16 Dec 2009

The Best Advice He Ever Got

I usually roll my eyes when I hear “positive”, “self-help”, “life-changing” and the like in any book title, news article or blog-post, all the more so when professed by gurus with multi-million dollar media franchises. Having said that, there’s the occasional odd bit of gyan that transcends such cynicism and does change one’s perspective a bit.

In 2008, Harvard Business Publishing asked Marshall Goldsmith about the most valuable he had ever got and his reply is chronicled here. An excerpt:

“Although he was normally in a very upbeat mood, one day Dr. Case seemed annoyed. He looked at me and growled, "Marshall, what is the problem with you? I am getting feedback from some people at City Hall that you are coming across as negative, angry and judgmental. What's going on?"

"You can't believe how inefficient the city government is!" I ranted. I immediately proceeded to give several examples of how taxpayer's money was not being used in the way that I thought it should be. I was convinced that the city could be a much better place if the leaders just listened to me.

"What a stunning breakthrough!" Dr. Case sarcastically remarked, "You, Marshall Goldsmith, have discovered that our city government is inefficient! I hate to tell you this Marshall, but my barber who is cutting hair down on the corner figured this out several years ago. What else is bothering you?" Undeterred by this temporary setback, I angrily proceeded to point out several minor examples of behavior that could be classified as favoritism toward rich political benefactors.

Dr. Case was now laughing. "Stunning breakthrough number two!" he chuckled. "Your profound investigative skills have led to the discovery that politicians may give a more attention to their major campaign contributors than to people who support their opponents. I am sorry to report that my barber has also known this for years. I am afraid that we can't give you a Ph.D. for this level of insight."

As he looked at me, his face showed the wisdom that can only come from years of experience. He said, "I know that you think that I may be old and 'behind the times', but I have been working down there at City Hall for years. Did it ever dawn on you that even though I may be slow, perhaps even I have figured some of this stuff out?"

Then he delivered the advice I will never forget. "Marshall," he explained, "you are becoming a 'pain in the butt'. You are not helping the people who are supposed to be your clients. You are not helping me and you are not helping yourself. I am going to give you two options:
"Option A - Continue to be angry, negative and judgmental. If you chose this option, you will be fired, you probably will never graduate and you may have wasted the last four years of your life.
"Option B - Start having some fun. Keep trying to make a constructive difference, but do it in a way that is positive for you and the people around you...
... 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”

Yes, I know, rather self-evident/saccharine and no, I haven’t yet gone over to the dark side (yet!), but hey, it’s almost the end of the year and ‘tis the season of love and joy and wonder... and always a nice time of the year for some new year resolutions, no? ;-)

1 comment:

  1. Chugging along.. Am in India right now and hence the TVM writings.. Saw your grad pictures in FB and good to see Bernice aunty and Mohan there.. You are in London? Whereabouts? Lucky boy!!