Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In Tough Times, Young Workers Need to Toughen Up

The advice I have to give to young people from the West who are just entering the workforce is simple. In this new era of uncertainty, we all need to think like entrepreneurs. But first, let's start with a dose of reality:

- It is tough out there, and it's only going to get tougher.

- Forget about security.

- Like it or not, even if you start out with a large corporation, you need to think like an entrepreneur.

- Make peace with this reality, and your life is going to be a lot better.
We in the West are just beginning to understand what globalization really means. It means that people across the planet are: competing to buy our products; producing products that we can buy for less money; and competing for our jobs. We are just beginning to understand the impact of a world competing for food, oil, cement, wood, and natural resources.

As millions of hard-working young people graduate from colleges around the world, many of them not only speak fluent English, they have no expectations of anyone "giving" them anything. They expect to make it through their own motivation and ability.

The old lament, "When I was young, things were tougher," is, in my opinion, no longer accurate. I say: "When I was young, things were easier!"

As a UCLA PhD student, I had what were considered extremely high GMAT scores and a mediocre work ethic. Today, in the same program, my GMAT scores would be considered average, and with the work ethic I had then, I would never have graduated. Here's an interesting definition of global competition: when your classmates at the top engineering and science programs speak English as fluently as you do, and it is their second language!

Some may complain that the new world isn't fair; I believe it is much fairer today than ever before. Yesterday, if you were born in the U.S. (especially if you were a white male), the cards were all stacked in your favor. Tomorrow, millions of people from around the world will be getting the chance their parents never had.

Young people in the West need to learn the meaning of one word that all successful entrepreneurs know well: compete.

Take nothing for granted in this era of uncertainty. Develop skills and talents that will make you globally competitive. Keep upgrading and changing your skills and talents to fit the needs of an ever-changing marketplace. You will be expected to know more and work harder, and you will be expected to keep learning in your increasingly precious spare time.

Finally, the marketplace for the "fun" and "meaningful" jobs will be ridiculously competitive. I am not saying that you should forget about becoming a writer, actor, comedian, athlete, or CEO coach. I am suggesting that you calculate your probability of success in these glamour fields. Realize that many great actors and actresses still wait tables at age 50.

A few final points:

- Forget about taking a year off.

- Don't spend your adult years "finding yourself."

- Unless you are rich, don't buy the flat-screen TV. When you are poor, live life as a poor person; don't try to live like a rich person.

- And, like any great entrepreneur, invest your time and money in your future.

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, March 22, 2011

Win-Win Interactions

A few years ago a CEO hired me to coach his COO, a talented man who was also stubborn and opinionated. The first time I met with him to go through his direct reports' feedback, his reaction was, 'But Marshall, I don't do that.'

'That one is free,' I said. 'Next time I hear 'no,' 'but,' or 'however,' it will cost you $20.'

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

'That's $20!'

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

'That's $40!' Within one hour, he was out $420. It took another two hours before he finally understood and said, 'Thank you.' When you start a sentence with 'no,'


'however,' or any variation, no matter how friendly your tone or how many cute mollifying phrases you throw in to acknowledge the other person's feelings, the message to the other person is: You are wrong. It's not, 'I have a different opinion.' It's not, 'I disagree with you.' It's bluntly and unequivocally, 'What you're saying is wrong, and what I'm saying is right.' Nothing productive can happen after that. The general response from the other person is to dispute your position and push back. From there, the conversation dissolves into a pointless war.

You're no longer communicating; you're both trying to win.

Keep a Scorecard

There aren't many cheap, surefire, guaranteed accurate peeks into the competitive makeup of your colleagues or friends, but try this one. For one week monitor your coworkers' use of 'no,' 'but,' and 'however'; keep a scorecard of how many times each individual uses these words to start a sentence.

If you drill a little deeper, patterns will emerge. You'll see how people inflict these words on others to gain or consolidate power. You'll also see how intensely people resent it, consciously or not, and how it stifles rather than opens up discussion.

Without even thinking, I keep count of my clients' usage of these words. It's such an important indicator that I do it on autopilot. I'll often interrupt a client in an initial meeting to say, 'We've been talking for 40 minutes. Do you realize that in that time you have started 17 responses with either no, but or however?' The client is never aware of it. That's the moment a serious talk about changing behavior begins.

