Hello everyone! Thanks for joining us on this episode of The Leader Show with Lou Carter. Today, Lou interviews executive coach Marshall Goldsmith about his new book, “The Earned Life,” which explores the source of today’s existential crisis: regret.
Goldsmith, who has coached over 200 CEOs and their management teams, helps readers identify the psychological and environmental roadblocks that prevent them from unlocking their best potential. In his new book, he examines the regret that stems from choices that alter our lives and haunts our memories.
With that said, let’s delve deep into the insights Marshall Goldsmith shares in this episode.
Louis sets the tone for the conversation by asking Marshall Goldsmith to define the concept of “the earned life” from his new book. In response, Goldsmith explains that living an earned life means making choices, taking risks, and putting in the effort that aligns with an overarching purpose in our lives.
Carter notes that this approach focuses on the journey rather than the outcomes, and Goldsmith agrees, pointing out that Western culture often places too much emphasis on achieving results. He argues that this is a fool’s game because we don’t have total control over the results, and achieving results doesn’t necessarily bring lasting peace or happiness.
Goldsmith likens this to the Buddhist concept of the “Hungry Ghost,” always seeking more without ever feeling satisfied.
Next, Louis and Marshall discuss the idea that many people believe they will be happy when they achieve a certain goal or acquire a certain product. Goldsmith argues that this message is reinforced by Western culture and is a major source of the existential crisis of regret. According to him, happiness is not something external that can be acquired but rather something that comes from within.
Subsequently, when asked if it’s possible to live unbound by regret and how to avoid wallowing in it, Coach Goldsmith suggests that the key is to focus on finding peace in the present moment rather than worrying about the past or future. He further emphasizes that this does not require a permanent, eternal commitment but rather just a willingness to focus on the here and now.
Every breath is a new opportunity to reinvent oneself and move past regret. Goldsmith explains that forgiving oneself for being human is a major challenge many people face. He suggests an exercise where one takes a deep breath and thinks of all the previous versions of oneself and the gifts they have given to the present self. When they exhale, they can feel gratitude towards the older self and overcome any lingering regret or resentment.
On that note, Carter shares a quote from Johnny Carson about not trying to complain or convince others of one’s viewpoints. Goldsmith mentions his book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” in which he identified winning too much as the number one problem for successful people he has coached. He notes that it can be challenging for successful people not to feel the need to win all the time.
After that, Louis asks Marshall how “The Earned Life” has helped people become more fulfilled and reset their lives. Goldsmith explains that the book was inspired during the pandemic and his experience doing lifestyle review calls with 60 amazing people, including Curtis Martin, Pau Gasol, and other accomplished individuals. These calls inspired Goldsmith to write the book, and the participants found them valuable because they were held accountable without being judged.
They also appreciated the opportunity to connect with others and feel like human beings, which can be difficult for successful leaders. While the old adage “It’s lonely at the top” was always true, in the 21st century this phenomenon has only gotten worse. This is because top leaders and executives often feel lonely and misunderstood as they are constantly scrutinized for their viewpoints, be it on social media or in real life.
Having coached executives for almost 40 years, Goldsmith highlights two key points that he’s noticed about successful individuals. The first is that despite their accomplishments, these people face the same human struggles and challenges as everyone else, such as dealing with family and health problems.
Secondly, for them to achieve a fulfilling life, they have to align their aspirations, ambitions, and daily actions. Goldsmith notes that some individuals get lost in the action phase, others become stuck in the aspiration phase, and those who are “achieve-a-holics” mistakenly believe that achievement alone will bring them happiness.
He then cites one of his clients, Safi Bahcall, who learned from Curtis Martin that happiness and achievement are independent variables and that one should strive to be happy for the sake of being happy rather than compulsively seeking achievement.
For Marshall, disconnecting from negative thoughts and behaviors is the key to finding happiness and meaning in life. He suggests two options – change your profession or change your attitude. He also emphasizes the importance of asking oneself if one did their best to be happy daily.
Additionally, Marshall shares his coaching approach to help successful people achieve positive long-term changes in behavior and the importance of making peace with oneself, especially for billionaires who have already tasted success. Lastly, the executive coach cites Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and highlights that we are all human at the end of the day and that self-actualization is the key to achieving true fulfillment.
