The #1 Greatest Lesson for Coaches!

By Marshall Goldsmith

The greatest lesson for any coach, outstanding or otherwise, is to overcome our own ego!

The recipe for this disastrously massive ego is simple: We have a sincere desire to help our clients and we care deeply about their development. We know a lot, have great qualifications, and believe in ourselves.

Unfortunately, these positive qualities can get in our way when it comes to helping!

The important thing to keep in mind in all of your coaching relationships (and one could might even argue in all of your relationships) is that your client’s (or friend or partner, husband or wife) dedication to change means a whole lot more than your wisdom.

Let me give you an example. Of all of my coaching clients, the client who improved the most was the client with whom I had spent the least amount of time! He was the CEO of a huge organization and managed about 50,000 people. After our coaching engagement, I said to him, “I have spent less time with you than any client that I have ever coached, yet you and your team have shown the greatest improvement. What should I learn from my experience with you and your team?”

He thoughtfully replied, “Marshall, you should realize that success with your clients isn’t all about you. It is about your clients, the people who choose to work with you.” He continued, “In an important way, my situation is the same. I manage about 50,000 people. Every day, as a leader, I tell myself, ‘The success of our organization is not about me. It is about them-the great people who are working with me!’”

This remarkable leader is Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford, who was recently named #3 on Fortune’s list of the 50 greatest leaders in the world. Alan taught me a powerful lesson. That the difference in my clients’ improvements wasn’t about me, it was about them. The difference was about their dedication to achieving positive, lasting change, it was not due to my great insights or wisdom.

In spite of understanding the theory of ‘make it all about them, not you,’ I can still let my own ego get in the way of my work.

For example, I am sometimes honored by wonderful organizations and this makes me feel good! I love what I do, and when I am appreciated for it I feel great! Sometimes I cannot believe how lucky I am.

Although it is good to be thankful and grateful about our own lives, it is not always good to assume that our blessings are the major topic of interest for the rest of the world!

Some time back, after I received an award, I was interviewing the team members of a client executive that I was going to coach. I really loved the company and was looking forward to working with the executive. As I introduced myself to each team member during our one-on-one sessions, I was so enthusiastic about myself, the great honor I’d received, and my wonderful life that I forgot why I was there! The person who had hired me called to send her regrets, noting that the team thought I seemed to be more interested in myself than I was in them. To put it bluntly, I was fired!

I should have been fired. I was breaking rule #1 of coaching. I was making it about me, not about them. And, that’s the lesson for today: The next time you start feeling ‘smart,’ ‘qualified,’ or ‘wise,’ remember this warning: Coaching is about them, it’s not about you!

In this 4-part series of interviews with Alex Pascal, CEO of CoachLogix, Marshall shares his executive coaching knowledge and expertise.