationalized away inappropriate behavior by saying, "That's just the way I am!"

Some years ago, I worked with a CEO who was generally regarded as a great leader of people but was seen as lacking in the ability to provide positive recognition. As we reviewed his 360-degree feedback report, he snorted, "What do you want me to do, go around praising people who don't deserve it? I don't want to look like a phony!"

"Is that your excuse for not giving recognition?" I asked. "You don't want to look like a phony?"

"Yes," he replied.

We went back and forth as he desperately defended his miserable scores on giving recognition. He was very animated in articulating his defense. For example, he went into a tirade about when he shouldn't give recognition that included the following comments:

- He had high standards - and people didn't always meet them.

- He didn't like to hand out praise indiscriminately - because this cheapened the value of praise when it was deserved.

- He believed that singling out individuals could weaken the team.

While pointing out when he shouldn't give recognition, he completely failed to deal with the fact that there were lots of times when he should be giving positive recognition. After his dazzling display of rationalization, I finally stopped him and said, "No matter what you say, I am not impressed with your excuses, and I don't think that handing out praise makes you a phony. Your real problem is your self-limiting definition of who you are. You are afraid that if you recognize others, it won't really be 'me' who is doing the recognition. That's what the definition of phony is - not 'me.'"

I asked him, "Why can't doing a great job of providing positive recognition be you? It's not immoral, illegal, or unethical is it?"

"No," he conceded.

"Will it make people feel better?"


"Will they perform better as a result of this well-deserved positive recognition?


"So please explain to me - why aren't you doing it?"

He laughed and replied, "Because it wouldn't be ME!"

That was the moment when change became possible - when he realized that his stern allegiance to himself was pointless vanity. He realized that he was not only hurting his employees' and company's chances for success - he was hurting his own chance for success!

He realized that he could shed his "excessive need to be me" and not be a phony. He could stop thinking about himself and start behaving in a way that benefited others.

Sure enough, when he let go of his devotion to a pointless definition of "me," all his other rationalizations fell by the wayside. He realized that his direct reports were talented, hard-working people who did indeed deserve his praise. He finally understood that giving recognition when deserved didn't damage his reputation as a leader who had high expectations.

The payoff was enormous. Within a year his scores on giving recognition were in line with his other positive scores on leadership - all because he had lost his excessive "need to be me."

The irony was not lost on him. He accepted the fact that the more he focused on his employees, the more they worked to benefit the company - and that benefited him.

It's an interesting equation: less me + more them = more success as a leader.

Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself resisting change because you are clinging to a false - and/or probably pointless - notion of "me."

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Friday, April 16, 2010

Creating a Positive Global Community

To create a positive global community, we need to meet three key challenges:

1. Reaching out to humanity and avoiding isolationism.

In the global community, it is easier to reach out and easier to become isolated. Superficial communication with everyone can lead to meaningful impact on no one. We need to be inspired and educated in the value of trying to benefit the world, not just ourselves. As the opportunities for huge individual achievement and wealth form, we need to better recognize people who make the transition from success to significance. Community heroes need to be celebrated based upon their skills in giving - not their skills in taking.

2. Celebrating diversity and avoiding conformity.

Our ability to adapt to changing situations is largely a function of our diversity. Language leads us to view the world in different ways and to have different approaches to making decisions and solving problems. We need to encourage diversity in language, culture, and lifestyle to ensure our own survival. Powerful countries must not try to make other countries become like them. Residents of the global community need to celebrate the fact that "different" may be synonymous with "fascinating," "enhancing," and even "necessary."

3. Building long-term value and avoiding short-term stimulation.

Residents of the global community have almost unlimited access to sources of pleasurable, short-term stimulation. Television, movies, interactive games, virtual-reality experiences, chat rooms, and other options are available at a low cost. Yet few of these activities produce any long-term value. We need to inspire and educate people about the value of "investing" for the future. Long-term value is the result of vision, creativity, innovation, and hard work. We now have access to tools with the potential to dramatically increase our productivity, but we also have access to countless pleasurable distractions that lead nowhere.

