Tuesday, August 23, 2005


I came across this interesting interview with Marshall Goldsmith, who is incorporating Buddha principles in his consulting practise with a high degree of success. Enjoy!

Suffice it to say that Marshall Goldsmith is a world authority in helping successful leaders achieve positive, measurable change in behavior: for themselves, their people and their teams. The American Management Association named Marshall as one of the 50 great thinkers and leaders who have influenced the field of management over the past 80 years. He has been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Business Strategy Review and the aforementioned New Yorker profile. The Wall Street Journal named him one of the top ten executive educators. Forbes calls him one of the five most respected executive coaches. The Economist states Marshall is one of the most credible consultants in the new era of business. The Business Times of Asia and Fast Company label Marshall as the preeminent executive coach. Dr. Goldsmith is on the faculty of executive education programs at Dartmouth, Michigan and Cambridge Universities. He is a founding director of A4SL - The Alliance for Strategic Leadership. He is a founder of the Russell Reynolds executive advisors network. He is a partner with Hewitt Associates in providing global executive coaching. He has also served as a member of the Board of the Peter Drucker Foundation for ten years.

We start the interview by asking Marshall Goldsmith about the title to this interview, "Life Is Good."

Zen and Business: I know you end your emails with "Life Is Good" and I know this is prominent on your website and such. Tell us why life is good?

Marshall Goldsmith: There are many schools of Buddhist thought. I would guess that the diversity in Buddhist beliefs is even greater than the diversity in Christian philosophies. My Buddhist philosophy can be summarized in three simple words, "Be happy now." In my mind, this is heaven, this is hell and this is Nirvana. It is not "out there." It is "in here." The great Western disease is "I'll be happy when..." This is fueled by our prevailing art form - the commercial. The commercial says, "You are unhappy. You spend money. You become happy!" I don't believe that anyone can become happy by having more. I also don't believe that anyone can become happy by having less. We can only find happiness and satisfaction with what we have. Life is good when we make it good. I also sign my emails this way to remind myself (and hopefully to help others).

Zen and Business: I want to ask you about your executive coaching and your thoughts on the integration of your practice and business, but, let's go back to the beginning here and let us know how you got involved with your Zen practice. Give us some background.

Marshall Goldsmith: I was a "hippie" in the late '60's and early '70's. During this period, I studied a variety of Eastern philosophies. During the early to mid-'70's, I decided that Buddhism was the right way for me. My favorite teacher is Thich Nhat Hanh. I have had the opportunity to spend a week at his center in France, Plum Village, and also some time in Escondido, California. I just had his painting done by a wonderful artist. It is now in my home. It is a great inspiration! We are going to donate the prints from this painting to his favorite charities.

Zen and Business: Can you tell us when and how you began to see some integration with your practice and your life's work in leadership, coaching and such?

Marshall Goldsmith: My coaching philosophy is based upon Buddhist principles. I believe that we have no "fixed identity" but instead we are ever changing. My coaching approach involves helping people let go of the past and focus on becoming what they want to become. I pioneered a concept called "feedforward" which is the essence of my coaching philosophy. My original article on Feedforward has been republished at least nine times. This concept has been taught to thousands of leaders around the world. As I have grown older, I have "come out of the closet" with my Buddhist beliefs. One event help me in this transition. I was working with a group of hard-charging investment bankers. One banker grunted, "Will this shit help us make any more money?" I thought about this question and replied, "I think so. This will help you lead in a manner that is consistent with your companies values. Your own top management believes that this will ultimately help your company become more successful." Then I decided to take a risk. I said, "But personally, I don't care so much whether your bank makes more money. My personal mission is to help you - and the people around you - have a happier life." I then asked, "Do you have any objection to this mission?" The banker thought for awhile and said he thought that this was a fine mission. I have since asked thousands of leaders if they had any objection to my mission. So far, not one person has objected!

Zen and Business: Can you talk about your approach to Zen and draw some parallels between this "Zen Leadership" and the "Business Leadership" in today's business world. Are there any parallels?

Marshall Goldsmith: My approach to Zen has a lot of applications in behavioral coaching (which is what I do). I not only work with my clients, I work with all of their key stakeholders. I try to help key stakeholders let go of preconceived notions and be open to the fact that everyone can change. I don't try to make anyone change. I only ask people to "do what works for them" in the way that Buddha suggested.

Zen and Business: Let's dig a little further here. In your coaching you do state you do not try to make anyone change. You only ask people to do what works for them in the way that Buddha suggested. Can you elaborate on this - what did Buddha suggest to the executive about doing what works for them?

Marshall Goldsmith: My understanding of Buddhism is that Buddha suggested that each of us test ideas and only use the ideas that work for us (including his ideas). In my coaching I ask executives to get ideas from many sources and use only the ideas that work for them. I don't try to "convince" or "make" my clients do anything. A key element to understand in coaching very successful people is that they have a very high need for self-determination. The more the motivation comes from them, the greater the probability of positive, long-term change.

Zen and Business: I want to follow-up on this idea that in your coaching you do not try to make anyone change. Why? Isn't change a good thing and is it not necessary for the coach to try and get the person to change?

Marshall Goldsmith: I agree that change can be a very good thing! That is what I do for a living. I help people make the changes that they want to make. I don't try to make or force people to change anything. I only work with people who care. My theory on coaching is "if they don't care - don't waste your time." I only get paid if I achieve results. I don't get paid for spending time. Therefore, I only work with clients who are motivated to change. I don't judge other people (who don't care to change) - I just don't choose to work with them. The people who choose to work with me are very clear about what they are "signing up for" and want to do it. I am sometimes asked if most executives are willing to admit to the need to change, ask for help and follow-up on a regular basis. My answer is, "I don't know. I only work with the ones who want to do this."

Zen and Business: Marshall, one more angle on this idea of "change" and "leading change." Can you tell us how you see change. What is it about change that makes it so important and discuss with us this concept of leading change in the business organization.

Marshall Goldsmith: My area of expertise is helping successful leaders achieve a positive, long-term change in behavior: for themselves, their people and their teams. My practice is focused on micro-level behavioral change, not organizational change. I help leaders make the behavior changes that they believe will lead to increased effectiveness for themselves (which ultimately help the organization).

Zen and Business: You mention how you work with people to make long-term, positive changes in behavior. How does this sit with a business world that is so focused on quarterly results, this month's actuals versus goal and what seems to be a continued micro-management of company's results down to the daily ups and downs. How do you work to make this long term change in such a short term focused business world?

Marshall Goldsmith: I typically work with my clients for 15 to 24 months. The research on behavioral change is clear - change measured over a longer period of time is far more lasting than change measured over a short period of time. Instant "religious conversions" seldom last. "Motivational speeches" seldom have much long-term impact. If people are serious about making long-term change in behavior, they have to make a serious investment. If they don't want to do this, I don't judge them - I just don't work with them. My clients are extremely successful people. Their companies are willing to make a long-term investment in their development.

Zen and Business: I know the clients you work with are successful - you coach many of the top executives and CEO's in the business world today. Do you find an openness to your ideas concerning the integration of Buddha and business?

Marshall Goldsmith: Since I am so widely published, most people who hire me are well aware of what I do and how I do it. They don't have any problems with my approach or philosophy. I really can't say if this is true for the larger population of executives, since those that don't approve of my approach wouldn't call me. In general I believe that our society is more open to different ideas than in the past. I have not felt any negative reaction to me being a Buddhist. Since I have been listed in almost every major publication as one of the top professionals in my field, it doesn't seem to be hurting my career!

Buddha says; "The perfect way knows no difficulties except it refuses to make preferences"


Buddha Speaks Biz

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