The Bregman Leadership Podcast
Episode 43

Marshall Goldsmith


Have you ever thought, “I’ll be happy when I . . . (make $X, achieve X position, buy X product, etc.)”? We all have and, unfortunately, that’s a predictable path to unhappiness. So how do we improve our behavior and strive for greater success while also being happy in the present? I asked that question, and more, of Marshall Goldsmith, the world’s number one-ranked executive coach, practicing Buddhist, and co-author of several bestsellers including Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Become The Person You Want To Be. On this week’s podcast, Marshall shares some of his profound knowledge, daily practices and concrete advice that can help us transform the way we work.



Book: Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Become The Person You Want To Be
Bio: Dr. Marshall Goldsmith has been recognized again as one of the top ten Most-Influential Business Thinkers in the World and the top-ranked executive coach at the 2013 biennial Thinkers50 ceremony in London! Dr. Goldsmith is the author or editor of 35 books, which have sold over two million copies, been translated into 30 languages and become bestsellers in 12 countries. His newest book is Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts—Becoming the Person You Want to Be, on sale May 2015 from Crown Business. He has written two New York Times bestsellers, MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – a Wall Street Journal #1 business book and winner of the Harold Longman Award for Business Book of the Year.


Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.

We are fortunate to have with us today, Marshall Goldsmith. He is the world’s leading executive coach. He’s authored many New York Times best sellers. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was a fantastic one. I loved it myself. His most recent book is Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts-Becoming the Person You Want to Be.

I have to say that Triggers as a book was dealing with the same issue that I dealt with in my most recent book, Four Seconds and I read Marshall’s book with a slight cringe and then a lot of enjoyment because he did what I was trying to do better.

It’s hard to admit that as an author who certainly would like you to go out and buy Four Seconds, but I think Marshall really did a beautiful job with Triggers and he addressed many of the issues that I was addressing in a way that even having written a book about the topic, I then read his book and get a tremendous amount of wisdom from it and a tremendous amount of joy from reading it. Marshall, thank you and welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast.

Marshall: Thank you very much. I appreciate your nice comments. By the way, I want to give someone else credit. My co-author, Mark Reiter, I’ve done 3 New York Times best sellers, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Mojo and Triggers. I didn’t write any of those books, he did. They’re all my ideas. I think he tapes it, he writes. We go back and forth. He is my agent as well, a fantastic guy, great writer. I just want to make sure he gets some of the credit for this book.

Peter: I love that you just said that. Maybe before we jump in to the book, I want to jump in to this ethic that you have and it’s an ethic that I want to call the ethic of giving it all away. It’s an ethic that you just showed. You’re holding some of the credit but you’re offering it out there as well and I know a lot of people who coauthor books in the same way and I don’t hear the same thing from them in the same way that you just shared it.

You’re also give everything away on your website and you’ve been open about that. Now you’re doing the 15 Coaches Initiative which is giving away everything that you know to 15 people. I want you to talk maybe just a moment or 2 about that as an ethic because it’s both smart, and it’s good marketing, and it’s ethical, and I just want to hear a little bit about it.

Marshall: I went to a program in New York with a woman named Ayse Birsel. I met her because I was a coach of the CEO of Herman Miller, a very large furniture company and she was a designer of furniture. One of these stakeholders. I interviewed her. We became buddies probably in 20 years ago. Ayse is a great, great woman and she did a book called Design the Life That You Love. I go to this program and she says, “As part of the program who are your heroes?|

You write down the names of all your heroes and my heroes where people like Alan Mulally from Ford and Frances Hesselbein at the girl scouts and Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis and Buddha, many interesting people. Then she wrote down why are they your heroes? It turned out, my heroes were all teachers.

They were all very generous. Generous teachers, then she said, “Cross out their name and write in your name.” I did that and said, “Why don’t I be a more generous teacher?” That’s when I decided that I’m going to basically adopt 15 people. I’m going to give them everything I know for free, for the rest of my life, free lifetime mentoring. They’re going to go 6 to 8 days of training, meet all the CEOs that I know, teach them whatever I know for free.

