Creating Behavior that Lasts - Becoming the Person You Want to Be


Marshall Goldsmith

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was recognized as the#1 Leadership Thinker in the World and the top 5 Management Thinker in 2015, as well 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. His new book Triggers is now published!

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. 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. His new book Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be will be published May 19, 2015.

Webinar Transcript

Introducer: Dr Goldsmith is the author or editor of 35 books, which have sold over two million copies, been translated into 30 languages and become best sellers in 12 countries. He has written two New York Times bestsellers, "Mojo" and "What Got You Here Won't Get You There" a Wall Street Journal number one business book and winner of the Harold Longman Award for Business Book of the Year.

His new book, "Triggers: Creating Behaviors That Lasts, Becoming the Person You Want to Be" will be published May 19th, 2015. His work has been recognized by nearly every professional organisation in his field. Please welcome to Elevate 2015, Marshall Goldsmith.

Marshall: Hello, my name is Marshall Goldsmith. I'm going to briefly introduce myself and we will begin. I'm from a small town in Kentucky called Valley Station, Kentucky. Went to undergraduate school at a little engineering school, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. I got an MBA at Indiana University and a PhD at UCLA. I was a college professor and dean when I was very, very young.

And then, for the past 38 years I've done three things. One is, I give talks or teach classes, and this is what I love to do the most. I travel all around the world speaking and teaching. I've been to 94 countries. On American Airlines alone I have over 11 million frequent flyer miles. The second thing I do, which I'm most famous for, is I coach executives. And my coaching clients have included the CEOs or could-be CEOs of just huge corporations. CEOs of Ford and Pfizer, Walmart and Glaxo, and the President of the World Bank and the head of the Mayo Clinic. All kinds of other interesting people. And what I love about coaching is coaching is where I learn everything.

Then the third thing I do is write and edit books and articles. And the book I'm going to talk about today is my book "Triggers." This is my 35th book. My most famous book is called "What Got You Here Won't Get You There," that's number 23. And after writing 22 books, it was good to write a book that someone finally bought! So writing is how I reach people.

And if you look on the slides you will see my website Please go to my website. I give away all my material. All my material you may copy and share and download and duplicate and use in your church or charity or non profit, any way you wish. And lso I love getting emails, send me an email, Emails, I use frequently in my examples. So please send me an email.

Now, what are we going to talk about today? What are our goals? First, we're going to understand the concept of triggers. How we create our world and at the same time the world around us is creating us, we're going to talk about why we don't always achieve our goals and share some practical tools to help you achieve goals in life.

We're going to learn how The Daily Question Process, which takes two minutes a day, can help you increase personal effectiveness and also how that Daily Question Process can make you more engaged. And then finally being able to apply these key concepts to help you have a better life and the people around you have a better life, and experience less shame and less regret.

Now, let's get started. Getting started, what happens? Well, I have a theory. I think that we all kind of know the person that we want to become in life. If I interviewed you and asked you, "Who is the perfect person you want to become?" You'd probably tell me a beautiful story. A person who's hardworking and dedicated and in great physical condition. And a person who's really good with the family.

Why don't we become this person? What happens? Millions of people around the world are disengaged, depressed, not achieving goals. Many teams and organizations are dysfunctional. What happens? New Years resolutions don't get met. The gym is empty by February. Coaching clients don't change. Every day we fail in kind of our day to day activities. Well, what happens? As we journey through life, we are constantly bombarded by triggers. Now what is a trigger? A trigger is any stimulus that might impact our behavior. Could be a sight, could be a sound, could be a person. And as we journey through life these triggers sometimes push us in the right direction but more frequently than not, they push us in the wrong direction. They push us away from the goals we want to achieve, away from the person that we want to become.

