Did You Do Your Best Today?

Leadership Development News’ guest this week is Marshall Goldsmith. He’s a legendary coach, world renowned thinker, author and editor of over 34 books on the subject of leadership and coaching, as well of one of the most widely known motivational speakers on coaching in the industry. Marshall has been a great influence on me as a psychologist and executive coach, and I’m sure also, for thousands of you out there.

Marshall, he has been recognized, of course, as one of the World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinkers in the bi-annual Thinkers 50 Surveys, sponsored by Harvard Business Review. He is the million selling author or editor of 34 books. I have been very, very lucky to be among his authors in his books, and I thank you for that Marshall.

Marshall is one of a select few executive educators who have been asked to work with over 150 major CEOs and their management teams. He has been given the Lifetime Achievement for Excellence in Teaching award by the Institute for Management Studies, one of only two ever awarded in the history of that organization. He is a Fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources which is America’s highest HR honor, for those of you who don’t know.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg:  Marshall’s work has been recognized by almost every major publication and professional organization in the field. Just to name a few of his books for those of you who don’t know them, all of which have been best sellers and international best sellers, they include: MOJO, and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. He has some new books on the horizon, which I’m sure he will talk about, in addition to many, many books I have not listed, including one that we co-authored together a while back, called Global Leadership: Next Generation which is still the only most extensive longitudinal study on leadership in our industry.

Marshall, what are you working on right now that you can share with our audience?

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith: Well, I’m working on my next big new book. The tentative title is called: Triggers. I have good news; I’ve already been offered a million plus advance for this, so it’s got a lot of support already. The book is about our relationship with the environment. My book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, was about interpersonal relationships. My book, MOJO, was more intrapersonal, that’s the way we view ourselves in the world around us. This book, Triggers, is more about our relationship with our environment, kind of the dance that we do with our environment. I talked in the book about how we are constantly being created by our environment and creating our environment at the same time.

One school of thought is: well if you envision it, it will happen. Basically you can create anything that you want to create; which, I think, is partially true. Another school of thought, Skinnerian School, which says that you are just a subject of your environment and you are constantly being created with very little input yourself. This philosophy says, look, both of those have points. We want to create a great environment, on the other hand we can at the same time go out and create our environment. One of the things that I have been experimenting with is employee engagement. Almost 100% of everything written on employee engagement is, “what can the company do to engage you.” There is very little about what you can do to engage yourself.

We have been doing some interesting research to teach people to focus on their own engagement and the results have been amazing. Cathy, you will appreciate this, I’m doing this research with my daughter, Kelly. Kelly graduated with her Ph.D. from Yale in behavioral marketing, and now she is a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School at NorthWestern.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Outstanding!

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith: Yah, she and I have been doing research, too.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I think the audience might like to know that Kelly was once on Survivor.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith: Yes, she was on Survivor #3, she worked with Mark Burnett two years before she went out got her Ph.D. at Yale.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: So, you are doing this research with her for the new book?

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith: Yes, for the new book. So far the results have been amazing. I’ll tell your listeners the six questions that we have been using in our research every day. Every question starts with, “did I do my best to…?” Definitely say you did a good job, it just says, “did you do your best to..?”

And the six are:

  • Be happy, which you can appreciate.
  • Kind meaning.
  • Build positive relationships.
  • Set clear goals.
  • Make progress towards goal achievement.
  • Easily engaged.

Did I do my best to do those six things? People then, just evaluate themselves every day. Instead of saying, “is the company motivating me?” “Am I doing my best to be happy? Am I doing my best to find meaning, rather than waiting for meaning?” “Am I doing my best, rather than saying is someone setting goals for me.” Rather than saying, “do I have a friend at work?” “Am I doing my best to build positive relationships, and setting clear goals, and making progress towards goals?”

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I love it.

Dr. Relly Nadler: You were talking about looking at your environment and the six questions, and that you are doing this with your daughter, Kelly, which has got to be really, really exciting, tell us a little bit about how you have gone about this research. It sounds like we have these six questions; can you tell us about sample size, and then when is this going to be out so that we can get people excited about it?

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith:  Well, it will be published next year with the book. In terms of sample size, so far we have done 41 studies, 1,710 people. We asked people to just answer these questions, and we give them a challenge every day; “did you do your best to…?” Then, two weeks later, we asked if they had become happier, is your life more meaningful, etc. What we found is, so far, 30% of the people said, “I got better at everything.” All six items go up. 59% said 4-6 went up, 86% said something got better, 14% said no change, and nobody got worse at anything.

Now when I say nobody, 0.2% or something, doesn’t round up to 1%. So basically, the downside on this seems to be very close to nothing.

Dr. Relly Nadler: What is so great about this, Cathy and I know, just about the brain neuroscience, it’s all about attention and focus. Simply how do you change your brain’s attention and focus? So you are having them attend to these six questions, and every day they do that? Do they write it up, or email, or how do they do that?

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith: Just an email every day, and then fill it out. Very simple.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You know, this is so fascinating, Marshall, because if you think about the kind of experience that someone wants to have with a coach, you would think that these are some of the components, right, that they would include in their life aspirations. What do you think about that?

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith: Well, I have been using this active question process, and this is called the process of actives as opposed to passive questions, I have been using this now much more in my coaching. With my coaching clients for example, if someone wants to work on “treating people with respect”, then one of their daily questions is: “did I do my best today to treat people with respect?” As Relly said, Cathy, this keeps everything in your head, day after day, after day, after day. I was partly inspired by a book called, “The Checklist Manifesto,” Dr. Atul Gawande, at Harvard. He talks about the importance of a checklist. Keeping out attention focused where it should be. I have been doing this with my clients. It’s interesting, number 1, it works. I have been doing the daily question now myself for 3 or 4 years. It’s hard to do though. The reason it’s hard to do is that it is painful. It’s painful to look in the mirror every day. It’s painful to look in the mirror and realize how many mistakes we make day after day after day after day. It’s hard on the old ego.

Join us as we talk with Marshall about leadership and the six questions to ask yourself every day. Listed to the complete interview without commercials, above.


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