If this is a challenge for you, you can do this for yourself just as easily as I do it for my clients. Stop trying to defend your position and start monitoring how many times you begin remarks with 'no,' 'but,' or 'however.' Pay extraclose attention to those moments when you use these words in sentences whose ostensible purpose is agreement with the other party. For example, 'That's true, however . . .' (Meaning: you don't think it's true at all.) Or the opener, 'Yes, but . . .' (Meaning: prepare to be contradicted.) As in almost any one of my exercises designed to stop annoying behavior, it's easy to monetize the solution. Do what I did with the COO. Ask a friend or colleague to charge you money every time you say 'no,'

'but,' or 'however.' Once you appreciate how guilty you have been, maybe then you will begin to change your ways. Remember the COO's $420 meeting? That's an example of how pervasive the urge to be right can be.

'No,' 'but,' and 'however' creep into your conversations even when the discussion is trivial, even when you should be cultivating win/win interactions . . . and even when it costs you significant money.

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, March 15, 2011

Better Coaching

In my work with leaders, I find that one common complaint of direct reports is that their leaders do a poor job of coaching. Yes, executives tend to be poor coaches.

They often neglect to schedule coaching time, and some leaders fear that coaching will come across as negative, alienating direct reports.

I suggest that you use an effective, time-efficient, six-question coaching process. Schedule a one-on-one, 30- minute dialogue with each direct report once a quarter. You and they 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 you can--and not try to prove the other person is wrong.

1. Where are we going? The first question deals with the big picture. You outline the larger organization's direction, vision, goals and priorities, and then ask direct reports where they think the organization should be going. This question builds alignment and commitment to the vision.

2. Where are you going? This question surfaces the direct reports' vision, goals, and priorities. Executives share their views as well. By the end of this discussion, the vision, goals and priorities of the direct reports should be aligned with the executive's vision, and the goals and priorities of executives and direct reports should be aligned.

3. What is going well? Great coaches provide positive recognition for achievement. Assess what the direct reports and their teams are doing well, and ask, 'What do you think that you and your team are doing well?' Direct reports may feel under-appreciated because you don't recognize their achievements.

In many cases, you would recognize these achievements if you knew what they were! By asking this question, you can celebrate performance wins that you may otherwise miss.

4. What are key suggestions for improvement? Here leaders begin by giving direct reports constructive suggestions for the future. These suggestions should be limited to key opportunities for improvement. 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 said. Executives should come across as trying to help. Next, executives should ask, 'If you were your own coach, what suggestions would you have for yourself?' Then modify the areas of focus and attention as needed.

5. How can I help? After asking this question, listen to the suggestions! You can also participate in the dialogue by suggesting approaches and then asking, 'Do you feel this approach will help you become more effective?' The key to helping others improve is not to do more coaching, but to provide coaching to the right people on the right topics.

By asking this question, you can make more effective use of your time.

6. What suggestions do you have for me? This question changes the dynamics of the coaching process from a one-way monologue that focuses on, 'Let me tell you what you can do to improve' to a two-way dialogue: 'Let's try to help each other.' Your reports are more willing to be coached by you if you are willing to be coached by them! In fact, by asking for suggestions, focusing on improving one or two key behaviors, and following up quarterly, you will be seen as dramatically increasing your leadership effectiveness.

Arrange for follow-up between sessions. At the end of each session, you might say, 'I'll have a dialogue with you once each quarter. I'll cover what I think is most important and get your suggestions on what you think is most important. Please contact me at any time you need my help. I can't promise I'll be immediately available, but I promise to make your request a top priority.' Great coaching happens within an agreement of mutual responsibility.

Use this six-question approach to become a more effective coach. Cover the most important topics regularly, and be available for each other for special situations. Few people need or want more coaching than this. This process provides you with a simple discipline to give people what they need, and receive what you need, in a way that respects your time and theirs.

Pay for Results
As an executive coach, I have a unique compensation system--I only get paid if my clients get better, meaning they achieve positive, measurable change in behavior, as judged by their key stakeholders. This process usually takes about 18 months and involves an average of 16 stakeholders.

I learned this 'pay for results' idea from Dennis Mudd, my boss 43 years ago. Growing up in Valley Station, Kentucky, my family was poor. Dad operated a small gas station. The old roof on our home had started to leak, so Dad hired Dennis Mudd to put on a new roof. To save some money, I worked as his assistant. Putting on a roof in mid-summer in Kentucky is no fun. I've never done any job (before or since) that required such physical exertion.

I was amazed at the care Mudd put into the laying of the shingles. He was patient with me as I made mistakes and helped me learn how to do the job right.

