Behavior change is difficult, whether it’s in the workplace or at home. But you only need two things to be successful, according to executive coach Marshall Goldsmith:
- You have to care.
- You have to do the work.
In a recent learning session for principals in The Holdsworth Center’s Campus Leadership Program, Marshall doled out wisdom gleaned from decades as a world-renowned leadership coach who’s worked with CEOs of some of the world’s biggest corporations.View full video This link will take you to a signup form for access to the full video
Marshall Goldsmith pioneered the concept of stakeholder centered coaching – often called 360 degree feedback – a model in which the person receiving coaching seeks input from those who are affected by the person’s behavior. It starts with asking the question, “How can I be a better spouse/boss/coworker/friend?” and urges frequent follow-up to make sure others are seeing a change.
“If you are going to get better at anything, you have to care,” Marshall says. “Everybody has something they can improve. Work on what you feel in your heart will help you get better.”
8 steps to behavior change
Marshall Goldsmith lays out eight steps that have produced great results for clients who sincerely wanted to change.
- Ask – We all have blind spots. Ask those closest to you – your “stakeholders” – how you can get better. What you learn might surprise you. In many cases, this can just be a conversation. In the workplace, getting honest responses may require an anonymous survey.
- Listen – Don’t argue, get defensive or try to explain yourself. And don’t promise to change yet.
- Think – Are there are any patterns in what you are hearing? Don’t dwell on every little thing, look at big themes and decide where you want to focus your efforts.
- Thank – Thank your stakeholders for their input, including the positive stuff.
- Respond – Perhaps poor listening skill emerges as a major theme. Tell your stakeholders, “If I have not listened to you or others in the past, please accept my apologies.”
- Involve – Ask your stakeholders for suggestions on how you can get better.
- Change – Act on those suggestions.
- Follow up – Check in with your stakeholders periodically and ask how you are doing.
Follow-up is key
According to Marshall’s research, if you do no follow-up with stakeholders the chances of noticeable behavior change look like random success. Some follow-up increases chances slightly. Consistent or periodic follow-up results in stakeholders reporting a marked behavior change.
“They all went to the same program and heard the same thing,” Marshall said. “It doesn’t work if you don’t do it.”
To hold yourself accountable on a daily basis, Marshall recommends creating a spreadsheet and asking yourself six questions every day. Did I do my best to…
- Set clear goals?
- Make progress toward goal achievement?
- Be happy?
- Find meaning?
- Build positive relationships?
- Be fully engaged?
The questions can change depending on what’s important to you, but Marshall Goldsmith recommends assigning yourself a number grade each day and calculating a “report card” for the end of the week. The scorecard “may not look as beautiful as that values plaque you see in your school,” Marshall says. “Life is easy to talk and difficult to live.”
Smart people problems
Sometimes the biggest barrier to growth is success. Marshall Goldsmith calls it “smart people problems.”
When you become a leader, it’s not about you anymore, it’s about the people you’re leading.
Smart, successful people go through their lives acing tests, winning contests and proving how smart they are. But when you become a leader, the equation shifts. It’s not about you anymore, it’s about the people you’re leading. The need to always win and add value can quickly become a problem.
Imagine this: A young, smart and enthusiastic teacher comes to her principal with a good idea. The principal’s tendency is to say, “Good idea, why don’t you add this to it?” The quality of the idea may go up 5 percent, Marshall says, but the commitment level may go down 50 percent. It’s no longer the teacher’s idea, it’s the principal’s idea.
Help more, judge less
Jean-Pierre Garnier, former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, once told Marshall Goldsmith the biggest thing he learned as a CEO is that his suggestions become orders, whether he wants them to or not.
Through coaching, he learned to pause before speaking and ask himself this: “Is it worth it?” It didn’t matter that he might be right – because his words carried so much weight, he realized he must use them judiciously.
Even if you’re not a CEO, the lesson applies. Someone in your life is looking up to you, searching your words for cues and guidance. Marshall has this advice:
Help more, judge less.
When your words carry weight, judgment usually does more harm than good. It rarely inspires behavior change in others. “These four words will help you be a better principal, a better family member, a better human being.”