Monday, December 26, 2011

Why Everyone's Working So Hard

In the early 1980s I had the opportunity to work as a consultant in several of America's largest organizations. In those days I often thought that corporate managers and professionals were lazy. In most corporate headquarters buildings I could have shot a cannonball down the hall at 5 p.m. and not hit anyone! Professionals and managers were working 35 to 40 hours per week. They were taking four to five weeks of vacation during the course of the year. They enjoyed incredible job security, great benefits, lifetime health care, and guaranteed pensions.

Those days are gone! Today I am amazed at how hard corporate managers and professionals work. What happened?

Five factors have converged to create a new world for professionals:

1. Increased Differentiation in Compensation

Many studies and reports have highlighted the huge compensation increases of CEOs relative to the average salaries of the general population of employee.

As CEOs have enjoyed massive increases in pay, other C-level officers - the next level down - have also noticed large increases in compensation. This trend has continued throughout the organization, from vice-presidents to directors. While mid-managers and staff professionals have not had the relative increase in compensation enjoyed by executives, they have still been moving ahead at a much faster pace than the general population.

Recently, in a conversation with the CFO of a blue chip company, I observed an example of the impact of this increased compensation. One of his direct reports complained, "I didn't go to work in a major corporation to work this hard. If I had wanted to put in this many hours, I would have worked in a professional services firm." The CFO replied, "You are getting paid as much a partner in one of the top professional services firms. If you don't want to work like one, why don't you either take a demotion or leave?"

Higher salaries come with higher expectations. The bottom-line pressure from shareholders has only gone up. As top managers and professionals are being paid more money, they are subject to greater expectations. Managers expect their subordinate managers and professionals to earn their pay increases.

2. Decreased Job Security

In the early '80s I did a study of dismissals at IBM (IBM). While IBM would always fire employees for ethical violations, almost no one was fired because of poor performance. If you wore a white shirt, showed up, and met minimal expectations, you had a job for your entire career.

As IBM's corporate profits began to disappear, then-CEO John Akers faced increased pressure from stockholders to change the corporation. His hesitation to move away from IBM's full-employment practice was one of the factors that led to his eventual dismissal. IBM's lack of tough performance standards was not that unusual in the U.S from the 1960's to the 1980's. The same story could have been observed at AT&T (T), Eastman Kodak (EK), and many other huge companies during that era.

In today's competitive world, job security for managers and professionals seems a distant dream. Along with the carrot of increased rewards, managers, and professionals live with the stick of losing their jobs. Overall, the professional work ethic has increased in a world where the value of performing can bring greater rewards, while the cost of nonperformance can bring severe and immediate punishment.

There has also been a marked decline in midlevel work - a "hollowing-out" of the middle class. The lack of midlevel jobs has further increased the distance between society's economic "winners" and "losers."

3. Decreased Health Care and Pension Security

The concept of guaranteed lifetime health care and pension has been greatly eroded in the U.S. in the past 10 years. Employees are facing the reality of losing part - or all - of the benefits that they thought were a given. The relative losses in benefits for managers and professionals can be even greater than the losses faced by wage-earning employees. Even companies that are retaining pension benefits are moving away from defined-benefit plans that provide guaranteed, inflation-proof income security during the retirement years.

As the probability of lifetime health care paid for by the company disappears, the cost of health care continues to escalate. The expectations for corporate pensions and Social Security have diminished. These changes have caused many professionals to feel like they are on their own, both now and post-retirement.

4. Global Competition

In the 1950s managers and professionals in the U.S. had a huge competitive advantage. While business was largely conducted in English, relatively few people around the world spoke fluent English. To add to our advantage, an incredibly small percentage of the populations in China, India, or Eastern Europe had professional educations that were competitive with those in the States or Western Europe. Over time this competitive advantage has slowly eroded.

As recently as 10 years ago global outsourcing was largely limited to manufacturing or lower-level service jobs. In the future, many more managerial and professional jobs will be outsourced.

Today millions of highly educated, English-speaking, non-American professionals are flooding the job market. They are willing to work for salaries that are much lower than the wages paid to Americans. They are more than happy to work long hours. Global competition has helped further fuel the job insecurity and job pressure experienced by professionals in the States. The fact that Americans, Europeans, and Japanese workers earn more that workers in developing countries has led to increased pressure to justify their high-paying jobs with significant contributions.

5. New Technology

There was a time when people thought new technology would lead to more leisure time. Instead, new technology has created a "24/7" mindset. Professionals everywhere can be seen using cell phones or PDAs to communicate with their co-workers. New technology has gone hand in hand with globalization to create a world where work never stops. It has also begun to blur the distinction between home and work.

The five changes outlined here have created a new breed of professional employee: more driven and hard-working, yet more insecure, than ever before. Leading these new professionals will be one of the key challenges for the leader of the future. In a future column, I will discuss suggestions for leading this hardworking, yet highly insecure workforce.

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, December 19, 2011

You Have to Make Them Love Their Jobs

As corporations' expectations for their professionals have increased, professionals' expectations for their leaders have also increased. Peter Drucker often talked about the importance of effectively leading knowledge workers - professionals who know more about what they are doing than their boss does.

In leading today's knowledge workers, it is important to invert the pyramid and look at leadership vis-a-vis the wants and needs of the professional - as opposed to the skills of the leader. Today's leaders may be judged more by the gifts they provide than the gifts that they possess. Here are some tips for successfully managing knowledge workers:

o Encourage their passion

When professionals were working 35-40 hours per week and taking four to five weeks of vacation, it was not so important that they loved what they did. But when professionals are working as many hours as they do today, it's crucial that they love their work. Professionals need to look forward to going to work in the morning. The leaders of the future need to look for, support, and encourage passion in their professional employees. Leaders also need to "lead by example" and demonstrate this same passion. When I ask high-potential leaders why they stay with their companies, "I love working here!" is a very common response!

o Enhance their ability

As job security has decreased - and global competition has increased - the need to update and refine skills continually has become critical in maintaining professional careers. Leaders of the future will need to look beyond the skills needed for today and help professionals learn the skills that will be needed for tomorrow. One company renowned for educating its professionals has noted: "We cannot ensure your lifetime employment, but we can help ensure your lifetime employability". Top professionals will often be willing to accept less money for more growth. Loyalty will be gained through learning - not just earning.

o Value their time

As professionals have less disposable time, the value of their time increases. When asked to describe the qualities of leaders they do not respect, one of the most common answers from professionals is: "I hate it when leaders waste my time." It is hard enough working 50-80 hours a week and doing what does matter. It is incredibly painful to work that much and then end up wasting time on things that don't. Leaders will need to increase skills in protecting professionals from things that neither encourage their passion nor enhance their ability.

o Build their networks

Professionals in the future will realize that their only security will come from their abilities and their networks. By enabling professionals to establish strong networks both inside and outside the company, organizations can gain a huge competitive advantage and the loyalty of their workers. Professional networking enables people to expand their knowledge and bring back new knowledge to the organization.