Challenges and Opportunities

The global community has the potential to become a nightmare:

- A world of conformity:

with billions of people wearing the same baseball caps, baggy shirts, jeans, and shoes, speaking the same language, and laughing at the same jokes.

- A world of short-term stimulation:

with countless hours spent on mindless television, video games, and a virtual reality that begins to eliminate the real human experience.

- A world of isolation:

with lives spent in front of a screen, striving for personal excitement and gain with little thought for others and even less effort devoted to helping future generations.

The global community has the potential to be a dream come true:

- A world of diversity:

with billions of people being able to communicate, trade, share cultural experiences, and appreciate each other, with access to a range of products, services, religions, cultures, philosophies, and languages.

- A world building long-term value:

with countless people working together to advance our culture, building on what has been learned in a manner that is positive, efficient, and productive.

- A world reaching out to humanity:

with people helping each other in ways that could never have been imagined, celebrating each other's success, and helping less fortunate members of the community become more productive.

Will the global community of the future become a nightmare or a dream come true? No doubt it will be some of both. The increase in global communication, trade, technology, and culture will continue. By inspiring people and educating them in the values of celebrating diversity, building long-term value, and reaching out to humanity, we can build a global community that is more like a dream come true.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Building Partnerships

In a recent study we interviewed over 200 high-potential leaders, asking them to describe today's ideal leader. The results were clear. The ideal leader is a person who builds internal and external partnerships.

Internal partnerships include direct reports, co-workers and managers.

1. Partnering with direct reports.

Traditional "bonds" between employees and organizations have changed. Employees no longer expect that their organizations will provide them with job security. As security has diminished, so has blind loyalty. Most high-potential leaders see themselves as "free agents," not traditional "employees." Their ideal leader is a person who develops "win-win" relationships and is sensitive to their needs for personal growth and development. In return, they feel a responsibility to deliver value back. They see the leader of the future as their partner, not their boss!

Managers of knowledge workers - people who know more about what they are doing than their mangers must be good partners. They won't have a choice! If they are not great partners, they won't have great people.

2. Partnering with co-workers.

Successful leaders will share people, capital, and ideas to break down boundaries. Since the CEO is rewarded by the success of the organization, the CEO knows that people need to be shared so that they can develop the expertise and breadth needed to manage; capital needs to be shared so that mature business can transfer funds to high-growth business; and ideas need to be shared so that people can learn from both successes and mistakes.

While these advantages are easy to see from the vantage point of the CEO, they can be difficult to execute. Leaders will need to develop skills in negotiation and "win-win" relationships. They have to learn to share people, capital, and ideas. In some cases, they may choose to experience a short-term loss, so that the organization can achieve a long-term gain. In the past, many leaders have competed with colleagues for people, resources, and ideas - and been rewarded for "winning" this competition. In the future, leaders will need to collaborate as partners with co-workers.

3. Partnering with managers.

The changing role of leadership will mean that the relationship between managers and direct reports will have to change in both directions. Many leaders will be operating more like the managing director of a consulting firm. They will be partners leading in a network, not managers leading in a hierarchy. At the consulting firm McKinsey and Company, a Director may often have less detailed knowledge about a client than a more junior partner. Leaders are trained to challenge their managers when they believe that the direction they are being given is not in the best interest of the client. This philosophy teaches leaders to have very responsible relationships with their managers.

Future leaders will work with their managers in a team approach that combines the leader's knowledge of unit operations with the manager's understanding of larger needs. Such a relationship requires taking responsibility, sharing information, and striving to see both the micro and macro perspective. When direct reports know more than their managers, they have to learn how to "influence up."

Outside the Organization

Leaders must also partner with customers, suppliers, and competitors.

1. Partnering with customers.

As companies have become larger and more global, there has been a shift from buying stand-alone products to buying integrated solutions. One reason for this shift is economy of scale. Huge retail corporations, like Home Depot or Wal-Mart, do not want to deal with thousands of vendors. They would prefer to work with fewer vendors who can deliver not only products, but systems for delivery that are customized to meet their needs. Also, many customers now want "network solutions," not just hardware and software.

