David Goldsmith: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

GoldsmithDavid Goldsmith is a consultant, advisor, speaker, telecast host and author. He is the President of Goldsmith Organization and holds an MBA from Syracuse University. Through his work with leaders from around the globe, David is the developer of the Enterprise Thinking model, a holistic approach to leadership and management based on the activities and tools that all decision makers need to solve challenges and create opportunities. He had taught this course at NYU SPCS as faculty for 12 years.

His expertise and advice are sought by leaders and managers worldwide, in businesses of all sizes, nonprofits and associations, and organizations including the military, government and education.

David was named by Successful Meetings magazine as one of the Top 26 Hottest Speakers in the speaking industry. He received NYU’s SPCS Excellence in Teaching award for developing and teaching two core courses, and his history of business success earned him The Citizens Foundation of Central New York’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the Central New York 40 under 40 Leadership Award.

He serves on the national board of directors of the Institute of Management Consultants and hosts the organization’s telecast series, Consultapalooza. David is also the founder and telecast host of the New York State Chapter of the National Speakers’ Association. In addition to authoring more than 500 published articles, he is a regular columnist for several organizations and publications. His book, Paid to THINK: A Leader’s Toolkit for Redefining Your Future, was published by BenBella Books (October 23, 2012).David resides in Manlius, NY with his wife and two sons

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Morris: Before discussing Paid to THINK (in Part 2), I have a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth, and how so?

Goldsmith: I get asked this question quite a bit, actually, but there’s not been a single person who has had the greatest influence, rather, there have been many people over the course of my life who have contributed to my personal growth. Certainly, there are the typical sources, like an early mentor named John Gillespie who I name in the book, and there was my 7th-grade science teacher who was encouraging when he noticed my interest in oceanography and fish, leading me to have a salt-water aquarium. But there have also been people both in my everyday life and in my travels who have influenced me and contributed to who I am today.

Morris: Who would you say has had the greatest impact on your professional development?

Goldsmith: The answer is pretty much the same. There is no one person; there has been a collection of people from my professional and personal lives (which I consider to be meshed into one life, really) who have impacted my thinking. A conversation on a plane with someone I’ve never met before can have a huge impact on how I choose to teach or learn about a topic, and a family member can have just as great an impact. For example, I have two sons who are now young men, and there are times when they will say something to me in a personal setting that would equally apply in a professional setting. I love to learn and awareness and knowledge come from all places.

Morris: Was there a turning point, if not an epiphany, that set you on the career course you continue to follow?

Goldsmith: I can’t say that there was one epiphany, but I am certainly on a career path that I wasn’t supposed to be on. When I was born, the doctor hit me, and my parents said, “You’re going to be a doctor.” Throughout my entire upbringing, the message was always, “You’re going to be a doctor…You’re going to be a doctor…You’re going to be a doctor.” So, I was on a pre-med track in college, I volunteered in hospitals, experienced work in operating rooms and elderly and pediatric wards. I also worked for U-Haul and McDonald’s in my youth, and regardless of where I was or what task I was charged with, I was curious about all aspects of the process or experience.
However, when I neared the end of my senior year in college, I started getting these headaches, and for me, something was definitely “off,” because I don’t get headaches. At the same time, I was taking a bio pharmacology course with this professor who gave both written and oral exams, and during one of the oral exams, he asked me this ridiculously-difficult question at a time when he was asking other students much simpler questions. I asked him why he asked me such a hard question, and initially, he said, “I expect more from you than anybody else in this class.”

A short time later, he admitted that this wasn’t the only reason, saying that he thought I was “faking it” in terms of wanting to be a doctor. He noted that as much as I enjoyed the volunteer work and the people I had met in hospitals, those headaches were telling me that the life of being a doctor wasn’t the right path for me. This professor told me, “The medical profession is not suited for you. It’ll be very mundane and routine. You seem like a person who needs something more.” I told him that I wanted to be an ear, nose, and throat specialist combined with plastic surgery and facial reconstruction, and that I figured those directions would keep me busy and intellectually stimulated, but the professor persisted that I should seek alternatives. So, like I said earlier, although there is no one person—say, no single relationship—that has tremendously influenced me, where I am today is a collection of experiences that I’ve had over the course of my lifetime.

