All In: Those Stupid Idiot Bean Counters in Accounting!



By Marshall Goldsmith

My great friend Chester Elton, #1 bestselling author of the books, All In, The Carrot Principle, and The Best Team Wins, member of the 100 Coaches Pay-It Forward project, expert on the topics of culture and the multigenerational workplace, and one of the most influential voices in our field today, recently asked me about Stakeholder Centered Coaching, the coaching practice I use and that more than 2000 coaches have been trained in to date. Below is an excerpt from our interview.

Chester: I am so thrilled and so engaged with your stakeholder coaching. Now people would say, “Are you an executive coach?” I would say, “Well, I don’t know what that means. Am I your friend? Am I your buddy? How do you know it works?” Then I got exposed to stakeholder executive training. Tell us a little bit about it.

Marshall: Well, our stakeholder-centered coaching process is very focused on results. In my coaching, I do not get paid if my clients don’t get better. Better is not judged by me or them. It’s judge by everyone around them, and as you’ve seen, I have amazing, amazing clients.

In Stakeholder Centered Coaching, what we do is first ask who are your key stakeholders? We work with the client, and their manager, who might be the CEO or the board, and determine who are the most important stakeholders in your life. Then we make sure that every leader gets confidential feedback from those key stakeholders. Then the leader, and if their manager is there and their manager agrees, hears the most important behaviors.

Our coaching contract is simple. You need to get better at these behaviors as judged by these people in order for us to get paid. We build in the importance of follow-up, and the key variable in stakeholders in our coaching is not me as a coach working with you as a client. It’s you as a client working with your stakeholders. I’m a facilitator.

We teach people to talk to their stakeholders and say, “Here’s what I’ve learned. Thank you. Here’s what I feel good about. Thank you for that. Here’s what I want to improve. Please give me ideas.” They ask for feedforward, and then we teach people to listen and thank people. We have a very rigorous follow-up process that’s built in, and then ultimately they get better and then we get paid.

Chester: What I love, too, is you don’t try to focus on 15 things. It’s like two or three things. Where this really kicked off for me … you and I were talking at a conference we were presenting at. You asked me the question. You said, “Chester, what do you think is easier? Is it easier to change behavior or perception?” I said perception and you said…

Marshall: …Wrong. It is much easier to change behavior than it is to change perception. Let me give you a very simple example. Let us imagine that your problem is you make too many destructive comments about people.

I pick that because it seems so simple. Just quit doing it. Problem’s gone. It’s not so simple. I’m your coworker. Case study A, you get feedback because you make too many destructive comments. You do not talk to me. You do no follow-up. You make no destructive comments for seven months, and then you say in front of me, “Those idiots in finance, stupid bean counters, in accounting!” I hear you. My reaction is, “He’s never changed.” That one comment will trigger my previous stereotype.

Case study B, you talk to me. “Coworker Marshall, I want to be a great team player, not make these bad comments. Give me ideas.” I don’t necessarily believe you’re going to change. I talk to you and I’m a little hopeful. What happens, though, two months later? It’s been two months, you say, “I said I wanted to be a great team player, not make these bad comments. Please give me ideas based on the last two months for the next two.” Now I think, “You’re doing a good job. Keep it up.”

You see what starts to happen now. Not only is your behavior changing. My perception is changing. It’s been four months. No destructive comments, “Great job. Keep it up.” Six months, “I didn’t think you’d change. You’ve worked very hard. I appreciate it.” Seven months, you lapse, “Those idiots in finance, stupid bean counters!” I say, “Chester, you went seven months without doing that. You shouldn’t have said that.” You say, “You’re right. I’m going to apologize.”

Situation A, did behavior change? Yes. Did perception change? No. Situation B, did behavior change? Yes. Did perception change? Yes. In leadership, it doesn’t matter what we think. What we think we said in leadership, all that matters is what they hear.

Chester: Great lesson. Thank you Marshall!





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