Excuses, Excuses

Huffington Post

December 16, 2010

by Marshall Goldsmith

I am probably the only executive educator that you have ever heard of who actually measures if the participants in my leadership development courses do what I teach — and then measures if they are seen as becoming more effective leaders.

At the end of my sessions, I ask leaders (who have received 360-degree feedback) to follow up with their co-workers and ask for ongoing ideas about how they can continue to become more effective. A year later about 70% end up doing some version of this recommended follow-up (not as reported by them, but as reported by their co-workers). About 30% do absolutely nothing.

I am not ashamed of these numbers. I am proud of these numbers! I have good news — the 70% that do their follow-up are seen as becoming better leaders. I have even better news — the 30% that do nothing don’t get any worse!

Dropping the Ball

When one of my clients — which also happens to be one of the world’s most respected companies — asked the participants in my course if they were planning to do the follow-up that I suggested, 98% of them said yes. But of course, just as at most companies, 30% of the people at this company ended up doing nothing.

I had a chance to interview many of the “do-nothings” a year later to try to ascertain why they had completely dropped the ball on their follow-up commitment. Their answers had nothing to do with integrity, ethics, or values. The “do-nothings” were good people with good values. They generally felt bad about doing no follow-up with their co-workers. Their answers had nothing to do with intelligence. The “do-nothings” were smart people. From all indications they were as smart as the people who met their commitment to follow up.

So, why did 30% of the participants in my courses leave with the idea that they were going to put what they were taught into practice — and then let an entire year pass with no visible effort?

Excuses, Excuses

The answer has to do with a daydream. I have indulged in this daydream for years on a recurring basis. I don’t know you, but I am willing to bet that you have had this same daydream. In fact, like me, you may have had this same stupid daydream for years.

This daydream explains why the participants in my courses don’t end up doing what they know they should. It also probably explains why you don’t do many things in you own life and career that you know you should.

I know what you are probably thinking right now. This guy doesn’t know my daydreams! What is he talking about?

Let’s see how accurate I am in my guess that this is your daydream.

The daydream goes something like this:

You know I am incredibly busy right now. In fact, given the pressures of work, home, and new technology (which follows me around everywhere), I feel as busy as I have ever felt in my life. Sometimes my life feels a little out of control. But I am dealing with some very unique and special challenges right now. I think that the worst of this will be over in five or six months. After that I am going to take a couple of weeks to get organized, then spend some time with my family, start my ‘healthy life’ program, and begin working on personal development. And it won’t be crazy anymore!

Tough Questions

Have you ever had a daydream that vaguely resembles this? How long have you been having this same idiotic daydream? Most leaders that I meet have been having it for years.

Here is my free coaching for you. I have learned a hard lesson trying to help real people change real behavior in the real world. The “couple of weeks” that you are fantasizing about are not going to happen. Sanity is not going to prevail. Look at the trend line. There is a good chance that tomorrow is going to be even crazier than today!

If you want to make real change, ask yourself this tough question: What am I willing to change now? Not “in a few months.” Not “when I get caught up.” Now.

Just do that.

Now I have even tougher advice. Take a deep breath. Forget the rest of your glorious plans. Accept the craziness of your life. Do what you can do now. Let go of everything else. And make peace with what is.