Even Paid to THINK has had various experiences that have shaped it into what it is today. We started out with a different publisher, and the editor assigned to our project wanted us to dumb down the book. Edit after edit, we would get our material returned to us where the ET “model” was unraveled and parts of the copy were not only unrecognizable, they were jibberish. For example, the chapter on global awareness was shaved down to six bullet points and placed into another chapter. I was talking to a colleague named Orville Ray Wilson about how I didn’t want that rendition of the book to be out there with my name on it, and he said, “You will die with this book attached to your name.” That simple sentence made my next steps crystal clear. I parted ways with that publisher, which extended the production of the book by three more years, and found a publisher who was more respectful of the material and allowed us to produce the book that Paid to THINK needed to be.

Morris: Although we touched on your education already, to what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life so far?

Goldsmith: Oh, okay. Uh, I could really bash education here, because both domestically and abroad, I think that there’s a lot wrong with the way that it’s being handled. So, let’s focus on my education, first. I earned a dual undergraduate degree from Syracuse University in biology and psychology and an MBA, also from Syracuse University. I can’t say that the content of the education has been invaluable to what I’ve accomplished in life so far, but I can say that the experiences have certainly shaped my views on topics like education and leadership. And some of the most influential experiences were not positive ones, either. I mention this incident in the book, but I don’t assign the experience to myself there. I remember going out into nature to do research for a paper about animals. I sat for hours until I got a deer to trust me enough to come up to me, and I took photos of it, too. I wrote the paper on deer, and because I was so interested in the topic, I wrote two more papers—one on aerodynamics of flight after observing birds as they flew in circles over a parking lot and submitted all three at once. Apparently, the professor was unimpressed by my curiosities and my tendencies to go above and beyond, and the initial assignment came back with his handwritten note: “When it looks like bullshit and reads like bullshit, then it is bullshit. If all you wanted was a good grade, then all you had to do was just do one paper.” And he did not really understand that I really didn’t care for the paper. I really wanted to know if I was doing the right thing. Was I learning? And he had a student who was so engaged, that he could have gone in so many different directions. And to me, that’s poor teaching. That’s a poor teacher.

So the educational system is based upon grades, upon rote. It’s not based upon thinking, and learning, and experiencing, and I think that’s why something such as the Kahn Academy is doing well, just because there is a natural progression to learning and the Academy seems to honor that.

I’ve mentioned to people that my formal Spanish lessons are restricted to one year in school, but because I had a natural desire to learn the language beyond what was taught in that one year, I took the initiative and learned more on my own. When the mechanism for translation went down during a speaking presentation a few years ago, I was able to switch from speaking English to Spanish for the audience of about a thousand people, and I was able to carry the presentation forward for ten minutes or so until they got the technology up and running again. But I learned Spanish for myself, not because I was told to do it within an educational setting.

And my MBA was something that — well, if you’re not going into medicine, you have to get your MBA or something. I started my MBA, and I had a big challenge with the MBA because the course content was designed not to teach you to actually do a job, but to get the MBA. There was no integration of data, no integration of information. And I remember sitting down with a professor, my accounting professor, and I said, “I don’t understand what it’s like to have $1 billion in receivables. If I had $1 billion in receivables, I’d be out collecting today, and I don’t think anybody in the class knows what $1 billion in receivables are.” And he said, “I have to teach this, because that’s what the companies pay us to do. That’s what we’re required to teach.” And I know that they don’t understand those things.

And I believe that education should not be as a means to being tactical, or to… like a trade. I don’t believe it’s like a trade teaching, but to some degree I believe that education should inherently take the human desire to learn, and leverage it so that they become excited about their future of learning. And I can share that.

We have two boys, and we home schooled them the first few years. And our boys wanted to know about everything — every single thing you could imagine. They asked questions wherever they went. I used to take them to a print shop or warehouse, and they were interested and excited. And they colored outside the lines. There were no lines. They just colored, and they did, and they enjoyed…

And then we ended up sending them to school for a variety of reasons that were personal that we both believed that might have been the best case. And they became more… They lost a lot of that for a while, because they realized that there were certain rules they had to follow within that environment. And then as they got older, and they had more control over their own time, they started to become self-learners, and today they are. But we wonder if that would be the case if they had started off out of the gates in that environment.

We have a household of learning, and it wasn’t, “You don’t get to watch TV.” We didn’t have any policies like No TV. A lot of people learn from watching TV. Yet, when we would talk with our boys and sit down at dinner, they had watched the YouTube about the news that was happening in another country. They could talk about different things that are happening in politics, or that could happen with disasters, or good things, and animals… They both have their own interests, and we helped them to pursue it without ever judging their desire to learn. And I believe that’s because both Lorrie and I have that innate desire to learn.