As multiple job - and even career - changes become the norm, companies will begin to experience professionals who leave and then return. A role model for providing positive networking is strategy consulting firm McKinsey. McKinsey goes out of its way to provide a network for former employees. Many ex-McKinsey consultants go on to become leaders in major corporations - and customers of McKinsey. Their loyalty to former employees helps lead to loyalty from future customers.

o Support their dreams

The best professionals are working for far more than money. They have a dream of making a meaningful contribution in their field. I heard Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google (GOOG), explain why he was not afraid that many of their best people would leave after the initial public offering, which would make them very rich. He noted that Google wanted to be the world's leader in providing information - and that any professional who wanted to be the best in the field would want to work there. Leaders in the past have asked: "What can you do to help our company achieve its dream?" Leaders in the future will also ask: "What can our company do to help you achieve your dream?"

o Expand their contributions

Two of the most important needs of hard-working professionals are happiness and meaning. As was mentioned earlier, leaders need to encourage passion to create an environment where people are happy and want to come to work. Leaders will also need to show how the organization can help the professional make a larger contribution to the world. When people have "24/7" lifestyles, they may not have much of a chance to find meaning - and the opportunity to make a contribution - outside of work. If this is the case, their major opportunity to find meaning and make a positive difference will come from inside of work. No one wants to put in endless hours on trivia. Leaders will need to help professionals make a real difference in their professions and in the world.

Leading the managers and professionals of the future will be a challenging, yet rewarding, job. Leaders will need to go beyond looking at the work to be done and consider the human doing the work. They will need to understand the incredible pressures that have been brought about by globalization, technology, and competition. They will need to appreciate the hard work and sacrifice needed for professional success in a much tougher world. Leaders will need to realize that as work becomes even more important, and organizations become even more important, they will become even more important in helping to shape the quality of life and the futures of the professionals they 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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Girl Scouts: Creating 21st Century Leaders

Kathy Cloninger, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of the USA since 2003, is in the process of transforming the venerable U.S. organization to ensure it remains as relevant to girls today as when it was founded in 1912. (I consider one of Kathy's predecessors as CEO, Frances Hesselbein, to be the greatest leader I have ever met.) The organization recently released a fascinating study on girls and their aspirations to leadership, so I invited Kathy to discuss what she sees for the next generation of women leaders. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow.

It seems to me women have made substantial gains in terms of leadership positions in Corporate America, in holding public office, etc., over the past 20 years. I would think we have quite a generation of girls who want to scale the highest reaches of power.

It's interesting you use the word power. Our study, which included a nationwide survey of girls and boys between the ages of 8 and 17, found that girls don't want power for power's sake. There is plenty of ambition there, to be sure, but what we found was girls aspire to a different kind of leadership that serves a bigger purpose. I think this both hopeful and challenging.

Challenging in what way?

It's clear from the research that girls care about leadership. However, they're turned off by the kind of leadership they see as prevalent in the culture, the kind of leadership that can be described as command and control. When we asked girls whether they aspired to leadership, more than half were ambivalent, and another 9% rejected it. We need a broader definition of leadership. The current command-and-control style of leadership is too limiting for girls.

If girls have a different conception of leadership, will they be able to compete for those top jobs when they come of age?

This isn't about choosing one leadership or management style over the other. I'd love to see a blended approach that combines decisiveness and action with collaboration and inclusion. Quite frankly, the world that these girls and boys will inherit is going to require it. The best leaders already embrace this approach - we just have to bring along the rest of society.

That's a pretty tall order.

That's true. At the end of the day, however, the research should be a wake-up call for all of us. We must pay attention to what girls are saying because they are our future. It's a competitive imperative as well as a moral one.

What's more, we at Girl Scouts aren't afraid of a challenge. Historically, about 10% of all American girls participate in Girl Scouting. However, 69% of the women serving in the Senate and 65% of the women in the House of Representatives are former Girl Scouts, as are close to 80% of all women business executives and business owners. So maybe the answer is to have all girls be Girl Scouts.

You mentioned you also surveyed boys. I am curious what they had to say about all this.

Well, there's some good news here. A majority of boys and girls believe they are equally capable of being leaders. A few generations ago, that would probably not have been the case. In fact, some 56% of boys said that "in our society, it is more difficult to become a leader for a woman than a man." So it's clear that even at some of the youngest ages, boys understand women face a harder road.

In general, boys had similar concerns about leadership: They want a model of altruistic leadership. But at the end of the day, the study shows making money, being their own boss, and having power is more important to them.

Given what you know about the next generation of women, are you sanguine about the prospects for women in leadership positions in Corporate America and elsewhere? Is that glass ceiling still going to be there tomorrow and the day after?

I am excited about the future. No one could argue that we haven't seen substantial changes in society when it comes to opportunities for women in a range of fields. Are we where we want to be? No. But girls today will have many opportunities for leadership in their lifetimes, and we as an organization are committed to getting them ready for those opportunities. We need those girls; they are 51% of the population. Think of all that talent.

We live in a complex society with a complex, diverse workforce, and we have a lot of very real problems to solve. Managing that complexity and diversity and solving those problems is going to require collaborative, inclusive leadership that focuses on the common good rather than the needs of the leader or chief executive. The good news is girls appear to understand this in very real and intuitive ways.

