As we grow older, our level of aspiration can actually go down and down and down. But our little impact, it’s going up. Quit worrying about what you’re not going to change; what’s important in life now are the smaller things. One person sends you an email that says, “My life is a little bit better off because of something you did” – and surprisingly, that’s enough. Let’s face it: You’re not going to cure cancer. You’re not going to stop global warming by yourself. You’re getting older, but is there something else you can achieve? You can trigger change in business. Explore “Triggers” with Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, who authored and edited 36 books – which have sold over two million copies, been translated into 32 languages and become listed bestsellers in 12 countries. Along with Triggers, his two other New York Times bestsellers are MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – the Harold Longman Award winner for Business Book of the Year. Both his books have been included by Amazon.com in the top 100 books ever written in their category.
There needs to be more attention to what the Chief Operating Officer (COO) does because a lot of people are confused by that sometimes. Bill Shepard explains that the CEO is responsible for doing the right thing and the COO is responsible for doing things right. The COO operates the plan, drives the execution, and orchestrates all the different divisions to pull off the execution of the business. And Bill should know: he founded and launched the COO Forum in 2004 in the San Francisco Bay/Silicon Valley Area. The association provides a forum for Chief Operating Officers and other Second-in-Command Executives; shares and develops best practices; and aims to improve the awareness of COO’s role within the greater business community.
We have Dr. Marshall Goldsmith and Bill Shepard here. Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is the number one leadership thinker out there. He’s got more New York Times bestselling books than I can even count. Bill Shepard is the leading authority on the COO. He is the Founder and CEO at Chief Operating Officer Business Forum. We’re going to talk to both of them.
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Discussing “Triggers” and “How Women Rise” With Dr. Marshall Goldsmith
I am here with Dr. Marshall Goldsmith who’s the author or editor of 36 books which have sold more than two million copies, had been translated into 32 languages and become listed bestsellers in twelve countries. Along with his book, Triggers, his two other New York Times bestsellers are MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, the Harold Longman Award winner for Business Book of the Year. He’s been recognized as the 100 Best Leadership and Success Books to Read in Your Lifetime series. The Harvard Institute of Coaching has awarded him. This is a very much an honor for me, Dr. Goldsmith. It’s so nice to have you here.
It’s so nice to talk with you. Thank you for asking.
We actually got to meet recently at one of your MG 100 events, which I’m very fascinated in knowing more about that. You have a group of individuals who are really impressive. In fact, quite a few of them have been on my show and I was wondering if you would talk a little bit about what led to that group and why you created it.
I went to a program called Design the Life you Love. It was put on by my good friend who is a member of the group, Ayse Birsel. In this program, Design the Life you Love, she asked me a question, “Who are your heroes? Why are they your heroes?” It turned out my heroes were all very, very generous people who were great teachers. Then she said, “Why don’t you try to become more like them?” which is a very good challenge, “If people are your heroes, you should try to be more like them.” What I said is, “That’s a very, very good point. I’m going to try to be more like them.” What I did is I made a little selfie video and put it on LinkedIn. The video lasted only thirty seconds. The video says, “My name is Marshall Goldsmith. I ranked number one executive coach and number one leadership thinker and number one bestselling book. I’m getting old and I’m going to adopt fifteen people, teach them everything for free and the only price is when you get old you have to do the same thing.”
It turned out to be the most widely viewed video on the history of LinkedIn. I have over a million followers on LinkedIn and then I ended up with 16,000 people applied. I expanded it from fifteen to 100, a little over a hundred, but the term is 100 coaches anyway. These are wonderful people. You’ve met many of them. Frances Hesselbein, who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Alan Mulally was CEO of the year in the United States, CEO of Ford. Jim Kim, President of World bank. Then I’ve got fourteen of the top 50 business thinkers in the world. I’ve got the President of Nature Conservancy, head of the Newark Public Library, the CEO of the Rockefeller Foundation, CEO of the Mayo Clinic, the Dean of the Harvard Medical School, the President of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, CEO of Best Buy. The list goes on and on and on, just wonderful people. They have this nice idea just to give back. We have three rules. One of the rules is there’s no money, it’s all free. The second rule is there’s no guilt. Nobody has any real or imagined pressure to do anything and there are no expectations. This is all voluntary, no money, no guilt, no expectations, and it’s been a wonderful idea. People are so positive and we’ve had a chance to meet many of them. Just wonderful people.