So I think education has its challenges, and I think that there were influences, but by and large, the majority of my education has been self-initiated.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full time for the first time, and why?

Goldsmith: Wow, wow, wow, wow! If I were to…I guess the old saying of “If I knew then what I know now” is meant to show that you would do things differently, but then if you had the information up front, you might not take the journey and learn what you need to be a better person in so many ways. So if I could, I would love to take back to the past my maturity… my compassion for people… my understanding of how people learn… the tools that I’ve developed that have transformed others’ lives as well as mine, so that I could have made life easier for myself and others.

I think there’s a confidence that comes with time that I think I would have liked to have brought back with me. Particular knowledge? Yeah, there would be things I’d like to bring back, but I don’t know how useful they would have been, because life’s journeys would have then been completely different once that happened.

But to have the sense of maturity back then, to some degree… I think the recklessness of the youth is also something very powerful. You’re willing to go to places you never would have gone. I think that helps to foster that growth. I think the blind ambition helps to foster that growth. I’ve gotten on planes to go to places that maybe I would or would not have today. I would have been blind to other people’s opinions, where today I might see them a little bit more.

So I think there’s something great for youth, and I think there’s something great for being older. I consider myself to be a very young person. But I would have brought back some of the tools that I’ve developed, and some of the knowledge and understanding of how business operates and runs that I’ve written about. I mean, that’s what I’ve written about.

When you open up Paid to THINK, you see that I do not hold anything back. I’m not looking to hold the Secret Sauce back, and I know people do that so they can get consulting, or… I tell people, “I’ve given it all to you.” And that’s because it’s my biggest pleasure to help people to become empowered to achieve independently. For example, on the back of the book you’ll see this lady by the name of Faye Montriano. She’s from The Philippines. She only had me, a professor, for four class sessions, and she said that she uses everything that I’ve given her, all these years. She has posters all over her office with all the charts and graphs, and she took a five-year plan and completed it in three years. I never participated in that at all beyond supplying her with the tools to do it herself. I never earned a dime off of it.

But to hear that happen is a win for me. And to hear that a non-profit has used Enterprise Thinking [the approach to leadership and management that’s within Paid to THINK] to feed more hungry people, or that the military can use it to save lives, or feed families is something that might not have happened if I thought I knew it all when I was young and therefore, hadn’t had the experiences I have had to create the book. To hear that an individual has been successful at something because you’ve made some contribution to their ability to do so, I think that is in and of itself reward.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which in your opinion best dramatizes important business principles?

Goldsmith: Well, again, I’m not sure that there is one. Organizational principals mimic life in many ways, but if I had to choose one film, perhaps I would select one scene from The Matrix” during which Neo, the main character, realizes…sees…what is really going on. The invisible has become visible to him, and like I say to leaders, once they learn Enterprise Thinking, the opportunities that have always been there but perhaps have been invisible become visible, and they’re visible everywhere! Yet, I also think that many movies highlight how people place the wrong items atop their list of life priorities, and as a result, they lose out on many chances to seize or recognize important moments. Leaders are working longer hours despite technologies that are supposed to make life easier. They are increasingly merging their personal lives with their professional lives, constantly checking their smartphones for work-related emails when their kids are sitting with them at the dinner table.

So movies like Greed, Wall Street, or even The Notebook, can all act as warnings to people that they might need to slow down to “smell the roses,” before too much time escapes them. When I travel for business, for example, I try to take full advantage of the experience, not just focus on work and then go back to my hotel room and vegetate. In China, I climbed the Great Wall of China, and in Alaska, I climbed Flattop Mountain. When I went to Malaysia, I also took a short flight to Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat, and why? Because I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to those places and have the chance to have those experiences. The same is true even when you’re at home with your family at the end of the day. How many more days will you have to sit with your kids at the dinner table or to spend a day of their school vacation doing something fun with them? The ET toolkit in Paid to THINK helps people to gain control over their lives—both at work and at home—so that they can enjoy life more. Thus the wording, Achieve More, Earn More, Live More.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations, to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Goldsmith: All of those components are important, certainly, and to which degree varies with each leader, each group of people, and each situation. “Learn from the people” is exactly what leaders need to do, but not always in terms of believing everything that is said. When I consult, I will talk with people, engage in dialog, and listen, listen, listen. I listen to what they’re saying, but I’m also having to connect the dots to understand what they’re not saying, too. There are examples of this in the book.