As the supplier's relationship with their customers continues to change, leaders from supply organizations will need to become more like partners and less like salespeople. This trend toward building long-term customer relationships, not just achieving short-term sales, means that suppliers need to develop a much deeper understanding of the customer's total business. They will need to make many small sacrifices to achieve a large gain. In short, they will need to act like partners.

2. Partnering with suppliers.

As the shift toward integrated solutions advances, leaders will have to change their relationship with suppliers. For example, more of IBM's business now involves customized solutions incorporating non-IBM products and services. While the idea of IBM selling non-IBM products was almost unheard of in the past, it is now common - to the benefit of customers and, to IBM itself. The same trend is occurring in pharmaceuticals and telecommunications.

In a world where a company sold stand-alone products, partnering with suppliers was not only seen as unnecessary, but unethical! The company's job was to "get the supplier down" to the lowest possible price to increase margins and profitability. Today many leaders realize that their success is directly related to their supplier's success. In fact, some include commitment to suppliers as one of their core values. They seek to transcend differences and focus on a common good - serving the end user of the product or service.

3. Partnering with competitors.

The most radical change in the role of leader as partner has come in partnering with competitors. Most high-potential leaders see competitors as potential customers, suppliers, and partners. Most organizations that rely on knowledge workers have varied and complex relationships with competitors. When today's competitors may become tomorrow's customers, the definition of "winning" changes. People have memories. Unfairly "bashing" competitors to ruin their business could have harsh consequences. While competitors should not expect collusion or unfair practices, they should expect integrity and fair dealing.

The six trends toward more partnering are reinforcing each other. As people feel less job security, they begin to see suppliers, customers and competitors as potential employers. The fact the leaders need to learn more about these other organizations, build long-term relationships, and develop "win-win" partnerships means that the other organizations are even more likely to hire the leaders. This is often seen as a positive by both organizations. As the trend toward outsourcing increases, it's difficult to determine who is a customer, supplier, direct report, manager or partner.

The leader of the future will need to be skilled at managing these relationships. In many ways, telling direct reports (who know less than we do) what to do is a lot simpler than developing relationships with partners (who know more than we do). Working in a "silo" is simpler than having to build partnerships with peers. "Taking orders" from managers is simpler than having to challenge ideas that don't meet customer needs. Selling a product to customers is simpler than providing an integrated solution. Getting the lowest price from suppliers is simpler than understanding their complex business needs. Competing with competitors is simpler than having to develop a complex customer-supplier-competitor relationship.

The challenge of leadership is growing. Many traditional qualities like integrity, vision, and self-confidence are still needed. But, building partnerships is becoming a requirement, not an option, for future leaders.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Celebrating Diversity

The rise of the global community brings many opportunities and challenges. In the past, community members could communicate with each other, trade with each other, and share a common culture. In the future, communication, trade, and culture will become much more global.

Opportunities for learning will be greater than ever. "Global connectedness" means that we can interact in a way that leads to rapid and positive learning. More information, however, does not necessarily lead to better decisions. Leaders are now hard pressed to make decisions because they have too much information. Hence, editing and accessing relevant information are vital.

We can't assume that instant information will lead to long-term quality of communication. Today television addiction is a huge problem. In the future, media addiction (including the Internet) may well pass drug addiction and alcohol addiction as a social problem.

The advantages of global trade are well known. Increased global competition leads to higher-quality products and services at lower prices. Consumers can have access to an incredible diversity of goods that may have been produced anywhere in the world. Poor countries, which have lower labor costs, can "catch up" by doing labor-intensive work that would cost much more in wealthy countries. As the poor countries become more efficient, they gain the purchasing power to buy more goods and services from the rest of the world. The removal of trade barriers leads to an increasingly efficient market.

