Executive Coaching Articles

Interview with Executive Coach Marshall Goldsmith

Joel’s coaching has delivered realistic and immediate results that have impacted my company’s bottom line. He has a unique ability to quickly cut through personal clutter and focus on root challenges that lead to professional growth. My increased ability to direct and lead people has amplified the respect, influence, and working relationships I have with others.

Andrew Peters, Manager, Enterprise Marketing,Cisco Systems
Recently I had the honor to speak with and interview a living legend in the coaching profession.

His name is Marshall Goldsmith, one of the most successful executive coaches in the country. In fact, the American Management Association recently named Dr. Goldsmith as one of the 50 great thinkers and leaders who have influenced the field of management over the past 80 years.

An author of 23 books on leadership, coaching and executive development, Marshall has worked with more than 80 major CEOs and their management teams.

Joel Garfinkle: How do you develop yourself and continue to grow?

Marshall Goldsmith: I do three things — teaching, coaching and writing. Teaching is what I enjoy the most. However, coaching is where I learn the most. My whole job of coaching is learning. I work with incredibly brilliant people who are trying hard to get better and this helps me see how hard it is. The problems they face and the challenges they face. I look at this as continuing learning because every day I learn something.

Joel Garfinkle: Can you talk about how ego can get in the way of effective coaching?

Marshall Goldsmith: That’s the biggest problem for coaches — getting out of our own ego. I think deep down inside we want people to get better so we can look in the mirror and feel good about ourselves. Most of the literature on coaching is very wrong. It implies that clients improved because coaches did this or that or the other. I haven’t found that to be true at all. Clients get better largely because of themselves. I wrote an article, “Don’t Make It About the Coach.” The worst thing we can do as coaches is try to make it about the success and failure of the product or the success and failure of what we do (as coaches) or the message about our own wonderfulness. It’s really about the great client who works hard to get better.

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Joel Garfinkle: Is there a specific type of person who is able to change compared to someone who cannot?

Marshall Goldsmith: In my case it needs to be a person who wants to change and is willing to try, who is going to put the time and commitment to get better, who is willing to apologize for mistakes, who is willing to follow-up, who is given a fair chance and whose issues are behavioral. If those conditions exist than what I do always works. If those conditions do not exist, what I do never works.

Joel Garfinkle: If one of my clients had two minutes with you, what questions should they ask?

Marshall Goldsmith: They could ask, “How can I achieve a positive, long term change in behavior?”

Joel Garfinkle: How would you respond?

Marshall Goldsmith: Find out who are the people you respect, who are the key stakeholders and you ask them for imput. You should listen to what they have to say, pick something important to improve and agree with management that you picked the right thing and the right people. Than apologize for all of your sins, involve them and follow-up on a rigorous basis.

Joel Garfinkle: How does the critical, self-sabotaging internal voice (the voice of self-doubt or lack of believing) limit your clients?

Marshall Goldsmith: My clients don’t have lots of self-doubt. By the time I get to talk with them, they have plenty of confidence. I never met a CEO who lacked self-confidence. On the other hand, they limit themselves through personal stereotyping.

Joel Garfinkle: What do you mean?

Marshall Goldsmith: They think, “This is the way I am.” The problem is the more successful you become the more positive reinforcement you get. You engage in the behavior, positive reinforcement follows and you assume that the reinforcement must be associated with the behavior. Sometimes the reinforcement is totally disassociated from the behavior, but we don’t think that way.

Joel Garfinkle: How do you work on being happy regardless of circumstances? I know it’s so hard to be effective when things don’t go the way we expect or our expectations are not met.

Marshall Goldsmith: It’s about finding happiness and contentment now. Never be happy with more or never be happy with less. What you have is what you have. You can only find happiness now.

Joel Garfinkle: Anything else you want to share with my newsletter readers and clients?

Marshall Goldsmith: Take a deep breath and imagine you are 95 years old and ready to die. The 95 year old you understood what was really important and what wasn’t, what mattered and what didn’t. What advice would this wise “old you” have for the “you” who is reading this interview? Ask two questions of this 95 year old: (1) What professional advice would you have for me? (2) What personal advice do you have for me? Whatever pops inside your head, just do that.