“Plan with the people”: There are times when planning requires you to involve others, and other times, you need to take the reins at the 50,000-foot level as a leader and develop the plans on your own, because you have the ability to see more and to understand more how each decision will affect the entire organization. In some cases, collaborative planning is important, even essential, but in others, the people with whom you’re working may not have the ability to see what they need to or to integrate information in a way that leads to the best plans. The job of the leader is to distinguish the best method and proceed.

Regarding the portion of the quote that says, “the people will remark, ‘We have done it ourselves,’” I believe that the ability to get others to achieve is an important part of leadership, and again, to which degree is situational. Certainly, arming others with the ability to succeed, providing them with an environment that fosters their success, that’s truly a responsibility that falls on leadership’s shoulders. If you recall, I mentioned earlier with the example of Faye when I said that I provided her with the tools and instruction so that she could achieve on her own.

At the same time, I see a lot of talk without a lot of follow through, mostly because leaders have good intentions, but they lack the knowledge and tools to convert their intentions and ideas to realities the way that they want. For example, some motivational speakers will tout the code that “leaders must be trustworthy.” That’s all fine and good, and I understand that the intent is coming from a good place, but in reality, trust is something that leaders earn through their track records of performance.

So, how do they perform in the best interests of their organizations and of their people? They need tools and skills and knowledge. The universally-applicable tools in Paid to THINK give leaders the exact tools they need to make plans that will work, to involve other people in the planning process, whether you’re developing strategy using the CST Model in Chapter 3 or developing new products using the ET Development Funnel in Chapter 4. The best leaders know how to properly empower people by giving them the kinds of tactical plans (or “road maps”) that are tailored to the skill levels and abilities of their people, providing them with the both systemized support (The Goldsmith Productivity Principle from Chapter 1) or an empowerment package (The ET Empowering Process from Chapter 11).

In the book, I say that the reason people follow leaders is that leaders get people to where they want to go. My premise when working with leaders is to give them everything I can so that on their own, they can take their people where they want to go. However…just as the people need to say “we did it on our own,” the leaders that I work with need to say the same. They don’t need me to win, and I don’t ever want to rob someone of the win that they’ve earned, because in doing so, you diminish their value.
I was speaking to Tom Peters over the phone, and he said that oftentimes he runs into people who will tell him about something, and they don’t realize that he was the one who came up with that concept. He’s come to that maturity or that understanding that it’s okay. He doesn’t have to say anything or claim the credit, and by the same token, leaders need to know when to walk away and let people have the victory.

Morris: The next quote is from Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth, but beware of those who find it.”

Goldsmith: I speak about this occasionally in the book. In one mention, I discuss the humbling journey I took to earning a black belt in tae kwon do. I had the privilege of studying with Master Sun Chung, a world-renowned competitor and coach of the US Olympic TKD team. I had viewed the attainment of the black belt as the conclusion of a journey, but after handing our black belts to those of us in the class, Master Chung quickly cleared up that misconception. He told us that we were now at the beginning of our journey to understanding tae kwon do. Reaching this milestone, which would be Voltaire’s “truth,” was a lesson in realizing that “the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.”

At the same time…even when you have the wisdom to come to this realization, there are times when leaders need to step up and say, “This is the truth that we are working with,” because anybody who constantly says, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know” is never going to be followed, nor should they. So you have to realistically balance the two truths, which are, “I do know what to do today, but that doesn’t mean that I know everything.” That’s not to say that I haven’t come across those people, as I’m sure, everyone has, who do think they know it all. I had a student from Poland who was convinced that he knew everything in the course curriculum already. He could have taken so much more information out of the class if he had approached it from a more humble perspective and been willing to accept new information.

Good leaders are always on the journey to learn more, to seek out “new truths.” That’s the entire premise of Chapter 2, Rethinking. I ask readers to challenge their “truths,” because from time to time, we all hold onto concepts that we believe are truths but that may be beliefs that are not working in our best interests or those of our organizations. But this idea is not restricted to Chapter 2, it’s throughout the book. At the opening of each chapter, I begin by providing ways that readers can expand their perspective of a particular activity. Simply expanding one’s perspective broadens the scope of opportunities considerably. Voltaire’s quote is a good one, because there are always more truths to seek on our journeys to becoming better leaders.

