Saturday, March 4, 2017, 7:00am
Pressing the doorbell, I step back and wait.
“Good morning, Marshall! I’m Carl.”
“Welcome, Carl. Come on in. Would you like some coffee?”
“I would! Thanks!”
With that, Marshall Goldsmith walks me to his kitchen. He hands me a cup of coffee, and I hand him a boxed assortment of hand-decorated cookies from my cookie artist wife, Sarah. They bear some of his signature quotes: “Life is good,” “Let it go,” “Be happy now.” They stare up at us from his kitchen island and Marshall smiles as he reads each one.
Marshall (Dr. Goldsmith) holds a PhD from the Anderson School of Management at UCLA, and is a world authority helping already successful leaders get even better. Marshall’s coaching creates positive, lasting change in behavior that benefits both his clients and those they influence. He is a renowned thought leader, business educator and bestselling author with messages deserving translation into twenty-eight languages. In short, there is no better role model or mentor for someone in my coaching profession who intends to have and leave a positive impact on this world. My last post, “Grateful and Curious,” set the stage for my attitude heading into this phase following my twenty years as CEO and more than a decade before that in the global tech world. That mindset made all the difference in my life, career and entrepreneurial pursuits. It also led me to Marshall and his invitation to get personally acquainted as I grow my executive and leadership coaching business, carlgodlove.com.
Marshall’s Kentucky-roots hospitality and unassuming presence shows up when he answers the door to his California home in Rancho Santa Fe. Dressed in jeans, green polo and sneakers, he warmly welcomes me and makes me feel at home. Coffee in hand, Marshall speaks life into the artwork and artifacts he’s collected from his travels to nearly one hundred countries while accumulating over eleven million air miles! His personal history comes alive as we tour his beautiful home. Every piece has a story. One, especially, impacts me.
We pause for a time in front of a large photograph. A much younger Marshall, years ago in Africa, stands in the anxious presence of mothers waiting for the results of a simple test. A care worker measures biceps to determine which children will eat. Too large and they have enough reserve to forgo food now. Too small and there is no hope. Feeding these children will only serve to extend their inevitable demise; so they, too, will not eat. Food is reserved only for those within the range of measurement having the best chance of survival. Anguish and desperate love is written on the face of the mother whose child’s fate is in the hands of another. It is a powerful scene. Marshall relives this moment, bringing me into it with profound impact.
This isn’t a coaching moment per se, but it is a powerful teaching moment that follows me home. “See life through a new lens” is pinned to my vision board in my office. As I write this, my mental image of that photo sparks a thought. Life’s challenges can easily be seen through a lens we casually call “survival.” That lens, however, has a filter that masks the stark reality of real life-or-death survival. Marshall’s experience, shared through this photo, removes this filter. What we mindlessly call survival is nearly always little more than our attempts to keep what we have. Loss and change can deliver inconvenience, but they rarely serve up death. Seeing challenges through this unfiltered lens is perspective-changing. For some, it may even be life-changing.
Marshall generously shares fond memories and facts about his art and collections. Each piece seems to present a gateway to a memory, lesson or relationship that has enriched Marshall’s life and learning. I could easily listen all day, but the warm sun and cool air call, so we grab our jackets and water bottles and head out the door.
Marshall lives in paradise. Seriously. The homes, natural beauty and trails are stunning. It’s no wonder he has a morning walking routine. It offers an environment as comfortable and welcoming as Marshall himself. We start out on a quiet road and wind our way to trails that seem to make the development disappear. Our conversation takes on the cadence of our gait and begins to flow. Marshall shares in an easygoing, open, matter-of-fact way. It’s clear he appreciates these surroundings while not taking any of it too seriously as he cracks jokes about himself and his neighbors. One, a professional golfer, once asked, “So, Marshall, what’s your handicap?” When he responded, “34,” the neighbor laughed uproariously and repeated, “No, seriously Marshall, what’s your handicap?” Again, “34.” Marshall is reliving this moment as we walk, laughing hysterically at the “shock and awe” reaction of this PGA tour pro to a handicap he didn’t think possible.
Marshall’s genuine manner reminds me of my mother. It strikes me they would have gotten along and related well, and I share the common threads I notice as we walk. Marshall is a husband, father, grandfather, and dog owner. He grew up in Kentucky and has the Louisville Slugger® baseball bats to prove it. I tell Marshall that I can’t directly relate to growing up with an outhouse, but I can appreciate his childhood through my mother’s stories of her upbringing in West Virginia under similar circumstances. A generation apart, both Marshall and my mom built successful lives of service and good humor from the most modest beginnings that grounded them in gratitude and appreciation. Both rejected any notion of being a victim of their circumstances.
