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Marshall Goldsmith, author of Mojo, is a researcher and executive coach.
Marshall Goldsmith, author of Mojo, is a researcher and executive coach.

Leadership advice

Goldsmith: Engagement comes from within Add to ...

The key variable, we found, is inside us, not outside us. Whereas What Got You Here Won’t Get You There talks about classic challenges that successful leaders face, I think Mojo is better for young people. Its message is you need to find out (1) what do you love doing, and (2) what do you find particularly meaningful in life, because if you are devoting your whole life to activities that you find as meaningful and you are devoting your life to activities you enjoy doing and make you happy, you won’t mind working. If you’re not doing that, you won’t have a very great life and it will be very hard for you.

I want to close with the question I have been asking each of our thought leaders –

Before that, can I offer my best coaching advice for people?

Imagine you’re 95, on your death bed. But before you take your last breath you are given a great gift, the ability to go back in time and talk to the person reading this article. What advice would the wise, 95-year-old you – who knows what really matters in life and what doesn’t – have for the person, you, reading this article right now? What personal advice for that person? What professional advice?

A friend of mine happened to interview old people who were dying. Three themes emerged in their personal advice. The first was summed up in three words: Be happy now. Not next week. Not next month. Not next year. Be happy now. It’s a great Western disease that we’ll be happy in the future – when we get higher status, or that BMW, or that promotion, or this project finished. Instead, be happy now.

The second theme was about friends and family. When you’re 95 and on your death bed, no employees are waving goodbye. It’s only family and friends.

Third, if you have a dream, go for it, because if you don’t when you are 35, you may not when you’re 85.

The advice old people gave professionally isn’t much different. Have fun. Life is short. Do whatever you can to help people – not for status, but because the 95-year-old you will be proud if you did help people and disappointed if you didn’t. Finally, old people almost never regret the risk they took and failed; they regret the risk they didn’t take.

Now, your final question.

Who do you turn to for reading, learning and wisdom on leadership and self-improvement?

I am very blessed to have had many wonderful teachers. A mentor who changed my life happens to be quite ill right now. His name is Paul Hersey. Without Paul Hersey, there is no way I would be who I am. He gave me the opportunity to get started in this business. He has been a mentor, coach and adviser to me, and also tremendous help to Ken Blanchard.

Ken and I had been planning for years to have a little dinner for Paul, and we didn’t organize it. Fortunately, six months ago, we did. That was before he learned he had cancer. We are so happy we held it. It was a reminder to take time to say thank you to people who have helped you.

Another person who has helped me is Richard Beckhard, a great teacher and coach. Also Peter Drucker and Frances Hesselbein, who Peter Drucker said was the greatest leader he met in his life. I also learn from my clients.

In terms of reading, I would recommend my friend Jim Kouzes, who wrote The Leadership Challenge 25 years ago. I think it’s the basic manual for being a good leader.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer who writes Monday Morning Manager for The Globe and Mail's T.G.I.M. page, management book reviews on Wednesdays and an online work-life balance column on Fridays.

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