Morris: Oscar Wilde says, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Goldsmith: Yes! Absolutely! That’s why I take the time to show readers the difference between the Enterprise Thinking approach to leadership and management versus various other approaches. Typically, people will describe good leadership in terms of personality traits like charisma and perseverance. But how easily can you transfer either to another person if they don’t have those traits naturally? Also, the leadership styles of many people don’t lend themselves to forcibly-acquired traits that are unnatural to a particular person. So the beauty of Enterprise Thinking is that it is based on activities rather than attributes, so regardless of your personality or leadership style or even other management techniques (Six Sigma, etc.), leaders can improve their performance and still be themselves. This is the authentic way to lead and manage. And perhaps more importantly, if you focus on improving upon the twelve activities of leadership, you don’t lose yourself, and therefore, you end up living an authentic life.

Morris: What do you think of this quote from Albert Einstein? “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Goldsmith: I like it enough that I actually put it in the book. It is part of the introduction to the Learning category of Enterprise Thinking. Einstein was a thinker. Agree with him, don’t agree with him, regardless, I respect him for his massive thinking. And all leaders need to be on a continual journey of learning, not just for the sake of learning or even solving challenges, but because life itself is a learning experience; why not get the most out of it? Maybe that’s why I always loved the Star Trek series. They focused on the “how.”

Imagine being able to feed all people, being able to travel into space, being able to heal all illnesses. I enjoy understanding how flowers bloom, how rivers flow, how air circulates. I love to swing a hammer and figure out how to construct something. I want to learn to do different types of dance, and my heart pumps for those types of experiences. So, to bring new information, to solve challenges, the process of learning in and of itself makes the world much easier to live in and to enjoy.

On a less personal note, you will see that throughout Paid to THINK, I reiterate the underlying concept of this quote with messages like, “You can’t solve tomorrow’s challenges with yesterday’s thinking.” I think the companion to a couple of your quotes should be, “Beware the messenger of ‘we tried that already and it didn’t work,” because conditions change, and what didn’t work in the past might just work now.

Morris: And finally, here’s a quote from Peter Drucker. “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Goldsmith: Yes, that ties in with many of the concepts and tools of Paid to THINK. For example, I show an improved methodology of developing strategic plans with a tool called the CST Model that keeps leaders and organizational assets focused on strategies that the organization forward. My companion quote is: “A good strategy executed poorly is better than a bad strategy executed well.” I provide another tool called the Project Evaluation Chart so that leaders can assess and select projects and avoid doing “what should not be done at all,” which is a common and overlooked mistake of leadership. I believe that the quote is true, but at the same time, I make sure that leaders are armed with tools so that they don’t make this mistake. The tool called Redefining that readers find in Chapter 3 makes sure that leaders uncover and address their true challenges, not just symptoms or assumptions, as a way of maximizing potential and reaching desired outcomes.

I love all the quotes you’ve had. But the important thing for leaders to remember is that quotes, however motivational and true they are to the individual, are only conceptual. So, like I say in Chapter 7, Acquiring New Knowledge, you have to distinguish between being aware of something and having the knowledge, skills, and tools to effect positive change with it. How do you effect change from a strategic level, from a technical level, from an executable level? Beyond the conceptual, what concrete ways can you turn your ideas to realities. So my word to leaders is, many times people will hear a quote like this, and they’ll recognize the wisdom in it based on a past experience that they’ve had. But they lack the tools or know-how to create new experiences in the future for themselves with that same sense of wisdom. We can apply this idea to the books that are best sellers today, and a lot of them have some great concepts in them. It’s, are they transferrable? Are they workable? Are they duplicable? And often, they’re not. Supply those ways to people—i.e. the tools in Paid to THINK—and now you’re empowering people.

Morris: In Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer an antidote for the great man theory of decision making and organizational performance. Organizational judgment — that is, the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control. What do you think?

Goldsmith: I’m not sure I understand the question, but if you’re asking me if I think that groups of people will make decisions when the leader can’t, then yes, I see that happen in my work as a consultant. At several points in Paid to THINK, I address this idea that if the leader doesn’t build the systems and structure necessary for his/her people to succeed, then someone else—individuals and/or groups of people—will. They have to, in many cases, so that people can do their jobs.

