Successful Leaders Need Training Too

by Preeti S    Sep 24, 2014

Marshall Goldsmith

“The major challenge of most executives is not understanding the practice of leadership - it is practicing their understanding of leadership,” says Dr Marshall Goldsmith, noted American leadership coach.  

In the fast paced and technology-driven business world, the C-suite has limited time for introspection as there is constant pressure of quick results. In the bargain, they often fail to identify the scope for improvement. 

That is where Goldsmith’s expertise comes in, as what matters to him is not if a leader is born or made, but the fact that a leader can be trained to be more effective. 

“Everyone I work with is already a leader,” says Goldsmith, who delivered the Silver Jubilee oration at the HR showcase organized by NHRD. His leadership development process is backed by award-winning research that now includes over 248,000 respondents from around the world.

Leadership can be defined as a learned behavior. Successful leaders are intellectuals with many commonalities, but some qualities are mastered from practice and experience. Decision making requires intelligence and knowledge, but being a team leader means better understanding of others.

Goldsmith helps us understand the difference with his new term ‘Emotional Intelligence’. “It refers to our motivation and ability to deal with people, while ‘intelligence’ generally refers to our motivation and ability to deal with ideas or concepts.”

Stating it is one of the mandatory qualities for leaders, he says: “Successful leaders have sometimes lacked emotional intelligence, in the same way that successful leaders have sometimes lacked financial acumen. They are not successful ‘because of’ lacking emotional intelligence. They are successful ‘in spite of’ lacking emotional intelligence.”

Also read: Is the C-suite ready for digital leadership?

What does success mean to him? “On the personal level, I would define it as being able to simultaneously achieve happiness and meaning in life. On a business level, it would be achieving the goals of the company while living the values of the company.”

Being the agents of change, the C-suite executives shoulder huge responsibility of implementing ambitious but achievable goals. While they challenge themselves and their team to get the best results, their every success starts and ends with “we, not I”

“A successful leader works with others to achieve objectives. For the successful ‘achiever’, it can be all about ‘me’.  For the successful ‘leader’, it is all about ‘them’,” says Goldsmith, who has authored 34 books, including international bestsellers like ‘What got you here, won’t get you there’.

When asked if CEOs are good leaders or managers, he says: “It has been said that leaders help people ‘do the right things, while managers help people ‘do things in the right way’ – both are critically important.”

Among the long list of his students, Goldsmith calls some of them the greatest leaders. That includes: Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts of America, who is the winner of the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award for a US civilian; Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford, who, this year, was ranked by Fortune as the #3 greatest leader in the world – behind only the Pope and Prime Minister of German, and Dr. Jim Kim,  the President of the World Bank.

“Alan Mulally and I have decided to work together to try to make a small contribution to Kim’s great mission of eliminating poverty on earth,” he says.

Despite his remarkable success, Goldsmith has remained humble to the core. What holds testimony to that is his most memorable moment: A note of gratitude by one of his students. 

“As I have grown older, the ‘small things’ mean more to me.  One gentleman, who attended my class a few years ago, told me:  “Your advice helped me have a great relationship with my children. Thank you.”

“In my life, I have received plenty of awards and recognition. That gentleman’s comment was more important than all of them,” he recalls.