In January 1926 Babe Ruth revealed his New Year’s Resolutions to the New York Graphic. These included a commitment to hit more home runs but also “to hold his temper… be obedient… to watch his diet… and to conserve his health.” The Babe, a man with enormous appetites for food, booze and women, had made such promises before. This time was different; he backed these up with a sojourn in Art McGovern’s gym. In an era when ballplayers did not keep an off-season conditioning routine, the Babe’s commitment was remarkable. As Leigh Montville points out in his biography, The Big Bam, Ruth credited his off-season regime with helping to make his subsequent years in the game more productive.
Stop to Get Ahead
What the Babe realized was that while he had talent and exceptional skills, if he wanted to improve, or even maintain his current level of productivity, he would have make some big lifestyle changes. Marshall Goldsmith certainly would approve; it is a theme he explores in his newest book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (Hyperion, 2007). The book paints a roadmap for how to let go of the past in order to achieve more lofty goals. Goldsmith knows of what he writes. As an executive coach to Fortune 100 CEOs, he counsels executives to focus on improvement. Most often, it involves letting go of bad habits in order to adopt new behaviors that will enable you to succeed. Just like the Babe did. Eighteen months after the Babe’s first off-season sojourn in the gym, Ruth hit 60 home runs, a record that stood until 1961, and also hit 714 for his career, another record that stood for more than 40 years.
Managers and employees are not ballplayers. We need more than trips to the gym, and that’s why books like Goldsmith’s newest can be instructive. He writes, “I tell people that change is a simple equation: Stop the annoying behavior and you’ll stop being perceived as an annoyance.” And with characteristic humility, he adds, “It’s so easy. I’m amazed I get paid to teach it.” Here are some habits that Goldsmith advises dropping:
- Winning too much. We all want to win, but when it’s the other person who always trumps the team, that behavior gets old fast. Pursuit of the win at all costs may end up costing people more, e.g., loss of respect, loss of support, and maybe a loss of a job.
- Starting with “No,” “But” or “However.” These words, according to Goldsmith, are clues that say,”I’m right, and you’re wrong.” You don’t always have to agree or give permission, but stop with the qualifying. Life is not a legal contract.
- Withholding information. Want to know why people don’t trust you? It may be because you are holding back on information that may determine the success or failure of a project. That self-serving attitude is often paid back when you’re the one frozen out.
- Clinging to the past. Get a negative performance appraisal? Own up to it. Sure, it hurts but you must face facts. Goldsmith argues that failure to own up is a way of blaming others. Think about.
- Failing to express gratitude. Would it kill you to say thank you once in awhile? It is a simple and decent courtesy that we all need to practice more of. Lack of time is no excuse; lack of courtesy is bad manners.
More Than Stopping
It is one thing to cite these annoyances that drive people crazy; it is a challenge to drop them. Easy for a coach or a colleague to advise. That’s why the individual must truly want to change. Sometimes that realization comes with a disappointment, such as being passed over for a promotion. Other times it is the culmination of events that cause you to reassess your position because you realize that people are turning away from you. Whatever the point of decision, the action forward takes courage and plenty of resolve.
True success, however, does not come simply from letting go. You have to adopt new behaviors. One of Goldsmith’s proven techniques is “feed forward,” where the person being coached asks for the assistance of others. She asks colleagues to provide suggestions about how she can improve and then asks them to hold her accountable. Consider it feedback in advance, i.e., “feed forward.”
Managers will appreciate the final chapter in which Goldsmith tackles a more pressing issue. Getting people to stop doing something is one challenge; getting them to change their minds is another. Making assumptions about people you manage is a no-no; among the pitfalls are assuming you know what people want, that you know as much as they do and that they are replaceable. Attitudes like that are destructive and hold people back as much as outright negative behaviors, maybe even more so.
Change is never easy, in particular when we are the ones who must change. That’s why it’s good to take a deep breath and look inside ourselves once in awhile. Gaining perspective on one’s self is critical for where you are now and where you want to go tomorrow and the next day. As Goldsmith cites in his book, when high potential executives are asked what’s most important to them, they answer three things: meaningful work, people they work with and an opportunity to fulfill dreams. Nothing lofty or impossible, but they are things you must work to make happen.
(For more on Marshall Goldsmith and his coaching and teaching, visit www.marshallgoldsmith.com, or this collection of his many articles, books and videos.)
John Baldoni is a leadership communications consultant who works with Fortune 500 companies as well as non-profits including the University of Michigan. He is a frequent keynote and workshop speaker as well as the author of six books on leadership; the latest is How Great Leaders Get Great Results (McGraw-Hill). Readers are welcome to visit his leadership resource website at www.johnbaldoni.com.