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, December 05, 2011

Does Anyone Ever Really Change?

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

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

1. First, not everyone responds to executive development, at least not in the way the organization desires or intends.

Some people are trainable; some aren't. At the eight companies I surveyed, I asked participants at the end of each session if they intended to go back to their jobs and apply what they had learned. Nearly 100 percent said yes. However, a year later, when I asked their direct reports to confirm that these leaders had applied the lessons on the job, 70 percent said yes, leaving 30 percent who said their bosses did absolutely nothing! Why would 30 percent of executives go through the training, promise to implement the changes and then do nothing? Quite simply, most of the time they were just too busy and too distracted by the day-to-day demands of their jobs to implement what they had learned. This led me to my second conclusion.

2. There is an enormous disconnect between understanding and doing.

Most leadership development revolves around one huge, and false, assumption: If people understand, then they will do. Don't believe me? Take a look at the adamant smoker. This person knows that smoking cigarettes is bad for his health, but refuses to quit. However, this insight didn't tell me if the 70 percent who understand and do actually got better. That's when I realized the missing link was follow-up, not only in my training concepts, but also in getting people to change. I rewired my objectives and began measuring people to see not only if they got better, but why. Tracing five of my eight companies to measure the level of follow-up among the executives, I found the results were astonishingly consistent. When leaders did little or no follow-up with their subordinates, there was little or no perceived change in the leaders' effectiveness. When leaders consistently followed up, the perception of their effectiveness jumped dramatically. This led to me to the third conclusion.

3. People don't get better without follow-up.

Leaders who don't follow up aren't necessarily bad leaders; they are just not perceived as getting better. Follow-up shows you care about getting better. It shows you value your coworkers' opinions. Following up consistently, every month or so, shows you are serious about the process and that you are not ignoring your coworkers' input. Think about it. A leader who seeks input from coworkers, but ignores it or doesn't follow up on it, quite logically will be perceived as someone who doesn't care much about becoming a better leader.

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

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, November 28, 2011

Stop Trying to Coach People Who Shouldn't Be Coached!

You may be the best coach in the world, but if the person you are coaching shouldn't be coached, it's not going to work. I'm sorry to say that try as I might to help some people change I have come to the conclusion that some people are unsalvageable. Through years of trial and error, I have shed all illusions about my astounding behavioral change methods, and concluded that some flaws just can't be coached away by anyone.

So, how do you know when someone is uncoachable? How do you detect a lost cause? Following are four key indicators that your coachee is not coachable:

1. She doesn't think she has a problem.
2. He is pursuing the wrong strategy for the organization.
3. They're in the wrong job.
4. They think everyone else is the problem.

She doesn't think she has a problem.

This nice woman is a successful adult who has no interest in changing. Her behavior is working fine for her and she just doesn't care to convert. If she doesn't care to change, you are wasting your time! Here's a little example. My mother, a lovely woman and much-admired first grade teacher, was so dedicated to her craft that she didn't draw the line between inside and outside the classroom. She talked to all of us, including my father, in the same slow, patient manner, using the same simple vocabulary that she used with her six-year-olds every day. One day as she graciously and methodically corrected his grammar for the millionth time, he looked at her, sighed, and said, "Honey, I'm 70 years old. Let it go." My father had absolutely no interest in changing. He didn't perceive a problem. So no matter how much, how hard, or how diligently she coached, he wasn't going to change.

He is pursuing the wrong strategy for the organization.

If this guy is already going in the wrong direction, all you're going to do with your coaching is help him get there faster.

They're in the wrong job.

Sometimes people feel that they're in the wrong job with the wrong company. They may believe they're meant to be doing something else or that their skills are being misused. Here's a good way to determine if you're working with one of these people. Ask them, "If we shut down the company today, would you be relieved, surprised, or sad?" If you hear 'relieved,' you've got yourself a live one. Send them packing. You can't change the behavior of unhappy people so that they become happy: You can only fix behavior that's making people around them unhappy.

They think everyone else is the problem.

A long time ago I had a client who, after a few high-profile employee departures, was concerned about employee morale. He had a fun, successful company and people liked the work, but feedback said that the boss played favorites in the way he compensated people. When I reported this feedback to my client, he completely surprised me. He said he agreed with the charge and thought he was right to do so. First off, I'm not a compensation strategist and so I wasn't equipped to deal with this problem, but then he surprised me again. He hadn't called me to help him change; he wanted me to fix his employees. It's times like these that I find the nearest exit. It's hard to help people who don't think they have a problem. It's impossible to fix people who think someone else is the problem.

My suggestion in cases like these? Save time, skip the heroic measures, and move on. These are arguments you can't ever win.

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, November 21, 2011

Open Your Wallet - Open Your Mind!

My coaching clients are either the CEOs or potential CEOs of multi-billion dollar corporations. Most are men; most are older and most are, by any normal standards, rich.

There is a common assumption that old rich men don't really care about losing small amounts of money.


From my experience, most old rich men don't like to lose any money.

It is not the amount of money that matters. It is the losing that they hate.

Have you ever watched a group of executives play competitive golf for wagers involving small amounts of money? It is amazing how serious and animated they become. Wagers at the race track are another example. One of my friends laughed as he described collecting his two dollar bet after the horse he picked won by a nose. Jumping up and down in his excitement, he spilled his Coke and ruined his hundred-dollar shirt!

As a coach, I use small amounts of money to help executives change behavior. It is astonishing how well this works! For example, if my clients are perceived as stubborn and opinionated, and they want to become more open-minded listeners, I 'fine' them every time they begin a sentence with the words 'no,' 'but,' or 'however.' All of the money that I collect from my fines is donated to the charity of my client's choice. Over the past 30 years, I have raised over $300,000 for great charities by playing this game with my clients.

Why fines for 'no,' 'but,' or 'however'?

The word 'no' means 'you are wrong,' and the words 'but' and 'however' mean 'disregard everything that came before this word.' A friend once described these as 'eraser words.'