The only price is when they get older like I am, they need to do the same thing for 15 other people. Just payback, pay it forward. That’s what came up with this idea. It’s very, very positive and exciting. Anyone that would like to apply, just go to my website, You’ll quickly see how to reply. So far, I have 8,000 applicants.

Peter: Talk a little bit about the ethic of giving it all away, not just from a teacher’s perspective but everything is free on your website. You were talking a little bit before the show about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an ethic that they have.

Marshall: I like that idea. Bill Gates to me, very inspirational. He decide to give all his money away. His children are going to make, I think $10 a piece which sounds like a lot of money. Compared to his net worth, it’s close to nothing. He’s given almost everything away. He inspired Warren Buffet to do the same thing, Mark Zuckerberg to do the same thing. I’d like to have the same kind of movement started only instead of giving away money, people are giving away knowledge, giving away everything you know.

In a way giving away knowledge is better than giving away money. If I give you all of my knowledge, I haven’t lost anything. I still have the knowledge. Now you have it and I have it. There’s no loss involved here. I’m trying to encourage people like me, thought leaders to ultimately give away everything they know. All my material, you may copy, share, download, duplicate, use in church, charity, nonprofit, modify it, translate it, put your name on it. It doesn’t make any difference to me. If it does any good for anybody, do it. We’re all going to die anyway. I might as well do a little good here.

Peter: I love that and I can also hear people who might have fear. This is coming out of a place of generosity and, dare I use the word in the leadership context, love. I also hear people from the copyright perspective that say, “I’m going to lose it. Someone else is going to take my big idea and they’re going to use it.” What do you say to them?

Marshall: Again, I’m not here to make value judgments for other people, make and do whatever they want to do. If they want to keep the stuff, to themselves, they can keep the stuff to themselves. There’s not any moral, illegal or unethical. That’s fine with me. The only thing is I’ve got to just speak for my personal experience. I don’t think it’s hurt my career a whole lot. It doesn’t seem to hurt my career and it’s nicer.

See every day, I get multiple emails from somebody that says, “Something you gave me helped me have a better life,” every day. What’s that worth? What’s that worth? You can’t out a number on that. To me, what’s that worth is worth a lot. If you believe you have something of value, you can give it to people, give it to people. Why not?

Peter: Beautiful. I love it.

Marshall: Also, if someone wants to hire me, they’re going to hire me anyway. Look who my coaching clients are. To be fair, my coaching clients are not going to hire the person that read the book. They’re going to hire the person that wrote the book. The fact that somebody else knows what I know, that’s fine. That doesn’t threaten me at all. If they want to hire me, they’re going to hire me. They’re not going to hire me anyway. That’s fine. If I can help somebody else so much, the better.

Peter: It’s amazing how we can get in the way of that for ourselves but what you’re saying makes a tremendous amount of sense.

Marshall: Let me tell you a story. Years ago, I was back in Valley Station, Kentucky. I was in charge of something called the March of Dimes bread drive. We were there to raise money for kids with birth problems or something. I was in charge of our school’s fundraiser and the local bakery generously donated loafs of bread and you’re supposed to knock on the door and say, “I’ve got this loaf of bread. If you donate money, we’ll give you a loaf of bread.”

My team should have come in last place. We came in first place probably in the entire state of Kentucky. Why? I had a very different philosophy. We were in the poorest neighborhood. I said: You give people the bread. Now, they’re going to throw their bread anyway at the end of the day. If they’re too poor to pay for a loaf of bread, give them the bread. Don’t throw it away. Give them the bread.

Then after you give them the bread, you say the bakery is giving us this loaf of bread. If you like to give some money, that’s fine and if you don’t want to, that’s okay. We came in first place.

Peter: That’s amazing.

Marshall: Don’t try to bribe people with a loaf of bread. That’s demeaning to people. Basic philosophy here is called give away the bread. My theory is if you’re nice to people and you give people things, nice people always pay back. It always comes back somehow. It always comes back. Give away the bread. Don’t be greedy and try to bribe people.

