Are You Using Your Genius to Improve Things?

By Marshall Goldsmith

Like many young Ph.D. students, I was deeply impressed with my own intelligence, wisdom, and profound insights into the human condition. I consistently amazed myself with my ability to judge others and see what they were doing wrong. I thought I was more than good enough, and everyone else was not quite up to par.

Dr. Fred Case was both my UCLA dissertation advisor and boss. My dissertation was connected with a consulting project that involved the city of Los Angeles. At the time he was a professor at UCLA and head of the LA City Planning Commission. He had done a lot to help the city become a better place. He was also doing a lot to help me. I sincerely respected him.

Although he was normally in a very upbeat mood, on that day Dr. Case seemed annoyed. He looked at me and growled, “Marshall, what is the problem with you? I am getting feedback from some people at City Hall that you are coming across as negative, angry, and judgmental. What’s going on?”

“You can’t believe how inefficient the city government is!” I ranted. I then gave several examples of how taxpayer’s money was being wasted. I was convinced that the city could be a much better place if the leaders just listened to me.

“What a stunning breakthrough!” Dr. Case said sarcastically, “You, Marshall Goldsmith, have discovered that our city government is inefficient! I hate to tell you this, Marshall, but my barber figured this out several years ago. What else is bothering you?”

I then pointed out examples of favoritism toward rich political benefactors.

Dr. Case was now laughing. “Stunning breakthrough number two!” he chuckled. “You have discovered that politicians may give more attention to their major campaign contributors than to people who support their opponents. My barber has also known this for years. I am afraid that we can’t give you a Ph.D. for this level of insight.”

As he looked at me, his face showed the wisdom of experience. He said, “I have been working at City Hall for years. Did it ever dawn on you that even though I may be slow, perhaps even I have figured some of this stuff out?”

Then he said, “Marshall, you are becoming a pain in the butt. You are not helping your clients, me, or yourself.

I’m going to give you two options: Option A: Continue to be angry, negative, and judgmental. If you chose this option, you will be fired. Option B: Start having some fun. Try to make a constructive difference in a way that is positive for you and the people around you. Life is short. Start having fun. Which option will you choose?”

I laughed and said, “Dr. Case, I think it is time for me to start having some fun!”

He smiled knowingly and said, “You are a wise young man.”

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that things are not always as efficient as they could be; or that people tend to be more interested in their own advancement. Most people have figured out this one as well.

Real leaders are not people who can point out what is wrong they make things better. Dr. Case helped me become a better consultant, and have a better life.

Think about your own behavior. Are you communicating a sense of joy and enthusiasm to the people around you, are you using your genius to improve things? Or are you spending too much time in the role of an angry, judgmental critic who thinks that no one is good enough? Second, do you have any family members, friends, or co-workers who are acting as I did? Are you just getting annoyed at them or are you trying to help them? If you haven’t been trying to help them, give it a try. Perhaps they will write a story about you someday!

In the series of video blogs that accompany these articles, I’ve been interviewed byNathan Lyons  Nathan is a high potential from Gen Y who sought my insights on a number of topics from my book Triggers with the critically important angle of “advice I might provide to the younger generations”. I’m excited to share this series of short interviews with you and of course I hope you enjoy my written thoughts on the topics as well!