It was really a very different field. I’ve would have gone to a lot of groups. I have been part of different networking associations and that type of thing. Everybody there, the fact that there’s no money required, you really have a completely different vibe going. You have people who really care about consulting and helping and coaching. This is not for you to get all these people to pay money to you to be part of your association, which is really a cool thing. You don’t see that at all out there. The people, they’re all just so incredible. One person that you’re talking to, he sold $50 million books. It’s the who’s who as you’re sitting there, talking to people. It was very humbling, but it was wonderful at the same time. I’m curious if you got all those names, how do you pick?
There’s not an exact science here. One of the thing you probably noticed is we have a lot of diversity. I have three people I put in the iconic category, Jim Kim and Allan Mulally and Frances Hesselbein. Then I picked a lot of top thinkers. Of the Thinkers50, we have fourteen people from Thinkers50. Then I got some nonprofit CEOs, some healthcare CEOs, some corporate CEOs, some former CEOs and some executives. I have leadership development people from a lot of the top schools. We have people from Harvard and we have people from Wharton School and Duke and Price and Northwestern. Then we got internal leadership people that train people internally, external people who give talks on leadership development. We’ve got coaches, executive coaches, more of the traditional executive coaches and we’ve got strategy advisors and cultural advisors and execution people, entrepreneurs, small business coaches and family coaches and personal trainers. Then I have a category called Just Fascinating Leaders From Diverse Fields, which is funny. One of these people is one of the world’s top designers, Lieutenant Governor of West Virginia, world’s top surge person, head of Sesame Street, the Mission Control Director of NASA, the President of Inc. magazine, just really interesting. The newest one is Chris Cuomo. I don’t know if you know Chris, he’s an anchor for CNN.
I haven’t met him. You say he’s the latest one. Do you have people drop off at all?
Not yet. I’m sure we will. If they decided they don’t want to do it. Not a great downside here.
There certainly isn’t. How long ago was this that you started it?
It’s almost been two years now.
Now that you’ve got so many at 100, did it change the dynamic? How does that impact it compared to what you originally had in mind?
Everybody’s different and I think the dynamic has been pretty much 100% positive. The reason is, I think, there’s no expectation. Some of the CEOs really can’t put in four or five days at once. They just don’t come. That’s okay. The next big program we’re doing is going to be in Silicon Valley. It’s going to be wonderful. They’re going to Tesla, they’re going to Google, they’re going to all these places. Just an incredible program. It’s sold out. They have 100 people signed up to be there.
Who are the people that signed up for this? I’m curious.
They all have signed up, from your group.
Yes, we have almost a hundred people signed up, not everybody, but I think pretty most people who couldn’t be there are going to be there.
When I met you, you were doing videotaping in a room with every certain people. I’m not sure what that was about, because I know you were working with Sally Helgesen on your new book, How Women Rise and she was there and she’s been on my show and she’s wonderful and I hear the books doing amazingly well, by the way. Was that a part of that book launch or was that something else that you were recording?
We’re working on stuff for the book with her.
Anybody who’s on LinkedIn that’s connected to you will see that you and Sally are everywhere with this book, which is really cool to see how you’re launching this. How do you have the energy, thinking about all these places that you’re going? Your publisher must love you because you’re really good at this.
I traveled constantly. Oddly enough, you and I are about half a mile apart right now. Had I known I’d been your neighbor, I’d just come over and visit in person. On the American Airlines alone, I have over eleven million frequent flyer miles, so I’m a mega flyer. I’ve been to 101 different countries.
I assume you don’t have a problem with sleep then if you can travel that much, you can sleep just about anywhere.
I have a great gift so I can sleep anytime. When I was a kid, I used to hitchhike. I hitch hiked 10,000 miles as a kid and I slept on the side of the road many times, in Laundromats, under bridges, so sleeping in hotels is never a problem for me.
You were born in Kentucky, is that what I read?
Yes, in Kentucky.
My husband did his surgical residency in Kentucky, his first plastic surgery. He says it’s beautiful there. I have not been there. Where are you now? Are you in California normally?
My main home now, it’s called Rancho Santa Fe, California. It’s North of San Diego and my second home is in New York City. I have a home in California and a home in New York City.
You still teach or not?
I teach at Dartmouth Tech School. I only teach about ten or eleven days a year.
I was thinking you had whole semester, that’s not so bad to do that. You’re known for so many things. You were a pioneer in the use of 360-degree feedback. What is it that you’ve done that you’re most proud of?
As I’ve grown older, my level of aspiration has actually gone down and down and down. My level of impact has gone up and up and up. I quit worrying about what I’m not going to change. To me what’s important in life now is small things. One person sends me an email and says, “My life is a little bit better off because of something you did.” That’s enough for me. I’m not going to cure cancer. I’m not going to stop global warming myself. I’m getting older. I realized there’s a lot I’m not going to do. It’s not that it isn’t important, it’s just I’m probably not going to do it myself, what can I do? I just try to help people have a better life and maybe help the people around him have a better life and to me that’s good enough.
