Friday, October 29, 2010

Quack with Dignity, Lame Duck

For many leaders, it is hard to make the announcement that they will soon be passing the baton of leadership to their successor. The common fear is that if they declare their intentions too soon, they will become lame ducks. No one wants that to happen.

Almost every leader goes through this inner dialogue as part of the challenge of "slowing down." This fear, which often results in postponing the announcement about succession until the last minute, inhibits what could have been a much smoother transition.

Face it: When you are nearing the time to exit, you will become a lame duck! That is okay. Eyes will immediately turn to your successor as their vision for the team, department or company will mean more than yours. Colleagues who have encountered your disapproval for their pet ideas will just "wait it out" and re-sell their ideas to your successor. People will start sucking up to him or her the way they used to suck up to you.

So what's the solution? Make peace with being a lame duck—before it happens. Your life, your successor's life, and the lives of your coworkers will be a lot better.

In anticipation of his retirement, one of my favorite CEO clients, bought a stuffed duck and wrapped up one leg. He brought this plush "lame duck" with him to a few meetings. His direct reports and his successor thought this was hilarious. Beyond providing humor, this literal lame duck helped to break the ice about the potentially awkward topic of his upcoming departure. The moral of this story? Be a happy and productive lame duck.

And bear in mind that it's not all that bad to be a lame duck. Use this time to coach your successor behind the scenes. Transfer authority before it is necessary. Support your successor in whatever way you can. Build his or her confidence.

Involve your successor in important decisions and ensure as best you can that he or she agrees with any long-term goals before they are announced. After all, this is the person who is going to have to live with these goals for the next few years—and is going to have to make them work.

The key to being a really great lame duck is to make tough, unpopular decisions that you know will be good for the company in the long run. Don't get caught up on "finishing on a great note" or making sure that you look good. Focus on putting your successor into a spot where he or she will succeed. This type of class and self-sacrifice is rare, but this is your last chance to do the right thing for the long-term benefit of the company, your successor, and even yourself. Don't waste it!

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, October 28, 2010

Effectively Influencing Decision-Makers

"The great majority of people tend to focus downward. They are occupied with efforts rather than results. They worry over what the organization and their superiors 'owe' them and should do for them. And they are conscious above all of the authority they 'should have.' As a result they render themselves ineffectual."—Peter Drucker

One of my first blogs was called "The Art of Influencing Up." In the last couple of years, I have received countless questions from leaders who not only need to influence up but also influence across in their organizations. In this post, I would like to share a more comprehensive version of my ideas on how to make a positive difference when you do not have direct line authority.

Please be warned in advance, this post is longer than my regular ones.

Peter Drucker has written extensively about the impact of the knowledge worker in modern organizations. Knowledge workers can be defined as people who know more about what they are doing than their managers do. Many knowledge workers have years of education and experience in training for their positions yet have almost no training in how to effectively influence decision-makers. As Peter has noted, "The greatest wisdom not applied to action and behavior is meaningless data."

The 11 guidelines listed below are intended to help you do a better job of influencing decision-makers. In some cases, these decision-makers may be immediate or upper managers—in other cases they may be peers or cross-organizational colleagues. I hope you find these suggestions to be useful in helping you convert your good ideas into meaningful action.

1. Every decision that affects our lives will be made by the person who has the power to make that decision, not the "right" person or the "smartest" person or the "best" person. Make peace with this fact.

As simple and obvious as this statement may seem, I am amazed at how few (otherwise intelligent) people ever deeply get this point. When your child comes home from school and complains, "It’s not fair! The teacher gave me a 'C' and I really deserved an 'A.' "" we, as parents, should say, "Welcome to the real world, kid. In life you have to accept the fact that decision-makers make decisions—and that you are not always the decision-maker." Once we make peace with the fact that the people who have the power to make the decisions always make the decisions and we get over whining that "life isn't fair," we become more effective in influencing others and making a positive difference. We also become happier.

2. When presenting ideas to decision-makers, realize that it is your responsibility to sell, not their responsibility to buy.

In many ways, influencing ultimate decision-makers is similar to selling products or services to external customers. They don't have to buy—you have to sell. Any good salesperson takes responsibility for achieving results. No one is impressed with salespeople who blame their customers for not buying their products.

While the importance of taking responsibility may seem obvious in external sales, an amazing number of people in large corporations spend countless hours blaming management for not buying their ideas. Former Harvard Professor Chris Argyris pointed out how "upward feedback" often turns into "upward buck-passing." We can become disempowered when we focus on what others have done to make things wrong and not on what we can do to make things right.

If we spent more time on developing our ability to present ideas and less time blaming others for not buying them, a lot more might get accomplished.

A key part of the influence process involves the education of decision-makers. To again quote Drucker: "The person of knowledge has always been expected to take responsibility for being understood. It is barbarian arrogance to assume that the layman can or should make the effort to understand the specialist." The effective influencer needs to be a good teacher. Good teachers realize that communicating knowledge is often a greater challenge than possessing knowledge.

3. Focus on contribution to the larger good—not just the achievement of your objectives.

An effective salesperson would never say to a customer, "You need to buy this product, because if you don't, I won't achieve my objectives." Effective salespeople relate to the needs of the buyers, not to their own needs. In the same way, effective influencers relate to the larger needs of the organization, not just to the needs of their unit or team.

When influencing decision-makers, focus on the impact of your suggestion on the overall corporation. In most cases the needs of the unit and the needs of the corporation are directly connected. In some cases they are not. Don't assume that executives can automatically make the connection between the benefit to your unit and the benefit to the larger corporation.

4. Strive to win the big battles. Don't waste your energy and psychological capital on trivial points.

Executives' time is very limited. Do a thorough analysis of ideas before challenging the system. Don't waste time on issues that will only have a negligible impact on results. Focus on issues that will make a real difference. Be willing to lose on small points.

Be especially sensitive to the need to win trivial non-business arguments on things like restaurants, sports teams, or cars. People become more annoyed with us for having to be right about trivia than our need to be right on important business points. You are paid to do what makes a difference and to win on important issues. You are not paid to win arguments on the relative quality of athletic teams.

5. Present a realistic "cost-benefit" analysis of your ideas—don't just sell benefits.

Every organization has limited resources, time, and energy. The acceptance of your idea may well mean the rejection of another idea that someone else believes is wonderful. Be prepared to have a realistic discussion of the costs of your idea. Acknowledge the fact that something else may have to be sacrificed in order to have your idea implemented.

By getting ready for a realistic discussion of costs, you can prepare for objections to your idea before they occur. You can acknowledge the sacrifice that someone else may have to make and point out how the benefits of your plan may outweigh the costs.

6. "Challenge up" on issues involving ethics or integrity—never remain silent on ethics violations.

