An open letter to Marshall Goldsmith
I am proud to be among the first of your 100 Coaches Program, one of 25 chosen out of more than 12,000 nominations and applications. The weekend our cohort spent together was not only illuminating, but generative. The ripple effects of your generosity are seen in the action-oriented communications exchanged by my fellow coaches after the gathering.
You have incredible achievements – more than what most dream of in a lifetime –from coaching the world’s top CEOs (Ford, Walmart, Best Buy, Intel, Pfizer) to authoring NY Times best-sellers and receiving BusinessWeek’s 50 Great Leaders in America honors.
However, what dazzles me are your actions. As I reflect on this weekend, I discovered that my most valuable takeaways came less from the words you shared (though those were invaluable) and more from watching you exercise 6 powers in action. These, I believe, are the secret for your success.
The Power of Friendship
We not only influence those around us, but are shaped by the company that we keep. Such is the Aristotelian ethics of friendship. You brought one of your best friends, Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford, to spend a day sharing leadership insights with us. You recruited your dearest friends, many of them are decades-long friendships, to be advisors for us. Most memorable for me among these are best-selling authors Beverly Kaye and Mark Thompson, master executive coach trainer, Frank Wagner, innovation strategist Scott Osman, and ace editor, Sarah McArthur.
Over dinner, we had the chance to share stories of our mutual great friend and personal hero, Frances Hesselbein. And you spoke of how touched you were by the generosity and kindness of your friends.
Marshall, you keep good company, indeed. But it’s clear that they all keep good company with you. You have shaped how they see themselves and their world view as much as they have shaped yours. That they all traveled to join us because they believe in you, and now, us speaks volumes. Birds of a feather do fly together!
The Power of Vulnerability in Making Others Braver
In one of the sessions, you brought yourself up as a case study. We learned that you have the discipline to hire someone to call you up each day, and for 5 minutes, read through a set of question that you had written up and listen to your answers.
Did you do your best to: Be happy? Find meaning? Be fully engaged? Build positive relationships? Set clear goals? Make progress towards goal achievement?
Why do you do this, you say? Because it is too hard and we are all too cowardly to do this by ourselves.
So you hired someone to keep you accountable.
Marshall, your story made us all braver. This open confrontation with ourselves is the key to behavioral change isn’t it? It’s not about planning to change. It’s having the courage to change, to launch the process with minute steps, however small, and be disciplined in the seemingly mundane repetition of a thoughtful process.
The Power of Simplicity
You are a mathematician and psychologist by training. There is nothing as complex as human behavior and as elegantly simple as a math equation. You have somehow managed to merge your two loves into your craft. You aim to simplify everything through paring down complexity into processes all the way to having a daily uniform – green polo shirt and a pair of khaki pants.
In my leadership work, I see the amount of time and energy consumed in making choices. Consequently, if we are not aware, willpower depletion (the decrease in our ability to make good choices as the number of decisions increases) is inevitable. We see the effects of your simplifying your decision heuristics.
Yes, this must be part of the secret sauce to how you’ve accomplished so much and helped so many.
The Power of Empowering Others
I believe that great and enduring power comes from empowering others. My wonderful friend Marty Dempsey (see 30sec video), Retired 4 Star General and 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, identified “co-creation of context” and “relinquishing control” as 2 of the 3 emerging principles of leadership. I see this in how Alan Mulally led the turnaround of Ford. I saw you demonstrate this as you gave the group the vision of the 100 Coaches and then unleashed our creative and collective potential in figuring out how that vision can be actualized. And empowered us with the tools to do so.
The Power of Community
You exercised this power by engaging this group of 25 stranger to each other in mini exercises that nudged us to meaningfully connect with one other. When I looked around the room at my fellow 24 coachees, I am wowed by their accomplishments, and smarts. What will enable us to collectively make the world a better place is our shared hearts for living lives of service. You have clearly curated for kindness and humility.
I love the Feedforward exercise where we each choose a personal behavior we want to change and then, go around the room getting advice (without judgement and without being defensive) from each other. It was a simple exercise that enabled us to share our best ideas and ask for help on our weaknesses. It helped us glimpse the human being in each of us. And as different as we all are, we are really bonded by our humanity, aren’t we? If we are to commune with each other in our share purpose, we need to connect with each other at our most generous and most vulnerable states.
The Power of Generosity
Shelly Lazarus (see 30sec video), Chairman Emeritus of Ogilvy & Mathers has talked about the importance of generosity and belief in leading. And another thought-partner, Lisa Shalett (see 30sec video) talks about that as taking the time to create generous moments where leaders “credentialize, encourage, challenge, and position people that ultimately has a ripple effect and ultimately change the way people see themselves.”
I have shared with you that my mission in life isn’t to be great. Rather, it is to enable greatness. Every launch I’ve made is in pursuit of becoming the best me to live a life of service to society. I’ve learned this from the best leaders whom I’ve had the privilege to know and work with. Every one of them think of their social, intellectual, reputational, and financial capitals as platforms to further help others.
Hence, from parenting, to convening CEO think tanks and working with students at Duke University, to writing thought-leadership pieces and developing a children’s leadership series, everything that I do is in service of that mission.
The time I spent with you has changed the way I see myself and deepened the belief in what I do. I look forward to building another powerful platform in service of helping others, by becoming the best executive coach that I can be.
I smile to think of the good that the 25 of us will do. I know the dividends to society of your investment of time and care in us are actualizing as I write.
So, thank you, Marshall, for including us in your wonderful tribe.
In the words of our dear friend, Frances Hesselbein – To serve is to live.
I can’t wait to see what we will achieve together!
With admiration and love,
Sanyin Siang is Executive Director of the Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, a LinkedIn Influencer and Forbes Leadership Contributor. She is author of The Launch Book (Summer 2017, LID Publishing).
Photos: *Marshall with Asheesh Advani, (CEO Junior Achievement Worldwide), Taavo Godtfredsen (Executive Coach & Leadership Advisor for 100 Coaches), and Carol Kauffman (Harvard medical faculty and Founder of Institute of Coaching); Gabriela Teasdale (President of Transformation Paraguay), Judith Glaser (organizational anthropologist and author of Conversational Intelligence), and me.