If you go to my website and read this, that’s nice but that enables you to sign up for a special program where I’m going to charge you money later, blah, blah, blah. I try not to do that stuff. Why? Just give away the bread. Other than what I give away, there’s nothing there. It’s not like I’m holding something back. That’s it.
Peter: It’s so counter to the rubric of internet marketing today which you trickle stuff out and you give someone a little bit and then they want more. You make them pay for it a little bit. There’s something always that has felt wrong about that to me like just uncomfortable.

Marshall: It’s a trick. There’s no trick basically. This is all free.

Peter: This is actually a great way and time to jump into the book Triggers because I think what you’re saying makes total sense and people may have a gut reaction of fear that we were talking about beforehand related to just giving it all away. That in effect is a trigger. You break the book into these 3 parts and the first is why don’t we become the person that we want to be. Why don’t we become the person we want to be?

Marshall: You mentioned you knew Joe Keilty, my former partner. We did part of this research in the olden days at American Express. In our research, in my training classes, we asked people to get feedback. They pick some important to improve. They talk to their co-workers. They follow up and we make sure until they get better.

The good news is people will do this stuff, get better. I guess the betterment is people did nothing, didn’t get worse. One of my clients years ago is Johnson & Johnson. I had the privilege of working with their top 2,000 leaders all the way from Ralph Larsen who was the CEO down to number 2,000. They all went to my class. They were all asked to pick important behavior to improve, develop a plan, talk to people, follow up and make sure they get better.

98% of the leaders said, “I’m going to do what Marshall told me,” 98%. Years later 70% did something, 30%, zero. I interviewed the people who did nothing and say, “Why did you do nothing?” Their answer has nothing to do with ethics, values or integrity, they want an award that year. Most ethical company in the world. They’re good people. They’re smart people.

Why did they do nothing? The dream sounds like this. “I’m incredibly busy right now, given pressures to work in home and new technology that follows me everywhere. I feel a bit as busy as I ever have. Sometimes I feel over committed. I don’t tell others this but every now and again my life is a little bit out of control. You’re not working on some very unique and special challenges right now.”

“I think the worst of this is going to be over in about 4 or 5 months and after that, I’m going to take 2 or 3 weeks and get organized and spend some time with the family. I’m going to begin my new healthy life program and after that everything is going to be different and it will not be crazy anymore.” Have you ever had a dream that vaguely resembles that dream?

Peter: Yes, I have.

Marshall: How many years?

Peter: The way I articulate that point is it’s the point which the dessert menu comes. That’s the point which you say, “Am I going to have one more dessert or am I going to stop now?”

Marshall: That’s it.

Peter: That’s that decision point.

Marshall: It’s it. All this stuff, everything I teach is incredibly easy in theory. It’s difficult in practice. If you read my book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, you read funny story, after funny story, after funny story. It’s tempting to read the book thinking, “What a bunch of idiots. How could those people be so stupid?” The idiots in the book all have IQs of 150. They’re all CEOs in multi-billion dollar companies and I’ll tell you the same thing. This stuff is really easy to understand. This stuff is hard to do, very hard.

Peter: You speak to another point which is that it’s very easy to look at other people and say I can’t believe these poor slobs are doing what they’re doing but then look at ourselves and miss the fact that we’re doing exactly the same thing. I’ve seen this time and time again and there’s actually some interesting research that I heard about from Jonah Berger.

He was talking to his dad who was a DC lawyer and his dad was complaining about all these lawyers, all these DC lawyers, they’re all buying these BMWs. Jonah said to his father, “Dad, you’re a DC lawyer and you have a BMW.” He said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah but mine is blue. Theirs are silver.” It’s this way that we like to see ourselves is different but in reality, we really fall into exactly the same buckets of the people that we’re looking at.

Marshall: Let me give you a story. I’m in UCLA, getting my PhD. I’m, I don’t know, 26, 7 years old. I’m full of myself. I think I’m deep into higher order meaning and all kinds of nonsense. I babble on for 3 weeks about people in Los Angeles. I’m in this little encounter group class with old Dr. Tannenbaum. 3 weeks, I babble on about how screwed up they are because all I want to do is impress others.

