What is the #1 problem of most executives that Marshall Goldsmith has coached?
Marshall Goldsmith has had the privilege of spending 50 days with the world’s greatest authority on management — Peter Drucker. During his time with Peter, Marshall learned a very important lesson.
Coaches spend so much time helping leaders learn what to do, that they forget to help leaders learn what to stop doing. In reality, a majority of the leaders Peter had met already knew what they needed to do. Instead, they needed to learn what not to do and when they should stop.
That comment led Marshall to write his book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”, which ended up being a best-selling book in 12 countries and was translated into 30 languages. All because of Peter Drucker.
So, going back to the question above, “What is the #1 problem of most executives that Marshall Goldsmith has coached?” — the answer is winning too much.
What does that mean exactly?
“A CEO who gets too caught up in winning might be a long-term loser”
Winners love winning. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult for highly successful leaders not to or try their best to win. To help you understand the impact of winning too much in your daily life, here’s a short case study.
Imagine that you have just returned home after a long hard day at work. You open the door and your significant other says, “I had such a hard day today”. Most leaders will respond with, “You had a hard day? You? You have no idea what I had to put up with today!”
Leaders tend to be so competitive that they have the urge to constantly prove that they are more miserable, stressed out, or tired than the people in their lives. Marshall gave this example at a class at Dartmouth’s Tucks School. One man raised his hand and said that he did exactly that last week to his wife.
Seeing his reaction, his wife looked at him and said, “Honey, your hard day is NOT over.”
So, the next time you start trying to win, take a deep breath and ask yourself — what exactly are you winning here?
6 Key Takeaways in Winning vs Leading
1. Winning is not everything
Good CEOs and entrepreneurs tend to be naturally competitive. You often focus on the goals you want to achieve, build an action plan to hit those goals and then keep count of your wins for the company.
However, being competitive can also build a habit of trying to “win” in everything — including small arguments with no real value. You feel like it’s your job to prove how smart and right you are, every time. So, if you catch yourself turning every trivial issue into a battle to prove something — it’s time to reassess your priorities.
2. Accept that you’re not always the boss
Successful leaders often have a hard time admitting that they don’t always have all the power. You might have a board of directors to answer to, a business partner who has to sign off on a big decision, or a life partner who has a say on what you’ll be having for dinner.
One of Marshall’s mentors told him, “Every decision in the world is made by the person who has the power to make that decision. Make peace with that.” Even if you don’t have a final say in a decision, you still have the power to influence the decision-maker in a positive way.
3. Focus on the big picture
One way to avoid getting caught up in trivial battles is to avoid trivial tasks — because it should not be your responsibility. As the leader of the company, your main responsibility is to set big targets for the company’s future and delegating tasks to people so you can achieve your goals.
You are not supposed to be a micromanager who is constantly going around picking fights to remind your employees who is in charge. Before you start on any task, ask yourself “How is this task going to help me accomplish my big goals?” If it’s not, then delegate it to someone else, and focus on the big picture that will grow your company.
4. Let others claim the credit
When someone comes to you with an idea, what do you usually do? Leaders often have the tendency to add on to an idea instead of simply giving all the credit to the employee. Some might do this solely for the sake of the company, but others might do it just to show that they are smart and can contribute ideas too.
The problem with this is, the quality of the idea may only go up by 5%, but the employee’s motivation to execute the idea might go down drastically — because they no longer feel like it’s their idea. So, sometimes, it’s best to step back and let others take all the credit.
5. Embrace feedback (and feedforward)
If you’re too focused on winning every argument and want to be seen as the smartest person in the room, you will create a work environment in which your employees will keep their opinions and ideas to themselves. They will be too afraid of expressing their opinions, afraid of being wrong, of being judged or of trying new things. This will quickly grow to become a culture for your company — which will stifle creativity and growth.
As a leader, you have to be open to suggestions, not only for the sake of getting fresh ideas, but also to build a sense of ownership in your team. By being open and providing a psychologically safe environment, your employees will follow your lead and support each other too. This is crucial in building a positive and high-performing team.
6. Adapt your leadership style accordingly
When you open yourself up to feedback from your employees, you can gain insight into what kind of leadership style is suitable for your team. A new employee might need firm hand holding while they are getting situated in your company. A C-suite colleague might prefer it if you adopt more of a coach-like behavior instead of a supervisor. Employees who know exactly what they need to do might just need you to leave them to do their job perfectly.
What exactly are you winning?
Marshall recently got an email from a student in his class, thanking him for his story about trying to win at everything.
“Yesterday my wife called and was talking about what a tough day she had. I was just getting ready to point out how her problems paled in significance to my own, but for some reason, I remembered what you said five years ago. I stopped, I breathed, I listened to my wife and I said, I love you, thank you for all the sacrifices that you’ve made for our family. I bought some flowers, went home, I said I love you to my wife and gave her the flowers. That was the best $25 I ever spent, thank you very much.”
So, if you start trying to win something trivial just for the sake of proving how right or how smart you are, take a deep breath and ask yourself “What exactly am I winning here?”