The downfall of Enron, WorldCom, and other organizations have dramatically demonstrated how ethics violations can destroy even the most valuable companies. The best of corporations can be severely damaged by only one violation of corporate integrity. I hope you will never be asked to do anything by the management of your corporation that represents a violation of corporate ethics. If you are, refuse to do it and immediately let upper management know of your concerns. You need to take this action for the ultimate benefit of your company, your customers, your co-workers, and yourself.

When challenging up, try not to assume that management has intentionally requested you to do something wrong. In some cases, inappropriate requests may be made because of misunderstandings or poor communication. Try to present your case in a manner that is intended to be helpful, not judgmental.

7. Realize that powerful people are just as human as you are. Don't say, "I am amazed that someone at this level…"

It is realistic to expect decision-makers to be competent; it is unrealistic to expect them to be anything other than normal humans. Is there anything in the history of the human species that indicates when people achieve high levels of status, power, and money, they become completely 100% wise and logical? How many times have we thought, "I would assume someone at this level…" followed by "should know what is happening," "should be more logical,&qu "wouldn't make that kind of mistake," or "would never engage in such inappropriate behavior."

Even the best of leaders are human. We all make mistakes. When your managers make mistakes, focus more on helping them than judging them.

8. Treat decision-makers with the same courtesy that you would treat customers—don't be disrespectful.

While it is important to avoid kissing up to decision-makers, it is just as important to avoid the opposite reaction. A surprising number of middle managers spend hours trashing the company and its executives or making destructive comments about other co-workers.

Before speaking, it is generally good to ask four questions:

• Will this comment help our company?

• Will this comment help our customers?

• Will this comment help the person I am talking to?

• Will this comment help the person I am talking about?

If the answers are no, no, no, and no, don't say it! There is a big difference between total honesty and dysfunctional disclosure. As we discussed earlier, it is always important to "challenge up" on integrity issues. It is inappropriate to stab decision-makers in the back.

9. Support the final decision of the organization. Don't tell direct reports, "They made me tell you."

Assuming that the final decision of the organization is not immoral, illegal, or unethical, go out and try to make it work. Managers who consistently say, "They told me to tell you" to co-workers are seen as messengers, not leaders. Even worse, don't say, "Those fools told me to tell you…" By demonstrating our lack of commitment to the final decision, we may sabotage the chances for effective execution.

A simple guideline for communicating difficult decisions is to ask, "How would I want someone to communicate my final decision when that person disagreed with me?" Treat decision-makers the same way that you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. If you stab your boss in the back in front of your direct reports, what are you teaching them to do when they disagree with you?

10. Make a positive difference—don't just try to "win" or "be right."

We can easily become more focused on what others are doing wrong than on how we can make things better. An important guideline in influencing up is to always remember your goal: making a positive difference for the organizations.

Corporations are different from academic institutions. In an academic institution, the goal may be just sharing diverse ideas, without a need to affect the bottom line. Hours of acrimonious debate can be perfectly acceptable. In a corporation, sharing ideas without having an impact is worse than useless. It is a waste of the stockholders' money and a distraction from serving customers.

When I was interviewed at the Harvard Business Review, I was asked, "What is the most common 'area for improvement' for the executives that you meet?" My answer was "winning too much." Focus on making a difference. The more other people can be "right" or "win" with your idea, the more likely your idea is to be successfully executed.

11. Focus on the future—let go of the past.

One of the most important behaviors to avoid is whining about the past. Have you ever managed someone who incessantly whined about how bad things are? When people consistently whine, they inhibit any change they may have for bettering the future. Their managers tend to view them as annoying. Their direct reports view them as inept. Nobody wins.

Successful people love getting ideas aimed at helping them achieve their goals for the future. By focusing on the future, you can concentrate on what can be achieved tomorrow, not what was not achieved yesterday. This future orientation may dramatically increase your odds of effectively influencing decision-makers. It will also help you build better long-term relationships with people at all levels of your organization.

In summary, think of the years that you have spent "perfecting your craft." Think of all of the knowledge that you have accumulated. Think about how your knowledge can potentially benefit your organization. How much energy have you invested in acquiring all of this knowledge? How much energy have you invested in learning to present this knowledge to decision-makers so that you can make a real difference? My hope is that by making a small investment in learning to influence decision-makers, you can make a large, positive difference for the future of your organization.

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, October 27, 2010

Travel Tips from a Road Warrior

Over the years, I have flown millions of miles for my work. I have logged more than 10 million frequent flyer miles on American Airlines alone! Already this year, I have visited Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Athens, Dubai, Edinburgh, Helsinki, Johannesburg, London (three times), Stavanger, and many cities in the U.S. and Canada.

A lot of people find traveling for business difficult. Some people don't like leaving home and family. Others find the logistics hard to handle. People who know how much I travel often ask me, "How do you do it?"

Here are some of my suggestions for making business travel easier:

1. Pack light. (This is easier for me than most humans, since I wear a green polo shirt and khaki pants almost every day.) Take what you need. Don't give yourself options. Make a decision on what you are going to wear—and just wear that. Use the hotel laundry. If you are staying for more than one day, they can clean your clothes. You probably won't have to have a unique outfit every day.

2. Don't book the latest possible flight. Things happen. Whenever you can, give yourself a back-up option or build in room for things to go wrong.

3. Get to the airport with time to spare. Given today's security precautions, last-minute arrivals can be a disaster. I have seen many late passengers trying to jump ahead of everyone in line and get angry with security people who are doing their jobs. Life is short. Don't do this to yourself and other people at the airport.

4. If at all possible, don't check your bags. If I checked my bags on every trip, hundreds of hours of my life would be spent standing by conveyor belts. This doesn't even factor in the extreme hassle and aggravation that comes when your bags are lost or misplaced.

5. Eat before you get on the plane. I have heard hundreds of fellow passengers grumble about how bad airplane food is. You don't have to eat it! While some components of air travel have gotten worse, others have improved. The quality of food and quantity of options at major airports is exponentially better today than it was 30 years ago, when I started flying.

6. Don't drink alcohol on the plane. The only time that I ever drink when flying is when I have two glasses of wine before an overnight flight. I am able to do that because I am going to sleep immediately, and all I have to do after I walk on to the plane is find my seat. If I am not going to sleep immediately, I find that drinking does more harm than good.

7. Learn to sleep on the plane. I have a unique approach, which works for me. I put on a blindfold, put the blanket over my head—then go to sleep. I often speak in front of large groups. I have to think about my voice. Having the blanket over my head holds in my body moisture and helps prevent the dry throat problem that occurs when we sleep on a long flight. Another benefit: When you have a blanket over your head, no one talks to you.

8. To help conquer jet lag, forget about where you have been—and where you are. As soon as you board the plane, set your watch to the time zone where you are headed. Never say, "Do you realize what time it is where I began this journey?" This type of thinking just screws up your mind and makes things worse. If you are headed to Bangalore, and it is 10 p.m. there when you board the plane, say to yourself, "I am in Bangalore, and it is 10 p.m."

