Thirty years after receiving his Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Management— now the Anderson School of Management— Marshall Goldsmith Ph.D. ’77 watched his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, soar to #1 best-selling business book as reported by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
“My book is aimed at winners, designed to help them improve their already successful careers,” Goldsmith says. “Most business books target people who want to be successful and are not there yet. No one ever thinks of successful people with problems. What I say is ‘You’re doing great—here’s what you need to do better.’”
In his book, Goldsmith highlights 20 habits of successful people that prevent them from achieving that next level of leadership. Recognized by the American Management Association as one of 50 great thinkers and leaders who have contributed to the field of management within the last 80 years, Goldsmith is the co-founder of Marshall Goldsmith Partners, a network of top-level executive coaches. The company relies on the Goldsmith Coaching Process, which, according to its online description, “enables a leader to focus on achieving positive, measurable change in those behaviors that can most significantly impact their business performance and their impact on the people around them.”
Goldsmith is so confident about his program that he doesn’t receive his six-figure consulting fee unless there is tangible improvement in the targeted behaviors of his client. Pre-selected colleagues form the basis for evaluation; after Goldsmith’s program, these co-workers must feel their boss has altered or improved his or her behavior. By involving colleagues, says Marshall, it is easier to identify which areas of an executive’s rapport most urgently need improvement.
Marshall’s expertise in business problem-solving is drawn from years of experience. After earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematical economics and an M.B.A., Goldsmith came to UCLA to study organizational behavior. “I just burned out on math,” he says brightly.
During his time at UCLA, Goldsmith enjoyed being a teaching assistant and pursuing field studies. He was a Chancellor's Fellow and was active in Beta Gamma Sigma. While pursuing coursework, Goldsmith came across two UCLA professors that profoundly influenced him, particularly in his leadership style.
Bob Tannenbaum’s Ph.D. encounter group, explains Goldsmith, was designed to answer the questions “Who am I, and what does all of it mean?” Goldsmith participated heavily in the discussion, repeatedly rejecting what he described to his peers as the “plastic materialism of Los Angeles.”
“It was easy for me to be an expert on the people of Los Angeles,” he now says, wryly, “I had, after all, grown up in a small town in Kentucky.”
After three weeks of such behavior, Tannenbaum pointed out that Goldsmith had addressed his remarks to only one person in the class—the professor. Goldsmith says he told Tannenbaum, “I think that you can truly understand how ‘screwed-up’ it is to try to run around and impress people all the time. I believe that you have a deeper understanding of what is really important in life.”
The flattery fell flat. Tannenbaum suggested that Goldsmith was berating L.A. to make himself look more impressive. Shocked by the professor’s attitude, Goldsmith says he “hated him for six months. Then I went back and thanked him for telling me something important about myself. We all have a blind side, and it’s helpful to be around someone gifted at seeing it.”
Later in his studies, Goldsmith worked for the city planning department under the guidance of Fred Case. Goldsmith recalls a day when he was particularly angry and bitter.
“Dr. Case asked me what was wrong,” Goldsmith recalls. “I immediately began ranting about the inefficiency of the city, and the misplaced priorities of politicians.”
At the end of his diatribe, Case said that discovering government is inefficient was not Ph.D. level work. Case told Goldsmith that he could choose to have fun and enjoy what he was doing, or he could continue on in his negative ways, get fired and never graduate.
“I finally laughed and replied, ‘Dr. Case, I think it is time for me to start having some fun!’ He smiled knowingly and said, ‘You are a wise young man.’”
Goldsmith uses this incident to illustrate to his audiences that “real leaders are not people who can point out what is wrong. Almost anyone can do that. Real leaders are people who can make things better.”
After graduating from UCLA, Goldsmith worked as a professor at Loyola Marymount University. By the time he was 29, he was an associate dean. When the opportunity to springboard into consulting presented itself, Goldsmith jumped at the opportunity.
In 2006 Alliant International University honored Marshall by naming their schools of business and organizational studies the Marshall Goldsmith School of Management. Goldsmith, in collaboration with the school, is now working on making the best online library in the world for management, coaching and organizational psychology. All of the online resources are free, and are designed to be shared among team members, colleagues, or anyone who might benefit from the materials.
Goldsmith reports enthusiastically, “We have already had visitors from 182 different countries, and we welcome guests from around the world.”
In addition to his involvement with the Marshall Goldsmith LLP and the Marshall Goldsmith School of Management, Goldsmith is an instructor for Dartmouth University’s Tuck Global Leaders Program, Global Leadership 20/20 as well as for the University of Michigan’s Human Resources Executive Program and The Advanced Human Resources Executive Program. Goldsmith is working on his upcoming book, Memo to the C.E.O.: Developing Your Successor. When asked to explain his own fast rise up the professional ladder, Goldsmith is demure. “I think that part of the secret was that I was already bald [in my late 20s]. It makes you look more believable.”
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith Ph.D. ’77 was a #1 best-selling business book in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.