Now, who is in control? Well, as we journey through life looking at this concept of who is in control, we can look at this from two dimensions. External control and internal control. External control is basically...that means that the world is creating me and internal control focuses on "I am creating the world." And I'm going to talk about four different schools of thought, and by the way, some very intelligent people believe in each of these four. The first one is the "Random Walk Theory." You know what? I don't have a lot of control and life is pretty much just a random crapshoot. And obviously a lot of people believe this and buy lottery tickets. Well certain of us do believe in this Random Walk Theory.

The second theory is "I Create the World." Now, what does that mean? Basically, I'm in control. And you hear this in a motivational speech. "You can do it! You can do it!" "Jimmy was tired and sick and blind and poor. He couldn't have a date and now he's rich and he has three wives." Well the motivational speech is always the same, "You can do it, you can do it, you can do it." Now I'm a believer in positive thinking. On the other hand, taken to extreme it seems a little ridiculous. There's a book called "The Secret." I think it sold about seven million copies and the whole essence is "If I envision it, it will happen."

And they had all these case studies of, you know "Mary was poor and she envisioned become rich and now she is." And "Harriet wanted to be a movie star and she envisioned it and now she's a movie star." And "Joe had cancer and he envisioned it and the cancer went away." And these are all true case studies of people who did envision things and they happened. One minor problem with the research is that they did not interview the dead people. They didn't interview the basketball team that lost. They didn't interview the waitress who's 60 years old who envisioned being a movie star. If envisioning something would truly make it happen, my sex life as a teenage boy would have been a whole lot better! I did a lot of envisioning and not much happened.

Well, I believe that we do create the world to a degree but to naively assume that we can completely create it by ourselves is a little bit over the top. Not a lot of scientific research to prove it. The opposite theory is, B. F. Skinner, the famous Harvard psychologist, believed the world creates us. We are basically like the Pavlovian dogs that go through life being controlled by the stimulus around us. My whole book is based on an assumption of something called "Mutual Creation." Now what is mutual creation? Mutual creation means that I am creating my world and at the same time triggers in my world are creating me. Mutual creation.

Fate versus choice. What is fate? The hand of cards that we've been dealt. And at any point in time we've all been dealt a hand of cards and the one thing in life we cannot change? The past. There's nothing we can do about the past. Choice, how we play this hand. Fate is the hand and choice how we play the hand. Changing the impact of triggers. As we journey through life, the typical response reaction is, there is a trigger. The trigger leads to an impulse and the impulse immediately leads to a behavior.

The goal of the book is, there's still going to be triggers and you're still going to have impulses, but try and become aware and realize you have a choice before we behave. And realize that if we can do that, our behavior becomes much more a function of me being the person I want to be, controlling my life, as opposed to being controlled by my environment.

Now, some examples. Dealing with triggers. Negative case study, then a positive study. First, the negative. In my classes I always ask this. I say, "Do you believe coworker satisfaction is important?" And everyone says, "Oh, yes, yes, yes." "Should we listen to our coworkers?" "Yes!" "Should we learn from these people, get better based on what we learn, encourage them to tell the honest truth?" "Yes, yes!" "And would punishing the messenger be a bad thing?" "Yes, a terrible thing. Oh we'd never do it, an awful thing."

But then I say, "Let's do a case study. I want you to imagine you're driving the car. There's lots of traffic. Cars are clonking their horns. The person next to you in the front seat goes, 'Look out there's a red light up ahead!' Did you say, 'Thank you for that input?' Or perhaps something that sounded a little more like, 'What do you mean there's a red light ahead, don't you think I can see? I know how to drive the car. Why don't you be quiet and let me drive?' " Our behavior becomes exactly the opposite of the person that we said we wanted to be. Why? There was a trigger. The trigger led to an impulse. If we did not become aware of what was going on the impulse led to a behavior and the behavior was the opposite of what we want.

