"Meaningful behavioral change is very hard to do. No one can make us change unless we truly want to change."
It is ironic that I am summarizing Triggers right at the beginning of 2016; a time when many of us are wanting to make changes in our lives so we can become better—at work and at home.
I’ve always admired Marshall Goldsmith after hearing him speak several years ago. All that he said made sense—common sense—and his book is no different, except as he admits himself his advice may seem simple but simple is far from easy.
As a leadership coach he works with leaders of large corporations to enhance and fine tune their leadership skills and he uses his clients’ stories to illustrate their struggles and the solutions. He draws on his research to further make his point.
He divides the book into several sections starting with our belief barriers to making change, how to start the change process using the “Wheel of Change”, and then how to make the changes stick using daily questions to gauge how you are doing.
The Big Idea
Stop the excuses. Pay attention to your environment.
"An excuse explains why we fell short of expectations after the fact. Our inner beliefs trigger failure before it happens. They sabotage lasting change by canceling its possibility."
There are many belief triggers that can negatively impact our wish for change—most of them relating to our naïve beliefs that because we want to make the change, it will miraculously just happen. We give little consideration to our environment, which can eat away at our determination, sidetrack us from our goals and stop us from succeeding.
Environment shapes our behaviour, something Goldsmith believes is often not on our radar. In fact, creating more awareness of how our environment impacts us is one of his burning goals with this book. “We think we are in sync with our environment, but actually it’s at war with us.” He goes on to argue that “we willfully ignore how profoundly the environment influences our behaviour.”
When we enter a new environment, our behaviour can change in sly ways. Think about the people you hang out with—they likely influence your behaviour and change who you are.
As an example he walks us through the typical day of a working mother, who at home has control over her environment. What she says goes. But when she reaches her office, she slips into another persona and is part of a team and has less control over what happens.
In the work environment we will often prepare how we present ourselves for those big meetings, but it is the little moments that trigger some of our most unproductive responses. Goldsmith calls them “life’s paper cuts.”
He goes on to talk about situational leadership where we may start the day with goals and ideas of what we want to achieve as the leader. But as the day evolves, situations arise and our plans have to change, we become less the leader, and more the doer.
We can change and here’s how
"When we bluntly challenge ourselves to figure out what we can change and what we can’t, what to lose and what to keep, we often surprise ourselves with the bold simplicity of our answers."
Goldsmith explores ways we can change—as an individual and as part of a team. He introduces the Wheel of Change, which has four options –creating, preserving, eliminating, and accepting.
Often with teams he would ask them to select one activity from each option. He observes that when we are satisfied with life, we yield to inertia which is why he advocates coming up with something creative that’s new.
While preserving may sound passive, it is a real choice, one that we don’t practice enough. It requires some soul-searching to figure out what serves us well. “We rarely ask ourselves what in my life is worth keeping?”
Eliminating is the most liberating and therapeutic action, but we make it reluctantly he observes. Giving up something that hurts us is easier but the real test is sacrificing something we enjoy doing, so we can grow.
“Accepting,” he says, “is the rare bird in the aviary of change.” While acceptance is often viewed as acquiescence, accepting is most valuable when we are powerless to make a difference.
Staying on track
"Active questions reveal where we are trying and where we are giving up. In doing so they sharpen our sense of what we can actually change."
Employee engagement is a two-way street. So often HR is blamed for lack of engagement but little time is spent asking employees about what they do to improve their situation.
Recognizing this gap, Goldsmith and his daughter undertook some research using active instead of passive questions, putting the onus on the employee to measure their goals and performance. What they found was those who were asked to answer the six active questions daily, were really engaged.
Committed to this concept of holding people accountable, Goldsmith asks active questions daily of himself and has found that it has made a profound difference in his life. He rates himself on a chart and can quickly see where he needs to make more effort.
Each question starts with: Did I do my best today to…?, set clear goals?, make progress on my goals?, find meaning?, be happy?, build positive relationships?, be fully engaged?
The questions, which can vary, depending on the individual’s needs, measure not just how the person has performed but how much he tried. Goldsmith also ties the questions into the Wheel of Change – in terms of learning something new (creating), expressing gratitude (preserving), avoiding angry comments (eliminating), and making peace (accepting).
While I was anxious to devour as much of the wisdom in the book in one read, there was much to be gained by stepping back, digesting and reflecting on what Goldsmith has written, and then reading on.
He shares the Buddhist Parable of the Empty Boat in which a young farmer paddling up river believes he is about to be hit by a boat heading for him, but the boat is empty.
Goldsmith’s point is that the boat is always empty and we are too quick to blame someone else, to see danger where none exists. An empty boat is not targeting us and neither are all the people creating sour notes in our day.
By accepting people for who they are, or situations we can’t change, we lighten our load. If I have learnt nothing else from this book, the only person we can change is ourselves, and Marshall gives us the tools to do so.