Be Happy

Leadership Excellence

by Marshall Goldsmith

Once during an executive development session with a group of investment bankers, I was describing the process of helping successful leaders achieve a positive, long-term change in behavior. One banker asked, “How will this stuff help us make more money?”

I replied, “This process will help you make more money, but that is not what is most important.”

I then got up the nerve to say, “My mission is to help you and the people around you have a happier life.” I looked at the faces of the executives, expecting some kind of challenge. Then I asked, “Does anyone have any objection to this mission?” No one objected. So far, no one has ever objected.

My clients come to me with one common desire — to improve in changing their most important behavior as judged by the most important people around them. My approach is not centered on helping my clients get more power, status, or money. Instead, my passion is to make them happier and better human beings. The rest naturally follows.

My clients are smart, high-achieving executives, but they may become so focused on their work that they miss the impact of their behavior on others.

I spend as much time coaching the people around my clients as I spend with my clients. In this way I bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people.

As I see it, anyone can change. If you want to change and are willing to work on the process, you can always get better.

However, you need to devote the time needed to make it stick. I only take on clients who dedicate at least a year to the coaching process, who have the courage to admit they want to improve and the humility to ask their colleagues for help.

One of my first tasks is to determine the key stakeholders that impact my clients’ lives. I only get paid after people get better. And “better” is not determined by me or my client — but by the key people around my client.

Before starting the coaching process, I request four things from these people: First they must let go of the past. Whatever real or imagined sins this person has committed in the past, I can’t fix and they can’t fix, and if you consistently dredge up the past you will only inhibit the person’s ability to change.

Next I request that they swear to tell the truth about my client and adopt an attitude of help and support.

Finally I request that each of the supportive people pick behaviors that they want to improve in their lives. This establishes a culture of reciprocity and creates a positive feedback loop between my client and the key people surrounding him. The culture shifts from blame to mutual support.

The next step is to work with clients and their managers to establish clear goals for changing behavior, swapping negative behaviors for positive ones. They then begin a disciplined process of ongoing feedback with key stakeholders. This process helps clients build a network of positive relationships and achieve their goals as judged by people around them.

I also work on changing my own behavior. Once I was in a plane when the pilot announced that the landing gear would not engage. I asked myself if I felt regret about anything. I realized that over the years I had received many kindnesses which went unacknowledged. Today I write around 2,000 thank-you notes a year. A key to happiness is feeling and expressing gratitude. Life is good. PE

ACTION: Choose to be happier.