According to Lou, there is an increase in excessive empathy in the world, which he believes is causing harm. He asks Marshall if empathy can sometimes have negative effects. In reply, Marshall highlights that empathy can have both positive and negative effects.
He then mentions the four types of empathy, which are:
Empathy of understanding can be used to manipulate others. And while empathy of feeling can be positive if it makes one more sensitive, it can also lead to being too overwhelmed by other people’s pain.
As far as empathy of caring is concerned, it is positive, but it can also lead to being less effective in one’s work. Lastly, empathy of doing can create dependency and prevent people from taking responsibility for their problems. It is important to recognize the potential negative effects of empathy and to strike a balance between caring for others and taking care of oneself.
On that note, Marshall recommends practicing singular empathy, serving those who need you in the moment. He shares an example of a Broadway actor playing Aladdin, whose job required him to fall in love with the princess every night, for a thousand shows. To motivate himself to perform, he would harken back to his childhood when he experienced the magic of the theater for the first time. As long as he can inspire another child like that in the audience, he considers himself fulfilled. us that real empathy is not just feeling someone’s pain but doing what is needed for them in the moment.
He then mentions his singular empathy, which is to help people listening to the call have a little better life.
Goldsmith then discusses the concept of credibility and how it needs to be earned twice. He explains that credibility is about doing great work and being recognized as someone who can do great work.
Additionally, Marshall talks about the credibility matrix, which has two dimensions: The first is when you try to prove yourself, but it won’t make a positive difference. This is discussed in the book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”
The other dimension is when you are not trying to prove yourself, and the world would be better off if you did.
Lastly, Lou and Marshall discuss the latter’s book, The Earned Life, which Marshall describes as a philosophical and psychological book about having a good life. He believes that the book applies to everyone, regardless of their job title or status, and it specifically targets those interested in self-improvement.
Thank you for listening!
Louis Carter : My next guest is my friend and mentor of more than 20 years. He's the world-renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith. He's coached more than 200 CEOs and their management teams throughout the past 40 years. I was lucky enough for Marshall to choose me as one of his top coaches for his MG 100. That brings together the world's leading executive coaches, top business thinkers and best leaders with the common purpose of making good executives better.
In his New York Times bestsellers Trigger and What Got You Here Won't Get You There, Marshall helps readers identify the psychological and environmental roadblocks that prevent us from achieving our best performance. Now, in his new book, The Earned Life, Marshall uncovers the source of today's existential crisis: regret.
The kind stemming from choices that alter our lives, reroute destinies and haunt our memories. Particularly timely themes as the pandemic and great resignation inspire people to seek meaning in their lives, get unstuck and make changes. Marshall, congratulations on your new book, The Earned Life, and welcome to the Leader Show on Newsweek.
Marshall Goldsmith : Man, I'm so happy to be here.
LC : Marshall it's so great to see you. Wanna hear about your definition for the new book, The Earned Life, what is your definition for “the earned life”?
MG : Well, I'm going to make sure I get it right. We are living an earned life when the choices, risks, and effort we make in each moment align with an overarching purpose in our lives. Regardless of the eventual outcomes. And I think the interesting part of that sentence is regardless of the eventual outcomes.
LC : It's interesting and it's not about the outcomes, is it? Right? It's not about the outcomes. It's about the journey. And that's what you were saying in your book as well.
MG : Exactly. I think one of the great problems in the West particularly is we get our egos and our identity get focused on the results we achieve. And ultimately that's a fool's game for two reasons. One, we don't have total control over the results. Many things happen that are outside of our control. And number two, what happens after achieve the results?
Well, how long does that bring lasting peace or happiness, or satisfaction? A day? A week? Not much. Not much. And then also, guess what? Do it again. Do it again. Do it again. And the Buddhist term for this is called the Hungry Ghost. I'm always eating and I'm never full.
LC : Is this crisis you speak about and you've always taught me about is “I will be happy when…” right? And so is this a huge problem for executives and all of us? We have to do something in order to be happy. Yeah, we can be fulfilled now, can't we?
MG : I completely agree with you. I mean, to me, though, it's no wonder we feel this way. You know, you know, Lou, the great Western art form you may have seen a few thousand times, it sounds like this: There is a person. No, the person is sad. They spend money, they buy a product, and they become happy. This is called a commercial. Have you ever seen one of those before?