Now in my classes I teach the value of "Don't always win all the time. Don't always try to be right." A common trigger, when someone says something is going on with them is, we have to one up them. Well I had a very positive case study. A gentlemen sent me an email about five years ago. And if any of you sent me such an email I would consider that to be a great day. He said, "I know you don't remember me." He said, "I was in your class." And he said, "I wanted to send you an email today and just say thank you."

He said, "Yesterday my wife called up and was having a terrible day and I was under a lot of pressure. I had to get deadlines and people were coming down on me and I had customer problems. My wife was talking about what a bad day she had and I was just getting ready to point out how her problems paled in significance to my own." He said, "For some reason I remembered your talk about 'Don't always try to win and be right.' I stopped, I breathed. I listened to my wife and I said, 'I love you. Thank you for all the sacrifices you made for the family.' " He said, "I went home, I spent $25 dollars, I bought some flowers for my wife. I gave her the flowers and I said 'I love you.' " He said, "That was the best $25 dollars I ever spent. Thank you very much."

Well, there was a trigger. He had an impulse. The impulse, yell, scream, prove I'm better than my wife. He stopped, breathed. He realized, "This is my wife! Someone I love. This is not the enemy, I have a choice. Who's the person I want to be?" And then his behavior was dictated by that choice, not the impulse. That's kind of the goal of the book.

Now, why don't people do what I teach? I'm going to make a prediction. I'm probably the only teacher you've ever met who's collected input from tens of thousands of people who've been on my courses. And I measure, do they do what I teach and do they get better? And if you'd like the research study behind this, it's called "Leadership is a Contact Sport." Send me an email at, and I'll send you a copy of the study.

Well in our study we had 86,000 people and we asked them to do some simple things. They got feedback, pick something to improve, talk to people, follow your coworkers on a regular basis and measure "Do you improve?" And what did we find out? The people that did this stuff got better and the people who didn't, well, the good news is they didn't get worse, they stayed the same.

Well, my biggest client, years ago, was Johnson and Johnson. I had the privilege of working with their top 2000 leaders. All the way from Ralph Larson, who was the CEO, all the way down to person number 2000. At the end of my class they would ask a question, "Are you going to do what Marshall just taught you to do?" They'd talk to people, get feedback, follow up. Ninety-eight percent of their leaders said, "Yes! I'm going to do what he said." Ninety-eight percent. A year later about 70% had done something and 30% absolutely nothing, not even one minute. I'm not ashamed of these numbers, I'm proud. It's not bad. Seventy percent of 2000 people is 1400 people getting evaluated by 10 coworkers each. Fourteen thousand people had a little bit better life. I'm certainly not ashamed of this.

And I got to talk to the people who did nothing and said, "Why did you do nothing?" Their answer had nothing to do with ethics, values, or integrity. They won an award that year, the most ethical company in the world. They're good people, you're good people. It had nothing to do with intelligence. They're smart, you're smart. The reason people did nothing, had to do with a dream. This is a dream I've had for years and I'm going to make a prediction. Many of you have had this dream. You've had this same stupid dream on a recurring basis for years and it describes why we don't do in life what we know we should. You might be thinking, "He doesn't know my dreams." Don't bet against me.

Here's what the dream sounds like. "You know, I'm incredibly busy right now, given pressures at work and home. And new technology that follows me everywhere and emails and voicemails and global competition. I feel about as busy as I ever have. Sometimes I feel over committed. I don't tell others this, but every now and again my life feels just a little bit out of control. But, you know, I'm working on some very unique and special challenges right now and I think the worst of this is going to be over in about four or five months. And after that I'm going to take two or three weeks and get organized and spend some time with the family and begin my new healthy life program and everything's going to be different and it will not be crazy anymore."

Have you ever had a dream that vaguely resembles that dream? How many years have you had that dream? Well there's not going to be any two or three weeks. Sanity's not going to be prevailing. Those pressures you're experiencing today, they're not going to be going away. And in fact, let's imagine you have to make numbers every quarter. If you overachieve every number by 25% this year, what's going to happen next year? The goal's just going to go up. Well, it's always going to be crazy. We're always going to be under pressure and we're always going to have excuses for not doing, why we know we should do what we don't do.

