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Kelly & Marshall Goldsmith: You Can Be More

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Dr. Paul Hersey was a wonderful mentor of mine (MG). He changed my life in many ways. One of the fantastic lessons that he taught me is that the greatest return on training and development can come from coaching top performers and encouraging them to be even better —as opposed to “fixing” problem employees who are performing poorly. Paul also applied this principle in coaching me. I will never forget one of his coaching sessions that dramatically changed the course of my career.  

Play Your Own Long Game

Paul said that he had some feedback he would like to share with me. Given that he was one of the most influential people in my field and a personal hero of mine, I was a little afraid.  He began by saying, “Marshall, your clients love you! The courses that you are teaching are incredibly well received.  You are getting lots of amazing feedback and making more money than you ever dreamed of.”

I began to smile and think that this was just going to be a pep talk about how well I was doing and how proud he was of me.  I was wrong.

Paul continued, “You are completely screwing up. You are running around like a chicken with your head cut off! You are selling the same thing day after day after day. You are not thinking, you are not writing and you are not developing new material. If you continue doing what you are now, you will have a successful life, but you will never become the person you could be—and you will regret it. You can be more.”

Paul’s coaching changed my life. He was right. I began to think, write and develop new material. I learned from other great thinkers like Peter Drucker, Frances Hesselbein and Richard Beckhard. I became focused on my long-term development as an author, thinker and executive coach, not just my short-term income as a speaker. Twice I have been recognized as the Thinkers50 No. 1 Leadership Thinker in the World. This would never have happened without Dr. Hersey’s great teaching. Paul changed my mentality on personal improvement. He got me out of my comfort zone. His coaching was part of the inspiration for my best-selling book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

Comfort Is a Growth Killer

As I reflect back on my life, the greatest coaching that I have ever received has always revolved around four challenging words: “You can be more!” In each of these situations I was doing very well—I was comfortable—and I was not challenging myself.  

Consider your role as a chief executive officer. It can be tempting to spend most of your coaching time working with people who have problems. There is nothing wrong with this, but you may be missing a much bigger opportunity. Make a list of the highest potential leaders in your organization.  People who are already doing a great job. They are “on a roll,” hitting the numbers and doing great work. They are not only comfortable; they are feeling great about their performance.

For each one, think how you can deliver a “you can be more” message that might change their life in a positive way. Communicating that “you can be more” to a top performer is the ultimate form of positive recognition. You are recognizing how great they are doing now and communicating your belief that they have the capability of becoming even more.

Finally, never stop applying “you can be more” to yourself,  never get too comfortable. If you want them to become the leaders that they have the potential to be, let them watch you do the same thing.


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