Your Leadership Mission Should Fit on a T-Shirt!

My mission is simple. It is to: Help successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in their behavior. Peter Drucker instilled this short phrase in me, “Your mission should fit on a t-shirt,” as he did with so many others, and it has guided my career for many decades. It has helped me focus and become pretty good at what I do, which I can describe in two words: behavioral coaching.

Today, most people who call themselves executive coaches are coaches in the area of leadership behavior. There are a few– and I would like to underline, very few– strategic coaches. For instance, Vijay Govindarajan, who does an excellent job of helping at the corporate strategy domain. Michael Porter is another great coach in this domain. When I say most, I mean upwards of 90% of people who say they’re executive coaches have backgrounds in psychology or organizational behavior. So, most executive coaches are doing what I do, helping leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior.

Peter Drucker’s advice that a mission should fit on a T-shirt has also helped me focus on what not to do as it applies to my mission statement. For instance, it helped me grapple with this interesting catch about my work: behavioral coaching only helps if a person has behavioral issues!

It sounds simple, but I receive ridiculous (to me) requests for coaching. Not long ago, a pharmaceutical company called me up, and said, “We want you to coach Dr. X.” I replied, “Interesting possibility. What’s his problem?” They said, “He’s not updated on recent medical technology.” I laughed and replied, “Neither am I!” I couldn’t help Dr. X. I can’t make a bad doctor a good doctor, a bad scientist a good scientist, or a bad engineer a good engineer. Behavioral coaching only solves behavioral issues.

The second thing I always teach is never coach integrity violations. I read an article in Forbes once I found very disturbing, about people that had integrity violations who were given coaches. People that have integrity violations should be fired, not coached. How many integrity violations does it take to ruin the reputation of your company? Just one. You don’t coach integrity violations. You fire them.

And finally, behavioral coaching doesn’t help if the person or the company is going in the wrong direction. If somebody is going in the wrong direction, behavioral coaching just helps them get there faster. It doesn’t turn the wrong direction into the right direction.

It’s your turn. What’s your mission? Can you fit it on a T-shirt? Do you use it to help guide your career decisions? If you don’t have a mission statement, write one up and post it to the comment section. I would love to see what your mission is!

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.