However, it’s important that the person who is placed in charge is actually capable of leading the charge, because within the leader’s scope should be the capacity to hold the 50,000-foot perspective, meaning, to see the figurative “landscape” of the entire organization so that the person/s making decisions do so with an understanding of how a decision made in one area of an organization will affect the whole. Not sure that I answered your question, but I tried.
I put into the book the results of a survey in which 90% of leaders believe that they’re in the top 10% of management. People always laugh at that, because it’s obviously an impossibility, but the perception, or misperception is very real. I was recently working with a group of executives, and I took one aside and asked her, “Do you think you’re a better leader than this person? How about that one?” To each name, she said that she was better than all of them. I did the same with a decision maker in another group, and the response was exactly the same! So, yes, I believe that groups have the capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control, but there are other variables to overcome—can they execute on the good calls, for instance, or will the leader relinquish control so that the group’s good moves to happen? If leadership believes their better than they are but still holds authority, does it matter that the group is collectively more adept?

The bottom line is, are the Desired Outcomes being reached? My focus is on helping the leader to improve so that the organization as a whole can go where it needs to go and achieve what it needs to achieve. And the tools I provide are transferrable, universal, and immediately applicable, so the leader isn’t the only person who can improve. In fact, many of the tools aren’t just easily taught to other leaders, they actually involve different people regardless of title or position in various activities so that instead of organizations being held back because they are siloed, the organization can benefit from the talents and skills of the appropriate people at any given time.
It sounds to me like Davenport’s book—the “great man theory”—is somewhat theoretical and conceptual, but I haven’t read it to know for sure. So I’m wondering how he translates that idea to practical, everyday inner workings of organizations. I can really only comment on what is in Paid to THINK, I would say. So for me, I give one example where a leader uses the tools to temporarily reassign job responsibilities to members of the management team so that the leader with the skills to complete a particular project can be utilized in a particular department (that is not her own) for the betterment of the organization. The tool used for new product/service/improvement development systematically pulls together people from different departments, units, and disciplines so that people from throughout an organization can make their best contributions to the whole, not leaving everything on the shoulders of one person, which in my view, is something that leaders want to embrace.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Shoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not, ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather, ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?’” Your response?

Goldsmith: You read a lot! Again, I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if commenting on what I think the author is saying is helpful to anyone here. I don’t believe that you have to make mistakes in order to test deeply held assumptions, but without the full context within which Shoemaker makes the statement, I can only say that there are other ways of testing assumptions. I work off the premise that fewer mistakes is better, no mistakes is best, but in the real world, mistakes within organizations occur because of numerous conditions, all of which can be corrected with the right tools, the right leadership thinking.

In today’s world, many organizations can’t afford mistakes. Their marketplaces are changing very rapidly, new competitors, new technologies, new alternatives, new buying patterns and access points for purchasing are making the job of leading more challenging, so to make a mistake for the sake of challenging an assumption seems like a bad idea. Yet, that might not be what Shoemaker is saying, I don’t know. I’d have to read his book.

Morris: In your opinion, why do so many C-level executives seem to have such a difficult time delegating work to others?

Goldsmith: Excellent question. Simple answer. They don’t know how.

I begin the book explaining that most leaders never had a business-school education, and those who did admit that they didn’t really learn how to lead and manage others. So a lot of what you see from leaders is the result of trial and error. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t, and leaders are doing the best they can to do more right than wrong. That’s not to say that they’re buffoons or that they are broken and need to be fixed. It’s just that they’re not given the tools they need to consistently be able to properly hand off authority and responsibility to others with some sense of confidence that the targeted results will be reached.

The feedback that I’m getting from Paid to THINK readers is that they’re finally getting the answers they needed, that they’ve sought for years. There’s an entire chapter dedicated to the activity of Empowering Others, and it goes well beyond saying, “You should delegate,” and actually shows leaders how to delegate, and to do it so that your people have everything they need to succeed. But in every chapter, leaders learn various parts of the puzzle, if you will, so that they can delegate properly, with confidence, and get the outcomes they need. After all, as I always say, “No one shows up to screw up.” People want to be successful, and when they’re not, it’s because they just don’t know how.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history, with rare exception were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Goldsmith: Oh, I think that’s brilliant. The leader is the quintessential salesperson. Beyond the sales responsibilities that a typical salesperson who sells products and services has, the leader is selling to everyone all day every day. While some leaders actually do sell to customers and clients, all leaders sell to colleagues, allies, bankers, the public, their staff members, and so on. They need to gain buy in and cooperation from all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, and often they’re selling an idea or future condition, so they don’t have something tangible to use as a tool of persuasion. Storytelling is an effective means of painting a picture when the real picture hasn’t yet been painted. I believe in storytelling so much so that I have provided storytelling techniques as a leadership tool in Chapter 13, Selling Continuously.