As I was reviewing a 360-degree feedback report with one of my clients, his first words were, "But, Marshall ..." I smiled and replied, "That one is free. If I ever try to give you advice again, and you begin a sentence with 'no,' 'but,' or 'however,' I am going to fine you twenty dollars!"

"But," he replied, "that's not ..."

"That's twenty!" I laughed.

"No, I don't ..." he refuted.

"That's forty!" I continued.

"No, no, no!" he protested.

"That's sixty, eighty, one hundred dollars for charity!" I gleefully exclaimed.

Within an hour, he was down $420. It took another couple of hours before he finally got the point and said, "Thank you. I did that 21 times with you bringing it to my attention. You annoyed me so much that I would rather have died than paid you the money. The words kept coming out of my mouth anyway. How many times would I have done this if you had not brought it to my attention? Fifty? One hundred? No wonder people think I am stubborn. The first thing I do when people try to talk with me is to prove that they are wrong!"

The positive change in this executive, who was then the COO and is now the CEO of the company, was amazing. Within a couple of years, he was perceived as much more open and receptive to new ideas - and much less stubborn and opinionated - by all of his direct reports, his co-workers, and even his family members.

I also fine my clients when they say, "That's great, but ..." or "That's great, however ..." These eraser words end up destroying the value of recognition. They make sure that the receiver knows that the 'great' part doesn't count for much.

A few years ago, I was teaching a class at the headquarters of a major telecom company. I mentioned the 'That's great, but ...' problem and my use of fines to change behavior. I predicted that many members of the class would continue to say these words - even after hearing my lecture, and even knowing that I was going to fine them.

One of the men in my class mocked me when I made these statements. He thought that such a simple behavioral request would be easy for him. He was so sure of himself that he offered to donate $100 to charity every time he did this - and boasted that he would never have to make a donation.

I made a point of sitting next to him at lunch. When I asked him where he was from, he told me that he lived in Singapore.

"Singapore?" I said. "That's a great city."

"Yeah," he replied, "it's great, but ..."

He gave me a very chagrined look, chuckled and paid the money.

The next time you want to help your clients change minor behavioral 'tics' that are annoying everyone around them, try fining them small amounts of money, and then give the money to a great cause.

It may create a win for your clients - and, at the same time, it will create a win for the world!

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, November 14, 2011

The Right Way to Disagree with Direct Reports

Q: You often write about the importance of encouraging ideas from co-workers. What if you are a manager and your direct reports have strong opinions on a topic - and you believe their suggestions just won't work?

A: Here are my suggestions for you, which (I hope) work:

* My teacher and mentor Paul Hersey always taught me that "leadership is not a popularity contest." You, as a leader, have to be focused on achieving the mission. Sometimes this means disagreeing with your direct reports and taking a stand on tough issues.

* On the other hand, my friend and colleague, Jim Kouzes, points out that "leadership is not an unpopularity contest." Great leaders focus on building positive, lasting relationships with the people they lead - and should be sensitive to how they are perceived by direct reports.

* Begin with a philosophy of doing what is right while at the same time involving and empowering great people.

* Ask yourself a simple question, "Is winning this battle worth it?" If you believe that this is an important issue for the company - stand your ground. If it is important to your direct reports and insignificant to the company, let it go.

* Try not to prove that your direct reports are wrong. Chances are that your direct reports are generally bright and interested in what they are doing - especially the ones that take the initiative to make suggestions. The fact that your ideas differ from their ideas does not always mean that they are wrong. As difficult as it may be to believe, sometimes you are wrong.

* Listen and think before responding. Sometimes if you just back away and reflect, you will see things from a different and clearer perspective.

* If you can execute components of their ideas, do it. Your direct reports do not expect you to do everything that they suggest.

* If you finally just disagree, respectfully let them know that you have listened to their ideas, thought carefully about them and chosen not to execute their ideas at this time. Explain your logic. Let them know that you are not saying that they are wrong and point out that well-meaning, intelligent people can disagree.

* Don't win them all. Be open to going with their ideas when you can. When they disagree with you - and they prevail - support their ideas, just as you want them to support your ideas when you get your way.

I hope that these ideas are helpful.

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, November 07, 2011

When Leadership Coaching Works (And When It Doesn't)

Q: When does leadership coaching work? When is it a waste of time?

A: In my work as an executive coach, I only get paid if my clients achieve a positive, lasting change in behavior - not as judged by themselves, but as determined by their key stakeholders. Given my pay-only-for-results philosophy, it doesn't make much sense for me to waste time with clients who are not going to improve. This has made me think a lot about when coaching works - and when it doesn't.

The huge majority of professionals who call themselves executive coaches are actually behavioral coaches. Although some are experts at strategy (e.g. CK Prahalad or Vijay Govindarajan), most - including me - are not.

When will coaching aimed at changing leadership behavior be most effective? If the clients' issues are behavioral, they are willing to try and they are given a fair chance. Although these three factors may seem simple on the surface, getting a real assessment of each can be tricky.

1. Are the clients' issues behavioral?

Executive coaching has become very popular in the past few years. In fact, it has become so popular that I sometimes get ridiculous requests for coaching. One pharmaceutical company called and asked me to coach "Dr. X." I asked, "What is his problem?" They replied, "He is not updated on recent medical technology." I laughed and said, "Neither am I." Behavioral coaching will only help behavioral issues. It won't turn bad doctors into good doctors or bad engineers into good engineers. Coaching is not a catch all that solves all problems.

Second, when leaders commit an ethical violation they should be fired - not coached. It only takes one ethical violation to ruin the reputation of an otherwise outstanding company. All employees need to understand that integrity is a condition of employment not a performance appraisal factor.

Third, if a leader is headed in the wrong direction, behavioral coaching will only help them get there faster. The strategy of the company is ultimately determined by its top executives. Behavioral coaches cannot turn bad strategies into good one. Connected to the strategy are the products and services offered by the company. No amount of coaching can salvage products and services that do not meet the needs of customers.