I imagine a lot of people want to write books with you. Let’s start with your book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Did you expect that to hit what it hit? It resonated with so many people.
That’s like getting struck by lightning. There’s no way to expect that. We just got a royalty check for about $100,000 for six months’ worth of sales. This is eleven years after the book came out. It’s ridiculous.
How many books have been sold?
I’m guessing a million and a half. It just keeps going. A lot in life is luck. The New Yorker Magazine wrote the story of my life and that was an interesting experience that led to the book. The woman followed me around two months. They take it very seriously. She followed me around two months. She wrote an 8,000-word story of my life and you have no editorial control and half of them, they just rip from the people that they tell the stories about.
They have a hard time doing that to you though, I imagine.
I thought, “Who’s the customer?” I decided the customer wasn’t the people that hire me. It was my unborn great grandchildren and then I just needed to act like myself, so after I died, these people who were the children of my grandchildren, they would know who their great grandfather was. I decided the best thing to do is just act like myself. I did and as it turned out, that was the right thing to do anyway because here’s a woman with an IQ of 180. She does this for a living for The New Yorker Magazine. I’m not going to fool her in anyway in two months.
Had I attempted to play games with her, she would probably have crucified me. Mark Reiter who did the book with me, read it. He called me up and he said, “That’s story is wonderful.” Then he said, “I’ve read all this stuff you’ve written before and it’s not that good. The story is so much better.” I said, “No kidding? This woman is a writer for The New Yorker Magazine. I have a day job, she can write better than I can. I’m not ashamed of that.” He said, “Why don’t we write a book that sounds like that?” I said, “If you can do it, let’s do it.” He’s my agent and coauthor and we’ve done three books together and they’ve all been New York Times bestsellers.
That’s not your only movie. I was talking to Patrick Wasowski and isn’t he going to create a movie about you as well?
Yes, he’s doing a movie.
What’s that going to be about?
It’s about my life.
How is that going to be different than The New Yorker one?
It would be fun.
It will be different. A little different angle on it then?
How long does it take to create the movie, did you say?
I don’t know. Maybe a year, I guess.
You’ve got all these people that you’re in. A lot of them in your group probably would like to cowrite books with you. You’ve write with some, as you said Mark Reiter and Sally Helgesen. How do you determine who to write a book with next?
It depends on my role. The book that I wrote with Sally, that book was really an accident. A guy named Mike Dover who knows both of us, sent us an email that said crazy idea and the idea was we wrote a book together that basically talks about what we ended up doing. Sally said, “What do you think?” I said, “Why don’t we do it?” I thought it would be what I call a minor book, sell 25,000 copies or something. It turned out we got a huge advance and the book’s done great. It’s far exceeded my expectations. We put this together before all of the #MeToo issues happened. The fact that book just came out after that probably just increased the level of interest.
That’s a great timing as far as the book goes. Unfortunate, timing as far as yet another issue in general. I was wondering about that because books take so long to come out, you couldn’t have foreseen that level probably of what that would be like.
We had no idea.
I’m curious about just how you’ve got to be at this level because I’m writing a book about curiosity. I’m very curious about you and in your level of curiosity. How can people develop that sense of curiosity to just do more with their lives? Do you have any input on that?
It’s a very good question because people ask me where do I come up with all these ideas? I don’t have any problem with ideas. If I had enough time, if a day would stretch it out to infinity, I’ll do plenty of books. I always have ideas and I think it is because I’m curious. I just wonder about things like why is this, this way? Why is that, that way? How things work. How’s the world going to change? How are these changes going to influence people? I’ve always been curious about these things. The nice thing about being around 100 coaches is, they are also smart. It’s just a great way to learn. To me, when you were around someone who does something that’s like what you do but not exactly like what you do, it’s very good. You’re not competing in any way. You’re just helping each other.
For example, Rita McGrath, she’s an expert on strategy. I’m not an expert on strategy. We can help each other talk about how our work overlaps or how it does not overlap. I just got a call from one of the guys, Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, he’s an expert on project management. He was ranked number one project management thinker in the world. Now that I talked to him, I realized he really has a lot to do with project management. He wants to write a book together about how project management relates to coaching or coaching for project management. There’s just a lot of overlap and I could go down this list and pretty much write a book with almost any of these people.
You say that you’re not really an expert in strategy. I’m not crazy about statistics and certain things. What area have you become stronger because you’ve had this group around you? Is there something that you used to dislike but now because you’ve met all these people, you’ve gotten better at it?