I also want to acknowledge, however, that not every leader feels comfortable telling stories. A lot of them will immediately recoil at the thought of having to be a storyteller in a business environment, even though they might be a great storyteller in their personal lives. Believe it or not, a person can keep everyone in stitches [make them laugh nonstop-for those who are not familiar with the expression] for an hour over dinner about a silly fishing trip, but then the same person will clam up if they are put in the position of doing so professionally. That’s because they 1) don’t believe they’ll be any good at storytelling, 2) don’t think other people will want to hear what they have to say, or 3) both. But if you can remind a person that they are helping other people with the stories they tell and also you can give them the tools to be successful at storytelling, then you’ve put them on the path to finding success as a storyteller, just like all those other leaders who do so well at it. Anybody, once they learn to be a storyteller, can be a better communicator of ideas.

Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original, perhaps unrealistic expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterized as “the ideology of comfort, and the tyranny of custom.”

Goldsmith: Well, the comment is somewhat phrased as a single comment, but it’s actually two different statements. One is about resistance to change, and one is about the failure of projects and initiatives. And in my opinion, I don’t think that one is always connected to the other. There are two separate issues here, and sometimes one affects the other, and other times, they don’t impact each other at all.

Change initiatives can fail or fall short due to resistance to change. But this notion that people hate change is one that I ask leaders to rethink in Chapter 2, because people don’t resist the birth of a baby, getting a new car, going on vacation, eating in a great new restaurant. They resist the types of change that are negative (which often includes change that is unexpected), and can you blame them? Who in their right mind would support an initiative that makes them work longer hours, doesn’t deliver on its promised benefits, and creates chaos that they’re expected to clean up? So rather than look at concepts like “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom,” let’s look at concrete tools that leaders can use to ensure that the changes they bring about result in a new positive condition.

Every single chapter of Paid to THINK provides valuable information that keeps initiatives on target from the start. Throughout the book, I equip leaders with new tools, concepts, and skills so that they can select the most appropriate change initiatives for their organizations, put together effective plans for their implementation, ensure that the initiatives are tied to the overall Desired Outcomes and Strategy for the organization, and are completed on time, on budget, and in ways that don’t outstrip the resources of the organization. It all goes back to giving leaders those practical, universally-applicable tools and methodologies so that we can show leaders how they can move forward.

Morris: In recent years there’s been criticism, sometimes severe criticism, of MBA programs, even those offered by the most prestigious business schools. In your opinion, in which area is there the greatest need for immediate improvement? Do you have any suggestions?

Goldsmith: Yes, I have four suggestions. The first is that MBA programs must be more than a collection of siloed subjects, they must integrate the aspects and topics relative to leadership in a way that realistically prepares students to be able to LEAD once the graduate. MBA programs should be more in line with what’s, which is an integration of activities and tools that leaders need to know. While the objective of an MBA program is to have someone walk out and be able to lead, the education itself really doesn’t prepare graduates in that way, which is why I’ve had executives of multi-million and multi-billion dollar organizations confidentially admit that they knew how to get an A from their professors, but when they stepped into their organizations, they were clueless about how to do their jobs.

Think of it this way: When students come out of an architectural school, they’re supposed to be able to do architecture. When they come out of a design school, they’re supposed to be able to design. When they come out of broadcasting school, they’re supposed to be able to do some broadcasting.

When they come out of a leadership school, often they can’t lead. So it’s all conceptual. Only until recent years have just a handful of business schools begun to teach with an integrated approach, and some of them are doing it fairly well, but for the most part, MBA programs have been and still are a collection of siloed topics. So I would say #1 is we need to go to an integrated approach.