Now, a key learning for me as an executive coach, and I do get to coach many of the top leaders in the world, is, "It's okay to need help and it's okay to need structure." One thing I'm very proud of in my book "Triggers" is the book is endorsed by 27 major CEOs. These 27 people stood up and said, "I have a coach, and it's okay." What I'm proud of is, 30 years ago almost no CEO would admit to having a coach. They would be ashamed to have a coach. Well, these people have included [inaudible 00:14:14] of the United States, the number three greatest leader in the world, winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the President of the World Bank, the CEO of Pfizer, Target, and Best Buy. These are fantastic people.

What I like about it is, it's okay to say, "I need help and I need structure." Athletes. The top 10 tennis players, all 10 have coaches. One of the greatest dancers in the world, the greatest choreographer probably in history is Twyla Tharp. She's had the same personal trainer for 25 years. Why? She knows how to use the machines. Why does she have the trainer week after week? She needs help and structure and she knows it's okay. Now, let me give you a good way to test if you need help. When I teach my classes I often ask the question. "How many of you need to be a better listener?" And everybody raises their hand, or a bunch of people do.

Then I say, "How many years have you been needing to improve on this?" And they'll say "Oh, 20 years, 30 years." I always say this. "Raise your right hand and repeat after me, 'I have a problem. I've not fixed this by myself in 30 years. Highly unlikely I'm going to fix it by myself in future. I need help and it's okay.' " Well once we get over that macho, self discipline, self reliance nonsense and admit, "It's okay to need help and structure. Our environment is constantly making it tough for us. We're constantly exposed to triggers that keep us off track and if we don't get help we probably won't achieve our goals." Things get better. The value of structure.

There's a great book called "The Checklist Manifesto" published by Dr Atul Gawande at Harvard Medical School. Wonderful book. In his book "The Checklist Manifesto" Dr Gawande makes a very, very sobering point. If you go in for a surgery and the nurse asks the doctor a series of very simple questions before the surgery, the odds on unneeded infection plummet, and the death rate because of unnecessary infection is cut by two-thirds. This is not a theory, it's a fact. The huge majority of hospitals around the world do not allow the nurse to ask the doctor the questions. What is the first question? "Did you wash your hands?" Why? Ego. According to Dr Gawande more people have died because of the egos of surgeons than died in the Vietnam War, the Afghan War and the Iraqi War combined. Too much ego.

Well, once we get over that shame, and admit that we need help and admit it's okay, life is much better. My stakeholders in our coaching process...I don't get paid if my clients don't get better. Better's not judged by me or them, it's judged by everyone around them. We have a very clear structure. One of the coaches who gets the best results on paper has the least qualifications. His name is Chris Coffey. Why? He follows a clear structure with his clients. On paper he doesn't look like a good coach. Only minor problem, he gets results! What's more important for being a great coach, having a fancy bio or getting results from your clients? I think it's getting results! Why? He has a very clear structure.

I want to talk about my friend Alan Mulally, who turned around the Ford Motor Company, and then something called the Daily Question Process to illustrate the importance of structure. First, my friend Alan. Now, of all the people I coached, I spent the least amount of time with him and he improved the most. He was fantastic to start with. Alan Mulally goes to the Ford Motor Company, stock is valued at $1. Leaves, it's $18.40. Totally turned the company around. Fantastic leader and even better human being. Well, in looking at Alan, what did he do? He first established clear structure around leadership behavior. He said, "This is the way we're going to treat each other." And he had rules. "We're not going to make destructive comments, we're not going to put people down. We're not going to have side conversations, we're not going to use cellphones in meetings." Clear rules with no tolerance for bad behavior.

