The Number One Problem of Business Leaders

Question: What are the biggest challenges business leaders face today?

Goldsmith:  Well, I was interviewed in the Harvard Business Review and asked a question. What is the number one problem of the people you coach?  And the answer is winning too much. What’s that mean?  If it’s important, we want to. When?  Meaningful and we want to. When?  Critical, we want to. When?  Trivial, we want to. When?  Not worth it, we want to. Win anyway. We like winning. I had a case study that I give with my clients and 75% fail but when I say fail they fail themselves. The case study goes like this. You want to go to dinner at restaurant X. Your husband, wife, partner, friend or significant other wants to go to dinner at restaurant Y. You have a heated argument. You go to restaurant Y, so it’s not your choice. The food tastes awful. The service is terrible. Option A, critique the food. Point out your partner was wrong. This mistake could have been avoided had only they listened to me, me, me. Option B, shut up, eat the stupid food, try to enjoy it and have a nice evening. What would I do?  What should I do?  Seventy-five percent of my clients--  What would I do?  Critique the food. What should I do?  Shut up. It’s incredibly difficult for smart, successful people not to constantly go through life and win. The second major factor is--  It’s related to the first, called adding too much value. I’m young, smart, enthusiastic. I report to you. I come to you with an idea. You think it’s a great idea but in saying great idea our natural tendency is to say, “That is a nice idea. Why don’t you add this to it?”  Well, the problem is the quality of the idea may go up 5%. My commitment to its execution may now go down 50%. It’s no longer my idea, incredibly difficult for smart, successful people not to constantly go through life adding value. One of my clients is a CEO of a large pharmaceutical company. I asked him, “What did you learn about leadership as a CEO?”  He said, “I learned a very hard lesson. As a CEO, my suggestions become orders.”  He said, “If they’re smart they’re orders. If they’re stupid they’re orders. If I want them to be orders, they are orders. If I do not want them to be orders, they’re orders anyway.”  The higher you move up in to leadership, the more we need to realize our suggestions become orders and I asked him, “What did you learn from me when I was your coach that helped you the most?”  He said, “You taught me one lesson that helped me be a better executive and be a happier person.”  And I said, “What is it?”  He said, “Before I speak, stop and breathe, ah, and ask myself one question. Is it worth it?”  And he said, “As CEO of this company, 50% of the time I have the discipline to stop and breathe and ask is it worth it?  What do I decide?  Am I right?  Maybe. Is it worth it?  No.” 

Marshall Goldsmith says winning too much is a big problem for business leaders.

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