While, in theory, global trade will create greater product diversity, in practice it sometimes creates greater homogeneity. The "shopping streets" in major cities around the world now look much the same. They tend to have the same clothing, music, and even food. While the stores may have products from more countries, they are becoming the same products. People worldwide are buying the same global brands that are globally advertised, marketed, and distributed. Another cost of global trade may be an increased lack of loyalty and identification with a larger whole.

Increased access to information means that more cultural opportunities are available to more people. Cultural access leads to a better understanding not only of art or music, but also of people. Repressive regimes that encourage hatred for others restrict the flow of communication. But by communicating with people of diverse backgrounds, we quickly learn that negative ethnic stereotypes are invalid. Open communication can lead to a world where diversity is celebrated and the ethnic hatred and violence is reduced.

While the global culture has great potential benefits, it can also have great costs. People around the world are much more likely to look alike, act alike, and sound alike. We are becoming as concerned with "cultural extinction" as we are today with the extinction of plant and animal species.

Attempts at stopping the flow of communication, trade, or culture may produce short-term successes but are doomed to failure for two reasons:

1) the Internet is global, and so information that is censored in one country will be quickly duplicated in another country; and

2) almost all brilliant young people who are developing new technology believe in the free flow of information, do not like censorship, and are not intimidated by government edict.

Attempts to protect noncompetitive industries or workers produces a short-term benefit but does not stop the development of better and cheaper products. Attempts to force trade restrictions on unwilling partners are destined to fail. Attempts to restrict access to any product often leads to greater desirability.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Being an Effective Global Leader

My company is stretching into areas of the world I've barely heard of — we are definitely broaching the unknown. As a leader, what do I need to be successful as globalization changes the rules of the game?

MG: To help me answer this question, I contacted Maya Hu-Chan of the Global Leadership Development Center at Alliant University's Marshall Goldsmith School of Management. Maya is an international management consultant and certified executive coach who specializes in global leadership, executive coaching, and cross-cultural business skills. Maya and I co-authored Global Leadership: The Next Generation, from which we learned much about facing the challenges of globalization.

First, we learned that globalization is here to stay. It has proliferated into our daily lives. It is not only organizations that are going global; it is individuals, families, and friends. For instance, you may call computer support from your home in San Diego and reach a technical assistant in India; or your son may reach out to a video game creator in Germany and become Facebook friends with a whole slew of Europeans over night. Disney was right; it is a small world after all!

Second, we learned that today's global leaders build partnerships. As the organization standardizes and integrates its operations worldwide, leaders are required to align themselves with supply chains which may appear seamless in a strategic plan but which, in reality, involve real people with diverse cultural backgrounds and communication styles. The new organizational prototype demands new individual skills to meet this complexity; it presents planning and communication challenges requiring new tools in response.

I asked Maya, what to elaborate on her experience in coaching leaders to build global partnerships. Here is her response:

MG: A foundational element for any global leader is the need to look at the big picture while at the same time consulting with key stakeholders at every level. A recent client of mine, a Thai vice president with a high-tech multinational, faced exactly this dynamic. As his coach, I helped him to approach this duality with cultural sensitivity and awareness, using the appropriate communication approach to get the message across.

Since his outreach spanned not only hierarchy but continents, his strategy would have to meet the complexity of the landscape. He began his first management initiative by interviewing his supervisor, and then his boss's supervisor, clarifying short and long-term goals by asking questions like "what's our mission?" and "what's our strategy?" From there he consulted with his team, planned a two-day retreat, and followed up with regular virtual staff meetings spanning Asia, the United States, and Latin America. The result was to clarify the group's direction by being specific about what they want to accomplish.

In some ways, the work of equipping global leaders is that of creating more "un-CEOs." New leaders are those who are adept at building partnerships, both one-to-one and one-to-many, as a matter of habit. They emphasize horizontal leadership such as peer coaching, for example, to help project stakeholders help each other.

In my work with multinational corporations, my global clients have often pointed out that building partnerships is one of the most important competencies for global leaders of the future. Leaders have to successfully build trusting and long-term strategic relationships, internally and externally, and leverage those relationships, in order to get the job done.

