Book Review of Triggers, by Marshall Goldsmith (Crown Business Books, 2015)

Book Review of Triggers, by Marshall Goldsmith (Crown Business Books, 2015)

(Disclosure: I am a fan of Marshall Goldsmith because he is an enthusiastic role model for countless executive coaches. When I shook his hand at an event hosted by the Center for Creative Leadership, I told him so. And when I was given four copies of this book to distribute to our largest CoachSource clients, I told them something favorable. Marshall Goldsmith has celebratory cachet as a thinker and a champion.)

 

I wanted to love this book, but it fell short.

 

Triggers can be defined as “any stimulus that defines our behavior.” That broad definition enables Goldsmith to go beyond Skinnerian behaviorism, or beyond antecedent-behavior-consequence, or Duhigg’s cue-routine-reward model.   The “Circle of Engagement” model includes five steps: trigger-impulse-awareness-choice-behavior. The primary focus of the book is to “help others achieve lasting positive change.”

 

Structures help us define individual behavioral change. Goldsmith defines three structures: the AIWATT question, the “Six Engaging Questions” and the “Wheel of Change.

 

  1. The AIWATT question can increase engagement. Ask yourself, “Am I willing, at this time, to make the investment required, to make a positive difference on this topic?” Am I willing at this time… is the short version.

 

  1. The six “Engaging Questions” can be useful early in a coaching engagement, and when measuring behavioral trends. The questions are: 1. Did I do my best to set clear goals? 2. Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals? 3. Did I do my best to find meaning? 4. Did I do my best to build positive relationships? 6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged?

 

  1. The Wheel of Change can be described using two axis or four spokes on a wheel. One axis is the Positive to Negative axis, which “tracks the elements that either help us or hold us back.” The second axis is the Change or Keep axis, which “tracks the elements that we determine to change or keep in the future.” This descriptive model encourages clients to explore what they may need to create, eliminate, accept or preserve in order to achieve their desired behavior change.

 

The remaining content includes anecdotes from Goldsmith’s broad client base. His charming, self-effacing style often made me smile. The inclusion of the Buddhist anecdote reminding us that anger is always directed at “an empty boat” is a perfect reminder to stay focused on our internal locus of control in the moment. The resounding feeling I had is that the book made me feel good, consider using some of these structures, and then wonder “Now what?”

 

There are no citations of published works in this book. However, an emerging body of academic research does exist. Positive psychology provides the theoretical construct that the profession of executive coaching sorely needs. There is abundant research in well-being. Seminal leaders include Richard Boyatzis’ Intentional Change Model and studies using neurobiology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and optimal experience research, and Martin Seligman’s work in PERMA (positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and purpose, and accomplishment.)   These are evidence-based thought leaders, with broad following, who are not referenced by Marshall Goldsmith. That fact makes me wonder, why not?

 

According to the International Coaching Federation, there are now some 50,000 professional coaches in a $7 billion industry with little consistency. (Disclosure: I have been certified at the ICF-PCC level since 2006.) The Conference Board 2014 survey, from 142 companies, defines external executive coaches compensation ranging from $600-200/ hour depending upon the size of the company, developmental needs of the leader, and seniority. The average investment for 6 months and 40-45 hours is $25,000. The 2014 ICF survey states that the average salary is $214/hour. The market realities and financial value of executive coaching are significant.

 

My experience of countless “coaches” is that the profession sorely needs a) a scientific evidence-based backbone and b) a theoretical backbone.   Without such theory, science, and applications, the profession of executive coaching is at risk.

 

In hindsight, I realize that I wanted Marshall Goldsmith to provide some leadership or insight into these aspects of executive coaching. Marshall Goldsmith’s book Triggers does not address any of these academic, social and market realities. Hence it fell short of what I had expected. I can imagine him chuckling and retorting, “OK, so what are you going to do that would make you happier?”

 

Perhaps that is the subject for a different blog.

 

Call me if you’d like to discuss this book?

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