When Mudd presented my Dad with the invoice, he said, 'Bill, please take your time and inspect our work. If you feel this roof meets your standards, pay us. If not, there's no charge.' Dad carefully looked at the roof, thanked us for a job well-done, and paid Mudd, who then paid me.

I'll never forget this event. The Mudd family didn't have any more money that we did. I thought, 'Mr. Mudd may be poor, but he is a class act.' How much would not getting paid have hurt Mudd? A lot. Not paying him would have meant that his family would not be eating well for the next two months. This sacrifice didn't matter, though. His pride and integrity were more important than money.

Mudd never gave pep talks about quality or service. He didn't use any fancy buzzwords. He didn't have to-- his actions communicated his values.

The next time you are working on a project, ask yourself, 'What would happen to my commitment and behavior, if I knew that I was only going to be paid if I achieved results?' Although I've received many honors for my work, I'll never match the dedication to quality and integrity of Mr. Mudd. For the record, I have not been paid on a few assignments, and I've never asked for money I felt was undeserved. At the time, this caused me some pain and embarrassment, but I knew I'd still have a prosperous life.

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, March 08, 2011

Person in the Mirror

Can you see in yourself what others see in you, or do you see in others what you don't see in yourself?

As a Ph.D. student at UCLA in the 70s, I had a self-image of being 'hip.' I believed I was involved in discovering deeper human understanding, selfactualization, and profound wisdom.

Early in my Ph.D. program, I was a student in a class with 12 other people led by a wise teacher, Dr. Bob Tannenbaum. Bob had invented 'sensitivity training', published a popular article in the Harvard Business Review, and was a full professor.

In Bob's class, we could discuss anything we wanted. I started talking about people in Los Angeles. For three weeks, I did a monologue about how 'screwed up' people in Los Angeles were. 'They wear sequined blue jeans; they drive gold Rolls Royces; they are plastic and materialistic; all they care about is impressing others; they don't understand what is important in life.' (It was easy for me to be an expert on LA, since I grew up in small town Kentucky.) After listening to me babble for three weeks, Bob looked at me quizzically and asked, 'Who are you talking to?'

'I'm speaking to the group,' I said.

'Who in the group are you talking to?'

'I'm talking to everybody,' I said, not knowing where he was headed.

'When you speak, you look at only one person and address your comments toward only one person. You seem interested in the opinion of only one person. Who is that person?'

'That is interesting,' I replied. After careful consideration, I said, 'You?' He said, 'That's right, me. There are 12 other people in this room. Why don't you seem interested in any of them?' Now that I'd dug myself into a hole, I decided to dig faster. I said, 'Dr. Tannenbaum, you understand the significance of what I am saying. You know how 'screwed-up' it is to try to run around and impress people all the time. You have a deeper understanding of what is really important in life.'

Bob then asked me, 'Marshall, is there any chance that for the last three weeks all you've tried to do is impress me?' I was amazed at Bob's lack of insight! 'Not at all!' I declared. 'You haven't understood one thing I've said! I've told you how screwed up it is to try to impress other people. You've missed my point, and I'm disappointed in your lack of understanding!' He scratched his beard and concluded, 'No. I think I understand.' I looked around and saw 12 people thinking, 'Yes. We understand.' For six months, I disliked Dr. Tannenbaum.

I devoted much energy into figuring out his psychological problems and knowing why he was confused. Then it dawned on me that the person with the issue about impressing other people wasn't him, or people in LA. The person with the issue was me. I looked in the mirror and said, 'Dr. Tannenbaum was right.'

Two Lessons
I learned two big lessons: 1. It's easier to see our problems in others than to see them in ourselves. Often when I become self-righteous or angry about some perceived injustice, I realize that the deeper issue is often not with them but in me.

2. Although we may deny our problems to ourselves, they may be obvious to the people who observe us. There is often a discrepancy between the self we think we are and the self that the rest of the world sees in us. If we can listen and think about what others see in us, we can compare the self that we want to be with the self that we are presenting and begin to make the real changes that are needed to align our stated values with our actual behavior.

Today I help executives develop a profile of desired leadership behavior.

Then I provide them with confidential feedback that enables them to compare their behavior (as perceived by others) with this profile of desired behavior. I help them deal with this feedback in a positive way, learn from it, and become a better role model for the desired leadership behavior. The lesson I learned from Bob shaped the course of my life.