Finally, remember to be curious about other cultures and enjoy the challenges of communicating in a competitive, fast-paced global business environment.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Becoming a Soft-Side Accountant

Most of us in business spend a great deal of time measuring. We keep close tabs on sales, profits, rate of growth, and return on investment. In many ways, part of being an effective leader is setting up systems to measure everything that matters. It's the only way we can know for sure how we're doing.

Given our addiction to measurement -- and its documented value -- you would think that we would be more attuned to measuring the "soft-side values" in the workplace: how often we're rude to people, how often we're polite, how often we ask for input rather than shut people out, how often we bite our tongue rather than spit out a needlessly inflammatory remark. Soft values are hard to quantify but, in the area of interpersonal performance, they are as vital as any financial number. They demand our attention if we want to alter our behavior -- and get credit for it.

About 10 years ago, I decided that I wanted to be a more attentive father. So I asked my daughter, Kelly, "What can I do to be a better parent?"

"Daddy," she said, "you travel a lot, but I don't mind that you're away from home so much. What really bothers me is the way you act when you are home. You talk on the telephone, you watch sports on TV, and you don't spend much time with me."

I was stunned, because one, she nailed me and two, I felt like an oafish dad who had unwittingly caused his daughter pain. There's no worse feeling in the world. I recovered quickly, however, by reverting to a simple response that I teach all of my clients. I said, "Thank you. Daddy will do better."

From that moment, I started keeping track of how many days I spent at least four hours interacting with my family without the distraction of TV, movies, football, or the telephone. I'm proud to say that I got better. In the first year, I logged 92 days of unencumbered interaction with my family. The second year, 110 days. The third, 131 days. The fourth, 135 days.

Five years after that first conversation, even though I was spending more time with my family, my business was more successful than it had been when I was ignoring them. I was beaming with pride -- not only with the results, but also with the fact that, like a skilled soft-side accountant, I had documented them. I was so proud, in fact, that I went to my kids, both teenagers by this time, and said, "Look kids, 135 days. What's the target this year? How about 150 days?"

Both children suggested a massive reduction in "Dad time." My son, Bryan, suggested paring down to 50 days. Their message: You have overachieved. I wasn't discouraged. It was an eye-opener. I was so focused on the numbers, on improving my at-home performance each year, that I forgot that my kids had changed too. An objective that made sense when they were 9 and 12 years old didn't make sense when they were teenagers.

Soft-side accounting has other benefits. If you track a number, it will remind other people that you are trying. It's one thing to tell your employees or customers that you'll spend more time with them. It's a different ball game if you attach a real number to that goal, and people are aware of it. They become much more sensitized to the fact that you're trying to change. They also get the message that you care. This can never be a bad thing.

Everything is measurable, from days spent communicating with employees to hours invested in mentoring a colleague. All you have to do is look at the calendar or your watch -- and count.

Once you see the beauty of measuring the soft-side values in your life, other variables kick in, such as the fact that setting numerical targets makes you more likely to achieve them. Another measurement that I tracked was how often I spent 10 minutes each day engaging my wife and each of my kids in one-on-one conversations. Ten minutes is not a long time, but it's a significant improvement on zero. I found that if I measured the activity, I was much more likely to do it. If I faltered, I always told myself, "Well, I get a credit toward the goal, and it only takes me 10 minutes." Without that measurable goal, I was much more likely to blow it off.

Creating an income statement for the soft stuff will make you a better leader -- even when your teenagers want less of your time.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bashing the Boss

According to a recent survey by and Development Dimensions International, a majority of employees spend 10 or more hours per month complaining or listening to others complain about bad bosses - and almost one-third spend 20 hours or more per month.

While the survey is intended to point out why bosses need to be trained so they can change behavior, the results also may be interpreted to point out why employees need to be trained so they can change behavior.

Employees should learn that - for their own best interest - there are several reasons why they should not engage in counterproductive boss bashing, even if they do have a bad boss.