9. As much as we complain about air transportation, I am amazed at how well the system works. In my 30 years of being a "road warrior," I have only missed one client meeting because of travel issues (a blizzard in Chicago).

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, October 26, 2010

What to Do When Your Company Is Sold

The business landscape is changing dramatically as many companies are being acquired and/or merging into others. This can be very stressful for the employees of the acquired company who worry about their job security, financial stability, and so much more.

The standard PR hype that goes with an acquisition sounds something like this: "We are so impressed with management and the direction of the company we are acquiring that we have no interest in changing them. In fact, we believe that we can learn a lot from all they have done right."

While the acquiring company may actually believe this message at the time of the acquisition, this love-fest seldom lasts beyond a few quarters. There is one seemingly obvious fact that an amazing number of employees in acquired companies never get: They own you. You must remember that fact, and realize that it has the potential to change just about everything. Here are some things to keep in mind.

As soon as your company is acquired, forget about "us" and "them."
You are now part of "them." The old "us" no longer exists. They can do whatever they want to do. Once you make peace with this fact, your life will be a lot easier. (If your old company's management didn't want to transfer ownership and control to the new owners, it shouldn't have cashed the checks and deposited the money.)

Accept the fact that you are now working for a different company.
Don't make assumptions about the future based upon your history with the old company. Realize that as a professional you may well be starting over, no matter how much experience you had, or credibility with the former owner. Learn what matters most to your new executives and new board.

Look for the positives in the company that acquired yours.
Face it, if you and your leaders were so brilliant and they were so stupid, how could stupid them have acquired enough money to buy brilliant you?

Read the tea leaves.
If it looks like you are going to have no future, because the acquisition will lead to "right-sizing" in your function, start looking for another job. Realize that the acquiring company may well have more loyalty to their previous employees than to you.

Revisit how you are working.
This acquisition may well bring resources that your previous company did not have. Consider how these resources can be leveraged to help you make a larger contribution than you have made in the past. Take advantage of these new resources to better serve your customers and stakeholders.

I hope these suggestions are helpful to any of you in companies that have been—or are about to be—acquired.

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, October 25, 2010

How to Be a Better Listener

You may think you're a pretty good listener, but do the people around you disagree? Has anyone ever looked at you with a disappointed expression and said, "Are you listening?" My guess is the answer is yes.

Have you ever then replied to the person in an annoyed voice, "What do you mean, am I listening?" and then repeated what he or she said verbatim—to prove they were wrong? My guess is again, yes.

Did your annoyed response dramatically improve your relationship with that other human being?

Say You're Sorry

My guess this time is no.

Even if you were listening, how much of an "I care about you" message were you sending to that other human being by taking a defensive posture? Zero. What that other person was really asking was, "Why don't you care?" Was proving them wrong about listening really worth it? I don't think so.

So, the next time someone looks at you and says, "You're not listening," apologize. Just reply, "I am sorry. I will try to better in the future."

Look Like You Care

How do to better? Start looking like you care. As others speak to us, how do they know that we aren't listening? They don't. They only assume that we aren't listening because we don't look like we are. If we remember to look like we care, we will not only be reminding ourselves to listen better, we will also be reminding ourselves to communicate a sense of respect for the person who is speaking to us.

Here are several ideas to help you not only listen better, but to look like you are listening, and to demonstrate caring to the person who is speaking to you:

1. After having a dialogue with friends, colleagues, or family members, ask them to give you a 1-10 assessment of how much you looked like you cared about their remarks.

2. Find a partner and practice communication while recording it on video. Turn off the sound and just watch your nonverbal behavior. How much caring and respect are your communicating?

3. Try to eliminate all distractions when others are speaking to you. When you are doing other work, answering e-mails, or doing something on your computer while someone is speaking to you — you may not look like you care.

4. Ask questions that let the other person know you have heard what they have to say and would like to learn more.

While this advice can be very important at work, it may be just as important at home. Now that you've had a test-run, you're ready to employ a few following listening tactics in more of your interpersonal encounters. Try these:

• Listen.

• Don't interrupt.

• Don't finish the other person's sentences.

• Don't say, "I knew that."

• Don't even agree with the other person, just listen!

• Don't use the words "no," "but," and "however."

• Eliminate any striving to impress the other person with how smart and funny you are. Your goal is to let the other person feel that.

If you can do these things while you're in a conversation, you will inevitably find that the other person will think you are a great person! All because you listened. You'd feel the same if someone made you feel like the most important person around—all by just listening! If you want people to feel good in your presence, that's all you have to do. Just listen.

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, October 22, 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

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Don't Give Up on Change

Change is hard. It takes forever and I don't even know if it's working. Any tips for making this process easier?

Change takes longer than we think and the process is difficult. Acknowledging these facts can make your attempts more successful. My co-author Dr. Kelly Goldsmith, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, and I researched why people give up on their goals. We discovered that there are five common reasons. Understanding these roadblocks will help you apply some preventive medicine — and increase the odds that you won't fall into the same old traps.

1. Ownership
"I wasn't sure that this would work in the first place. I tried it out — it didn't do that much good. As I guessed, this was kind of a waste of time."

The classic mistake made in leadership development, coaching, and self-help books is the promise that "This will make you better!" After years of experience in helping real leaders change real behavior in the real world, I have learned a hard lesson. Only you will make you better.

To have a real chance of success, you have to take personal ownership and have the internal belief that "This will work if, and only if, I make it work. I am going to make this work."

2. Time
"I had no idea that this process would take so long. I'm not sure it's worth it."

Goal setters have a chronic tendency to underestimate the time needed to reach targets. In setting our goals for behavioral change, it's important to be realistic about the time we need to produce positive, lasting results. Habits that have taken years to develop won't go away in a week. Set time expectations that are 50% to 100% longer than you think you will need to see results — then add a little more.

3. Difficulty
"This is a lot harder than I thought it would be. It sounded so simple when we were starting out."

The optimism bias of goal setters applies to difficulty as well as time. Not only does everything take longer than we think it will, but it also requires more hard work than we anticipate.

In setting goals, it's important to accept the fact that real change requires real work. Acknowledging the price for success in the beginning of the change process will help prevent the disappointment that can occur when challenges arise later.

4. Distractions
"I would really like to work toward my goal, but I'm facing some unique challenges right now. It might be better if I just stopped and did this at a time when things weren't so crazy."

Goal setters have a tendency to underestimate the distractions and competing goals that will invariably appear throughout the year. A piece of advice that I give all of my coaching clients is: "I'm not sure what crisis will appear, but I'm almost positive that some crisis will appear."