Only after 3 weeks, old Dr. Tannenbaum scratch his beard. He looks at me. He goes, “Marshall, who are you talking to?” I said, “I’m talking to the group.” He said, “Who in the group are you talking to?” I said, “I guess everyone.” He said, “I don’t know if you realize this. Every time you spoke and you’ve only look at 1 person that seem interested in the opinion of only 1 person, who’s that person?” I thought about it and I said, “You.”

“That’s right. Why me? There are 10 other people here?” I said, “Dr. Tannenbaum, I think a person with your incredible educational background and depth can understand the true significance of what I’m saying about, “How screwed up it is to try and impress people all the time?” He looks at me and scratch his beard and goes, “You know Marshall, is there any chance for the last 3 weeks all you’ve been doing is trying to impress me?”

I look at him and said, “You know Dr. Tannenbaum, I’m very disappointed. You have missed the significance of everything I’ve been saying.” He looked at me and goes, “I think I understand.” I look around the room. I see these 10 heads. I hated all Dr. Tannenbaum’s gut for 6 months. 6 months later, you know what I said? “Thank you, Dr. Tannenbaum, you just taught me a great lesson, sir.” It’s real easy to see my problems in everybody else. I’m not quite so pleasant to see them in the mirror.

This is a good time to bring up your Buddhist practice which you and I spoke about briefly. You’re out of the closet. You’re open about it and it feels important. I find this in your writing, I find this in your speaking, I found it here: Your willingness to look starkly at yourself, at others with reality, with a clear lens and to say the truth as you see it. I’ve always respected this actually about you that you’re willing to say things.

There was a point in the book. I was actually sharing it with my wife and I think what you were saying to someone: you’re actually a great leader and a mediocre husband. There’s no judgment in it even. It’s a reflection of what you’re seeing in a way that is clear and for people to be able to see themselves. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about your Buddhist practice and how you cultivate in yourself the willingness and ability to be that clear mirror?

Marshall: There are many schools of Buddhist Thought so when someone says, “I’m a Buddhist that really doesn’t tell you very much. A Buddhist said, “Only do what I teach if it does work for you. If it doesn’t work for you, just don’t do it.” That by the way, that sentence is a large part of my coaching. FeedForward is a big part of my coaching. It’s based on that one Buddhist idea. Very Buddhist practice FeedForward.

Given the fact that Buddhist had only do what I teach that works for you. There are myriad interpretations of Buddhism. The difference is in Christians between a Unitarian and a Catholic and a Southern Baptist are huge. The differences in Buddhist are even bigger. When I say I’m a Buddhist, what does that mean? To start off, I’m not a religious or a metaphysical Buddhist, I’m a philosophical Buddhist. My school of Buddhism is quite very simple.

This heaven, this is hell. This is Nirvana. It’s not out there. It’s in here. You learn to find happiness and peace and meaning now. Not next week, not next month, not next year. The very western disease, “I’ll be happy when I get the money, status BMW, condominium. I will be happy.” To me, the essence of Buddhism is. “No you won’t. No you won’t. You’d be happy now.” Buddha was a young man. His father was rich. He tried to protect him from life.

He lived in a bubble. 3 times he was able to sneak outside the castle. What did he learn? You get old, you get sick and you die. Shit happens. If you’re rich, you get old, you get sick and you die, and you’re poor, you get old, you get sick and you die. That’s life. Originally, his father taught he could be happy by having more. You know what he learned? You can’t be happy with more. Then Buddha tried to have less.

Starve himself, lived in the woods, didn’t work either. You know what he finally learned? You can’t be happy with more and you can’t be happy with less. You can only make peace with what you have. If you’ve ever meditated, you noticed a little voice yammering in the back of your mind [inaudible 00:18:57]. The little voice never shuts up. The voice only has one message. You will be happier when you move your butt, you scratch your nose, you cough, you get married, you get a PhD, you become rich. It will be better when.
To me the essence of Buddhism is now. There is no when. It’s all right now. Anyway, that is my Buddhist school and in terms of my coaching, a lot of my coaching is make peace with the past. Whatever happened, happen. The hand of cards, we’ve been dealt at any second in time, you can’t change the hand. We can’t change the past. Make peace. Make peace with what happened. You are where you are. What’s done is done? Make peace. Don’t dwell in the past and say, “All right. Here I am right now, right now.” How can I do my best right now to play this hand I’ve been given. That’s in life pretty much all we can do, play the hand.

