Triggers | Book Review

Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter surgically diagnose and prescribe remedies for numerous behavioral triggers holding us back from sustained leadership growth. Filled with relevant and contemporary real-life experiences, Goldsmith reinforces that powerful and lasting growth requires objective 360 reviews and structured coaching. The authors fundamentally challenge the habit of allowing a distracting environment control over us, rather than vice-versa, and how to vastly improve performance results through the use of active questions.

“If we do not create and control our environment, our environment creates and controls us.
And the result turns us into someone we do not recognize."
(page 38)

Visiting the Doctor

Eight diagnostic chapters answer “Why Don’t We Become the Person We Want to Be?” beginning with a trigger defined as any stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions (p. xv), and our environment declared the most potent triggering mechanism. Recall our Setting Leadership Priorities workshop’s generally low self-evaluation scores. Goldsmith suggests because our environmental factors are so often outside our control, we may think there is not much we can do about them (p. xvi). Or worse, that some people say they want to change (think coaching), but they don’t really mean it (p. 8).

Fourteen belief triggers, or inner beliefs, allowing us to fail before we start are introduced on page 14. The first one, If I understand, I will do, which usually does not happen, validates our need for Action Plans closing the Knowing – Doing Gap. Trigger eight (p. 19), I won’t get distracted and nothing unexpected will occur, advises daily scheduling recognizing high probability of low-probability events (stuff happens). Number ten (p. 20), My change will be permanent and I will never have to worry again could be applied to the folly of lottery tickets as a retirement plan. Number fifteen, I have the wisdom to assess my own behavior recalls Tom Peter’s findings that 87% (compared to subordinates reporting 17%) of leaders believe they are good communicators. We overrate ourselves.

Goldsmith states we fundamentally misunderstand how our environment (think about our E2L or energy levels) shapes our behavior (p. 33) and asks us to consider our more immediate environment, or area of influence, so that we may focus especially during coaching sessions. He poses a great question: “What if we could control our environment so it triggered our most desired behavior – like an elegantly designed feedback loop?” (p. 44). Six behavioral trigger distinctions are listed (pp. 44-48), with emphasis on the sixth, A Trigger Can Be Productive or Counterproductive. A natural goal then, is creating encouraging and productive triggers.

The Prescription

We are instructed (p. 57) to build on Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, by inserting impulse, awareness and choice steps between our triggers and our behavior, reminiscent of Kahneman’s classic Thinking, Fast and Slow. In Chapter eight, The Wheel of Change (p. 86), Goldsmith describes creating, preserving, eliminating, and accepting (think of our coaching forms), as a construct matrix, setting up Part Two, Try, and a prescriptive, or action-oriented section.

Chapters Nine and Ten, The Power of Active Questions & The Engaging Questions, form the heart of the book, with numerous engaging coaching stories. Goldsmith reflects when people are asked passive questions; they almost invariably provide “environmental” answers (p. 102), often allowing a diversion from needed accountability. As a remedy, four magic moves are mentioned (p. 101), which trigger decent behavior in others: Apologizing, Asking for help, Optimism, and asking active questions.

Goldsmith’s engaging questions are:

Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?
Did I do my best to find meaning today?
Did I do my best to be happy today?
Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

These remind us of coach Grant Taylor in Facing The Giants. Consider having your own version of engaging questions – in your Personal Leadership Philosophy, weekly meetings, and coaching repertoire, similar to Berson and Stieglitz’s Leadership Conversations, which help us develop new leaders.

Much of the remainder of Parts Two and Part Three (More Structure, Please) advises us increased intensity, or asking engaging questions hourly, or specifically during events which tend to trip us up, can help us activate positive triggers. Chapter twelve describes the author’s evolution as a coach, and concludes that as we develop more as coaches, we become our own coach. It’s a terrific goal we should all endeavor reaching.

The Alan Mulally coaching story (Chapter 14), describes the Business Plan Review (BPR, p. 169) as a paragon of organizational rhythm and transformation. It is similar to General McChrystal’s daily operational tempo in Team of Teams. Mulally’s BPR combines classical executive dashboard reporting with daily questions driving sustained performance changes focused on the primary metric (p. 173) “How can we help one another more?” We should all consider a similar model for our organization.

A Final Takeaway

Our leadership path should become a 24/7 journey, blurring the lines between work, home, and our other environments. Goldsmith tells us via a coaching story in Chapter nineteen:

“We are professionals at what we do, amateurs at what we want to become. We need to erase this devious distinction – or at least close the gap between professional and amateur – to become the person we want to be. Being good over here does not excuse not so good over there." (page 213)

Think about that.

JE | August 2015