This sounds obvious, is networking. The group is a network. There is no hierarchy in the group. It’s a network. Everybody’s a volunteer and it’s just based on the assumption of how can I help?
How many times a year do you guys get together?
I think last year we had maybe six different meetings.
What exactly are you talking about in the meetings? I know you were doing the videos when I saw you.
They’re all different. The meeting you were at was wonderful meeting. The meeting you were at, we had three primary speakers. We had Alan Mulally. Alan was CEO of Ford. CEO of the year in the United States, probably the greatest leader in the century. He spent six hours with the group. If you want to hire Alan to give a speech would be $150,000 a day for a speech. He does all this for free. He’s a member of the group, he spent six hours with the group. Then we Ayse Birsel who’s a wonderful woman, the world’s number one designer. She spent about two hours or three with the group and then we had Chester Elton who is an expert on recognition and he spent two or three hours with the group. We just talk to each other. Just spectacular people. Then the one before that was at the World Bank, Jim Kim, the President World Bank’s spent two days with the group.
Chester has been on my show and he’s amazing and Dr. Bob Nelson had invited me and he’s amazing. Everybody that I’ve met through your group is just incredible, but I’m curious if someone wants to join your group now, is it possible?
Here’s what I want to do next because I get a lot of requests. I have a funny story. I was in India and I think half of India is planning to be part of this group. A woman comes up to me and she says, “I feel sad. I applied to be in your group and I didn’t get accepted.” I said, “There were 16,000 applicants for 100 slots, you don’t have to be ashamed. Did you read the names of the people who did get accepted?” She said, “Yes, I did.” I said, “To be perfectly honest, if I look at the list of the people who did get accepted, if I applied now, I don’t think I’d be accepted.”
It is a pretty impressive group and I think that’s great. You’re humble. I was talking to Price Pritchett. I How many books does he sold?
He was really awesome and interesting.
Price Pritchett is an interesting case study. I’ll tell you a story about him. He applied for the group. I’m at the office and I’m talking to Sarah and we’re looking at the applications and I said to her, “This is interesting. This applicant’s name is Price Pritchett. The same name as the famous Price Pritchett, the author. It’s odd that they have the same name.” I had no idea that it would be him. This is Price Pritchett. I called Price up. I said, “Price, what are you doing?” He’s 72 I think. I said, “I’ve sold two million books, you sold ten million books. Why are you doing this?” He said, “I may be 72 but I can still learn.” What a great attitude.
He was really great. He was offering me all help with my book and I’m thinking, “This is really nice of you.” I think it’s that whole feeling. That’s what you get from everybody in that group. Everybody’s there to help. I met the woman who taught the Pope how to use Twitter. I can’t think of her name off the top of my head. She was amazing. It was just such a fascinating experience to see people doing something because they just want to help everybody learn. I think it really is important to be around people who have more experience or at a higher level than you are because you don’t know what you don’t know. I’ve said that before on my show, but I really think that when you get all these people together, don’t you think it opens up ideas? Just possibilities that haven’t even been considered?
It is wonderful. We have a nice age range, I’d say from 34 to 102 is the age range.
You have somebody that’s 102?
Yeah, Frances Hesselbein. She’s amazing. She’s 102 and we have some people who are as young as 34. We have a good range of ages.
It’s an interesting group. Now that you’re working on this book and promoting it with Sally on How Women Rise, that will take up quite a bit of this year, I imagine, for you with all this stuff that you guys are doing. I’ve seen a lot of your pictures and your promotions. What’s your next project for a book?
My next book is called Stakeholder-Centered Leadership. That is more of a summary book of all that I’ve learned about leadership and the leader of the future. That should be up pretty soon. I’m considering a different experiment with that book which will be given away. Put it online for free or for a dollar or some minimal amount of money. Basically, people can buy it for as cheap as I can sell it for.
Your reasoning for that is just to give back? Are you trying to discover some data point from that?
Just give it to everybody.
That’s nice of you that you want to do that. It’s very challenging to write a book though, right now with my book, I’m trying to create an assessment to measure what’s holding people back in their curiosity level. I’ll tell you just the time and effort it takes to go through all this. I have great appreciation for everything that you’ve done and all your work. You must not sleep much, right?
I sleep eight hours a day. I’m big on sleeping.
Just looking at what you served on the Board for the Peter Drucker Foundation for ten years, you’ve done a lot of other services and things that have taken up a lot of your time. Do you work nonstop?
To me, it’s hard to say what’s working and what isn’t. I enjoy what I do. Sometimes I get paid and sometimes I don’t get paid. To me it’s all the same.
Now, that you’ve been so successful, it’s a little easier to not get paid than at the beginning, for somebody who’s just starting out.