Well, you know, how many times have you seen that message? Thousands of times, day after day, after day after day. It's the same message. Happiness is out there. Oh, the reality is happiness is not out there. It's in here.
LC : You know, so is it possible to live unbound by regret and how we can avoid the temptation to wallow in it? Is that possible?
MG : Now, here's the important point of the book. The important point of the book is that you have if you say, I have to do this every second for eternity, you'll never succeed. That is the opposite of the intent of the book, though. The intent of the book is there's only one second you have to learn to find peace. Now.
Not next week, not next year, not next month. Now. And if you look at now, it certainly seems possible.
LC : One of the things I tell people is- that I've learned from you- is well, who really are feeling like they're regretting what they've just done, is that every breath is a new breath and a time to be a new me. And this concept that brings feedforward together, saying you can be a new you in every single second and every single breath.
How have you seen that play out with the hundreds of CEOs that you've coached throughout the many years?
MG : Well, that's a really important point in the book, because every time I take a breath, it's a new me. And I've seen it play out not just with CEOs, with human beings, period. I mean, one of our biggest challenges, Lou, that you've brought up is forgiving ourselves for being human. And, you know, I have a great exercise. Take a deep breath.
And every time you think, “every time I take a breath, it's a new me”. So think… new me. Everything that happened before was done by an infinite set of people called the previous versions of me. Well, think of all those previous yous and think about the gifts they've given to you that's listening to me right now and think about how hard they tried and the nice things they've done.
So if any group of people did that many nice things, what we should we say to those people? Thank you. Thank you. Now, did they make a little mistake or two? Oh, yeah. The first person we need to learn to forgive- this person.
LC : You know, one of the things Johnny Carson, I remember him saying once h is, you know, “never try to complain or convince”. Remember that it's an old saying and, you know, is there really any point of convincing someone of your viewpoints? What's the use?
MG : Yeah, and again, in my book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There, I was asked by the Harvard Business Review, what's the number one problem of successful people you’ve coached over the years? My answer is winning too much. You know, it's important- we want to win, meaningful. We want to win trivia. We want to win and if not worth it, we want to win anyway. It's very hard for especially successful people not to win all the time.
LC : It's sort of a pandemic in and of itself. You know, we talked about this existential crisis. You talk about that in your book. How has it helped you and others really in The Earned Life, as you say, to really be become more fulfilled and reset? You know, I've seen it for myself as well. It helped me reset and rethink.
MG : Well, you know, I think if you look at what inspired the book, the pandemic was what inspired the book. You know, you've been to my old house. I lived in Rancho Santa Fe for 30 years in the same home. And we were going to sell the house and move to Nashville. Well, then what happened is, you know, we put on the market right before COVID hit, then COVID hit.
Well, we rented a place in La Hoya on the beach, Thank goodness. I wanted to get a crappy little place, but later said, let's get a nice place. So we lived on the beach in La Hoya for a year and a half, which you've got to get stuck. It's a good place to be stuck. And then every weekend I did these lifestyle review calls with 60 amazing people.
Mark Thompson and I did 6 hours a week, there were rotating groups of ten each. And listening to people talk about their lives- and who these people were is not a secret. You've met many of these people: Curtis Martin, from the National Football League, and Pau Gasol, pro-basketball star. And then we had the Broadway star and the head of the Olympic Committee and the head of the World Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation. Amazing people.
And every week they talked about their lives. And these dialogues are what inspired the book and they loved it. Every week, one guy, Mike Kaufmann, CEO of Cardinal Health, he said, “I love this because I'm accountable, yet I'm not being judged.” I'm accountable. And also, you know, there's an old saying, it's lonely at the top.
It used to be lonely at the top. It is lonelier at the top today. Today it is incredibly lonely. Why? Social media. You know, people say things and take it out of context. They make you look stupid. It's tough. One person said, you know, I love these programs because for an hour a week, I get to act like a human being.
LC : Is this so? Tell me, what is it? What are some of the main learnings you've learned from these these kind of superstars? Right. What have they what have they done? How have they transformed or shifted, as you've seen, sort of the main themes?
