The Greatest Challenge Leaders Face

MG Thinkers 50 Blog

May 25, 2015
 by Marshall Goldsmith

In my work, I have the opportunity to talk with many leaders every day and I am frequently asked the question, “What is the greatest challenge that leaders face?”

It’s simple: Our greatest challenge is overcoming our own egos.

As a leader, you likely have a sincere desire to help and care deeply about developing others. You have learned a lot, have great qualifications, and believe in yourself.

Unfortunately, these positive qualities can get in our way when it comes to helping!

Our Client’s Dedication Means More Than Our Wisdom

Of all of my coaching clients, the client who improved the most was the client with whom I had spent the least amount of time! He was the CEO of a huge organization and
managed about 50,000 people. After our coaching engagement, I said to him, “I have spent less time with you than any client that I have ever coached, yet you and your team have shown the greatest improvement. What should I learn from my experience with you and your team?”

He thoughtfully replied, “Marshall, you should realize that success with your clients isn’t all about you. It is about your clients, the people who choose to work with you.” He continued, “In an important way, my situation is the same. I manage about 50,000 people. Every day, as a leader, I tell myself, ‘The success of our organization is not about me. It is about them-the great people who are working with me!’”

This remarkable leader was Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford, who was recently named #3 on Fortune’s list of the 50 greatest leaders in the world. Alan taught me a powerful lesson. That the difference in my clients’ improvements wasn’t about me, it was about them. The difference was about their dedication to achieving positive, lasting change-not my great insights or wisdom.

One of My Most Embarrassing Screw-ups

In spite of understanding the theory of ‘make it all about them, not you,’ I can still let my own ego get in the way of my work.

For example, I am sometimes honored by wonderful organizations and this makes me feel good! I love what I do, and when I am appreciated for it I feel great! Sometimes I cannot believe how lucky I am.

Although it is good to be thankful and grateful about our own lives, it is not always good to assume that our blessings are the major topic of interest for the rest of the world!

Some time back, after I received an award, I was interviewing the team members of a client executive that I was going to coach. I really loved the company and was looking forward to working with the executive. As I introduced myself to each team member during our one-on-one sessions, I was so enthusiastic about myself, the great honor I’d received, and my wonderful life that I forgot why I was there! The person who had hired me called to send her regrets, noting that the team thought I seemed to be more interested in myself than I was in them. To put it bluntly, I was fired!

I should have been fired.

And, that’s the lesson for today: The next time your start feeling ‘smart,’ ‘qualified,’ or ‘wise,’ remember this warning:

Get over yourself!!!