I couldn’t do this at the beginning of my career. I send a note out and say, “I’m going to adopt fifteen people and teach them everything I know,” and the world would say, “Who cares?”
You got caught a lot of people’s attention because everything you’ve done is just very impressive and I was really grateful that you joined me on the show. I’m sure so many people are so aware of your work, but in case they haven’t had a chance to connect with you, is there like a site?
Just go to MarshallGoldsmith.com. It’s just my name and then also in LinkedIn. I have a million followers so I put everything on LinkedIn and I do videos all the time. My next video series is going to be coming up with Chris Cuomo and it should be fun. He’s got a new show and he is going to talk about interviewing people. I told him, “You’ve got a new show but this isn’t just like an advertisement.” He’s famous for being an interviewer. What techniques do you have to help everybody be a better interviewer and what’s it like to be interviewed? I think we did about twelve tapes together and they were a lot of fun.
That does sound great. I had somebody actually interview me about how to interview. I would love to talk to him. He’d be interesting. I look forward to seeing that. Thank you so much for being on the show, Marshall. This was so much fun.
Thank you so much for inviting me. I appreciate it.
Dissecting The COO Business Forum With Bill Shepard
I am here with Bill Shepard who founded and launched the COO Forum in 2004 in the San Francisco Bay Silicon Valley area. The association’s objectives include to provide a forum for chief operating officers and other second in command executives, seeking peer learning and collaboration to expand their professional development, to share and develop best practices and to improve the understanding awareness and professionalism of COOs and their important role throughout the greater business community. It’s so nice to have you here, Bill.
It’s so great to be here, Diane.
I’m excited to talk to you about this because I meet a lot of C-level executives on this show and I think there needs to be more attention to what the COO does because a lot of people are confused by that sometimes. We know that you work really closely with the CEO and you’ve worked as both COO and CEO. I was looking at your past. You were CEO for NordicTrack, Pacific Linen. You’ve been president of different companies, VP at GAP. You have quite an impressive background. I just want to find out a little bit more about what the unique duties are of the COO and how challenging and different it is from being a CEO. Can you start there?
I would say that probably the origin of the COO Forum is tied to it as well. What I found was I was both a COO and a Divisional President, which is very much like the chief operating officer in my career. I also had been CEO and had second in command COOs, under me. After selling Nordic Track, we moved back to San Francisco Bay area. I started essentially a consulting practice and was looking for a COO group because my consulting practice was around essentially interim COO work and there wasn’t one, so I founded it. As I founded it, I realized how many COOs were caught up in a position that really was misunderstood.
My favorite all time story about the misunderstood COO, has to do with a company in Seattle, Washington who had a brand-new COO and they wanted to know what the COO position was and how do you do it and what is it all about? They were calling me in San Francisco and I took them through a whole bunch of things about what the COO was and the company was Microsoft. I figured if the people at Microsoft didn’t have a clue what this COO job was, then it’s very understandable for all of us in the COO community to understand that it is misunderstood. It does vary from situation to situation. It varies from leadership person to leadership person, company culture. The difference between all the other C-level roles where the CFO is a very understood role, CEO as well, the chief marketing officer, chief technology officer, CIO, all those are very defined roles and the COO is different in every company.
That’s interesting because Steve Kerr was on my show. He was the first chief learning officer. At the time, they were trying to decide what to call it. They try to call them the chief education officer, then he’d be the CEO. That was going to be confusing. I think some of these newer C-level titles and there’s a lot more C-level titles now. It gets hard to understand. I am curious, what are the main things that a COO does or is that too hard to answer since every company is different?
I’ll start with the real simple answer. The CEO is responsible for doing the right things and the COO is responsible for doing things right. The Chief Operating Officer is really the chief execution of the business officer and in most cases and almost all cases other than very unusual configurations in companies, the Chief Operating Officer is driving the plan, is driving the execution, is orchestrating all the different divisions to pull off the execution of the business. Whether it be technology, whether it be life science, whether it be retail stores, whatever it is. That’s generally where you find the chief operating officer.
I had seen some of your past information that you’d written, and some talks that you’d given. You said they focus on execution, innovation and culture, which is really what a lot of people I know who are in consulting and speaking and we work on a lot of those areas and right now I’m researching curiosity for an assessment I’m creating to improve curiosity, to improve innovation and some of the stuff that you’re talking about here, including engagement and productivity. My personal interest is curiosity to improving innovation and what do you do to improve that within the workplace?