“Life is good.” “Let it go.” “Be happy now.” These could have come right from my mother’s mouth. And forms of them did. “Stop and smell the roses.” “When you look, see. When you listen, hear.” “I’ve never been bored; I don’t know what that is.” In other words, be present. Appreciate. Take it in. This isn’t a dress rehearsal. Marshall is a Buddhist, and though my mom didn’t wear that label, she definitely wore those clothes. And they both had significant mentors in their young lives, someone who held possibilities up that were beyond their view. Someone who inspired and encouraged them to stretch. For my mom, it was the dentist who employed her as an assistant when she was a teenager. He cheered her on, all the way through nursing school during World War II. For Marshall, it was Paul Hersey.
When Marshall speaks of Paul, you can feel his deep appreciation for this man and mentor. Paul, who passed in 2012, is well known for his work in the Management of Organizational Behavior. He and Ken Blanchard brought the Situational Leadership® Model to the world. Paul knew “extraordinary” when he saw it (my assumption) and he obviously saw it in Marshall (my observation). Trusting his instincts, Paul asked Marshall to stand in his place and lead a seminar because he was double-booked. Making $15,000 a year at the time, $1,000 for the day was pure gold. Marshall gave a resounding “YES!” and he had his work cut out for him. Before Marshall took the room, the client was, well, frankly pissed that Paul wasn’t presenting. They paid for Paul Hersey and they expected Paul Hersey! But Marshall delivered, receiving the highest speaker rating of the event with encores requested. Years later, Paul challenged Marshall to go against conventional wisdom. He asserted to Marshall that his current success was preventing him from creating a future that would challenge and engage him and fully apply his potential. Marshall took Paul’s advice. He backed away from the lucrative day-rate work that was both supporting and consuming him and refocused to create the extraordinary career and life of a global thought leader. Although our change agents couldn’t be more different, I totally relate to his reset. Like Marshall, I left comfortable success and entered the chrysalis of change to reinvent myself for a greater purpose.
Toward the end of our walk, a dark green Mercedes wagon slows down as it passes. Stopping beside us, the driver opens her window and leans toward us as Marshall steps closer to greet her. I assume they know one another until I hear Marshall introduce himself. The woman responds, “Oh, I know who you are. I wanted to thank you for this.” With that, she quotes something I can’t quite make out and Marshall smiles and acknowledges the truth in what she said. She ends with, “It has made all the difference in my life and I have shared this with so many friends.” Marshall reads the curiosity on my face as she drives off and repeats these words to me, “You have carried her all the way to the temple.” He goes on to explain.
Two monks are walking to a temple when they come upon a stream. A distraught young lady is standing on the bank. She can’t find a way across without ruining her beautiful silk dress. The elder monk has compassion for her. He picks her up, carries her to the other side and gently sets her down. The woman is grateful for his kindness. The younger monk follows in silence, but is clearly distressed. Arriving at the temple, the younger monk can contain himself no longer. “I can’t believe you carried that woman across the stream! We took a vow to never touch any woman, let alone pick one up and carry her as you did! I must report what you’ve done!” The elder monk turned to his companion, softened his gaze and calmly replied, “I left the woman back at the stream. You have carried her all the way to the temple.”
As this “let it go” story continues to resonate, it carries us back to Marshall’s home where he invites me to his den. Reflecting on our time together, he asks, “How can I help you?” I share the thoughts that arise in me; the ones that led me to him.
Looking back now, I realize they are succinctly expressed in two Jim Rohn quotes:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
“Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.”
Sitting with Marshall, I begin with my belief that three things are required to be in inspiring company: 1) you must have a community, 2) where you aren’t the smartest person in the room, and 3) where you have the ability to both learn within it and contribute to it. Marshall leads such a community, sharing his lifetime of learning. We never know when or where the next member of our community might show up. The most significant, pivotal points in our life can be the simplest. Like Paul’s invitation to Marshall to stand in for him. Like Marshall’s invitation to me to take a walk with him. This is why I wanted to meet Marshall. This is why I wanted Marshall to meet me. I’m wondering how I can contribute to Marshall’s community of coaches and other thought leaders who are becoming skilled in his approach, applying it in their worlds, and paying it forward. I’m curious, and obviously driven, to explore possibilities that can help me make a difference.
Our lives are defined by the company we keep. Do you want to grow so you can have a bigger impact? Then spend time with people who want to grow so they can have a bigger impact. Spend time with people who have grown and have had the impact you wish to have. Spend time in a community of people with purpose. A community where you can learn and share in a circle of service to one another as you serve in your world. This is what I believe. This is what I value. This is what I want in a community.
Grateful and Curious. They’ve served me well. They still do. I’d even say they paved the way to Marshall’s door. I’m extremely grateful for our time together. Now, I’m equally curious about the possibilities of the path before me.
Thank you, Marshall. Life is good.