Plan for distractions in advance. Assume that crazy is the new normal. You will probably be close to the reality that awaits.

5. Maintenance
"I think that I did actually try to change and get better, but I have let it slide since then. What am I supposed to do — work on this stuff the rest of my life?"

Once a goal setter has put in all of the effort needed to achieve a goal, it can be tough for him to face the reality of what's needed to maintain the new status quo. When one of my high-potential leaders asked his boss, the CEO, "Do I have to watch what I say and do for the rest of my career?" the CEO replied, "You do if you plan on ever becoming a CEO!"

Here are the cold, hard truths. Real change requires real effort. The "quick fix" is seldom a meaningful one. Distractions and things that compete for your attention are going to crop up — frequently. Changing any one type of behavior won't solve all of life's problems. And finally, any meaningful change will probably require a lifetime of effort.

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, October 20, 2010

The Person We See and the Person They See

As a Ph.D. student at UCLA in the early 70's, I had a self-image of being "hip" and "cool". In my mind I was deeply involved in topics such as deeper human understanding, self-actualization, and uncovering profound wisdom. Early in my Ph.D. program, I was a student in an interesting class (with twelve other people) led by a very wise teacher -- Dr. Bob Tannenbaum. Bob had invented the term "sensitivity training," published the most widely distributed article in the Harvard Business Review, and was a full professor. He was a very important person in our school.

In Bob's class, we were encouraged to discuss anything we wanted. I started out by talking about people in Los Angeles. For three full weeks I did a monologue about how "screwed up" people in Los Angeles were. "They wear these expensive sequined blue gold Rolls Royces around...they are plastic and materialistic... all they care about is impressing others -- they really do not understand what is deep and important in life." (It was easy for me to be an expert on the people of Los Angeles. I had, after all, grown up in Valley Station, Kentucky.)

After listening to me babble for three weeks, Bob looked at me quizzically and asked, "Marshall, who are you talking to?"

"I am speaking to the group," I answered.

"Who in the group are you talking to?"

"Well, I guess that I am talking to everybody," I replied, not quite knowing where he was headed with this line of questioning.

Bob then commented, "I don't know if you realize this, but each time you have spoken you have looked at only one person. You have addressed your comments toward only one person. And you seem interested in the opinion of only one person. Who is that one person?"

"That is interesting. Let me think about it," I replied. Then (after careful consideration) I said, "You?"

He said, "That's right, me. There are twelve other people in this room. Why don't you seem interested in any of them?"

Now that I had dug myself into a hole, I decided to a little deeper. I said, "You know Dr. Tannenbaum, I think a person with your background can understand the true significance of what I am saying. I think that you appreciate how 'screwed-up' it is to run around and try to impress people all the time. I believe that you have a deep understanding of what is really important in life."

Bob looked at me and said, "Marshall -- is there any chance that for the last three weeks all you have been doing is trying to do is impress me?"

I was amazed at Bob's obvious lack of insight! "Not at all!" I declared. "I don't think you have understood one thing I have said! I have been explaining to you how screwed up it is to try to impress other people. I think you have totally missed my point and frankly, I am a little disappointed in your lack of understanding!"

He looked at me, scratched his beard, and concluded, "No. I think I understand."

I looked around and saw twelve people scratching their faces and thinking, "Yes. We understand."

I had a deep dislike for Dr. Tannenbaum for six months. I devoted a lot of energy into figuring out his psychological problems and understanding why he was confused. After 6 months it finally dawned on me that the person with the issue about impressing other people wasn't him. It wasn't even the people in Los Angeles. The person with the real issue was me. I finally looked in the mirror and said, "You know, old Dr. Tannenbaum was exactly right."

Two of the great lessons that I began to understand from this experience were:

1) It is a whole lot easier to see our problems in others than it is to see them in ourselves and 2) even though we may be able to deny our problems to ourselves they may be very obvious to the people who are observing us.

As human beings there is almost always a discrepancy between the self we think we are and the self that the rest of the world sees in us. The lesson that I learned (and that I strive in my professional work to help others understand) is that the rest of the world often has a more accurate perspective than we do. If we can stop, listen, and think about what others are seeing in us, we have a great opportunity to learn. We can compare the self that we want to be with the self that we are presenting to the rest of the world. We can then begin to make the real changes that are needed to align our stated values with our actual behavior.

I have told this story hundreds of times and I have thought about it more frequently than that. Often when I become self-righteous, preachy, "holier than thou," or angry about some perceived injustice, I eventually realize that the deeper issue is usually not with them. The deeper issue is usually in me.

Today most of my work is with executives in large organizations. I provide them with confidential feedback, which allows them to compare their behavior (as perceived by others) with their desired behavior. I try to help them deal with this feedback in a positive way, learn from it, and (eventually) become a better role model for the desired leadership behavior in their organizations. The lesson that I learned from Bob Tannenbaum has not only helped me in my personal life; it has also helped shape the course of my professional life.

What really bothers you about the "rest of the world"?

Is there a chance that some of your concerns may be a reflection of your problems, not theirs?

How can honest feedback from others help you in aligning your values with your behavior?

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, October 19, 2010

Are You Encouraging Suck-ups?

Every company claims to discourage suck-ups. Every leader claims to despise suck-ups. If we all hate suck-ups so much, why does so much sucking-up go on?

Sucking-up happens because we all tend to create an environment where people learn to suck-up to us. We can easily see this in others. It is just hard to see in ourselves. You are probably thinking, "Marshall is making a good point. I see others do this all of the time. Of course, I find it to be disgusting!"

As a test of our unconscious tendency to encourage sycophants, I always ask participants in my executive education classes this question, "How many of you own a dog that you love?" Big smiles cross the faces of these leaders as they wave their hands in the air. They beam as they tell me the names of their always faithful hounds. Then we have a little contest. I ask them, "At home, who gets the most unqualified positive recognition? Is it (a) your husband, wife or partner (b) your kids or (c) your dog?" More than 80 percent of the time the winner is the dog.

I next ask these same executives, "Do you really love your dog more than the other members of your family?" They laugh and say no. My next question, "Why does the dog get the most unqualified positive recognition?"

Their replies are always the same: "The dog doesn't talk back." "When I come home the dog is always happy to see me!" "Even if I come home late (or drunk) the dog doesn't care." "The dog gives me unconditional love -- no matter what I do!"

In other words, the dog is a suck-up.

If we aren't careful, we can wind up treating people at work like dogs. We can unconsciously recognize people who recognize us.

The best way to stop this behavior is to recognize that we all have a tendency to fall into this trap -- and the higher we move up in the organization, the bigger the trap gets.

I teach leaders to rank order their direct reports four ways:

1. How much do they like me? I know that you cannot be sure. What matters is what you think. Only bad suck-ups look like they are sucking-up. Great suck-ups appear to be your "true friends."