2. Are the clients willing to try to change?

Advice that is never implemented will not do much good. If clients are willing to do the work needed to achieve positive, lasting change - they can definitely improve. If not, coaching is a waste of time. As an example, when my last book was the number one selling business book in the US the number one selling diet book sold ten times as many copies. If reading diet books would make you thin, Americans would be the thinnest people in the history of the world. You do not get better because you read a self-help book or hire a coach. You will only achieve positive, lasting change in behavior when you do the work required to make this happen.

3. Are the clients going to be given a fair chance?

In some cases the top executives of large companies lack the courage to give mangers honest, negative feedback. In these cases what is called executive coaching is actually a seek and destroy process - that is used to document failure, under the guise of "We did everything we could to help this person! We even hired an executive coach."

In other cases executives may want the person to succeed, but peers may sabotage the chances of coaching making a positive difference. Like higher executives, peers can write off their colleagues and create an environment where nothing they do to change will be given any credibility.

In summary, leadership coaching can be a very valuable process when the clients issues are behavioral, they are motivated to change and when they are given a fair chance. Both coaches and organizations need to look beneath the surface and make sure that these conditions really exist - before even beginning the coaching process.

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 31, 2011

Three Traps to Avoid When Choosing a Successor

Q: Many otherwise objective leaders seem to have real difficulty in evaluating their potential successors. From your experience, why does this happen? Can it be avoided?

A: When evaluating our potential successors, we should first look at ourselves. Following are three classic mistakes leaders make when reviewing potential successors. All three can cloud our objectivity and diminish our ability to evaluate successors.

1. Why doesn't she act like me? As a rule successful human beings tend to "over-weight" our own strengths and "under-weight" our own weaknesses when evaluating others. The more successful we become, the more we can fall into the "superstition trap", which, simple stated, is, "I behave this way. I am a successful leader. Therefore, I must be a successful leader because I behave this way."

All successful leaders are successful because of many positive qualities and in spite of some behavior that needs improvement.

As a leader, take a hard look at your own strengths and challenges. Realize that you will have a natural tendency to forgive even large errors that resemble your weaknesses and to punish even small flaws that occur in your area of strength.

After making a list of your strengths and challenges, list the strengths and challenges of your potential successor. As hard as it may be, try to think like an objective outsider. Challenge yourself to recognize that the behavior that you feel is most important for the company may really be the behavior that is most important for you.

2. What doesn't he think like me? It is hard for successful leaders not to believe that their strategic thinking is the right strategic thinking. As you proceed in the succession process, you are going to have to let go. It can be very hard to watch your successor make decisions that are different than yours. It is especially tough since, as long as you are still the leader, you have the power to reverse the decisions.

Your successor is going to manage your organization in the future - not you. As hard as it may be, you have to let him or her begin to make a bigger and bigger difference in developing strategy.

As long as the organization will be headed in a positive general direction - and achieving results - try to recognize that your successor's different path may actually turn out to be a better path.

3. Why doesn't she respect and appreciate my friends? We all tend to over-value input from people that we personally like and respect and under-value people that we don't love as much. Face the fact that your successor may have different personal preferences than you. Your trusted advisors may not be hers.

Invariably when transition occurs, some of your friends may lose status or power and may end up leaving the company. This can be tough -- both for them and for you.

Respect your successor enough to let her choose her own key advisers.

Life is good.


Every two years there is a global survey to determine the world’s top 50 business thinkers. In 2009 Marshall's friend the late CK Prahalad was ranked #1 and Marshall was ranked #14. To participate in the 2011 Thinkers 50, visit

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 24, 2011

8 Business-Travel Tips

Q: I read that you have flown millions of miles. I don't see how you do it. Do you have any suggestions for making air transportation less painful?

A: In my work, I spend a lot of time on the road. In the past four weeks, I have made separate trips to Abu Dhabi, Zurich, and London - along with many stops in the U.S. On American Airlines alone I have logged over 9.5 million frequent flyer miles.
Lots of people have asked me, "How do you do it?"

Here are some of my suggestions:

o 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.

o Don't book the last flight. Things happen. Whenever you can, give yourself a back-up option.

o 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 the security people for doing their jobs. Life is short. Don't do this to yourself and other people at the airport.

o 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.

o Eat before you get on the plane. I have heard hundreds of passengers sitting next to me 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 thirty years ago - when I started flying. If you don't have a chance to eat before you leave for the airport, you can still eat before you get on the plane.

o 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. If you are not going to sleep immediately, drinking does more harm than good.

o Learn to sleep on the plane. I have a unique approach, which works for me. I put on a blind-fold, 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.

o To help conquer jet lag, forget about where you have been - and be where you are. As soon as you board the plane, set you 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 in Bangalore and it is 10pm, say to yourself, "I am in Bangalore and it is 10pm."

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

Life is good.


Every two years there is a global survey to determine the world’s top 50 business thinkers. In 2009 Marshall's friend the late CK Prahalad was ranked #1 and Marshall was ranked #14. To participate in the 2011 Thinkers 50, visit

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 17, 2011

Had a Tough Year? Make Peace and Move On

My bank has lost billions of dollars because of bad investments - which I didn't make. Now I am facing budget cutbacks, getting no bonus, reducing my staff, and being expected to contribute more. This really makes me angry! Any suggestions?

If it is true that "misery loves company," you have a lot of company. In my work in the financial services world this year, I hear your frustration - and your question - over and over again.

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.

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 your company get back the billions of dollars it just lost. I cannot help you get a bonus or save your valued staff members. I will try to help you make the best of the situation that you face. My suggestions are:

- If you choose to stay with the company, 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 that 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.

I hope that these suggestions are helpful.

Life is good.


Every two years there is a global survey to determine the world’s top 50 business thinkers. In 2009 Marshall's friend the late CK Prahalad was ranked #1 and Marshall was ranked #14. To participate in the 2011 Thinkers 50, visit

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 10, 2011

Advice for the Acquired

Q: Our company is about to be acquired. My friends have warned me that this can spell trouble. Do you have suggestions for professionals in acquired companies?

A: 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 that 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:


o 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 to the new owners - they shouldn't have cashed the checks and deposited the money.)

o 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. Learn what matters most to your new executives and new board.

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

o 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.

o 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 that these suggestions are helpful to any readers in companies that have been - or are about to be - acquired.

