I recently had the pleasure of spending about 40 minutes on the phone with Marshall Goldsmith (@coachgoldsmith) whom I consider to be one of the best executive coaches in the business. In fact, I hold Marshall in such high professional regard that he is one of only three other coaches that I’ll refer people to if I’m unable to meet their needs. Marshall has authored 30 books (most recently: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There and MOJO) as well as a plethora of other published material, and his services are in such high demand that his waiting list for new coaching clients has more than an 8 month backlog. Perhaps the best thing I can share with you about Marshall is that his candor, competency and experience are only equaled by his thoughtfulness and sincerity. On with the interview…

Mike Myatt: How would you describe your business and what do you do?

Marshall Goldsmith: I don’t specifically work in the area of strategy or leadership, but my work often affects those areas as what I do is help people change behavior. My business has 3 primary aspects: I write, speak and coach. I have spent my life studying people and have conducted exhaustive amounts of research which supports my belief that anyone is capable of changing if they have the intrinsic motivation to do so. I help people understand this and act upon it.

Mike Myatt: What if anything have you found to be a common misperception about the coaching industry?

Marshall Goldsmith: I have found that both clients and coaches can put too much faith in the coach. The role of a coach is very overrated and the role of the client very underrated. When either clients or coaches view the coach as the key to anything, it is an unhealthy relationship. Coaching is not about the coach – it’s about the client.

Mike Myatt: What’s the most difficult decision you’ve had to make as a leader?

Marshall Goldsmith: Not to be a leader. In all seriousness, I’ve made the conscious decision not to be a leader of people. I’m often regarded as a thought leader, but I don’t run an organization, and don’t have any desire to. They only job I ever had that I hated was being a Dean. I was thought of as a good Dean, but I didn’t like the job. Not everyone should be a leader.

Mike Myatt. How has social media changed your business, if at all?

Marshall Goldsmith: I could not possibly personally coach or speak to everybody who has an interest in my work. Social media expands my reach and influence and allows me help people I would not otherwise interact with in a meaningful fashion.

Mike Myatt: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your work in the leadership field?

Marshall Goldsmith: It has nothing little to do with awards, recognitions, books, etc., but everything to do with helping people. The most rewarding thing for me is always when I receive a message from a person that tells me that I’ve made a positive difference in their life.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as the biggest stumbling block for leaders:

Marshall Goldsmith: One word – ego. A leader whose ego has begun to run astray suffers from what I refer to as the “halo effect,” meaning that they tend to overestimate the impact of their personal contributions. When you’re the boss your suggestions become orders, all your jokes are funny, and the higher you climb in an organization the more your ego gets stroked. This is a dangerous position for anyone who loses perspective.

Mike Myatt: We’ve both had the honor of being placed on a number of lists with regard to achievements in the leadership and coaching fields – What value do you place on these lists?

Marshall Goldsmith: It depends on the lists…some I’m particularly proud of, and others, while I appreciate the recognition I don’t take too seriously. It’s not the lists that matter, but the accomplishments that directly or indirectly result in your placement on such lists that count.

Mike Myatt: Can you cite any specific examples of individuals whom you believe constitute great examples of leadership?

Marshall Goldsmith: While I could offer many examples, three individuals come to mind: General (Ret.) Eric Shinseki, former Army Chief of Staff, Alan Mulally, CEO of the Ford Motor Company, and Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts. All three of these individuals have had a profound and positive impact on those individuals and organizations which they have led.

Mike Myatt: If you could offer any of our readers’ specific advice about leadership what would that be?

Marshall Goldsmith: Leadership is a contact sport and it’s often messy. The best thing a leader can do is to focus on making themselves a better human being. By learning to have balance, discipline and to become happy with the choices they make in life, they will become better leaders.

Mike Myatt: Do you think leadership is more difficult today than in times past?

Marshall Goldsmith: The principles of leadership haven’t changed much, but the world in which we apply them certainly has. Among the many things that make leadership more challenging today is the global market in which leaders must compete. The best example I can give you of how competitive things have become globally is that my daughter recently completed her PhD from an Ivy League school – out of 22 students she was the only one from the United States. This is an indication that things are only going to get tougher as we move forward.

More information on Marshall can be found by visiting his website. If you have any questions for Marshall, or if his work has helped you please let him know by leaving a comment below…