You know, one of the first things you learn in the group and I always ask people, what do you get out of this and what's what really hits you? And the first thing it hits people is we're all the same. I mean, you have the image, you read these people's bios, you'd think they're all second coming of God and have no problems.
The reality is they have kids with drug problems. Parents with Alzheimer's, get divorced. You know, they don't escape life just because they're successful in business. You still are human and you still have to deal with a lot of the basic dramas of life that everyone has to deal with. So that the first thing you learn is how human we all are. And the second thing that I really focus on, which is in the book a lot, is about achievement. In the book, I talk about three major elements.
Our aspirations, which are the higher purpose. What am I here for? The answer to that great question of why, and they don't have a timeline.
Second is our ambition and our ambition is our achievement. What am I trying to achieve? And it does have a finish point.
And then the third one is our day-to-day actions. Or am I doing it this instant? What am I doing now?
So if we look at these three, really key to having a great life is they need to be aligned. If I'm enjoying the process of life, of achieving something and I think it's meaningful and connected to a higher aspiration, I just won the game of life.
Well, if you look at the people in this group, most of the people in the history of the world, our ancestors. You know Lou, your ancestors, my ancestors, they were poor! They didn't have anything. I mean, they were in caves. They just tried to stay alive every day. They don't have time to think about these lofty thoughts.
Well, a lot of humans today are still lost in the action phase. You know, they're basically lost in action. They're living day-to-day lives. They do what's in front of them. Not bad or good. It just is. Some people who you and I both met are really lost in their heads. They would be lost in the aspiration phase. They have lofty goals and ideas, but they don't really achieve very much and they don't enjoy life necessarily.
For example, one of the problems with human service leaders is they love humanity, they just hate human beings. So it's very common when you do all these, you know, morally self-righteous people, but they're just totally out of touch with humanity, Lou, The people you deal with in your life. And they're very parallel to people I've dealt with.
I don't have either one of those problems but they have another problem achievement. They are achieve-a-holics. And they tend to think “Once I achieve something, everything is going to be okay”. Now, one of the people in the group I talk about is Safi Bahcall. Safi is a member of Our 100 coaches, is just a great guy. Safi has a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford. One.
Number two: He started four businesses and made millions of dollars. Fine. He also is consulted by presidents, and he wrote a New York Times best selling book. So Safi said, I finally learned something in these groups. And he talks like a scientist, he said, “I used to believe that happiness was a dependent variable based upon achievement. And I finally realized happiness and achievement are indeed independent variables.”
And he learned that from Curtis Martin, the football player who's achieved a lot and is a very happy person. And Safi wasn't actually that happy. And he said, I've learned something, be happy to be happy, achieved to achieve, but don't think achievement is going to make you happy. Well, the irony of this is here's a guy- I told him, Safi, exactly how much do you need to achieve?
Now, you already have a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford. You're worth millions of dollars. You started four businesses. You wrote a New York Times bestseller, and you consulted a president. That's not enough? That's not enough! Exactly when are you going to get there? Because he's already a 99.999 on achievement now! Does he really believe going to a 99.99999 is going to make a difference?
You think “Oh oh, now I did it!” You don't get there. You know, that's one of the deepest learnings from our groups.
LC : For someone like Safi and Curtis, you know, it sounds like they overweigh one of the three. Aspiration, ambition or action. You know, would it be true if we said to Safi or Curtis, you know, take aspiration, ambition and action and make sure that there are in fact thirds of your life.
MG : They don't have to be exact thirds. They just need to be aligned and in fact, better than look in them as exact words a good way. Look at us. Can do mold same time. Hmm. And Curtis is a great role model. He loves what he's doing. It's totally connected to a high level of aspiration. And he changed a lot.
He won. You won. And you won. Well, that's about it. Kelly and I- my daughter Kelly, who you've met- we've done some research on, you know, happiness and meaning. And what we found out is really to have a great life, you need to have simultaneous happiness and meaning. In other words, I love what I'm doing and it's connected to my higher aspiration, and it's making a positive difference.
So I'm not just achieving stuff to be achieving stuff. I'm doing something that, number one, I enjoy doing it. I'm not a victim. I'm not a martyr. And number two, it is connected to a higher aspiration in my life.