2. How much are they like me? Some leaders don't favor people who like them; they favor people who remind them of themselves. A common variation from an engineer might be, "He may be a jerk, but he is an engineer." As if people who are not engineers don't have brains.

3. What is their contribution to our company and its customers?

4. How much positive personal recognition do I give them?

If we are honest with ourselves, in a surprisingly large number of cases, we may find that recognition is more influenced by 1 or 2 than it is 3. And that (without meaning to) we may be falling into a trap that we despise in others -- playing favorites.

Make this ranking yourself. After doing a thoughtful review, start monitoring your own behavior. Make sure that you are recognizing people at working for doing what is right for the company -- not for making you feel good about yourself.

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, October 18, 2010

Delegate More Effectively

When C-level executives are asked what change they could make to become a more effective leader, one of the most common answers is, "I need to delegate more!"

My caution to these executives is always the same: Don't delegate more. Delegate more effectively.

Delegation is not a quality like "demonstrating integrity" or "complying with the law." Honest, ethical and legal behavior is always appropriate -- delegation isn't. Inappropriate delegation can do more harm than good.

I saw an extreme example of the "empowerment is good" flaw in one of America's largest companies. The CEO naively believed that his employees would always rise to the occasion and see the value of their learning through mistakes they made. He eventually promoted people to levels that were far beyond their capabilities. These people were not ready for the challenge. Perhaps they could learn from their mistakes when the mistakes cost thousands of dollars, but the company went bankrupt when the mistakes cost billions.

When feedback from direct reports indicates that a manager needs to delegate more effectively, the dissatisfaction could come from one of two causes: The direct reports may feel that their leader is micro-managing or getting overly involved with subordinates, or the direct reports may not feel micro-managed at all, but see their leader engaged in tasks that could be done effectively by someone at a lower level in the company.

To help leaders ensure effective delegation, my advice is simple:

Have each direct report list her or his key areas of responsibility. Schedule one-on-one sessions with each person. Review each area of responsibility and ask, "Are there cases where you believe that I get too involved and can let go more? Are there cases when I need to get more involved and give you some more help?" When leaders go through this exercise, they almost always find that in some cases, more delegation is wanted, and in others it is not. In fact, more help is needed.

Ask each direct report, "Do you ever see me working on tasks that someone at my level doesn't need to do? Are there areas where I can help other people grow and develop, and give myself more time to focus on strategy and long-term planning?" Almost invariably, direct reports will come up with great suggestions. For example, for several of my C-level clients, team management has emerged as an area where letting go can both free up executive time and help develop direct reports. Too many top executives feel a need to schedule team meetings and then act as traffic cop during the meeting to ensure that the time schedules are met and that agendas are completed. This meeting management task can usually be delegated on a rotating basis to direct reports. This helps direct reports understand the agendas of the peer team members and allows them to develop their skills in building collaboration and reaching consensus.

In one example, a CEO was frequently traveling. He would not schedule any team meeting when he was on the road and was falling behind on some important projects. A team member suggested that he did not have to be present at every meeting and that the team could still get a lot done without him in the room. He was pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Decisions that involved cross-divisional cooperation were made effectively without involving him. Another advantage was that his direct reports were getting on-the-job training that could help them take on larger responsibilities in the future.

On the other side of the coin, a division president learned that his employees consistently wanted more direction on one key topic. The company was operating in a rapidly changing environment. His direct reports didn't need to be told what to do or how to do it in terms of technical details. They needed to know how their work was fitting into the larger strategy of the corporation and how their efforts were aligned with their peers both in the division and across the company. By establishing regular bi-monthly check-in meetings with each person, the president was able to increase the effectiveness of the team and help them build better relationships across the company.

What are your next steps? When are you getting too involved? When do you need to get more involved?

Ask yourself these tough questions. Then ask the people who are working with you. The answers may save your time and increase your team's effectiveness.

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, October 15, 2010

Coaching That Changed My Life

Like many young Ph.D. students, while I studied at UCLA, I was deeply impressed with my own intelligence, wisdom and profound insights into the human condition. I consistently amazed myself with my ability to judge others and see what they were doing wrong.

Dr. Fred Case was both my dissertation adviser and boss. My dissertation was connected with a consulting project that involved the city government of Los Angeles. At the time, Case was not only a professor at UCLA, but also head of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission. At this point in my career, he was clearly the most important person in my professional life. He had done amazing work to help the city become a better place, and also was doing a lot to help me.

Although he was generally upbeat, one day Case seemed annoyed. "Marshall, what is the problem with you?" he growled. "I'm getting feedback from some people at City Hall that you are coming across as negative, angry and judgmental. What's going on?"

"You can't believe how inefficient the city government is," I ranted. I then gave several examples of how taxpayers' money was not being used in the way I thought it should. I was convinced that the city could be a much better place if the leaders would just listen to me.

"What a stunning breakthrough," Case sarcastically remarked. "You, Marshall Goldsmith, have discovered that our city government is inefficient. I hate to tell you this, Marshall, but my barber down on the corner figured this out several years ago. What else is bothering you?"

Undeterred by this temporary setback, I angrily proceeded to point out several minor examples of behavior that could be classified as favoritism toward rich political benefactors.

Case was now laughing. "Stunning breakthrough number two," he said. "Your profound investigative skills have led to the discovery that politicians may give more attention to their major campaign contributors than to people who support their opponents. I'm sorry to report that my barber has also known this for years. I'm afraid that we can't give you a Ph.D. for this level of insight."

As he looked at me, his face showed the wisdom that can only come from years of experience. "I know that you think that I may be old and behind the times," he said, "but I've been working down there at City Hall for years. Did it ever dawn on you that even though I may be slow, perhaps even I have figured some of this stuff out?"

Then he delivered the advice I will never forget: "Marshall, you are becoming a pain in the butt. You are not helping the people who are supposed to be your clients. You are not helping me, and you are not helping yourself. I am going to give you two options: Option A: Continue to be angry, negative and judgmental. If you chose this option, you will be fired, you probably will never graduate, and you may have wasted the last four years of your life. Option B: Start having some fun. Keep trying to make a constructive difference, but do it in a way that is positive for you and the people around you.

"My advice is this: You are young. Life is short. Start having fun. What option are you going to choose, son?"

I finally laughed and replied, "Dr. Case, I think it is time for me to start having some fun!"

He smiled knowingly and said, "You are a wise young man."

Most of my life is spent working with leaders in huge organizations. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that things are not always as efficient as they could be. Almost every employee has made this discovery. It also doesn't take a genius to learn that people are occasionally more interested in their own advancement than the welfare of the company. Most employees have already figured this out as well.

I learned a great lesson from Case. Real leaders are not people who can point out what is wrong. Almost anyone can do that. Real leaders are people who can make things better.