One of the top people goes to Bill Ford, the chairman, and says, "Bill, this is childish nonsense, I'm not going to do this stuff. I'm an adult and I feel like I'm being treated like a boy scout." He said, "Alan's the CEO, go talk to him." He went to talk to Alan. Alan said, "You made a choice, I made a choice. Goodbye." One more guy took on Alan, goodbye. Fourteen of the 16 people that led Ford to bankruptcy turned the company around. What changed? Him. One of the ways he changed? Very clear structure on behavior.

Also the second thing he did illustrates the importance of getting over shame and admitting we need help. Every leader was asked to pick their top five priorities. Red, yellow, green. Red, I'm not on target, I don't have a plan to get there. Yellow, I'm not on target, I have a plan. Green, I'm on target. His first meeting, 18 leaders, five priorities each. The company's losing $17 billion. Eighty goals, 80 green. Alan said, "We're losing $17 billion and everyone's on target? Unless our target is to lose $17 billion we've got a problem here. Let's go do it again."

Finally, Mark Fields, who's now the CEO of Ford, stands up and says, "Red. I have a problem and I don't have a solution." Alan Mulally, the CEO, stands up and applauds. He says, "Thank you. Thank you for having the courage to tell the truth." Then he said something almost no CEO would ever say. He said, "You have a problem. You don't have a solution. It's okay." And he said, "I'm the CEO of the company, I have less of a solution than you do. I don't have a clue how to solve your problem." And he said, "That's okay, too. We have hundreds of thousands of employees. A lot of great people we can call on. Let's all work together and solve the problem." Within 10 minutes the problem was solved. Once he got over that shame of admitting you were human, that shame of saying, "Red" everything got better. Well, we're all red for something. Once we can admit that, life is so, so much better and we're so much more likely to improve.

Now, employee engagement. I went to a presentation at the National Academy of Human Resources on the topic of employee engagement. And they had some of the top HR leaders in the world make presentations and they were challenged, three top leaders, "Tell us everything you know about employee engagement." They talked about recognition, rewards, training, compensation. And then they said, "In spite of all efforts, global employee engagement is near an all time low." And I realized, 100% of the dialogue is "What can the company do to engage you?" Absolutely zero is "What can you do to engage yourself?"

If you remember the great John Kennedy speech, it was the opposite. It was 100% what's the company going to do to help you, nothing about what are you going to do to help the company. I thought about two flight attendants. One's positive, motivated, upbeat, enthusiastic and one's negative, bitter, angry, and cynical. They're on the same three hour flight. Same pay. Same uniform. Same everything. What's the difference? It's not the outside. The difference is on the inside.

Well, that leads me to the Daily Question Process. I'm now going to share a simple structure with you that takes two minutes a day, costs nothing, it's going to help you get better at almost anything, called the Daily Question Process.

Here's how it works. Get out an Excel spreadsheet. On one column write down a series of questions that represent what's most important in your life. Friends, family, direct reports, coworkers. Seven boxes across, one for every day of the week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. At the end of the week, plot those numbers every day, that Excel spreadsheet gives you a little report card. And you know what? That report card might be quite as pretty as the corporate values plaque you see stuck up on the wall. I've been doing this for years and I can tell you, it's hard to do. I pay a woman named Kate to call me on the phone every day. Every day she listens to me read questions that I wrote and provide answers that I wrote.

Why do I pay somebody? My name is Marshall Goldsmith. I'm the world's leading executive coach. I don't have the courage and discipline to do this by myself. I need help and it's okay. What are some of my questions? Well I'm going to share some of them, just by way of example.

For example, one of my questions is, "How many times yesterday did you try to prove you were right when it wasn't worth it?" Kind of hard for that old professor not to be right all the time, I almost never get a zero. How many angry or destructive comments did you make about people? How many minutes did you walk, pushups, sit-ups, just a bunch of questions about life. It is amazing how well this process works. And the key is you write your own questions. By the way, if you'd like all of my questions and an article about the process, send me an email, I'll send you my questions and an article about the process. It is amazing how well this works.

