Looking in the Mirror Is the Key to Change

When my friend, Chris Cuomo, journalist and news anchor on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time, and I met recently, Chris asked me about my coaching style. I love this question, because in asking it and reflecting on it, Chris comes to the answer himself with just some brief explanation from me. I didn’t have to explain much at all. That’s how coaching should work, I think. What do you think?

Chris: Chris Cuomo here with Marshall Goldsmith. So, how did we meet? I was trying to decide whether or not to leave ABC News and go to CNN. I was torn. I got so lucky for you to give me some time, Marshall. I said to myself, ‘This is great. I’ll sit down with Marshall Goldsmith. He’ll give me the pearls that I’ve read in his books, and I’ll make my decision.’ We meet. I’m doing most of the talking. I start thinking to myself, ‘I’m wasting my opportunity with Marshall.’

Here’s the question Marshall. Part of your magic, part of your genius is you do not dominate the session getting me to understand what you think I should do. How does that work?

Marshall: Well you know, I think I’m much more of a facilitator than an expert. The reality is, I don’t know that much about the news business. I’m not an expert on CNN. I’m not an expert on ABC. Look who my coaching clients are. I’m not an expert on Walmart, the World Bank, the Mayo Clinic, or Ford. I can’t know about all these companies. I don’t even pretend to. I never pretended to know anything about your business. You know about 100 times more than me.

My job is to ask, listen, and learn, and figure out what it is that you want. My job as a coach, at least my type of coaching, is I’m not here to tell you who you want to be. I’m here to help you be the person that you want to be. And that’s hard enough.

Chris: That is hard.

Marshall: Yes, that’s hard in and of itself. So that’s really my job. I’m much more of a facilitator. In my coaching, people get feedback from everyone around them. It’s confidential. They find out what everybody thinks, and it’s often not easy to hear. My clients feel good about somethings they hear and think about what they want to get better at. They pick important behaviors to improve. If they’re not the CEO, the CEO agrees with what that behavior is. If they are the CEO, the board agrees. The client always gets sign off on the behavior they will work on. Then they talk to people. They apologize for their mistakes. They follow-up with their stakeholders on a regular basis. We measure their improvement, and the client gets better.

In my coaching, most of what my clients learn, they don’t learn from me. I’m a facilitator who’s helping them learn from themselves and everyone around them. I’m not a little God that’s giving them all the right answers. The thing I’ve learned as a coach is, it’s not about me.

Chris: You’re like a mirror. You put a mirror up to people. And you let them see how they’re perceived and what’s going on around them. And they get a clear picture of themselves.

Marshall: That’s it. Thank you!

Chris: Thank you, Marshall.

 

On June 20th, I was honored to be inducted into the Thinkers 50 Hall of Fame – whose members include the top management thinkers of our time.