Peter: It’s interesting because on the one hand, it’s about being present right now and it’s not about the when. On the other hand, coaching is all about improving ourselves for the future. How do you put those together?

Marshall: I think you’ve done it yourself. It all goes down to that moment when the chocolate cake shows up.

Peter: You impact the future by impacting the present.

Marshall: That’s it.

Peter: You talk in the book about questions. You share questions. You talk about questions. First, help us understand the difference between passive questions and active questions?

Marshall: Let me just go through the idea, the whole general concept first. I’ve been practicing these for years. I’m now going to teach something that will help your listeners get better at almost anything. It cost nothing. It takes 3 minutes a day. Now some are probably skeptical. 3 minutes a day, it costs nothing. Help me get better at almost anything. It sounds too good to be true. half the people quit in 2 weeks.

This is incredibly easy to understand. It’s incredibly difficult to do. It’s called the daily question process. Every day I pay a woman named Kate to call me up on the phone. Every day she listens to me read questions, I wrote and provide answers I wrote every day. Somebody asked me, “Why do you pay a woman to call you on the phone every day just to listen to you read questions you wrote and provide answers you wrote? Don’t you know the theory about how to change behavior?”

I wrote the theory about how to change behavior? That’s why I pay the woman to call me every day. I know how hard this is, My name is Marshall Goldsmith. I’m the world’s number one ranked leadership thinker. I am the world’s number one ranked executive coach. I pay a woman named Kate to call me on the phone and every day she just listens to me read questions I wrote and provide answers I wrote every day. Why do I do this? My name is Marshall Goldsmith. I am too cowardly to do this by myself.

I am too undisciplined to do this by myself. I need help and it’s okay. I need help and it’s okay. Once we get over this macho nonsense of we can do everything on our own which is all egotistical macho nonsense, we all need help and it’s okay. My book, Triggers, 27 CEOs endorsed the book, major CEOs. Why am I so proud? They all stepped and say, “My name is Jim Kim. I’m the president of the World Bank. I need help and it’s okay. My name is Alan Mulally. I’m the CEO of the year in United States. I need help. It’s okay. My name is Frances Hesselbein. I won the presidential Medal of Freedom. I need help and it’s okay.” To me, it’s so positive. Anyway, the daily question process.

Peter: Let me break in here for one second and say that what’s powerful about this is you’re not saying, “Here’s a technique that will change your capability to act in the world in a certain way. Once you do it, you’ll learn it and then you’re not going to need it anymore.” What you’re saying is the technique is the change. Ultimately this is a tool that you don’t work to not need anymore. It is a tool that you need for the rest of your life. It is the tool that helps you.

Marshall: Exactly. Get out an Excel spreadsheet. Write down a series of questions, represent what’s most important in your life, friends, family direct reports, coworkers, life, health whatever it is, every question has to be answered with a yes, no or number, 7 boxes across, one for every day of the week, fill it out every day. At the end of the week, the spreadsheet will give you a report card. I will make a prediction. That report card at the end of the week may not be quiet as beautiful as corporate values plaque people got stuck up on their walls.

You do this every day, you know what you quickly learn? Life is incredibly easy to talk. Life is incredibly difficult to live. Easy to talk and it’s hard to live. Let me give you some of my questions and your readers don’t need to write these down. Send me an email, I’ll send you all my questions. One of my questions everyday is how many times yesterday did you try to prove you were right when it was not worth it?

I almost never got a zero in my whole life. Kind of hard for that old professor not to be right at all times. How about you? Did you ever try to be right, just had too much once or twice maybe?