In terms of curiosity, it’s to help leaders be able to think through in vision beyond the day-to-day, the minute-to-minute. So much of our companies and even our public companies are so tied to very specific metrics that they must deliver in order to keep the board happy, Wall Street happy, the employees happy. The tendency is to be focused downward in the details. Curiosity comes from looking up and out. Instead of saying, “What do we need to do now?” we are saying, “What should we be thinking about today that’s going to impact our business in the future?” That’s the starting point, I think of curiosity is, looking out and above as opposed to looking at what tends to be the normal business approach, which is, let’s fix this, let’s fix that, let’s do this. The chief operating officer tends to be more of a person that’s handed the baton after that visioning occurs. This is also probably more than the CEO’s domain, but it is in the COO’s domain in terms of role in company.
You’ve said that you’re a conductor of the symphony but don’t get to play an instrument. That’s an interesting analogy. What did you mean by that exactly?
I think I was talking about chief executive officers at that point. One of the things I talk about is that when a COO becomes a CEO, that’s one of the transformations. You have to learn how to create great music without playing an instrument and with only doing the motions in front of the orchestra. Most conductors of symphonies are very talented musicians and can probably be as good as some of the people in their symphony, but they don’t have that role. It’s understanding the role of the COO. The key to that is in many ways, the COO is like the lead violinist or somebody who is in the orchestra that’s responsible for taking the CEO’s leadership and making it work across the whole enterprise.
You’ve been pretty much inspired by a lot of people. I imagined with everybody with whom you’ve worked. I think you’ve mentioned some people that have written books or CEOs, Max De Pree, Herman Miller, some of the CEO there. Who has inspired you and who has been your mentor?
When I was announced to be on the CML board, which was the New York Stock Exchange company that own Nordic Track and other companies, Smith and Hawkins and some others, I think the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times called me a journeyman. Somebody who had all different roles and was involved with lots of different things. In my career, I have had some absolutely fabulous CEOs. Jack Eugster was not my CEO, but he was the number-two guy at the GAP. That was my early days and he was very powerful. He went on to be CEO of Musicland. He’s on some boards. He’s in Minneapolis. He’s somebody that I really admire. Fred Smith was somebody I worked for not a long time, but he was probably the most masterful CEO I was ever around. I also have worked for some people that were difficult, challenging, and never really understood my role and so forth. I think that’s the other thing I noticed about the COO community is that there’s a lot of difficulty and tension in the relationship between the chief operating officer and the chief executive officer. That’s something that we worked very hard in the COO Forum to try to break down and get behind us because it doesn’t work when the CEO and the COO are not in sync.
When you have these forums, I’m interested in this COO Forum because you have directors who are not COOs or other C-level executives. They are maybe executive coaches or consultants and search professionals and all that. You’ve got those people, you’ve got hosts, you’ve got thought leaders, you got sponsors, you’ve got chapters. Can you just show how it is set up and what you do in these events and where they’re held and that type of thing?
We are a federated model, which is essentially each chapter is led by an individual who has autonomy to be in the right spirit of what they’re doing with the chapter that they run. For instance, in the Northern California area, Sacramento is a very different market than Silicon Valley. Rich Rand, who is the chapter director in Sacramento, has that autonomy to really craft it and develop it around the needs of Sacramento. I crafted and developed Silicon Valley around the needs of Silicon Valley. First, we’re that. Secondly, as a confederation, we gather regularly and discuss best practices, share topics. We have a COO eForum where we can deposit all the different presentations and PowerPoints and for that matter, even this radio interview will be in there.
We have a place for all the members and as well as the chapter directors, that’s repository called the COO eForum. It’s a terrific opportunity for all chapter directors to essentially get ideas and so forth. They’re somehow on their own and yes, for the most part, the chapter director is a facilitator, not necessarily a thought leader. We bring in thought leaders and have been talk to us. Our meetings are two hours in the morning and we try to do it early enough so that we beat traffic and we also get the COO back to work quickly. We generally have an hour of a thought leader and a topic that is picked by the group and the group essentially works on an issue a month and we meet monthly and that’s our business model. Of course, we’re always looking for new chapter directors in cities where we don’t have chapters and there’s certainly enough cities that don’t have chapters where we have work to do.
Do you have one here in Phoenix, Arizona?
No, but we have been working on that one. Phoenix, Denver and Salt Lake City are our key targets right now.
You have these two-hour morning meetings and you said you discuss common issues. What are some of the tougher issues you think that COOs are facing right now? Some of the topics that maybe would be the same for Sacramento as they would for Silicon Valley?