Well, my daughter Kelly is professor at the Kellogg School of North Western. She worked on me and some of these questions about employee engagement and she said, "Dad, everything about employee engagement is a passive question. Do you have clear goals, do you have a best friend at work, do you have meaningful work?" Kelly said, "If you ask people passive questions they have negative responses. They blame the environment."

Kelly taught me the value of active questions, and specifically questions that begin with the phrase, "Did you do your best?" And the hardest question you can ever ask is the question where you write the question, you know the answer, you know it's important and all you have to do to get a high score is try. Why's that so hard? Nobody to blame. Every day I fail the question where I wrote the question, I cannot blame the idiot who wrote the question. I know the answer, I know it's important and I failed to try. Why? Why's this hard? It's hard to look in the mirror every day, I can tell you.

Now, I'm going to share my first six questions now based on my conversations with Kelly and then our new research and I'll invite you to participate if you want to. What are my first six questions every day? "Did I do my best to be happy?" Rather than saying, "Did the company make me happy?" Did I do my best to be happy myself? Did I do my best to find meaning? Rather than saying, "Did people give me meaning?" Did I do my best to find meaning? Did I do my best to be fully engaged? Rather than saying, "Did someone engage me?" Did I do my best to engage myself? Did I do my best to build positive relationships? Rather than saying, "Do you have a best friend at work?" Was I the friend? Did I do my best to set clear goals? And finally, did I do my best to make progress towards achieving my own goals?

Now, if you're interested you're going to be invited to participate in a two week study. All you have to do is send me an email. And what we'll do is sign you up for our research. Every day, you're going to get, for 10 days, a little email from us. In that email I'm going to be asking you to fill out these questions, every day. And at the end of the two weeks, then we're going to do a little survey and see what happened. Well, our results on this have been amazing. So far I've done 79 studies with 2,537 participants. Thirty-seven percent of the people who participated in the research said, "I got better at everything." Sixty-five percent said they got better on four of the six items. Eighty-nine percent said they got better at at least one item. Eleven percent stayed about the same and about 0.4% said it got worse.

Every day these questions get me to focus not on what I cannot change, but what I can change. And it is amazing how well this works. If you'd like to participate, send me an email, Just write "Six Question Study." I'll sign you up for the research yourself. You can get to experience this in your own life and I'm going to guarantee you that your results will be just about like everyone else's.

Finally, the best coaching advice I've ever given anyone. Take a deep breath. Imagine you're 95 years old. You're on your deathbed. You're just getting ready to die. But right before that last breath, you're given a beautiful gift. The ability to go back in time and talk to the person that's listening to me right now, to help that person to a better leader and have a better life. What advice would that old person have for you? Well, some friend of mine was interviewing old folks were dying to ask this question, "What advice would you have?" On the personal side, three themes. Theme number one, be happy now. Not next week, not next week, not next year, be happy now. Common comment, "I got so busy chasing what I didn't have, I couldn't see what I did have." That's a great first question every day, "Did I do my best to be happy?"

Number two, friends and family. Your companies are important but when you make that daily question list, include your friends and family, "Did you spend time with your family? Did you tell them you loved them?" At the end of the day, that's going to be very important.

And then number three, if you have a dream, go for it. Because if you don't when your 35, you may not when you 55 or 85. And really challenge yourself not to get so wrapped up in the day to day activities of life you forget that big dream that you've got for the future.

Business advice isn't much different. Number one, life is short, have fun. Number two, do whatever you can to help people. And not just for money and status but because the 95 year old you will be proud of you because you did. And then number three, if you have a dream, go for it. Old people, well we almost never regret the risks we take and fail. We always regret the risk we failed to take.

And the final thing I would like to say is, I hope you enjoyed our brief time together and found some of what I just said to be practical and useful and hopefully help you have just a little bit better life. Thank you very much.