Life is good.


Every two years there is a global survey to determine the world’s top 50 business thinkers. In 2009 Marshall's friend the late CK Prahalad was ranked #1 and Marshall was ranked #14. To participate in the 2011 Thinkers 50, visit

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 03, 2011

Change the Way You Define Yourself

Q: Sometimes I think that my biggest enemy is me. Why do we say and do things that limit our own success?

A: We all have a list of characteristics and behaviors that we use to define who we are. For successful people, most of these characteristics can be described by very positive words, such as: "intelligent," "dedicated," "results oriented," or "winner." Almost all of us have a few negative terms that are part of our self-definition. Common negative self-descriptions that I hear from executives are: "stubborn," "opinionated," or "I always have to be right."

One of the greatest challenges that we face, when we try to improve ourselves - as leaders, partners, friends or family members - is the challenge of changing the way we define ourselves. I must have heard this phrase a thousand times, "That's just the way I am." As long as we keep saying "That's just the way I am" to ourselves we increase the probabilities that "That's just the way I am always going to be."

I believe that (with very rare exceptions) we can all change our behavior. By definition, the only behaviors that we cannot changes are either shaped by genetic preconditions (we are born that way) or environmental factors (external forces that prohibit us from changing).

When I hear someone make a remark like, "I can't listen. I have never been able to listen. That's just the way I am." I ask, "Do you any incurable genetic defects that are prohibiting you from being a good listener," or "Is the rest of the world conspiring to keep you from being a good listener." If the answers to these two questions are "no" and "no," I then go on to say "Then I guess you can change and become a good listener."

Here is a quick exercise that may help you determine how your own self-definitions are propelling you to success - or inhibiting you from positive change. Make two lists of the adjectives that you would use to define yourself: positive and negative. Review the words on each list. How have the positive words helped you to become successful? How have the negative words held you back? Ask yourself, "Is there any genetic or environmental reason that I have to demonstrate the behaviors on the negative side of the page?" If the answer is "no" - you can get better.

In our society we talk about the harmful impact that we can have when we stereotype others in a negative way. What we often fail to consider is the harmful impact that we can have when we stereotype ourselves in a negative way.

I always love to hear from readers. Please send any examples of cases where you have stereotyped yourself - or seen others stereotype themselves - in ways that inhibited change.

Life is good.


Every two years there is a global survey to determine the world’s top 50 business thinkers. In 2009 Marshall's friend the late CK Prahalad was ranked #1 and Marshall was ranked #14. To participate in the 2011 Thinkers 50, visit

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, September 26, 2011

When is Spinning the Message a Good Thing?

Q: In our company we value integrity, yet leaders - especially in marketing - are taught to "spin" to make products and services sound good to clients. When is "spinning" a message a good thing? When it is wrong?

A: Every company that sells products or services "spins" these in a positive way to clients. This is not immoral, illegal, or unethical. It is just good business.

I believe that spinning is perfectly appropriate when:

- The benefits described by the sender of the message are real - and truly add value to the receiver of the message. For the long-term viability of the organization, business transactions need to be "win-win."

- The spinning is done to help the larger good - not just promote the person doing it.

- The sender describing the benefits truly believes that the overall impact to the receiver of the message is positive. For example, great leaders effectively promote their organizations. They may highlight the positives of their companies more than the negatives, but they believe (on balance) that their organizations add value to stakeholders - whether they are employees, stockholders or customers.

- Optimism is balanced with realism. Optimism is a characteristic that is highly correlated with success in any field. Yet optimists often over-commit. In the short-term, positive projections for the future may motivate people to buy products, services or stocks. In the long-term, leaders have to consistently deliver on promises - or they will be seen as being to unreliable to justify an investment.

Spinning becomes dysfunctional when:

- The sender of the message knowingly lies to the receiver. I always teach that leaders who knowingly commit ethics violations should never be coached - they should be fired. Even one integrity violation can ruin an otherwise wonderful organization.

- The spinning is designed to enhance the personal benefit of the sender - at the expense of the receiver. One variation on this theme is the agency problem that recently occurred with sales people who were promoting very shaky mortgages just to collect a commission. This dysfunctional spinning led to countless disasters for buyers - who lost their homes and ruined their credit ratings. This spinning also hurt the financial institutions - which lost billions of dollars.

- The company will not deliver the benefits that are being sold to the receiver of the message.

Life is good.


Every two years there is a global survey to determine the world’s top 50 business thinkers. In 2009 Marshall's friend the late CK Prahalad was ranked #1 and Marshall was ranked #14. To participate in the 2011 Thinkers 50, visit

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, September 19, 2011

7 Steps to Boost Your Leadership Self-Confidence

Q: What advice do you have for a leader whose bosses say needs to exhibit more self-confidence while still being collaborative and authentic?

A: Thank you for this great question.

I rarely encounter this issue in my work with CEOs and potential CEOs because people at the top of huge organizations don't often have self-confidence problems. But I have had several inquiries lately about helping future leaders who need to demonstrate more self-confidence.

Let me give you a few suggestions that I give leaders who have self-confidence issues (then I'll ask our readers to pitch in with more suggestions):

1. Decide if you really want to be a leader. Many of the MBAs who report self-confidence issues are brilliant technicians. They often find the uncertainty and ambiguity of leading people very unsettling. They are looking for the "right answers" - similar to the ones in engineering school. In some cases, brilliant technical experts should continue to be brilliant technical experts - and not feel obligated to become managers.

2. Make peace with ambiguity in decision making. There are usually no clear right answers when making complex business decisions. Even CEOs are guessing.

3. Gather a reasonable amount of data, involve people, then follow your gut and do what you think is right.

4. Accept the fact that you are going to fail on occasion. All humans do.

5. Have fun! Life is short. Why should you expect your direct reports to demonstrate positive enthusiasm, if they don't see it in you?

6. Once you make a decision, commit and go for it. Don't continually second guess yourself. If you have to change course, you have to change course. If you never commit, all you will ever do is change course.