Second, since MBA programs contain so much conceptual material, professors need to do a better job at designing and teaching coursework that requires their students to apply the concepts in an ongoing manner. In other words, don’t just tell them that they should do “X”, have them apply “X” within their work environment. When I was earning my MBA, I had a teacher who taught us 72 different ways to lead, 72 different leadership concepts, but never once asked anybody to try any of them, or to utilize them in the class or any setting. Okay, we have a list of 72 items, and maybe we’ll refer back to it one day or maybe we won’t. How did that list serve the student? How does it really empower the leader? I always required my students to go out into the real world, apply what they learned in class, and then present and report the experiences in class so that we could help them get past any obstacles they had in applying the material and give them the tools they needed to succeed as leaders.

Along similar lines is my suggestion #3. MBA programs often accept as students people who are not active in the workforce; I’m talking about the people who will take time off from work to pursue their MBA full time. Right there, these students don’t have a place where they can take what they’re learning in school and try it out in a practical sense. Now, I’m not saying that it has to be a requirement that students be involved in an organization while simultaneously taking the courses—certainly, from time to time I would have an NYU student who wasn’t working—but the program serves the student better when that condition is present. And it’s up to the people offering the MBA programs to not only apprise students (or prospective students) of this, but to follow through with course material that provides real-world opportunities through practical application. In instances when I would be dealing with a student who was not currently employed or in a leadership position, I would still have them do the assignments as if they were at a past job or at a job where they wanted to go after graduation, and we worked from there. But always, the connection was being made between the classroom and the realities of leading in the real world.

And fourth—and this is probably going to be taken as a slam to a lot of people in education—is that we need to evaluate the educators and administrators who are making decisions about education for both performance and intent. Specifically, what I’m talking about is finding out if the educators (whether they’re teaching second grade or MBA courses) are truly interested in preparing their students to be high performers or are they just going through the motions of teaching to teach, making presentations, projecting information in one direction without as much concern for improving the potential of the students beyond test grades and in-class performance. I will occasionally ask leaders—in reference to a decision they’ve made or an initiative they’ve introduced—“If you had to bet your paycheck on the outcome, would you? Are you confident enough about this you would bet your paycheck on it?” Most leaders of large organizations won’t—small business owners actually are betting their paychecks on their decisions everyday—and I’m guessing that if a lot of educators had to be honest with themselves about how well prepared their students are for a life beyond the classroom based on the teachers’ performance, educators wouldn’t bet their paychecks either.

So, I think the process is broken, both in MBA programs and in general education. Teachers are not there to see the success of their students long term. They’ll argue that they are once the subject is brought up, but their actions reveal that not only are they not doing this, I don’t believe many of them even think of their jobs and responsibilities in this way…the long-term success of their students doesn’t even cross their minds. They’re not malicious in their intent, they’re unaware and too focused on today, and they’re being told by other people what their curricula are, how to teach. I mean, do you believe that there’s a forecasting course for teachers out there so that they have the tools and awareness they need to be forecasters? Going back to my suggestion #1, everything is too siloed, and suggestion #2, education is disconnected to the realities of everyday leading and everyday life.

Morris: Looking ahead, let’s say three to five years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face, and do you have any advice?

Goldsmith: Interesting to me is that the question almost suggests that the challenge will come from an external source: the economy, politics, global warming, or whatever. And certainly, there are challenges on the horizon from external sources: China’s population shift where the country will be forced to deal with a significant percentage of elderly citizens at a time when its economy, which experts don’t believe is as “healthy” as the Chinese government leads the public to believe, will become an issue as well. We’re looking at a decline in experienced leaders all over the globe as many of today’s leaders retire without a wave of experienced leaders behind them to carry the torch. Look at the population decline happening in Russia, all of Europe, and the US. But regardless of population shifts, geopolitical events, technological trends, and all those external forces that are constantly evolving our world, challenges for CEOs and all leaders will continue to be internal as people struggle with themselves about how to solve their challenges.

And just as I say in the Introduction to Paid to THINK, the challenges that leaders face are universal, span industries and sectors, geographies and cultures, throughout all of time. So the focus for leaders should be on developing skills and knowledge within themselves so that they can place themselves ideally in more proactive situations, but also so that they can rapidly respond when the need arises and make great decisions. That’s why it’s so important that leaders have the right and best thinking tools at their disposal at all times. The toolkit they build from reading Paid to THINK will enable them to step up, provide value, and lead others to success whether they live now, in 2013, or generations from now.

*     *     *

David cordially invites you to check out these websites:

MetaMatrix Consulting Group homepage.

David’s Amazon page

Amazon Paid to THINK page





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  1. […] To read Part 1, please click here. […]

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