When you boss bash:

You waste time. There are a lot of productive things that you could be doing in 10 to 20 hours per month. Even if you don't respect your boss, you can be working to improve your own performance. If you have this much time to waste, learn some new skills. This way, you may eventually get a better job and a new boss.

You demean yourself. If you are so brilliant that you can consistently judge your boss, and your boss is so stupid that he merits endless hours of critique, why do you report to the idiot? Ultimately, when we discredit our boss, we discredit ourselves. The people around you will not say so on the outside, but on the inside they may be thinking you are an even bigger loser than your boss.

You hurt your company. Your stories may get repeated to others. If the managers are so bad, why should anyone believe that the products are so good? Why should people spend their hard-earned money on your company's products?

You come across as a hypocrite. When you bash your boss behind her back, the person you are talking to may think, "What do they say about me when I'm not around?" It is usually obvious that your cynical or sarcastic comments are not delivered directly to the boss. Why should the person you are speaking to believe that you would treat them with any more respect than you treat your boss?

You communicate a lack of courage. If the boss is behaving in a way that is bad for the company, why don't you challenge him? The answer must be that you are afraid. Part of the problem may be that your boss is intimidating - a bigger problem may be that you lack the courage to say what you believe is right.

You depress yourself and others. There are a million things wrong with the world. People starve. Murders are committed. Millions live in poverty. If you want to talk about depressing topics, why stop at your boss? Why not just spend the day talking about how bad life is? A better plan might be to make the best of what you have to work with.

You don't enhance your career. It is eminently possible that at least some of your countless hours spent boss bashing will be either overheard by the boss or shared by someone else with the boss. Would you want to promote someone who was spending 20 hours per month stabbing you in the back?

We have all made useless, destructive comments about our bosses and co-workers. This is not just true for employees. I have reviewed 360-degree feedback reports on leaders at all levels in major corporations, and a substantial number of executives are rated poorly on the item "avoids destructive comments about other people or groups."

A simple process that seems to address the destructive comment problem: Before speaking, take a deep breath. Ask yourself four simple questions: Will this comment help my company? Will this comment help our customers? Will this comment help the person I am talking to? Will this comment help the person that I am talking about? If the answers are "No, No, No and No," there's a simple strategy that does not require a Ph.D. to implement: Don't say it!

In my classes, everyone "fines" their fellow classmates $2 every time an unnecessary destructive comment is made. After years of doing this, I have helped generate more than $300,000 for charity through this exercise!

Destructive comments do a lot more damage than $2. You may want to set up a system at work that includes fines for useless, counterproductive slams. You might find that this helps your workplace to become much more positive - and you also may end up raising a few bucks for a good cause.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Learning What to Stop

Peter Drucker once said, "Most leaders don't need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop."

How true. Can you imagine your boss admitting a personal failing and outlining his efforts to stop doing it?

Probably not. There are good reasons for this. Leaders try to maintain a positive tone and commitment to positive action. Recognition and reward systems acknowledge the doing of something. Leaders get credit for doing good things - rarely for ceasing to do bad things.

What's Wrong With Us?

I find that the 20 flaws that hold most people back are rarely flaws of skill, intelligence, or personality. They are challenges in interpersonal behavior, often leadership behavior. They are the egregious everyday annoyances that make your workplace noxious. They are transactional flaws performed by one person against others.

1. Winning too much:

The need to win at all costs and in all situations - when it matters, when it doesn't, and when it's totally beside the point.

2. Adding too much value:

The desire to add our two cents to every discussion.

3. Passing judgment:

The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.

4. Making destructive comments:

The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound witty.

5. Starting with "No," "But," or "However":

The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, "I'm right. You're wrong."

6. Telling the world how smart we are:

The need to show people we're smarter than they think we are.

7. Speaking when angry:

Using emotional volatility as a management tool.

8. Negativity, or "Let me explain why that won't work":

The need to share our negative thoughts, even when we aren't asked.

9. Withholding information:

The refusal to share information to gain or maintain an advantage over others.

10. Failing to give proper recognition:

The inability to praise and reward.