Peter: Every day. It’s amazing because what I’ve realized as I’ve asked these questions – to my own shame and detriment – is I will do that even more with people over whom I have rank – which is the most dangerous. I mean, my kids for example, I’ll always be trying to prove that I’m right and half the time at least I’m wrong but it’s an abuse of power. I mean, I see myself do it all the time.

Marshall: You know what, you want some free coaching?

Peter: Yes, of course.

Marshall: Take a deep breath. Forgive yourself for all previous sins. Whatever you did, you did. You can’t change it anyway. Make peace and say, “Starting now, new me. I don’t have to keep doing this. New me, new me.” We can all change, Buddhist philosophy, every time I take a breath, it’s a new me, it’s a new me, new me. You don’t have to be that same old you, you’ve always been. We can always change. Another one of my questions, how many angry or destructive comments did you make about people yesterday?

We all talk about treating people with respect. Why are we stabbing them in the back? How many minutes did you walk? How many push-ups? How many sit-ups? How much do you weigh? Just questions about life. My friend, Jim Moore did this would tell you, it saved his life. One of his questions every day, “Are you currently updated on your physical exam?” First 90 days, he said no every day. After 90 days, he said “This is embarrassing. I got to get the dumb exam or quit asking.” He got the dumb exam. The doctor said you have cancer. He’s going to be fine.

That was years ago. The doctor also said, “Had you waited 7 months, you’d be dead.” He knew he should got an exam. He’s not stupid. He was 65 years old. He didn’t do it. Hold that mirror in the face every day, hard to hide.

Peter: That’s what the questions are. The questions are that mirror in the face that says, “How am I doing? When you say, “No,” to that question, “Am I up-to-date with my physical exam?” it actually requires a tremendous amount of courage to keep asking the question and keep saying no. I mean, there’s a point in which the disconnect becomes unbearable but it’s very easy for people to just say, “You know what. I’m not going to do it and I’m going to stop asking these questions.”

Marshall: Exactly. I was teaching at the University of Michigan and I said, “How many of you have ever avoided a physical exam before and told yourself I’m going to get the exam after I go on that healthy foods diet and begin my exercise program?” Half of the room raised their hand. I looked at this one guy. He said, “Did you trick the doctor with that strategy?” He looked at me. He goes, ”I am the doctor.”

Peter: A depressing or sad story – when I was a kid, I knew a guy who was in his 40s who was going for his exam and he was trying to get in shape for his exam the day before his exam and he got a heart attack. He was pushing himself in a way that was just unrealistic. That’s also a move of not seeing reality for what it is. I’m going to try to trick myself. I’m going to try to trick the doctor. I’m going to try to get in shape in 2 days.

Marshall: That’s it. By the way, this stuff is hard. It is very, very hard to do. I’m not being modest or humble by saying I have this woman call me every day. I am just very literally do not have the courage to do this by myself. Most people don’t. It takes courage. It takes humility and it takes discipline. This is a very humbling process.

You did this every day. By the way, I have a gift. I don’t know if you’re aware of this. An incredible gift. I’m so impressed with it. I don’t know if you should share this gift. It’s the incredible ability on a daily basis to screw up something.

Peter: I share that gift with you.

Marshall: Amazing. I keep thinking I’m going to slide through a day or 2 and not screw something up. Not so much. Pretty much every day, I screw something up. If you do this daily question thing every day, guess what, you get to look at it.

Peter: I think that’s also the point of the breath that you were sharing which is take a breath and I’m a new man but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to have to take a breath in 10 minutes and be a new man again.

Marshall: Exactly.

Peter: Ultimately like the questions, the tool, the practice is to keep taking that breath and keep becoming a new man.

Marshall: Now see, what you just said is the essence of Buddhist philosophy and why this is so difficult for the west. The great western myth is somehow I will be happy when, when I get the money, status BMW. I’ve made this achievement. When I read this book, all of a sudden, I will achieve this enlightenment and after that, I will be in this perfect state for eternity and never have to worry about it again. That is the great western disease.

Life just doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t work that way. It’s day to day, to minute to minute, to second to second and we’re always starting over. You’re never “getting there.” There’s not some there that you get and live in the state of eternal happiness. That doesn’t happen. By the way, the great western art form, you may have seen this one before, there is a person. The person is sad. They spend money. They buy a product and they become happy.