What really bothers you? Might some of your concerns be a reflection of your problems? How can honest feedback from others help you align 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, March 01, 2011

People Skills

The reason I devote so much energy to identifying interpersonal challenges in successful people is because the higher you go, the more your problems are behavioral.

At the higher levels, all the leading players are technically skilled, smart, and up-to-date on the technical aspects of their job. You don't get to be the CFO without knowing how to count, how to read a balance sheet, and how to handle money prudently.

Behavioral issues become so important in upper management. All other things being equal, your people skills (or lack of them) become more pronounced the higher up you go. In fact, even when all other things are not equal, your people skills often make the difference in how high you go.

Who would you rather have as a CFO? A moderately good accountant who is great with people outside the firm and skilled at managing smart people? Or a brilliant accountant who's inept with outsiders and alienates all the smart people under him? Not a tough choice. The candidate with superb people skills will win out every time, largely because he will hire people smarter than he is about money and be able to lead them.

There's no guarantee the brilliant accountant can do that in the future.

Think about how we perceive other successful people. We rarely associate their success with technical skill or brainpower. Maybe we say, 'They're smart,' but that's not the sole factor we attribute to their success. We believe they're smart and something else, and we give them the benefit of the doubt on skill. We assume, for example, that our doctor knows medicine, so we judge him on 'bedside manner'--how he tolerates our questions, maybe even how he apologizes for keeping us waiting too long. None of this is taught in medical school.

We apply these behavioral criteria to almost any successful person-- whether it's a CEO or a plumber. As we become more successful, the attributes on our resume recede into the background, and more subtle attributes come to the fore. Jack Welch has a Ph.D. in engineering, but I doubt if any problems he encountered in his last 30 years at General Electric were even remotely related to these skills.

When he was vying for the CEO job, the issues holding him back were strictly behavioral--his brashness, his blunt language, his unwillingness to suffer fools. General Electric's board of directors didn't worry about his ability to generate profits. They wanted to know if he could behave as a CEO.

When people ask me if the leaders I coach can change their behavior, my answer is this: As we advance, behavioral changes are often the only significant changes we can make.

Winning Too Much? One big issue of successful leaders is winning too much. If it's important, we want to win. If it's meaningful, we want to win. If it's trivial, we want to win. If it's not worth it, we still want to win. Why? We like winning.

There's a fine line between being competitive and overly competitive, between winning when it counts and when no one's counting--and successful people cross that line with alarming frequency. I'm not disparaging competitiveness. But it's a problem when we deploy it at the service of objectives that are not worth the effort.

Winning too much underlies nearly every other behavioral problem. If we argue too much, it's because we want our view to prevail (we want to win).

If we're guilty of putting down other people, it's our stealthy way of positioning them beneath us (again, winning).

If we ignore people, again it's about winning--by making them fade away. If we withhold information, it's to give ourselves an edge over others.

If we play favorites, it's to win over allies and give 'our side' an advantage.

So many things we do that annoy people stem from needlessly trying to be the alpha male or female in any situation ... in other words, the winner.

If you've achieved any success, you're guilty of this every day. When you're in a meeting at work, you want your opinion to prevail. When you're arguing your point, you pull out all the stops to come out on top.

Suppose you want to go to dinner at restaurant X. Your spouse, partner, or friend wants to go to restaurant Y.

You have a heated debate. You end up going to restaurant Y. The experience confirms your misgivings. Your reservation is lost, and you have to wait.

The service is slow, the drinks weak, and the food bad. You have two options: A: critique the restaurant and smugly point out to your partner that you were right. B: Shut up, eat the food, and enjoy the evening.

When I ask people: 'What should you do, and what would you do?' the results are consistent: 75 percent say they would critique the restaurant. Yet they agree they should just shut up and have a good time. If we do a 'cost benefit analysis,' we conclude that our relationship with our partner or friend is far more important than winning an argument about where to eat. And yet, the urge to win trumps our common sense. We do the wrong thing, even when we know what we should do.

A few years ago, I offered my coaching services free to one of the U.S. Army's top generals. He asked, 'Who would be your ideal client?' I told him, 'I'd like to work with someone who is smart, dedicated, hard-working, driven to achieve, patriotic, competitive, arrogant, stubborn, opinionated know-it-all. Do you think you could find me one?' He replied, 'Marshall, we have a target-rich environment.' I trained many generals that year.

If the need to win is the dominant gene in your 'success DNA'--the main reason you're successful--then winning too much is a genetic mutation that can limit your success.

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