Why You Should Change the Way You See Yourself


June 11, 2011

by Marshall Goldsmith and Kelly Goldsmith

One of the interesting challenges successful people face in improving themselves is in rethinking how they define themselves. We all have a perception of ourselves that we think of as “me.” As people become successful, this definition tends to be very positive, as they feel affirmed for their intelligence, savvy, and dedication.

And so it’s easy for them to dismiss their short-comings. For example, people will say, “I don’t listen very well. That’s just the way I am.” Of course, the more you say “that’s just the way I am,” the more you guarantee that’s just the way you’ll always be.

The other problem with this business of, “That’s just the way I am,” or this excessive need to be “me” is when you do try to change your behavior, you may feel insincere or like a phony. What’s the definition of phony? Not me!

Let me tell you a story I often tell because it shows how you can get rid of this “need to be me” perception. One of my clients, a CEO, had gotten mostly positive feedback except in one area. He needed to do a better job of giving people positive recognition.

His response was typical: “I don’t like to give people positive recognition. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t need to give people recognition.”

I explained that he wasn’t giving feedback because of what he needed. But he should do it because of what his people need.

“I don’t want to come across as a phony,” he replied.

So then I asked him whether he had fantastic friends and family members and employees. He said yes. Did he think they’re satisfied with the amount of recognition they get?

No, he admitted.

I said, “Look, let’s take your direct reports. If you give them positive recognition, is this person going to be a better performer?”

“Um, probably.”

“More motivated?”


“More engaged?”


“Help the company and the customers?”


“Well then why aren’t you doing it?” I asked.

He smiled and said, “Well, it’s just not me.” But I could tell he got my point: everyone can change.

The first step to changing ourselves, though, is to stop stereotyping. Don’t put yourself in a box in which it becomes virtually impossible to change without feeling “phony.” We all know how harmful stereotyping others can be, but it can be just as limiting to stereotype yourself.

The next time you think, “This is just the way I am,” remind yourself that you are in control of how you see yourself. You can choose to be the kind of person–and leader–you want.