It’s called a commercial. I don’t know if you ever seen one of those. We are bombarded with this message, millions of times. The answer is out there and once I do that, everything is good forever. Not quite, not quite.

Peter: We need to practice to remind ourselves of that, the same way that the commercial world in which we live has a practice of reminding us of how spending money will make us happy.

Marshall: That’s it.

Peter: We’re constantly bombarded. You talked a lot about this in the book, creating an environment and I’ve talked about this forever too, the importance of creating an environment that makes it more likely you’re going to do the things you want to do and less likely you’re going to do the things you don’t want to do.

Marshall: Exactly.

Peter: One of the things that you’re saying here which I think is so important – why we need that kind of support that you’re suggesting – is because we live in an environment that’s broader than one that we can create for ourselves. We are constantly bombarded by messages to tell us you could be happier if. You could be happier when.

We get all of these messages and we need some practice. Meditation is a great practice, questions are a great practice. An environment that helps support the way we want to be so that we become the people we most want to be in this particular moment.

Marshall: Exactly. My greatest learning of the past several years is we greatly overestimate will power. We have this delusion that we have this will power. Every time I teach a class, I’ll say okay. “Who needs to be a better listener?” Half of the room raised their hand. I think some blustery guy that’s clearly a bad listener say, “Okay, Joe. How many years you’ve been needing to be a better listener?” He’ll say like 40 years. I’ll say, “Raise your right hand and repeat after me. My name is Joe. I need to be able to be a better listener. I’m not fixing this by myself in 40 years. Who am I kidding? I’m not going to fix this by myself in the future. I need help and it’s okay. It’s okay.”

Peter: It’s the basis of Alcoholics Anonymous. This basis of saying, “I’m not going to get out of this myself. I’m powerless to get out of this by myself from the way that I’ve tried in the past.”

Marshall: My friend Alan Mulally, one of the great leaders I’ve ever met on my life goes to Ford. Company is losing 17 billion with the B dollars. Top 16 leaders, 5 priorities each, red, yellow, green. The first meeting, green is I’m on plan. Yellow, not on plan but have a strategy. Red, I’m lost. Not on plan, no strategy. First meeting, they’re losing $17 billion, 80 green. Everything is green. Everyone is on plan for every target. Alan says, “Let’s see. We’re losing $17 billion and everyone is on plan. I guess it’s our plan to lose at least $17 billion because that’s right where we are. Do it again.”

Finally, Mark Fields steps up and he says red. That was the moment that change Ford. By the way, the company eventually went from $1 to $18.40. He was the CEO of the year in the United States, number 3 greatest leader in the world, an incredible guy. Mark Field says red and Alan stands up and applause. He says thank you for having the courage to say red.

Then he said, “Mark, you’re not on plan, red and you don’t know how to get there. Thank you for having the courage to say this. I’m proud of you. Then he said, “Mark, you’re lost. You don’t know how to get there. You’re not on plan and you know, Mark, I know a lot less than you do and I’m the CEO of Ford. I said, “Your red is okay.” He said, “I know less than you and that’s okay too. Why don’t we find that actually knows what they’re doing. Put together a team and try to solve the problem.” Within 10 minutes, the problem was solved.

Peter: It’s amazing.

Marshall: Once I got over that macho, egotistical crap … By the way how many CEOs have you ever seen stand up and say you’re lost. It’s okay and by the way, I know less than you and that’s okay too? Not so much.

Peter: Not so much.

Marshall: Not so much. By the way, that’s what he says every meeting.

Peter: It’s very hard to operate from the space which is a very real space of I don’t know. I actually make this joke that I gave a TED Talk on I don’t know. I joke that I know more about not knowing than anybody. It’s a very hard space to stay in. It requires a practice because it’s an amazing thing to be able to say that every day – I don’t know and I need help. I don’t know, I need help

Marshall: The reality is for most of life, we don’t know. One of my other coaching clients, JP Garnier, CEO of Glaxo taught me a great lesson. I said, “Where did you learn about leadership as a CEO of Glaxo?” He said, “I learned the hard lesson. My suggestions become orders.” Now, if they’re smart orders, if they’re stupid orders, I want them to be orders, orders. If I don’t, they’re orders anyway. My suggestions are orders.