11. Claiming credit that we don't deserve:

The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.

12. Making excuses:

The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.

13. Clinging to the past:

The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.

14. Playing favorites:

Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.

15. Refusing to express regret:

The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we're wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.

16. Not listening:

The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect.

17. Failing to express gratitude:

The most basic form of bad manners.

18. Punishing the messenger:

The misguided need to attack the innocents who are only trying to help us.

19. Passing the buck:

The need to blame everyone but ourselves.

20. An excessive need to be "me":

Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they're who we are.

Admittedly, this is a scary pantheon of bad behavior, and together they sound like a chamber of horrors. Who would want to work in a culture where colleagues are guilty of these sins? And yet we do every day. The good news is that these failings rarely show up in bunches. You may know one person guilty of one or two of them. But it's hard to find successful people who embody many of them.

There's more good news. These faults are simple to correct. The fix is in the skill set of every person. For example, the cure for not thanking enough is remembering to say, "Thank you." The cure for not apologizing is learning to say, "I'm sorry. I'll do better in the future." For not listening, it's keeping your mouth shut and ears open. And so on. Although this stuff is simple, it's not easy. We already know what to do - we just lose sight of the many daily opportunities to employ them.

Check yourself against the list. It's likely that you're guilty of a few of these annoying habits. Some are more serious issues than others. Whittle the list down to the one or two vital issues, and you'll know where to start.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ask, Learn, Follow-up and Grow

How will the leader of tomorrow differ from the leader of yesterday? The thought leaders represented in this book describe a variety of differences; I will describe one key process. The effective leader of the future will consistently and efficiently ask, learn, follow up, and grow. The leader who cannot keep learning and growing will soon become obsolete in tomorrow's ever-changing world.


The effective leader of the future will consistently ask - to receive feedback and to solicit new ideas. Tomorrow's leader will ask a variety of key stakeholders for ideas, opinions, and feedback. Vital sources of information will include present and potential customers, suppliers, team members, cross-divisional peers, direct reports, managers, other members of the organization, researchers, and thought leaders (see Figure 23.1). The leader will ask in a variety of ways: through leadership inventories, satisfaction surveys, phone calls, voice mail, e-mail, the Internet, satellite hookups, and in-person dialogue.

The trend toward asking is already very clear. Twenty years ago very few top executives ever asked for feedback. Today the majority of the most highly respected leaders in North America regularly ask for feedback, in companies such as American Express, General Electric, Eastman Kodak, McKinsey & Co., Merck, Motorola, Nortel, and Pfizer. This trend is also growing rapidly throughout the world.

One global leader who spends a great deal of his life asking is George Weber, the secretary-general of the international Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). With a worldwide staff that contains representatives from ninety-five countries and a customer base that spans the globe, George is continuously asking key stakeholders for ideas on how he and his organization can better meet the needs of the world's most vulnerable people. He believes that the IFRC can only remain viable through consistent internal and external asking.

Aside from the obvious benefit of gaining new ideas and insights, asking by top leaders has a secondary benefit that may be even more important. The leader who asks is providing a role model. Sincere asking demonstrates a willingness to learn, a desire to serve, and a humility that can be an inspiration for the entire organization.


Peter Senge has written extensively about the future importance of the learning organization. The learning organization will need to be led by people who model continuous learning in their own day-to-day behavior. Two keys to learning are (1) effective listening and (2) reflection after asking for and receiving information. Asking for input and then "shooting the messenger" who delivers the bad news is worse than not asking at all. Leaders will need to provide recognition and support for people who have the courage to tell the hard truth before issues become disasters. Another major challenge for the leader of the future will be prioritization. Leaders will face the danger of drowning in a sea of information (see Figure 23.1). There is more to learn than any human can effectively process. One leader in Sun Microsystems reported that he received approximately two hundred e-mail messages per day. Leaders will need to focus on the vital few areas for change from each important source of information.