LC : How do we disconnect ourselves from that where that kind of thought that we were a martyr or we're doing this because we have to do this is- sort of that, you know, we're just continuing just for the fact of continuing. How do we disconnect and then get to that kind of affective feeling that we really do want to be doing what we're doing?
MG : Well, two ways you can look at it if you're not doing what you love to be doing. Option A: Change what you're doing or Option B, change your attitude. If you have to do it, change your attitude. I mean, there are two flight attendants. One is positive, motivated, upbeat, enthusiastic. One’s, negative, bitter, angry and cynical.
Have you ever been on that plane before? We've all been on the plane! Same pay, same uniform, same everything. What’s the difference? In here.
Well, part of it is if you don't like what you're doing, change what you're doing. If you can't change what you're doing, which is possible. Okay, fine. Learn to make the best of it.
Now, one thing you've seen is my research on six questions. They all begin with, “Did I do my best to…” Okay one of the six questions: did I do my best to be happy today? Well, how do we get better at this? The first thing is just try to get better at it. Most of us never even think of it.
Most of us never think of it. I mean, in my book Triggers, I talk about three people who you've met, Dr. Jim Kim, who was president of World Bank, Dr. John Noseworthy, who's head of the Mayo Clinic. And and Dr. Raj Shah, head of the Rockefeller Foundation. Their average IQ is a zillion. I asked all three of them individually, how did you do on an average day and did I do my best to be happy?
They all had the same answer: “Never dawned on me to try to be happy”. They're all medical doctors. I said, did it dawn on you you're going to die? They cover that in medical school- death. Oh, yeah, they brought up death. I said, Do you think this is a silly question? “This is a great question. I just forgot to ask.”
LC : And the ones- the people that I've noticed that don't ask that question or don't work at it, other behaviors come up. Like they threatening people and trying to control sessions. All these things. Have you seen that as well? You know, with people who control and you know, or even for that matter, threaten. And what do we do in those situations with those kinds of people who really don't think about happiness, they only think about their immediate, you know, sort of action gain in the moment?
MG : Well, you know, what I typically do is: do they want to change? If the answer is yes, I'm happy to try to help. If the answer is no, you know what I do? Smile, take a deep breath and let it go. I've learned a good lesson. I can't make people be who they don't want to be. The people don't want change. What am I going to do about it? Nothing? Let it go. Let go.
LC : Move it on. Right. It's all moving on. It's. This is. It is the train we're on. We don't need to let people on who perhaps aren't doing those things that we want. They won't help us in our journey. And you talk a lot about successful people, right? This addiction to achievement. What is your coaching bent for them and when they're really changing their behaviors.
What are some of the challenges that they've gone through in their journeys and how have you helped them to break those really addictive and destructive?
MG : Well, there are two different issues. One issue is interpersonal activities, behaviors or behavior or interpersonal behavior. And my basic area of expertise is helping very successful people achieve positive long-term change in behavior. And the way I do that is stakeholder-centered coaching. They get feedback, they pick important behavior to improve. They talk to people, they follow up, we measure. They do it over and over, and they get better.
The second issue, though, that I really worked on COVID, which is different components, is much more internal. That's- how do you make peace with yourself? Not just how do you become more effective as judged by others, how do you make peace with the person looked in the mirror every day?
How do you forgive that person? How do you make that person happy? And so they're both important yet different. In my coaching, I never really did life coaching until I was much older. All of my coaching was basically helping people achieve positive long-term change in behavior. I'm very good at it. Well, as I've grown older, today half the people I coach are billionaires.
Like one guy, I'm coaching- I said what am I supposed to do? Help you get from $4 billion to $4.1 billion? What does it matter anyway? He said, “You're right, it doesn't matter.” Well, he doesn't need a business coach. He doesn't need to, “achieve more”. He needs to make peace, be happy with his life.
LC : And it comes through. You hear- what I've heard as well with billionaires, they're not looking to improve their businesses, looking to necessarily improve their own behavior every day. It's about making peace, understanding the self, and loving themselves again because perhaps they haven't felt loved and they need to feel it again.
MG : Exactly. Because end of the day, we're all humans. At the end of the day, we're all humans. And once you get to a certain point of achievement, you really it's healthy to ask yourself the question: why? Why do I really believe a little bit more is going to make any difference at all in my life? Because the reality is it won't.
