Controlling triggers to become a better leader

I recently had the distinct pleasure of hosting two IBM THINK Leaders members at a unique group coaching session with Marshall Goldsmith, THINK Leaders Pacesetter, preeminent executive coach and bestselling author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful and his latest bestseller Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts—Becoming the Person You Want to Be.

As it happened, both members are from the transformative and people-centric industry of healthcare—Avice Meehan, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York and Gene Kolker, Chief Data Officer of Seattle Children’s Hospital. Kolker was also recently featured as a Pacesetter on THINK Leaders. Read his full profile here.

Marshall Goldsmith, Author and Executive Coach

Marshall Goldsmith, Author and Executive Coach

The three of us joined about two dozen other executives and coaching professionals to hear Marshall’s latest thinking on why we’re not always the patient, compassionate problem solvers we believe ourselves to be.

As Marshall points out, our reactions don’t occur in a vacuum. They are usually the result of unappreciated triggers in our environment; people and situations that lure us into behaving in a manner diametrically opposed to the colleague/partner/parent/friend we imagine ourselves to be. So often the environment seems to be outside of our control. Even if that is true, as Marshall points out, we have a choice in how we respond.

I talked with our guests Gene and Avice following the session and asked them to reflect on their day spent with Marshall. Each of them was incredibly introspective and thoughtful about this complex topic of triggers and becoming the person we want to be.

Gene: After I came back from the session, I was telling Marshall stories to anyone who would listen—my family, my friends, my team at work! I found his stories and his approach very refreshing. I’m reading his book now and what he says and writes is very clear and to the point.

Avice: I’m a big fan of coaching. I’ve been through it myself, and I use it to reward high performers. So it was great getting Marshall’s perspectives; I found it really valuable. Part of what I enjoyed about Marshall’s approach to coaching is the structure and mutual accountability.

Gene: Though what Marshall touts is simple, it’s very, very hard to put into action. I thought I could get started on Monday following the session…that was my charter, anyway!

Avice: I tried Marshall’s technique of writing a list of questions to ask myself and hold myself accountable to answering them every day. I lasted maybe ten days! Now I know why Marshall pays someone to call him every day and force him to answer his questions—he’s spot on that someone needs to hold us accountable.

Gene: I was captivated by Marshall’s stories. One of my favorites was when Jim Moore, Marshall’s long-time coach and business partner, stood up to tell the story of how he and Marshall would call each other every day and ask a set of questions they each prepared for themselves. One of Jim’s was, ‘Did I take the time today to get a health physical?’ That question went unanswered for quite some time until Jim finally did it—and was diagnosed with an early stage of cancer. Those daily accountability calls ultimately saved his life.

Avice: I have a card that I carry around in my wallet which says, ‘How can we learn from any experience?’ Fresh off of the Marshall coaching session I had a situation where I behaved spectacularly badly. I went from annoyed to incandescent in a heartbeat. It took me 24 hours, but I finally stopped myself and made a game plan as to how to rectify the situation. It was clear that there was a trigger involved that I needed to learn from and not react to in the future.

Gene: “One of the things I thought that was exceptional about Marshall is that he not only told stories of success—of which he has plenty—he also shared some of his failures. Those are as important to successes as anything else.”

Avice: I found it very interesting when Marshall pointed out how we give ourselves permission to do things we know we shouldn’t because ‘today is a special day.’ We give ourselves permission to break our own rules.

Gene: I’ve lived in three countries: Russia, Israel and the US. Of course, there are differences between people—we have different cultures, different traditions and so on. But deep inside of who we are and how we behave, we are similar. And that’s the lesson—we need to look within to understand ourselves better and try to become better.

Avice: Marshall’s advice to women was interesting. I’ve always felt that as a woman, you really have to be prepared to claim your space, because no one is going to claim it for you.

Gene: Marshall’s coaching isn’t just about careers. It’s about life experiences. It’s the real deal.

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