Although the leader of the future will need to receive input more frequently and from more sources, the time available to process this information may actually be declining. Today leaders exist in a world that is characterized by downsizing and ongoing reengineering. They need to get more work done, get it done faster, and get it done with considerably less support staff. In the private sector, there are no indications that global competition will decrease in the future or that leaders will have more time and more staff. In the social sector, there are no indications that human needs will decrease, or that government will take care of more social problems. Leaders who can ask, process information, and learn in a highly efficient manner will have a tremendous competitive advantage over their slower and less proactive competition.


Keilty, Goldsmith & Company recently conducted a study on the impact of asking for feedback and following up with over eight thousand leaders in a Fortune 100 company. Each manager in the company asked for feedback from direct reports, using a Leadership Inventory that had been designed to reinforce the company's new values. After receiving a confidential summary feedback report, each manager was asked to:

1. Pick one to three key areas for improvement and develop an action plan for desired change

2. Respond to the co-workers by thanking them for the feedback, discussing the action plan, and involving them in the change process

3. Follow up with co-workers to check on progress and receive further assistance

Managers were asked to spend only five to fifteen minutes responding in a focused two-way dialogue. They also were asked to spend only a few minutes following up by asking for a "progress report" and further suggestions.

Approximately eighteen months after initially providing feedback, co-workers were asked to again provide feedback to their managers using the Leadership Inventory. Two additional questions were added to the inventory concerning:

1. The manager's degree of change in leadership effectiveness

2. The manager's degree of follow-up

The findings of the study were dramatic but not surprising. The degree of change in perceived leadership effectiveness was clearly related to the degree of follow-up (see Figure 23.2). Managers who were seen as not following up were perceived as only slightly more effective as a group than they were eighteen months earlier. Although 46 percent were rated as more effective, over half were rated as unchanged or less effective. Managers rated as doing some follow-up experienced a very positive shift in scores, with 89 percent being rated as more effective. Almost half of the leaders in this group (45 percent) were rated in the highest two categories (+2 or +3) and almost none (3 percent) were seen as less effective. Consistent or periodic follow-up had a dramatic, positive impact. Over half the leaders (55 percent) were rated in the highest possible category, with 86 percent rated either +2 or +3.

Studies similar to this one are being completed in six other major corporations with leaders from over twenty countries. So far, the results have been remarkably consistent. Studies have also been conducted concerning the impact of asking for feedback and following up with team members and external customers. Results point to a very similar pattern: team members and suppliers who ask for feedback, respond in a positive manner, and follow up are seen by their fellow team members and external customers as dramatically increasing in effectiveness.

Follow-up will be a key challenge for the leader of the future. For "real-world" leaders, asking and learning will have to be more than an academic exercise. The process will have to produce meaningful, positive change. By learning how to follow up efficiently and effectively in an extremely busy world, leaders will enable key stakeholders to see the positive actions that result from the input they were requested to provide.


The leader of the future will have to change and grow on the job. Can this happen? Definitely, yes! Leaders who reach out, ask for input, learn, respond in a positive manner, involve key stakeholders, and follow up will almost invariably be seen as becoming more effective and as growing over time.

As demands on leaders increase, effective leadership growth and development will become more important than ever. However, the methodology of leadership development may radically change. Historically, leadership development efforts have tended to focus on the "front side" of the development process: impressive training, well-designed forms, clever slogans, and lots of "flash." They have not focused on the "back side" of the process: the ongoing application of what is being learned. Follow-up studies have validated the obvious. What leaders do back on the job will be more meaningful than what they do in classrooms.

Future leadership development will not be like getting in shape. It will be like staying in shape. Recent research has indicated that the "program-of-the-year" approach to leadership development has the same impact as the crash-diet approach to physical fitness. The results don't last! Many organizations have spent millions of dollars on programs and almost nothing on follow-up. In the future, far more effort will be placed on developing the processes required to ensure positive, ongoing leadership growth. By developing processes that ensure ongoing asking, learning, and follow-up, leaders will grow in a manner that produces a positive, measurable impact.

Life is good.


My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.


Marshall's Upcoming Schedule