LC : So the end of that equation of more is really the self, truly the self, isn't it? Yeah, the honor of the self, the value of the self, revaluing…
MG : It's Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right? Once you get past a certain point, you need to be working on self-actualization, not just working on achievement. And it's making that leap from achievement to more towards self-actualization is very positive. You know, it's a very positive change that people need to make.
LC : One of the things that are coming out, that I see coming out today is this kind of over over-empathy that people are having inside of the world. Over empathizing. And it's abundant everywhere. It's change that I've seen. Is it possible that empathy can cause more harm than good?
MG : Well, this is a very counterintuitive part of the book. Now, I like you probably, I always heard empathy was a good thing. It sounds like fuzzy puppy dogs and teddy bears and warm and nice stuff. I always thought empathy was uniformly good. As you read in the book, empathy has positive and negatives. Now I talk about four types of empathy.
The first is empathy of understanding. I know where you're coming from. I'm good at this. You've seen me before. I can see things in people that they can’t see themselves. I'm very good at understanding people's motivation, which is very good for being a coach. That same skill can also be used to manipulate people. It's used by people to understand propaganda. It's used by people to understand advertising. So it could be very positive, but can also be misused in a very negative way.
The second type of empathy is the empathy of feeling. I can feel your pain and you imagine a lot of people do what I call virtue signaling. They're bragging about how they feel other people's pain. Could be positive if it makes me more sensitive. [Unclear] whom you may have met, said, “You know, I need to be able to touch this, but not live in it.”
One of the people in our 100 coaches is Dr. Patrick Frias. He's the head of the Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego. He said as an intern, the first two months of his job as a doctor was around nine kids, he went home and cried every night. He went home and cried every night. He was feeling the pain. You already had to realize, I can't do this. If I'm going to do this, I'm not going to be an effective doctor. This is not increasing my effectiveness.
You know, I'm also the volunteer coach of Dr. Jim Downing, head of St Jude Children's Hospital. If you ever go to St. Jude’s, it's tough. You're around kids dying of cancer every day as well as his life. He's got a wife, he’s got kids, he's got a family, he's got grandkids. He can't carry this stuff with him. He's got to learn to let that go. He can't carry that around.
Now, the next one Lou, I love in the book is the empathy of caring, the words I love. And I talk about a hedge fund manager- of all people, of all people who wouldn't have a problem with empathy, it would be a hedge fund manager. You think, Well, they don't care about anything other than making money, right? So I'm watching- this is years ago- I'm watching a guy that's worth $1,000,000,000 interview another guy who is worth 3 billion. This was back in the day when $1,000,000,000 was a lot of money.
So that the billion guy says to the 3 billion guy: “Why would you not have a fund?” And 3 billion says, “I'm not as good as I was”. The billionaire says, “Why not now more than ever?” He said, “I know that. And so I started caring. So I started caring.” So the billionaire goes, “What do you mean you start caring? What does that mean?” He said, “Well, you know, when I was young, I never thought about people and their money. It was a game! I just played this game. Now and obviously, I made tens of billions of dollars for people, but I lost tens of billions and I didn't care. I made 52%. I lost 48%. That's why I'm rich.”, you know.
He said, “I got older, I started caring. I started thinking, this is some kid's college fund. This is some old person's retirement fund. I started worrying”, you know, he said “I became much less effective”. He said, “Now I only invest my own money. I started caring.” Well, you don't think of that as a negative, right? Especially from a hedge fund manager of all people. It was! That's why these surgeons can't operate on their children. They care too much.
And then the final empathy is the empathy of doing. It sounds good. Not only do I understand and care for and feel your pain, I'm doing something about it! Could be good, could lead to dependency. You might be creating children, making them like infants. They're not doing the work on their own. They're not growing up. They're not taking responsibility while you're fixing everything. One of the people in our group, she said, “My biggest problem in life is I'm a fixer. I'm a fixer. I solve everyone else's problems. They don't grow up and solve themselves.”
So each one of the empathy, bad and good and finally the empathy we recommend, though, is what I call singular empathy. And that came from our Broadway star Telly. Telly's gay, where he said “Every night I got to demonstrate empathy. I fell in love with the princess. Every night I got to fall in love with the Princess.” He did play Aladdin on Broadway, literally a thousand times. I said, “How do you motivate yourself a thousand times every night to do the same play?” He said, “You know, as an eight-year-old boy, I went to the Broadway theater and there’s dancing and singing and music and lights. And I loved it so much it made me so happy.”
