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Helping successful people get even better

Success may breed success but it can also be dissipated by an inability to make necessary changes in behaviour.

By Marshall Goldsmith 01 March 2003

Success may breed success but it can also be dissipated by an inability to make necessary changes in behaviour. But executive coaching – and the help of colleagues – can make it happen. Here’s how.
helpingsuccessfulgetevenbetterlargeIn my role as an executive coach, I am asked to work with extremely successful people who want to get even better. They are usually key executives in major corporations. They are almost always very intelligent, dedicated and persistent. They are committed to the success of their companies. They have high personal integrity. Many are financially independent. They are not working because they have to. They are working because they want to. Intellectually, they realise that the leadership behaviour that was associated with yesterday’s results may not be the behaviour that is needed to achieve tomorrow’s innovation.

Most of us can easily see the need to change the behaviour of others. This is one of the great challenges in leadership. We wonder why it is so difficult for them to change. Yet we often have difficulty in changing even small aspects of our own behaviour. As we become more successful, it seems even harder to change. As Charles Handy has pointed out, the “paradox of success” occurs because we need to change before we have to change. However, “when things are going well we feel no reason to change”.

I have recently completed a review of research related to the topic of helping successful people change their behaviour. Most research on behavioural change has focused on dysfunctional behaviour with clear physiological consequences (for example, alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders or smoking). A substantial amount has been written on why successful people succeed. Not surprisingly, very little has been written on the unique challenges involved in helping successful people to change. The entire concept is somewhat counter-intuitive.

My assumption is that you, the reader, are a successful person. You may not be a key executive in a major corporation. However, I would guess that you are successful by most socio-economic standards. My second assumption is that you are working with other successful people. I am also going to assume that many of the people you work with are knowledge workers. In most cases your most valued co-workers are also there because they want to be there, not because they have to be. You frequently have the challenge of helping yourself and helping them make the changes that will take your team to the “next level”.


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