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