7. Demonstrate courage on the outside, even when you don't feel it on the inside. We are all afraid on occasion -- that is just part of being human. If you are going to lead people in tough times, you will need to show more courage than fear. When direct reports read worry and concern on the face of a leader, they begin to lose confidence in the leader's ability to lead.

Life is good.


Every two years there is a global survey to determine the world’s top 50 business thinkers. In 2009 Marshall's friend the late CK Prahalad was ranked #1 and Marshall was ranked #14. To participate in the 2011 Thinkers 50, visit

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, September 12, 2011

Choosing to Change

I've had the good fortune to work with some of the most successful people in the business world. One thing I've noticed about them is they have unflappable optimism - they believe they will succeed, even under tough circumstances. They tend to pursue opportunities with an enthusiasm others might find mystifying.

Successful people also have an intense need for self-determination. They believe they do what they do because they choose to do it - not because they have to do it! The more successful someone is, the more likely this is the case. These two characteristics are connected. When we do what we choose to do, we're more committed to it and enthusiastic about it. When we do what we are expected to do or even forced to do, we merely are compliant and more apt to go through the motions just to get it done.

You see the difference in attitude in any job, even when money isn't related to performance. When I attended high school in Kentucky, even an attitudinally challenged student like me could see some teachers had a calling for the profession, whereas others did it to make a living. Not surprisingly, the best teachers were the former. They were committed to teaching and to the success of their students - rather than being controlled by external forces, such as a steady paycheck or summer vacations. Successful people have a unique distaste for feeling controlled or manipulated. I see this in my work every day.

Cognitive Dissonance

Even when I've gotten the greatest introduction as someone who can help others change for the better, I can still meet game-breaking resistance. I have made peace with the fact that I cannot make people change; I can only help them get better at what they choose to change.

Unfortunately, getting people who think "I have chosen to succeed" to add "and I choose to change" is not easy. The more we believe our behavior is a result of our own choices, the less likely we are to find behavioral changes desirable.

There's a reason for this, and it's one of the best researched principles in psychology. It's called cognitive dissonance, which refers to the disconnect between what we believe in our minds and what we experience in the world. The underlying theory is simple: The more committed we are to believing something is true, the less likely we are to believe the opposite is true, even in the face of clear evidence that demonstrates we are, in fact, wrong.

For example, if you deeply believe one of your colleagues is a jerk, you will filter everything he does through that belief, regardless of his actual conduct. No matter what he does, you'll see it through a prism that confirms your preconceived views. It might take years of saintly behavior on his part to overcome this negative perception. That's cognitive dissonance applied to others, and it can be a force of disruption and inequity in the workplace.

Prevailing Over Hardship

Yet, this same principle can actually work in favor of successful people when they apply it to themselves. It's the reason successful people won't buckle or waver when times get tough. Their commitment to their goals and beliefs allows them to view their reality through rose-tinted glasses and happily prevail over almost any hardship.

That's a good thing in many situations. Personal commitment encourages people to stay the course and not give up when the going gets tough.

Similarly, as you embark on changes large and small, try to keep your eyes on the prize and put a positive spin on setbacks. In other words, choose to change, and stick to it. Yet realize your very commitment is going to make it hard to hear negative feedback. Successful change occurs when we can walk the fine line between stubbornness and spinelessness - and demonstrate sincere commitment along with thoughtful openness.

Life is good.


Every two years there is a global survey to determine the world’s top 50 business thinkers. In 2009 Marshall's friend the late CK Prahalad was ranked #1 and Marshall was ranked #14. To participate in the 2011 Thinkers 50, visit

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, September 05, 2011

Measuring Up On the Job - and On the Homefront

In business we 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 that 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 way we act at home. After all, almost everyone I know agrees that the people at home are even more important than the people at work.

About 18 years ago, I decided that I wanted to be a better father. So I asked my daughter, Kelly, "what can I do to be a better parent?" (This is a question that we, as parents, don't ask enough.)

Causing My Daughter Pain

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

As she went on, I began to wonder if I should have asked this question after all. "One weekend, after you had been gone for a couple of weeks, I wanted to go to a party at my friend's house. Mommy didn't let me go. I had to stay home to spend time with you. Then you didn't spend any time with me. That wasn't right!"

I was stunned. First off, she totally nailed me, and secondly, I felt like an oafish dad who had unwittingly caused his daughter pain. There's no worse feeling in the world. I recovered best I could by using a simple response that I teach all of my clients. I said, "Thank you. Daddy will do better."

Family Time Helped My Earnings

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 with four hours of unencumbered interaction with my family. The second year, 110 days. The third, 131 days. The fourth, 135 days.

(As an aside, I made more money the year that I spent 135 days with my family than I had ever made before. What did I learn? The San Diego Chargers don't really care about me.)

When we track a number, it may remind people that we are really trying to change. It's one thing to tell your family members that you'll spend more time with them. It's a different ball game if you attach a real number to that goal - a number they are aware of. 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.

One-on-One Pays Off

Many things in life are measurable that we don't think about: hours spent with our family members, the number of times we call our parents, or (my wife's favorite for me), the days we remember to pick up after ourselves.

Another easy measurement that I tracked was the number of days I spent 10 minutes 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 can get a credit toward my goal, and it only takes me 10 minutes." Without that measurable goal, I was much more likely to blow it off.

Four years after that first conversation with my daughter, I was beaming with pride, not only with the results, but also with the fact that 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?"

My Kids Had Changed, Too

Both children groaned and expressed the opinion that I had "overachieved." They both called for a massive reduction of "Dad time." In fact, my son, Bryan, concluded that 50 days might be a much better goal.

I wasn't discouraged by their suggestions. It was an eye-opener. I was so focused on my own 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 11 years old didn't make sense when they were teenagers. It was a good reminder that the goal shouldn't be just about yourself but should take into account the needs of others as well.

What do you need to measure, not at work, but with friends and family members? Please send in any comments with your ideas. Who knows? The measurements that will help you may also help them.

Life is good.