The number one topic usually has to do with the CEO-COO relationship and how to be better at it. That’s always number one. The second one is innovation and technology and the changing marketplace around those areas. The third one would be talent and people and the ability to attract them, the ability to bring them into your culture and the ability to get the best people and also retaining them and retaining them for a long enough period of time where they make a huge difference in the company. Those would be three. The other thing is in some cases it’s the general relationship in the C-Suite between the CFO, the CEO, the CIO. The fact that the chief operating officer is touching everybody and yet it doesn’t have everybody reporting to them. That’s another one where we spend time and we’ve had people in. We had people in Northern California. We had an individual on that topic a couple months ago.
How many chapters do you have?
You were mentioning talent and culture and pretension and some of those issues, which is pretty hot topic for a lot of people who’ve been on my show. That’s what I talk about and I have a lot of people who talk about engagement and soft skills, emotional intelligence, generational issues. People they say are hired for their hard skills and fired for their soft skills. I’m curious what the COOs are talking about in terms of soft skills and how they’re seeing that impact their organizations.
I think that varies from company to company. Some of the larger companies tend to work hard on that and because of the number of levels in the organization and so forth, that becomes really important. We also have some small and medium-sized companies where the culture really speaks to the soft skills and that need. You did mention emotional quotient and that is probably the single biggest ingredient to make a great Chief Operating Officer. You must have that because it’s a role that requires you to be incredibly versatile and be the person that’s needed in one way, one time and another way another time have the ability to see that and adjust to that. That would be both firmness and hard skills and some of the other soft skills. Generally speaking, human resources and that whole domain is not really the core responsibility of the Chief Operating Officer. In terms of focus, that’s also important to remember.
You brought up some interesting things. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on emotional intelligence and its impact on performance. I teach a lot of business courses still where we talk about Steve Jobs as an example of does he have emotional intelligence and how he got away with certain things that maybe you can’t really get away with? If you aren’t a genius and have a product that’s over the top. How important is it to have a partnership? Rich Karlgaard who worked for Forbes has written a book, Wozniaks are necessary for Steve Jobs to succeed or the other half of the team thing. How important is the COO to the success of the CEO?
I think it’s crucial. It’s a very, very important part of the recipe and you were talking about Steve Jobs who is the Thomas Edison of our time. He certainly was phenomenal and his contribution to the world. I would say that CEOs as a group probably are a little bit more like Steve Jobs more often than they are like the best chief operating officers. That’s one of the reasons why the chief operating officers, has to be aligned well to be able to manage and handle the CEO at the same time, be able to manage and handle all the duties and responsibilities of the role and do it in such a way that the CEO is pleased. The alignment of the CEO and the COO is very, very crucial. I see that and I hear that around the table. My statement usually as the COO got to get over the idea that you have an eccentric CEO and realized that their role is to drive vision. Figure out the right things down and your job is to make sure everything works. It works well today and to make the CEO look good, which is another best practice. COOs who do not make the CEO look good, don’t work very well for very long because that’s just a nonstarter. The CEO-COO has to be viewed as two in the box and people working together and not something where the CEO wants to go left and the COO wants to go right, they’re fighting with each other and so forth. That does not work in our business world.
You mentioned the stresses the CEO has to deal with and I had Keith Krach on, and you and I connected from knowing Keith and he is the chairman now for DocuSign. When he decided to take the CEO job, when he was on my show, he mentioned the thought of doing it. You knew he’d be in a fetal position under his desk every month because of the stress, whether you wanted to go with that. Do you see the COOs covet the position of the CEO? Is it a natural transition that they want to go to? Most of them are just like, “This is more me. I want to be a COO.”
We have a session several years back called To Be or Not to Be a CEO. We had all the COOs around the table in Northern California discussing that topic. What it boiled down to was about a third of the COOs were ready for CEO and they were done with COO land. They were ready to be CEOs. About a third of them were, “I could someday. Probably not yet.” They are in between. Then a third of them were saying, “Absolutely not. I would never be a CEO ever. I’ve seen what they do. I’m not that person.” I think that to try to narrow and say COOs, this is how they fit. No, they don’t. I’ve had some COOs around my table that became CEOs and the thing didn’t work out and they went back to COO, they’re very comfortable in it. I’ve had some COOs become CEOs and I’ll tell you frankly, they were probably better CEOs than they were COO, because they had that vision, that sense of moving a business beyond where it is and driving innovation, driving markets and acquisitions and all those kinds of things, which is what a great CEO does. It’s not what necessarily a great COO does. A great COO says, “You want to do these two things? Here’s how we do them.”
Would you say they’re more tactical and then that CEO is more strategic or would you not look at it that way?
Tactical and strategic are great. Visionary is a CEO word, not a COO word. The COO keeps the trains running on time.