Case's coaching didn't just help me get a Ph.D. and become a better consultant. He helped me have a better life, and his advice can help you too. First, think about your own behavior at work. Are you communicating a sense of joy and enthusiasm to the people around you, or are you spending too much time in the role of angry, judgmental critic? Second, do you have any co-workers who are acting like I did? Are you just getting annoyed with them, or are you trying to help them in same way that Case helped me? If you haven't been trying to help them, why not give it a shot? Perhaps they'll write a story about you someday.

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, October 14, 2010

Are You Wasting Your Time On Values Statements?

The corporate credo. Companies have wasted millions of dollars and countless hours of employees' time agonizing over the wording of statements that are inscribed on plaques and hung on walls. There is a clear assumption that people's behavior will change because the pronouncements on plaques are "inspirational" or certain words "integrate our strategy and values." There is an implicit hope that when people -- especially managers -- hear great words, they will start to exhibit great behavior.

Sometimes these words morph as people try to keep up with the latest trends in corporate-speak. A company may begin by striving for "customer satisfaction," then advance to "total customer satisfaction," and then finally reach the pinnacle of "customer delight."

But this obsession with words belies one very large problem: There is almost no correlation between the words on the wall and the behavior of leaders. Every company wants "integrity," "respect for people," "quality," "customer satisfaction," "innovation," and "return for shareholders." Sometimes companies get creative and toss in something about "community" or "suppliers." But since the big messages are all basically the same, the words quickly lose their real meaning to employees -- if they had any in the first place.

Enron is a great example. Before the energy conglomerate's collapse in 2001, I had the opportunity to review Enron's values. I was shown a wonderful video on Enron's ethics and integrity. I was greatly impressed by the company's espoused high-minded beliefs and the care that was put into the video. Examples of Enron's good deeds in the community and the professed character of Enron's executives were particularly noteworthy.

It was one of the most smoothly professional presentations on ethics and values that I have ever seen. Clearly, Enron spent a fortune "packaging" these wonderful messages. It didn't really matter. Despite the lofty words, many of Enron's top executives either have been indicted or are in jail.

The situation couldn't be more different at Johnson & Johnson. The pharmaceutical company is famous for its Credo, which was written many years ago and reflected the sincere values of the leaders of the company at that time. The J&J Credo could be considered rather quaint by today's standards. It contains several old-fashioned phrases, such as "must be good citizens -- support good works and charities -- and bear our fair share of taxes" and "maintain in good order the property that we are privileged to use." It lacks the slick PR packaging that I observed at Enron.

Yet, even with its less-powerful language and seemingly dated presentation, the J&J Credo works -- primarily because over many years, the company's management has taken the values that it offers seriously. J&J executives have consistently challenged themselves and employees not just to understand the values, but to live them in day-to-day behavior. When I conducted leadership training for J&J, one of its very top executives spent many hours with every class. The executive's task was not to talk about compensation or other perks of J&J management; it was to discuss living the company's values.

A couple of years ago, my partner, Howard Morgan, and I completed a study of more than 11,000 managers in eight major corporations. (See "Leadership Is a Contact Sport," by Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan, s+b, Fall 2004.) We looked at the impact of leadership development programs in changing executive behavior. As it turns out, each of the eight companies had different values and different words to describe ideal leadership behavior. But these differences in words made absolutely no difference in determining the way leaders behaved. One company spent thousands of hours composing just the right words to express its view of how leaders should act -- in vain. I am sure that the first draft would have been just as useful.

At many companies, performance appraisal forms seem to undergo the same careful scrutiny as credos. In fact, more effort seems to be given to producing the perfect words on an appraisal form than to managing employee performance itself. I worked with one company that had used at least 15 different performance appraisal forms and was contemplating yet another change because the present sheet "wasn't working"! If changing the words on the page could improve the performance management process, every company's appraisal system would be perfect by now.

Companies that do the best job of living up to their values and developing ethical employees, including managers, recognize that the real cause of success -- or failure -- is always the people, not the words.

Rather than wasting time on reinventing words about desired leadership behavior, companies should ensure that leaders get (and act upon) feedback from employees -- the people who actually observe this behavior. Rather than wasting time on changing performance appraisal forms, leaders need to learn from employees to ensure that they are providing the right coaching.

Ultimately, our actions will say much more to employees about our values and our leadership skills than our words ever can. If our actions are wise, no one will care if the words on the wall are not perfect. If our actions are foolish, the wonderful words posted on the wall will only make us look more ridiculous.

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, October 13, 2010

How Much Do You Love Leading People?

After reading countless books on leadership, writing or co-editing 24 of them (with two more on the way next year), and reviewing profiles for desired leadership behavior in more than 100 corporations, I think there is one critical question that repeatedly gets left out when assessing the potential of our future leaders: How much do you love leading people?

I have had the privilege of working with many wonderful leaders. Upon reflection, the best of the best had one quality in common. They loved leading people!

Peter Drucker often noted that Frances Hesselbein (the former chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts and now chairman of the Leader to Leader Institute) was the greatest leader he had ever met. I have to agree with Peter's assessment. I originally worked with Frances as a volunteer consultant to the Girl Scouts. Over the past 25 years we have worked together on myriad projects. She is now one of my best friends.

When Frances discusses her work as a leader, her eyes sparkle and her face glows. No matter what personal or professional challenges she is facing, she is always up, positive, and inspirational. Frances defines leadership as "circular," with the leader reaching across the organization to colleagues, not down to subordinates. Her motivation has never come from the outside, meaning from money or status. Instead, it has always come from the inside, from her love of service and what she does.

Personal Example Conveys a Lot
I consider Alan Mulally (former CEO of Boeing Commercial Aircraft (BA) and now CEO of Ford (F)) to be a fantastic leader of people. I have known Alan for several years and have seen him face challenges that would make most people want to simply throw in the towel.

I have never seen him get down on himself, his people, or his company. Alan has an enthusiasm that radiates to the people around him. He has an almost childlike joy in what he does. He once told me: "Every day I remind myself that leadership is not about me. It is about the great people who are working with me." Alan's love of what he does enables him to work incredible hours, face daunting adversity, and serve with a smile on his face. His personal example says more about leadership than his words can ever convey.

Retired General Eric Shinseki is the former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. He has continually communicated an incredible sense of pride in the young men and women who are the backbone of the Army. He has shown no interest in the trappings of power that come with being a four-star general. In fact, he sees the status and perks that come with being a general as major obstacles to overcome. His voice fills with emotion when he discusses the sacrifices of the brave soldiers who are risking their lives for our country. In short, General Shinseki is a soldier's soldier.

Leaders Think of Others
As much as I respect Frances and Alan, General Shinseki has had to overcome even more adversity than they have. He has recovered from very serious injury only to push himself to go back out and lead our troops. He has had the courage to say and do what he believed was right for his soldiers, even if his views were not always politically popular. His love of service and leading people has produced an integrity that goes far beyond what can be delivered in a motivational speech.