He said, “Every night I think of that eight-year-old boy. I think if there's one of them in the audience, Kid, this is for you. It's for you, kid. And if there's one, it's worth it. And if there's not one, I'm still doing my best.” And he really pointed out real empathy is not “I feel your pain” or virtue signaling about how much you care. Real empathy is I'm doing what I need to do for you now.
LC : Hmm. And that's a beautiful example. And how is that coming up, that singular empathy with some of the most- it's a new definition of great leadership, isn't it? Singular empathy, because you're serving directly the people who need you the most.
MG : Exactly. You know, Margo Georgiadis is a member of our group. She's the woman that went over to Ancestry. She was the CEO of Mattel. She went to Ancestry, turned it around, sold it for $4.7 billion to Blackstone. Wonderful leader, nice woman. She said, “You know, the zoom call I'm on at the end of the day may be the least important zoom call of the week for me. It may be the most important Zoom call the week for them.” And we got to keep reminding ourselves back to singular empathy. I'm being who I need to be for these people now!
One of the guys in a group is the CEO of a huge nonprofit, he'd been working on this deal, billions of dollars. It came through. It was going to save lives. He's all proud and happy. He's at home, though, on a Zoom call. He walks out of his little Zoom place and his family’s there, he’s jumping up and down saying, “Yay, we did it. We did it.” His daughter is crying, she just got dumped by her boyfriend. His wife is incredibly angry. His son's computer is broken, he’s frantic, he can't do his homework. And the basic message to him was, “You're an asshole”.
Now he wasn't trying to be rude. He forgot where he was. Yeah, he wasn't on that zoom call anymore. He wasn't on that zoom call and to his family, he was just showing off. He was lost at work, bragging about how great he was and totally insensitive to them. Well, to me, singular empathy as defined is not what do I feel like? It's how am I making everyone else feel, right now? No.
LC : Yeah. You know, it's funny. I've seen tears come to your eyes before, Marshall. And when you talked about singular empathy, I saw them come to your eyes just now in that story and in the way that the especially the gentleman who was speaking to that one kid in the audience. When he goes, It was beautiful. Tell me what for you, because you are Marshall Goldsmith, and I wanted to learn from the deep Marshall Goldsmith, what is your singular empathy?
MG : Well, you know, my singular empathy right now is pretty simple. Why am I on this call? Well, basically, global simple mission in life is to help the people listening to this call and hopefully you have a little better life. That's all. That's good. I'm not going to solve climate change. I'm not going to cure cancer. I am not going to influence national politics. I'm not going to know about strategy or marketing. But you know what? Maybe if I'll help you and maybe some people on this call with a little better life. I'm declaring victory here.
LC : That's a cool way of looking at it. As an executive coach, you talk about- and also as an author of The Earned Life- you talk about how credibility has to be earned twice. Tell me more about that. What do you mean by that?
MG : Well, if we look at the concept of credibility as being trusted, admired, looked up to, credible sounds great. Nobody wants to be not credible. We'd all rather be credible. What do I mean by their credibility needs to be earned twice? And Lou, you and I've talked a lot about this. Part of it is doing a great job. To be credible, you need to earn that credibility by doing great work.
On the other hand, though, you need to be recognized as someone who can do a great job, which is totally different. It's totally different. And just learning to accept that. And Peter Drucker said, our mission life is to make a positive difference. Not to prove how smart we are, not to prove how right we are. Well, the credibility matrix looks at two dimensions. One, am I trying to prove myself? Am I striving for approval? And two, is it going to help me make a positive difference? Well, if we look at that, we talk about four different dimensions on the credibility matrix. The first one is: I'm trying to prove myself and it's not going to make a positive difference. So my book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There is largely about that box.
It's about winning too much, trying to be right, proving yourself when you don't need to prove yourself. You're already the CEO. You don't have to win. You're going to win anyway, right? Let it go. The other side of the box. And this has been very interesting. It is that box that says, I'm not trying to prove myself, the world would be better off if I did.
