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GILD 2013: Forget about feedback – Coaching lessons from Marshall Goldsmith

October 9, 2013
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Long-time GILD faculty member Marshall Goldsmith addressing participants.

After 17 years and 6,000+ GILD participants, we’ve learned that the majority of leaders struggle with coaching and mentoring. That’s why, for our “Behavioral Coaching and Mentoring” session, we brought in one of the very best in the business: Marshall Goldsmith.

It was a highly entertaining and engaging session. But, more importantly, it was packed with advice, much of which may seem counter-intuitive at first. If you thought that a session on how to be a better coach would give you tips on what to do, think again. It turns out, learning how to be a better coach means learning what not to do. Here are just a few examples:

1) Three Classic Leadership Mistakes

Winning too much. Adding too much value. Passing too much judgment.

Surprised by the first two? Sometimes we “win” when it doesn’t matter. Sometimes we add to others’ ideas and they get over-engineered. Don’t do it.

On average, people spend 65% of all communications talking about (or listening to someone talk about) how smart, special, or wonderful they are or on talking about (or listening to someone talk about) how inept or bad someone else is. If you are questioning this number, note that we took the average in the room and it came out to 66%. Here’s the thing: if you talk about how great you are, you learn nothing. And if you talk about how bad someone else is, you learn nothing. Don’t do it.

How can you stop? You can invest a little bit of money to create large changes in behavior. If you have to pay $10, or even $1, every time you make a negative comment, you’ll quickly learn not to do it. Likewise, if you are fined $1 every time you start a sentence with the words “no,” “but” or “however,” you’ll soon rid yourself of that habit.

2) Forget About Feedback

But wait, you’re probably thinking, isn’t providing feedback what coaching is all about? Here’s the problem: feedback is about the past, and we can’t change the past. Instead, try feedforward.

3) Treat Ideas like a Gift

Too often, when someone expresses an idea, they are told why it won’t work. But when you get a gift, you either want it, in which case you use it, or you don’t want it and you put it in the closet. What you don’t do is say that it’s a bad gift. Ideas are the same. There’s really only one response when someone gives you an idea (regardless of whether you think it’s a good one or not): thank you.

4) It’s Not About the Coach

A big misconception is that the coach needs to be somehow better or smarter than the coachee. But the most important factor for successful change is, in fact, the coachee, not the coach. Don’t make coaching about your ego–it needs to be about them and how hard they work. If they don’t care, don’t waste your time. (And if you don’t care, don’t waste your time.)

Are you surprised by Marshall’s advice? Are there other behaviors people should stop doing to become more effective coaches and mentors? Add your comments below.

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