Great leaders are different from great individual achievers; not better or worse, just different. For great individual achievers, achievement is about themselves. For great leaders, achievement is about others.

You can have a wonderful career and be a fine human being without leading people. For example, you can be a great teacher who loves teaching, a great salesperson who loves selling, or a great actor who loves acting.

A Telling Question
Many of the qualities that we list for great leaders are applicable for professionals in other positions. I'm talking about integrity, vision, commitment to quality, service to customers, respect for people, ability to spark innovation, and ability to achieve results. These characteristics don't just apply to leaders.

To assess your leadership potential, ask yourself: "On a scale of one to 10, how much do I love leading people?" If you have never been in a leadership role, ask yourself, "How much do I think that I will love leading people?" If your score is low, you may want to rethink that prospect of becoming a leader.

Although high levels of leadership may bring status, power, or money, these benefits come at a cost. Almost all great leaders work extremely hard, take their jobs very personally, are subject to ongoing (and often unfair) criticism, and pay a price for their success.

Finding Reward on the Inside
If you love leading people, like Frances Hesselbein, Alan Mulally, or Eric Shinseki, leadership will be a joy and service will be a blessing.

If you do not love leading people, leadership will be an ongoing pain.

Don't become a leader because you are looking for reward from the outside. Become a leader only if you will find your reward on the inside.

When you stand up to lead, the people that you are serving will not just be listening to your words, they will be looking into your eyes. Ultimately, you will not be able to fool them or fool yourself.

You can only inspire the people you are leading if you are inspired to lead.

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, October 12, 2010

6 Questions For Better Coaching

In my work with senior leaders, I have found that one of the most common complaints of direct reports is that their executives do a poor job of providing coaching. This perception has been validated in reviewing the 360-degree feedback scores for executives in 30 major corporations. The item "provides effective coaching when needed" consistently scores in the "bottom 10" of all items when direct reports evaluate their executives.

There are several reasons why executives tend to do a poor job of coaching. One reason is that executives manage knowledge workers. Peter Drucker's definition of a knowledge worker is "someone who knows more about what they are doing than their boss does". One CEO that I coached was surprised that his direct reports wanted any coaching from him. He asked, "How can I be expected to coach them, when they already know ten times more about what they are doing than I do?"

At the executive level, few direct reports want detailed instructions on how to do their work. What they do want is ongoing communication with their executives concerning the "big picture" -- how their work is making a difference and suggestions on how they can improve.

A second reason that executives tend to avoid coaching is that they are busy. If executives view coaching as a complex and time-consuming process, they won't do it! Their direct reports are usually as busy as they are. Executives are justifiably sensitive about how they spend their time and the time of their colleagues.

Fortunately direct reports (at the executive level) seldom want or need coaching to be a time-consuming process. They tend to prefer regular "reality checks" to make sure that they are heading in the right direction. Frequency of interaction is often more important than duration of interaction. They also want to have the freedom to ask for help or clarification when they need it.

A third reason that executives avoid coaching is that they are afraid of alienating their direct reports. In general, the higher people rank in the organizational hierarchy, the more expensive they are to replace. In many cases, executives manage people who are financially independent and can find another job if they are dissatisfied. The organization needs not only the knowledge of these people; it needs their commitment. Alienating people near "the top" can be a very expensive mistake. This fear of alienation is not totally unjustified. A review of research on successful people indicates that they tend to over-rate their own performance (relative to their peers) and that they tend to resist feedback that is inconsistent with their self-image.

The "good news" is that while successful people tend to resist negative feedback about the past, they almost always respond well to positive suggestions for the future. By focusing on the future, executives can help direct reports be "right" tomorrow, as opposed to proving they were "wrong" yesterday. Effective coaches can generally cover what they need to say by focusing on the future (as opposed to dwelling on the past). Executives who use the Six-Question process almost always get dramatically higher scores from direct reports (one year later) on the item, "Provides development feedback in a timely manner." Interestingly enough, this approach does not focus on feedback; it concentrates on suggestions!

The Six-Question Process

The Six-Question process for coaching is an approach that I have seen work consistently well with executives. This process has produced measurable change in effectiveness (as evaluated by direct reports) with four CEOs that I have personally coached. These CEOs were in totally different industries and worked with very different types of people. One CEO went from an 8 percentile to a 98 percentile score (in four years) doing nothing more than this process. Even better, he found that he actually spent less time with his direct reports the year he was rated a "98" than the year he was rated an "8"! This process has also been shown to produce positive results in the summary 360 degree feedback reports from executive teams.

In using the Six Question process, it is generally recommended that the executive have a one-on-one dialogue with each direct report approximately once each quarter. In most cases the initial dialogues may take more time, but the process generally lasts about 30 minutes after the first couple of sessions. The "rules" of the process are very simple. Both parties are asked to: 1) make each question a dialogue, not a dictate, 2) focus on the future, not the past and 3) listen to the other person's ideas, try to implement what they can and not try to "prove" the other person is wrong.

1. Where are we going?

The first question deals with the "big picture". The executive outlines where the larger organization is going in terms of vision, goals and priorities. The executive then asks the direct reports where they think the larger organization should be going. By involving direct reports in this ongoing dialogue, executives can build alignment and commitment to the larger organizational vision.

It is important to note that the Six-Question approach does not assume that the executive will agree with every direct report on every issue. This will not (and should not) be the case. Leadership is not a "popularity contest". Sometimes direct reports (like all humans) may have bad ideas. In some cases the executive may choose to say, "In this case, I disagree." It is important that executives focus on understanding disagreements and respecting differences of opinion. It is also important that executives need to only "win the big ones" and that they can "let go" on minor issues that may be more important to their direct reports than to them.

2. Where are you going?

Question two deals with the direct reports' vision, goals and priorities for their part of the organization. Direct reports discuss where their part of the organization is going. Executives give their view on where they think this part of the organization should be going. By the end of this discussion two types of alignment should have been achieved: 1) the vision, goals and priorities of the direct reports' parts of the organization should be aligned with the executives' vision of the larger organization and 2) the individual goals and priorities of executives and direct reports should be aligned.

3. What is going well?

One key element of effective coaching is providing positive recognition for achievement. Executives begin this part of the dialogue with an assessment of what the direct reports and their organizations are doing well. Then executives ask their direct reports a question that is seldom asked, "What do you think that you and your part of the organization are doing well?" By asking this question executives may learn about "good news" that may have otherwise been missed.