And a lot of people undersell. The first box I talked about is oversell, the second is undersell, and I find a lot of people undersell. They hide their light under a barrel. They might have a stupid belief. You ever heard this before? My good work should speak for itself. What nonsense. Your good work is not going to speak for itself.
If that were true, no company would have a marketing function. Yeah, your good work doesn’t speak for itself. You know, you got to be responsible for your own marketing function. Now, when I do these calls, a lot of times I'll have a chat feature and I ask people a question. How many of you think you're overselling and underselling? What's your natural tendency?
Oversell, undersell, if you had to pick one? Interestingly, not like the people I coach more like my book How Women Rise with Sally Hodgkinson more than people pick undersell it. About 70% say undersell. So yeah, I've got it. Okay. If you're ever around an undersell, I'm going to give you three coaching questions that are best in history. Are you ready?
LC : I'm ready.
MG : Question number one: Would the world be worse off or better off if you became more powerful and influential? Most people say last year, after mumbling around a little bit, they say, “Well, it'd be better off”. I say, “Good, good. I'm just trying to make you promote yourself and become more influential. Does that make you uncomfortable?”
And then they say, “Oh, yes, yes, very uncomfortable.” Then I say, The buzz line is, “What's more important to you? Make it a positive difference in the world or being comfortable?” Well, if your goal is being comfortable, don't change. If your goals make a positive difference in the world, get over yourself. [Laughs] And then the positive box is, of course, you know, I am trying to promote myself and it and I believe it.
Why am I on this Zoom call with you? To promote the book! Why am I promoting the book? I think the book can make a positive difference in world. I better you know, Hubert Joly. You've met Hubert, he’s a great guy. Hubert wrote a book, and after he finished being a CEO, I said to him, “Hubert most CEOs write books, no one buys the books. They're egotistical. They don't try to sell the book. They think they're above that. You're going to write a book, get out there and bust your butt, get out there and promote the damn book and try to sell it.”
You know what, he did! I am so proud of him. He worked so hard promoting that book. Well, to me, that's positive. He was promoting that book and he did believe that book would make a positive difference in the world.
LC : And it did. At Best Buy, people loved it. Everyone around there, they loved it. They believed in it. It changed the company even after he left, he did a tremendous job. And I would agree. And it is very it is wonder. It really is. So you know, you say you have so much to say, Marshall, and you said so much today.
I really do appreciate the time and I completely, I really suggest everybody goes out and buys The Earned Life, not just to learn Marshall Goldsmith's, you know, point of view and to his teachings and his incredible body of knowledge, which is indisputable. It's- if you are going through a stage in your life perhaps, where you're looking inward and saying, what's next and how do I choose that, what's next?
And also, do I have any regrets for what I've done and how do I let go of those regrets? And Marshall, would you- is that who you're looking to talk to for this? Is that the person that you want to pick up this book? Tell me more.
MG : This book is not really a business book. This book is much more of a Buddhist philosophy book about having a good life. And it really applies to everybody. It's not a religious book either. It's a philosophical, psychological book about here's some things I believe are going to help you have a great life. And it doesn't matter what your job title is or your status in life or all this stuff.
To me, it applies to people, you know, around the world. And it also it really specifically applies, Lou, to your listeners and my readers. The reality is your listeners and my readers are not in some absolute sense, normal people. You don't think about that. Normal people don't buy books. A tiny number of people buy books. Normal people don't listen to this podcast.
A tiny number of people do that. A tiny number of people are really working hard at self-improvement. It's not everybody is doing this. It's a small number doing this. That's who the book is for.
LC : It's self-improvement. It's a whole new world of the- it's the millions and millions of people, not just the sort of the top two, three percent of society. And those brave people like you who are changing their lives and improving themselves. Marshall, thanks so much for coming on today.
MG : You're a good friend. You've been- how many years we've known each other?
LC : It's been 20 years- more than 20 years. 1998, when I first met you. And I remember the first time when I was sitting in a lonely booth in a conference and you came over to me and you said, "Lou, what are you doing? Why are you sitting here alone? You can do better than that." And I did. I worked hard.
MG : And I'm so proud of you. Also, not only for what you achieved, you've achieved a lot. You're also just a happier human being.
LC : Thanks, Marshall. Thank you, Marshall.