CEOs must be stubborn, opinionated people

Imagine if you had to put Rs 50 down for every time you said the words ‘No’, ‘But’ or ‘However’. By how much would you be poorer, in a day, a week, a month? This is a favorite game, played with audiences at every leadership class. At a session held recently in Mumbai, the audience may have thought they were above the challenge, but by the end of two hours a few thousands were collected for charity. The person conducting this class is no amateur at this; over the years this leadership guru has collected $450,000 playing this “game’ with the unsuspecting CEOs he coaches.

He coaches rich old men and they hate losing money more than anyone else. The person coaching has been named as one of 50 great thinkers and leaders who have influenced the field of management over the past 80 years, words like ‘no’, ‘but’ and ‘however’ are excuses used to wriggle out of something you don’t want to commit to.

He says his clients are champion excuse makers; blame the family, blame the culture, blame God he’s heard them all. If you want to justify inefficient and destructive behavioral patterns, blame yourself. That is exactly the kind of resistance to change. Successful people fall into the trap of thinking they don’t need to change anything because their behavior is working for them.

At Helping Successful Leaders Get Even Better, an interactive session jointly organised by the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Avalon Consulting, the coach Goldsmith tells the story of how he was working with a head of the US army in the General’s school and the first thing the Army chief told the new Generals they should remember as soon as they got their stars was that henceforth every one would laugh at their jokes, take their statements as the gospel truth and women would all want to have sex with them. And then he added: It’s just your title, don’t let it go to your head,’ recounts Goldsmith. Those were the wisest words.

Any human being tends to replicate behavior that gets them positive reinforcement. Unfortunately for CEOs, in the post-Lehman world, change is something they cannot avoid. The greatest skill a CEO can have today is learning agility. If you get locked into previous patterns in today’s world, you can quickly get lost.

And that is where the coach comes in, to help counsel hapless leadership out of the current crisis by effecting behavioral change. Certain behaviors must stop than what to do. The idea came from Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, who famously said, “we spend so much time teaching leaders what to do that we don’t spend enough time teaching them what to stop”.

The coach asks “At home, who gets the most unqualified positive recognition? Is it your partner, your kids or your dog?” As predicted by him, for everyone present who owned a dog, the winner is always the dog. Which brought us to the question: Why?

People’s replies are always the same: ‘When I come home the dog is always happy to see me!’ or ‘Even if I come home drunk, the dog still jumps with joy’. “So in other words, the dog gives me unconditional love. The dog is a suck-up,’ he explains to a roomful of laughter.

The management experts and coaches have come across most executives who have stopped listening because they think they know all the right answers. The organisations that survived the crisis were those that listened and said wait a minute, this may not be working, let’s get out of it now. People should get back into asking questions: how can one be a better leader, partner or innovator. Make it a lifetime habit as human beings.

If there is one important lesson he is taught himself, it is not to waste time trying to change people who don’t want to be changed. The biggest fallacy in leadership development is that clients believe that if they ‘understand’ they will ‘do’.

Americans get fatter and fatter and fatter and buy more and more diet books. No one loses weight because they buy diet books — they actually have to diet. They have to do the work. That is also why he also has a policy of not getting paid unless there is measurable meaningful success; each relationship with a client begins and ends with 360 degree feedback. Generally, he is paid.

Today’s executives aren’t ashamed to have a coach. Coaching shouldn’t be about fixing losers, it should be about helping great people get better. Tiger Woods has three coaches, and he’s world Number One.

Negative behavior patterns invariably spill over into your home life and that positive change must accompany you home. Instead of Sorrys and Thank Yous simple niceties go a long way in improving workplace dynamics. Do not sweat the small stuff. Take a deep breath and let it go, let it go, let it go.