In the past five years, I have asked hundreds of executives the question, "Do you feel as busy or busier today than your have felt in your entire life?" About 80% of the executives that I have asked have said yes. A major reason that executives fail to give deserved recognition to direct reports is not maliciousness; it is ignorance. Many executives are so busy that they don't know all the good things that the people who report to them are doing. Direct reports may feel under-appreciated because executives don't recognize their achievements. In many cases, the executives would recognize these achievements if they only understood what they were! By asking, "What are you doing well?" executives have a great opportunity to understand positive aspects of performance that they could have otherwise missed. This process has been shown to consistently improve direct reports' feedback on the item, "Provides positive recognition for achievement."

4. What are key suggestions for improvement?

Executives begin this part of the dialogue by giving direct reports constructive suggestions for the future. These suggestions should be limited to key "opportunities for improvement". The average human cannot remember eight unrelated words on a piece of paper! Giving too many suggestions is almost as bad as giving none. Direct reports should listen to the suggestions with a focus on understanding, not judging what is being said. Executives should come across as "trying to help" not "playing God".

Next, executives should ask another (seldom-asked) great coaching question, "If you were your own coach, what suggestions would you have for yourself?" By listening to their direct reports, executives may learn that their original coaching suggestions need to be modified. Executives may end up saying, "Now that I have heard your ideas, let me change my suggestions. I think the areas that you are discussing are more important than the ones that I mentioned."

5. How can I help?

As you have gathered from this article, a key to effective coaching is asking the right questions. One of the greatest coaching questions an executive can ask is, "How can I help?" Executives can begin by listening to their direct reports' suggestions on how they can become more helpful. They can also participate in the dialogue by suggesting approaches and then asking, "Do you feel this approach will help you become more effective?"

In some cases executives who receive poor feedback as coaches attack the problem by simply spending more time coaching. This can do more harm than good. The key to improvement is not to do more coaching. The key is to provide coaching to the right people on the right topics. In some cases less coaching in some areas may be what is needed! By asking executives can make the most effective use of their limited time.

6. What suggestions do you have for me?

Extensive research on the impact of direct report feedback and follow-up on leadership effectiveness has shown a clear, undeniable pattern. Leaders that ask for suggestions from their direct reports - focus on improving 1-2 key behaviors - and follow-up on a quarterly basis - are almost always seen as dramatically increasing in leadership effectiveness . By asking, "What suggestions do you have for me?" executives change the dynamics of the coaching process. Traditional coaching is sometimes thought of as a one-way monologue that focuses on, "Let me tell you what you can do to improve." The Six-Question approach creates a two-way dialogue that focuses on, "Let's try to help each other." Direct reports are much more willing to be coached by executives, if the executives are willing to be coached by them!

In-Between Coaching Sessions

Executives should not limit their coaching interactions to quarterly Six-Question sessions. At the end of each session executives should say, "I am going to take the responsibility to make sure that I have a dialogue with you at least once each quarter. I am going to take the responsibility to cover what I think is most important and to get your suggestions on what you think is most important. I would like you to take the responsibility to contact me at any time you have a need for my help. I cannot promise I will be able to schedule this immediately. I can promise I will make your request a top priority. If I take the responsibility for our quarterly dialogues and you take the responsibility for any ongoing issues, there is no reason that our coaching relationship should not be very productive."

A key to effective two-way coaching is mutual responsibility. The organizational survey in one of my "Fortune 100" clients pointed out an interesting dilemma. Direct reports criticized their executives for not providing help when it was needed. Executives said that direct reports never asked for help! If the direct reports take the responsibility to ask for coaching (when needed) and the executives take the responsibility to be responsive and helpful, there is a high probability that the entire process will work.


In summary, the Six-Question Process for feedback and coaching is a practical tool that executives can use to become more effective coaches. The six questions are merely meant as broad guidelines. In some cases a Five-Question or Seven-Question approach may be better suited to a particular situation. Executives should be flexible in tailoring this process to fit their unique situations. The key to success is for both executives and direct report to cover the most important topics on a regular basis and to be available to each other for special situations. From my experience few direct reports need or want more coaching than this.

The CEO mentioned earlier (who went from "worst to first" as a coach) made an interesting observation. He said, "Before this process, I thought that I was giving my direct reports what they needed. Unfortunately, my direct reports could not tell the difference between coaching and a social conversation. They were not differentiating between important feedback and 'chit-chat'. If I said, 'You are doing a great job' they didn't know if I was serious or just 'being nice'. This process has given me a simple discipline to give them what they need (and give me what I need) in a way that respects my time and theirs." This is the end result of effective coaching!

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, October 11, 2010

Make Peace and Move On

It has been a tough year for many, many people around the world. In my work, especially in the financial services industry, I have heard a lot of frustration as people, leaders, and managers face significant industry changes and work harder than ever -- they are frustrated because in the past, bad decisions were made and they feel they are taking the brunt of those poor decisions.

For instance, in one bank that I know well almost every part of the business had a great year -- except the division that lost billions of dollars and negated all of the other divisions' success. This made life very tough for the employees in the successful divisions. So, what can we learn and how can we grow from adversity?

One of the most common characteristics of successful people is that we have a very strong "internal locus of control." In other words, we believe that our success in life is a function of the motivation and ability that we bring to the world. Less successful people tend to see success as a function of external factors -- or the environment.

Normally this belief in our control over our own destiny works in our favor. It makes us motivated and encourages us to build our skills. It helps us take responsibility. (It also keeps us from wasting money on lottery tickets!)

When negative environmental factors impact our success, our strong internal locus of control makes it hard for us to accept the reality of the external environment. We begin to get angry because "It isn't fair," and we ask questions like, "Why am I being punished for their mistakes?"
I cannot help any company get back the billions of dollars it has lost. And I cannot help individuals get a bonus or save their valued staff members. I will try to help you make the best of the situation. My suggestions are:

• Realize that we all make mistakes. The individuals who made bad decisions -- or their bosses -- are just humans. They aren't gods. Historically, these people have made some very good bets. Recently they made some very bad bets. You don't have to love them, but just accept them for being who they are. Carrying around anger directed toward your fellow employees does not help you, your company or the people who work with you.

• Forgive yourself. You are an adult. You chose to work with this company. In a way, you made a bet. Sometimes our choices don't work out as we had planned. This does not make you a bad person -- just a human being. At a deeper level, the person you are really mad at may be yourself. Don't be personally ashamed because your company has lost money. While you can own your own performance, you can't own the performance of people who you do not control.

• Reassess the situation. One of greatest challenges for investors is to learn the meaning of "sunk cost." What's done is done. Let it go. Objectively reconsider your situation. Given the world that exists today, do you want to stay? If so, make the best of where you are. Do you want to leave? If so, begin searching for another job.

• Remember your deeper mission in life. Behave in a way that optimizes benefit for yourself and the people that you love. Don't cut off your nose to spite your face by letting your anger override your logic. I have seen many otherwise smart people make stupid decisions when they were angry. Don't let this happen to you.

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