Every two years there is a global survey to determine the world’s top 50 business thinkers. In 2009 Marshall's friend the late CK Prahalad was ranked #1 and Marshall was ranked #14. To participate in the 2011 Thinkers 50, visit

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, August 29, 2011

Not Everyone Is Just Like You

He is a great executive. A self-starter, he prides himself on being able to land on his feet in virtually any new environment. He is extremely intelligent, hard-working, creative, and entrepreneurial. He gets the job done. Not only doesn't he need much supervision; he doesn't like it when people treat him as if he needs lots of help.

As we talked on the plane, he was obviously frustrated. Describing a recent meeting, he grimaced. "I finally just got up and walked out," he said. "I was so angry I decided it was better not even to speak. If I had stayed there, I would have told that guy to f--- off."

"What did your direct report do to make you so upset?" I asked.

"I have told him over and over that he needs to take more responsibility," he grunted. "Then, as soon as I give him a great opportunity, he gives me this lost look and asks me to tell him what he is supposed to do."

"What about his behavior made you so angry?" I wanted to know.

"I love to figure things out for myself. For example, I was given an assignment to set up a new business in Croatia. I had never been there before, but I figured it out for myself. I just hate it when people need to be told what to do all of the time. I would have never done what he did in that meeting."

"I can see your point." I said, laughing. "If he were only you, you wouldn't have any problems as his manager."

I went on: "Has it ever dawned on you that most people in the world are more like him than they are like you? Most people need help on new assignments."

My airplane neighbor, stuck in the seat and by now probably regretting that he had started talking to me, was forced to listen as I continued: "Wouldn't the world be a wonderful place if everyone were just like you? Then your job as a leader would be so easy." (I was being sarcastic.) He started to squirm as we discussed the home front. "Do you do this to your wife?" I asked.

He sighed. "My wife is a wonderful person. Her major complaint is that I am always trying to make her 'try more things' and be someone other than who she is."

"No doubt, someone more like you?" I guessed. He nodded his head. Then he asked: "What do you think I should do?"

My advice about work was: "Make peace with the fact that everyone who reports to you isn't like you. Some people need more structure and direction, especially early in assignments. Learn to love coaching these people. Help them more and judge them less."

My advice about home was: "Go home and tell your wife you met a talkative bald guy on the airplane who gave you some free coaching. Apologize for trying to make her act like you. Ask her to forgive you for judging her. Recognize that nobody made you God this week. Let her know that you're proud of her, that you love her just the way she is, and that you are lucky to be her husband."

"You are right," he said with a smile. "I have been pretty stupid."

Then I gave him some advice about what he should do for himself. "Forgive yourself and start over. Let go of the past. Not only can you stop making such harsh judgments about others - you can stop being too hard on yourself. Overall, you seem to be an outstanding executive and a good husband. You can get even better at both."

We can all reflect on the myriad times that we have judged other people. How many times has this negative judgment occurred because we think: "That's not what I would have done?"

I have found four words that almost always help people be better leaders, partners, friends, and family members: Help more, judge less.

How would your co-workers, friends, and family feel if you helped a little bit more - and judged a little bit less? I doubt they would write me hate mail because you read this column and made those changes.

Life is good.


Every two years there is a global survey to determine the world’s top 50 business thinkers. In 2009 Marshall's friend the late CK Prahalad was ranked #1 and Marshall was ranked #14. To participate in the 2011 Thinkers 50, visit

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, August 22, 2011

Become a More Effective Leader by Asking One Tough Question

What prevents us from making the changes we know will make us more effective leaders?

Great question. I may be the only executive educator who actually measures whether the participants in my leadership development courses actually do what I teach--and then measures if they are seen as becoming more effective leaders.
At the end of my sessions, I ask leaders (who have received 360-degree feedback) to follow up with their co-workers and ask for ongoing ideas about how they can continue to become more effective. A year later, about 70% do some version of this recommended follow-up (as reported by their co-workers, not by them); 30% do absolutely nothing.

I am not ashamed of these numbers. I am happy: not only are 70% of those who do their follow-up seen as becoming better leaders, the 30% who do absolutely nothing don't get any worse!

But to your question, what prevents the 30% from making the changes they know will make them more effective leaders?

Dropping the Ball

I had the chance to interview many of the 'do-nothings' with one of my clients a year later to ascertain why they had dropped the ball on their follow-up commitment.

Their answers had nothing to do with integrity, ethics, or values. The 'do-nothings' were good people with good values. They were intelligent people who felt bad about not following up with their co-workers.

If it wasn't lack of intelligence or values, why did 30% of the participants in my courses leave with the idea that they were going to put what they were taught into practice--and then let an entire year pass with no visible effort?

Excuses, Excuses

The answer has to do with a daydream. I have indulged in this daydream for years. In fact, you too may have had this same recurring daydream.

This daydream explains why the participants in my courses don't end up doing what they know they should. It also probably explains why you don't do many things in your life and career that you know you should.

The daydream goes like this:

"I am incredibly busy right now. In fact, I feel as busy as I have ever felt in my life. Sometimes my life feels a little out of control. But I am dealing with some very unique and special challenges right now. I think the worst of this will be over in a few months. Then I am going to take a couple of weeks to get organized, spend some time with my family, start my 'healthy life' program, and work on personal development."

One Tough Question

Have you ever had a daydream that vaguely resembles this dream? How long have you been having this same, repetitive dream? Most leaders I meet have been having it for years.

I have learned a hard lesson trying to help real people change real behavior in the real world. The 'couple of weeks' that you are fantasizing about are not going to happen. Look at the trend line. There is a good chance that tomorrow is going to be even crazier than today!

If you want to make real change, ask yourself this tough question: What am I willing to change now? Not 'in a few months.' Not 'when I get caught up.' Now.
Now, take a deep breath. Forget your glorious plans. Accept the craziness of your life. Do what you can do now. Let go of everything else. And make peace with what is.

List the 'personal improvement' activities that you have been 'planning' to do - but have not quite 'got around to' yet.

Challenge yourself on each activity.

Get started on the activity within two weeks - or take it off the list - and quit tormenting yourself.

Life is good.


Every two years there is a global survey to determine the world’s top 50 business thinkers. In 2009 Marshall's friend the late CK Prahalad was ranked #1 and Marshall was ranked #14. To participate in the 2011 Thinkers 50, visit

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