Article: My job is to make successful leaders even better

Performance Management

My job is to make successful leaders even better

In a conversation with Abhijit Bhaduri, globally renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith talks about leadership
My job is to make successful leaders even better

We are hesitant to measure things that can threaten leaders. Most executive coaches don’t get paid for results. They get paid by clients to love them


Q. What is the most common development gap that you have noticed in the CEOs and leaders you coach?

A. In my book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”, I wrote about how you should not let what made you successful in the past blind you to what you will need in the future. We all have a tendency to repeat behavior that is affirmed by positive reinforcement. Nobody gets more positive reinforcement than a CEO. So, they replicate the same behavior even when the world changes. My area of expertise lies in creating the process that helps people change behavior.

Q. What do you see as the next big thing in behavioral sciences?

A. I would like to see how to help people make positive long-term changes in behavior. Most of the leadership development is based on concepts. A common misbelief that people have is that, I will do something if I understand it. The challenge is to practice our understanding of leadership. Long term behavior change does not happen because we are hesitant to measure things that can threaten leaders. Most executive coaches don’t get paid for results. They get paid by clients to love them.

Q. What is the secret of your prolific writing?

A. We can’t dictate when we will be creative. Creativity takes time. Therefore, I have set aside long stretches of time to think and to write. I have tried to eliminate things that I like to do (like teaching) that come in the way of writing. The key to prolific writing is not to be mentally tired. I am very good at writing fast. What takes time for me is coming up with concepts. That is where coaching helps. Coaching is where I learn everything that goes into a book. My older books were built on Buddhist philosophy. My next book is based on Hindu philosophy and a bit of Buddhist philosophy. It is called Triggers. My basic attitude to life is that we are all going to be equally dead. If I can help people, why shouldn’t I? A lot of concepts of intellectual property are nonsense as everybody builds on the work of someone else.

Q. Who do you learn from?

A. I was blessed to have many wonderful mentors. One of my mentors was Dr Paul Hersey who developed Situational Leadership. Another mentor was Peter Drucker. And then of course there is Alan Mullaly, the CEO of Ford Motor Company. In theory, I was his coach. I have probably learned 10 times more from him than he has from me.

Q. Should organizations put people into roles based on strengths or should they use assignments to develop them in areas that are relatively weaker?

A. The people I coach are already leaders. You can argue on whether they should or should not be in those roles; but they are already there. My job is to take people who are already successful leaders and make them better. At the level of the “occupation”, one should build on strengths. Within the occupation, focus on fixing the developmental areas. For instance, someone who is a great engineer but with zero interest in people should not be put in a leadership role. Or for that matter, take Tiger Woods. At the level of the occupation, he is a golfer and not a comedian. But as a golfer, he will have opportunities to improve. For example, he cannot only hit drives, he also has to putt equally well. Without that, he would not be able to make the Pro circuit. Within the level of the occupation, one should develop on what they do not do well.

Q. Feedback helps people grow. So why do we resist hearing things we need to work on?

A. I use “feed forward” and not feedback. That way you can cover 80 per cent of what you would cover in feedback and it is less threatening. In feed forward, the leader learns to ask for information. Listen to people’s suggestions about what to do differently in future, thank them, never promise to do everything, listen to them and don’t punish the messenger. Giving your boss feedback is not a career enhancing strategy and it doesn’t matter what the theory is. In feed forward, you can cover the same aspects in a far less threatening way. In my coaching, all the feedback is confidential, what is not confidential is the feed forward.

Q. Should feedback be given in a spontaneous manner or in a structured manner?

A. I think it could be either way. I teach something called the Six Question Process. The six questions to ask are:

  1. Where are we going as a team? What are the priorities and issues?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. What is the person doing well?
  4. Ask the person, what they think they are doing well.
  5. Ideas for improvement - what can I do to help?
  6. What ideas do you have for me?

If in between the employee feels confused, or they don’t know what they are doing, then they have the responsibility to talk to their manager. These six questions have to form the basis of an ongoing dialogue and it is a structured process.

Q. Why do organizations struggle with making coaching and mentoring as part of their culture?

A. The programs are imposed from the top down. People don’t have personal ownership for it. Those programs fizzle out over time. Typically, these programs also lack structure. In most mentoring programs, some high level executive takes some young person out for lunch, tells him/her about everything they have done right and the young person pretends to care. That is passed for mentoring. It is very hard to change the behavior of someone who has no interest in changing. Once you work with people who volunteer to do so, give them some kind of structure that they can use to monitor.

Q. Do people have to choose between being happy or being successful?

A. In order to be successful, one needs happiness and meaning. Happiness is correlated with success, but there isn’t a 1:1 correlation. If what you do leads to short-term happiness but is not meaningful in the long run, then you will have too much hollowness in your life. If you do what is meaningful and do not enjoy the process of doing it, you feel like a martyr. You have to do two things at the same time to be successful. Enjoy the process, so it makes me happy. Simultaneously, do something that is meaningful.

Q. How can leaders craft happy organizations?

A. I am doing some new research on employee engagement that is based on Hindu philosophy. It is called Triggers. I ask people six questions every day: Did I do my best today to set clear goals? Did I do my best to make progress towards achieving my goals? Did I do my best to be happy? Did I do my best to find meaning? Did I do my best to build positive relationships? Did I do my best to be fully engaged? This forms the basis of my next book.

When people do this every day, they learn to challenge themselves, rather than wait for the company to make them happy and be engaged. Focus on the process and not just on the results. That is the essence of Hindu philosophy. Do your best to be where you are. Take personal responsibility for your own life, happiness and meaning. People have to take responsibility for their own happiness rather than waiting for the company to do something.

Marshall Goldsmith has been voted as one of the top thinkers of our times. He is a coach to several CEOs and has several teaching assignments. Marshall has been recognized as one of the world’s leading executive educators and a prolific author. He has more than 30 books to his credit, including “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”. In a world obsessed with copyright, here is one of the most celebrated thinkers giving away his ideas for free (see Goldsmith, a Buddhist, explains, “Buddha never charged anyone for his ideas. Why should I?”abhijit bhaduri is the Chief Learning Officer of Wipro Group

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Topics: Performance Management, Leadership, #ExpertViews

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