I said, “What did you learn from me when I was your coach?” He said, “You taught me one lesson to help me be a better CEO and have a happier life.” I said, “What was it?” “Before I speak, breath and I ask myself one question. Is it worth it?” Now he said, “As a CEO of this big company, 50% of the time if I have the discipline to stop and breathe and ask myself is it worth it, what did I decide am I right? Maybe. Is it worth it? No.”

Back to Alan’s case, Mark Field says red. If Alan would have said have you thought of this, you know what Mark would have said? “Yes, sir.” He would just go do it. Worst of all worlds. Number 1, it’s probably a stupid idea and number 2, he has no commitment to his executions. The CEO told me to tell you this. 95% of all CEOs would say, “Have you thought of this? Have you tried that? What about this?”

They just start talking and the reality is by talking if they don’t know what they’re talking about, they do far more harm than good. Alan Mulally’s attitude is this, “If I am not the world’s expert on this topic, why am I talking? If there’s another person who can answer this question far better than me, why am I talking? Why don’t you listen to the person who actually knows what they’re talking about instead of me? Also just because I am the CEO if the Ford Motor Company, who made me God this week?”

Peter: It’s funny because we need such deep self-confidence to be able to show up in that space, in that way. I mean if ultimately our job as leaders is to build independently capable teams. We need so much confidence to not know answers and to be able to stand there and say, “I will still lead without knowing the answer to this.” The answer is going to come from you.

Marshall: By the way, this is very counterintuitive. You think people respect for Alan Mulally went down when he did that or went up.

Peter: It went up.

Marshall: Way up. By the way, when I stand up in front of classes and say, “I’d pay a moment to call me every day because I’m too cowardly to do this by myself and too undisciplined.” Did they have less respect for me or more?

Peter: Absolutely more.

Marshall: Tell the truth.

Peter: I don’t know if you knew this but we both worked for the same investment bank at some point as consultants and this particular investment firm, I don’t want to say their name, you may know this research, you may have been the person who did the research: They asked these incoming MBA managers, “What is it that the people report to you need from you and what is it that they want?”

They said: they want vision, they want direction, they want strength, confidence and all these things. Then they asked the people who reported to them what is it that you want from these managers? The number one thing that they wanted was for their managers to ask for help. That’s the number one thing that they wanted.

Marshall: By the way, my friend, Jim Kouzes did a research study, Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner. 80,000 people evaluated their boss. None of them who came in dead last asked for input about how he or she can improve. We don’t ask. Ego, too much ego.

Peter: Marshall, it’s such a pleasure to have you with us and to have you share your wisdom with us. The book is Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts-Becoming the Person You Want To Be. Marshall Goldsmith, thank you so much for your generosity and for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.

Marshall: Thank you so much. My pleasure to talk with you.

Peter: If you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. For more information about the Bregman Leadership Intensive as well as access to my articles, videos and podcast, visit Thank you to Claire Marshall for producing this episode and to Brian Wood who created our music. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for the next great conversation.


  1. Botho says:

    Your own style of writing was better, it got straight to the point. Interviews instead feff around on the speaker’s qualifications and connections rather than sharing knowledge.

  2. Jeneva says:

    Outstanding podcast. Thank you so much. Curious to know: when you discussed Alan standing up and saying that he didn’t know… and Marshall too… has that been his experience in all cultures? I’m interested because Marshall is well-known and very successful, as is Alan, so they can afford to say this. Others who are in developmental stages along a vertical up an org ladder might not have the same latitude. Thoughts?

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thanks for the question Jeneva. I understand the fear of doing this in cultures that don’t seem open to it. But here’s the thing: if you really don’t know, everyone already knows that you don’t know. Admitting it may feel like an act of courage – and it is – and it requires confidence – but it’s comes off much more powerfully than pretending to know.

Comments are closed.