The Notion of 100 Coaches

By Marshall Goldsmith

Over the years, I’ve had many insights into teaching and coaching. I have incorporated seven particular concepts and activities into my coaching: 

  • the referent group
  • the notion of feedforward
  • stakeholder-centered coaching
  • the business plan review
  • the “what’s next” weekend
  • daily questions
  • building a coaches community (called 100 coaches)

Here, I’d like to concentrate on 100 Coaches

Placing yourself in a community is the most recent structural element I’ve taken to heart—and also the one that unlocked the “earning your life” puzzle for me. 

When the industrial designer and writer, Ayse Birsel, asked me to name my heroes, she made me aspire to something I could not have anticipated. 

Saying out loud that Buddha was my hero got the ball rolling. One of the interesting things about Buddha is that he lived three millennia ago and left no written record of his teachings, and yet an estimated 560 million people in the world practice Buddhism. How did that happen? The answer: Buddha gave away all he knew, and the recipients of his gift spread the word. 

In my own tiny way, I could do the same. The idea came to me on my daily walk in May 2016. 

The moment I returned home from the walk, I grabbed my phone and impulsively made a thirty-second video selfie in my backyard offering to teach all I know to fifteen applicants with the sole requirement that each adoptee promise to do the same sometime in the future. 

I called it my 15 Coaches program. I posted the selfie on LinkedIn, expecting a small trickle of responses. A day later, I had received 2,000 applications, which ultimately reached 18,000. 

Most of the applicants were strangers. But there were also familiar names: coaches and academic stars; HR executives I’d worked with; entrepreneurs and CEOs; and friends. I enlarged my ambition slightly, selecting 25 people. We met for the first time in early 2017 in Boston, where I could explain the coaching process and get to know each of my adoptees better. 

My plan was to coach each of the 25 people the same way I conducted my one-on-one coaching with successful leaders, with lots of check-in calls and making myself available. It was a heavy time commitment. In my busiest years, I could handle eight one-on-one clients. Now I was taking on three times the workload. But I was okay with it. In my mind, this was a legacy project in which I regarded my adoptees as 25 individual assignments, rather than a collective group. If the enterprise was a wheel, I was the hub, they were the spokes. The one thing they had in common was me. (Remarkably, my enthusiasm for anything soars when I am the center of attention.)

I didn’t anticipate that these individuals might have a better idea. The learning curve on my coaching process is short, and my adoptees turned out to be quick studies. After a few months, they realized they didn’t need me. 

Rather, they turned to one another to swap stories and ideas and support. My would-be acolytes were becoming their own referent group. They were also eager to bring in new members, a notion I hadn’t considered but immediately appreciated (strong communities insist on growing; weak ones refuse to). 

Within a year, 25 Coaches was 100 Coaches. There was no nominating or interview process (we weren’t a country club or honor society). If a member knew someone who might benefit from being in our enclave, that person was in, and was welcomed as that member’s particular adoptee. This made the group incredibly diverse, which is always a good thing. 

I’d made fitful attempts at forming a professional community before, but 100 Coaches was turning into something special. I wasn’t sure why until I started hearing that coaches in London, New York, Boston, and other cities were getting together socially throughout the year. When a member from Tel Aviv alerted the group that she’d be visiting San Diego, local members invited me to a dinner party they’d organized for her. It was an eye-opening scene. There was no self-promotion and networking in the room. It was more like a family reunion without any of the crazy uncles and stressful family backstories—a gathering of people in a judgment-free zone celebrating their luck at having met one another. 

These seven ideas — the referent group, the notion of feedforward, stakeholder-centered coaching, the business plan review, the “what’s next” weekend, daily questions, 100 Coaches — have one thing in common: They are not meant to be pursued alone. They are most effective when two or more people are involved. In other words, the concepts are more robust in an environment that we call a community. Even the ostensibly solo ritual of Daily Questions works better with a partner checking in nightly for your scores. It elevates your accountability and your potential to stay the course. 

I’m neither surprised nor saddened that it took me four decades to connect the dots. I had to earn each idea in my own time—when I was ready to hear it. 

Former Ford CEO Alan Mulally’s Business Plan REview (BPR) and his insights about group dynamics in a weekly meeting were certainly a turning point. One day it hit me that if we could take the relentless self-monitoring of Daily Questions and combine it with the long-term benefits that Alan’s Business Plan Review provided, we’d have a structure that could apply to any life. Alan agreed. We called it the Life Plan Review

In January 2020, 160 members of our expanding 100 Coaches community traveled from all over the world to a three-day conference I hosted in San Diego. As I watched the 100 Coaches members enjoying themselves that weekend, I marveled at the big-hearted community I had unintentionally created. It was nothing short of a miracle. 

Six weeks later the world went into a pandemic lockdown—and everything changed. The coronavirus pandemic was a dire threat to people’s health, livelihood, and financial security, but it also was an attack on our 100 Coaches community. Catastrophic events test the health of a community. Weak ones collapse. Strong ones step up their game and become even stronger. Which one were we? 

Among the presentations to the group in San Diego before the lockdown was my introduction, with Alan Mulally’s help, of the Life Plan Review concept. It combined the elements that I valued in helping people achieve meaningful change, not the least of which was the binding power of community. The Life Plan Review is a concept that helped fortify our group in a year like no other.

Marshall Goldsmith Meme
Linkedin Facebook Icon-twitter Instagram