The Corporate Coach

Corporate coaching has become big business in the last decade but Marshall Goldsmith was the pioneer back in the 80's.

Written by Larissa MacFarquhar and Originally Published on Page 144 of the New Yorker in April 22, 2002

Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, 53... Goldsmith trains executives to behave decently in the office, by subjecting them to a brutal regimen. First, he solicits "360º feedback"-he asks their colleagues and sometimes their families, too, for comprehensive assessments of their strengths and defects-and he confronts them with what everybody really thinks. Then he makes them apologize and ask for help in getting better. It’s a simple method-"I don’t think anybody’s going to say I’m guilty of excessive subtlety," he says-but it works... Goldsmith is so extraordinarily buoyant and extroverted that he seems to enter a room in a tinkle of magic dust... His head is round and pink and bald, his eyes are blue, and his chin juts out and upward to meet his nose, like the chin of a wooden puppet. He skips more than walks, and when he is in a bouncy mood (which he usually is) he dances along with his arms straight out and swinging... When Goldsmith started executive coaching, in the early eighties, he was a pioneer. Coaching really came into its own as an industry about five or six years ago, when employee retention became a serious problem... Moreover, a bad attitude on the part of senior management was held to be detrimental not only to retaining employees but also to the formation of strategy. Some executives remain suspicious of coaching, thinking of it as a reproach or as enforced psychotherapy, but more often these days the offer of a coach is taken as a compliment-a sign, since the service is expensive, that a person is being groomed for significant promotion. Coaching, he had recently realized, was not, ultimately, about changing his client’s behavior so much as changing perceptions of the client’s behavior. If you ask Goldsmith to describe the principles of his happiness, he will say that they are best summed up by Buddhism. Goldsmith has been a Buddhist since his mid-twenties, and now he likes to think of himself as a kind of Buddhist monk, spreading the good news. Buddhism is also the underpinning for Goldsmith’s third-favorite saying, after "Life is good" and "Be happy now": "Let it go." "Most Western religions glorify guilt," he says. Goldsmith’s Buddhism meshes perfectly with his behaviorist-style coaching. He always tells his clients that he doesn’t care about their past, doesn’t care how they feel, doesn’t care about their inner psyche-all he cares about is their future behavior. Even if he didn’t believe it was unproductive, Goldsmith would reject the psychotherapeutic approach on the ground that it just takes too long. One of Goldsmith’s favorite facts about himself is that he has more than seven million frequent-flier miles on American Airlines alone. It is impossible, he tells people, unless you have at least a million or two miles yourself, to comprehend what that means. Once, when he was at the symphony with his wife, Lyda, she noticed him digging into the side of his chair and asked what he was doing; he realized that he was looking for a seat belt... . He lives in a gated community near San Diego named Fairbanks Ranch, because years ago the land was owned by Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and Mary Pickford. His house is an unpretentious two-story Tudor... It is very peaceful in Fairbanks Ranch. Even during the day, there is almost no traffic, and at night little brown rabbits leap over the lawns. The weather is perfect. Bill Gates and the Sultan of Brunei are said to own homes in the neighborhood. One reason Fairbanks Ranch seems like Heaven to Goldsmith is that he grew up in a bad neighborhood-the rough part of Valley Station, Kentucky, just outside Fort Knox. His father owned a gas station, and the family lived between the gas station and a bar. There were a lot of other bars and strip joints nearby, and soldiers were always driving into town and getting drunk and getting into car wrecks or bar fights. The street in front of his house was nicknamed the Dixie Dieway... Mentions his daughter, Kelly, who is famous for her own appearance on the television show, "Survivor"... Tells about his rebellious youth and his participation in encounter groups in Los Angeles... Writer describes a final session with a C.F.O. client...

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