You see all these C-level executives out there. We mentioned there are so many different categories. Why just COO? Do you deal with the other C-Suite in general in your meetings ever? Or do you focus primarily on the COO – CEO relationship?
We focus on other relationships. We have focused on the COO-CFO relationship, which is another little tricky one because so often the board is more interested in the CFO and the CEO work than they are of the COO work as in Wall Street. The CEO-CFO have a special relationship that sometimes makes three in the room when the COO is there. Sometimes the COOs feel like they’re not included in all the decisions that the CEO and the CFO are making. That’s one. I have to tell you that the chief revenue officer often reports to the CEO, especially in the small and medium sized companies and that person generally has less about execution and more about how great it’s going to be and let’s go get them. The sales-oriented type people in the organization don’t necessarily have that same affinity for the COO role. The CEO is pushing them for revenue, not pushing them to conform to that ground rules of how we’re running our company, which is what the COO is working on.
Do you think there’s anything that you really shouldn’t do or you can’t do as a CEO that people try to do it that they don’t really realize when they’re a COO?
I would say it’s too much company by company. Every company is so different. I wouldn’t try to put something on that at this point. Maybe if I think about it, I’ll get back to you. How’s that, Diane?
It’s interesting to see the divisions of how everybody has their different titles. It’s almost confusing now because I have people tell me they’re the CEO and then you look up and they’re the only person in the company. Do you think that the C-Suite title has been filtered so much that you can’t really tell what people do anymore or what do you think of that?
I could go along with that thinking. From time to time you’ll be in a company and you’re running this and they’ll be talking about something and you’ll think, “That’s a chief information officer or something or it’s just the chief’s idea.” They also have adopted lots of different jargon in companies where they take that. I didn’t think the C-Suite has become the standard for essentially outward facing when you’re going to customers and you’re going to suppliers and so forth. Having a C-level title is important versus having a vice president title, which generally tends to say you’re a little bit down. I encourage companies, the people who are going to be in the news, in front of large customers, large suppliers and in many cases large investors, those people probably should have a title, certainly COO, CFO, CIO, CTO, CMO, CRO or probably the ones that I would say are the most valuable.
You have a LinkedIn group for your COO Forum. I see you had over more than 18,000 COOs in your group, or is it more?
It’s a little over 18,000. We are very tight with entry. We only let people who are chief operating officers or second in command. We use second in command at the COO Forum because not all companies use the word COO. Sometimes it’s the president, sometimes it’s the general manager. We have always said COO and second in command, but there are a lot of the people in that group that are that way. The people we try to keep out of that group are people who want to come in and trying to sell to the 18,000 that are in there. We just don’t want that happening. We have a no selling policy around our tables, which means that if you’re coming to the meeting, you’re not there to sell your software or your products or whatever work. We’re there to talk about each other’s business and share and help each other.
If people want to know more about this, let’s say they want to join it or they want to be a host or thought leader, sponsor, any of the things we’ve talked about, how would they go about doing that? Do you want to share some information of how they can reach you?
They’re welcome to reach me on my email, BShepard@COOForum.org or to look up www.COOForum.org. You can get some information about what we do and how we’re doing it and who the chapter directors are and if you’re interested in a chapter in a city where there’s the chapter director, you could reach out to them. That’s accessible on the website. If someone is interested in being a chapter director, contact me. I also have a calendar that people can sign up to get the time on, but I would prefer they come in on email and we’ll set that up after that email exchange.
I appreciate you sharing all that information. Thank you so much for being on the show, Bill.
Diane, I’m honored to be on the show and thank you for including me.
You’re welcome. Thank you to Marshall and to Bill. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamiltonRadio.com. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
About Dr. Marshall Goldsmith
Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is the author or editor of 36 books, which have sold over two million copies, been translated into 32 languages and become listed bestsellers in 12 countries. Along with Triggers, his two other New York Times bestsellers are MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – the Harold Longman Award winner for Business Book of the Year. In 2016, Amazon.com recognized the ‘100 Best Leadership & Success Books’ in its To Read in Your Lifetime series. The list included classics and newer books – management and self-help books. Both Triggers and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There were recognized as being in the top 100 books ever written in their field. Marshall is only one of two authors with two books on the list. Marshall’s other professional acknowledgments include: Harvard Business Review and Best Practices Institute – World’s #1 Leadership Thinker, Global Gurus, INC and Fast Company magazines – World’s #1 Executive Coach, Institute for Management Studies – Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching, American Management Association – 50 great thinkers and leaders who have influenced the field of management over the past 80 years, BusinessWeek – 50 great leaders in America, Wall Street Journal – top ten executive educators, Economist (UK) – most credible executive advisors in the new era of business, National Academy of Human Resources – Fellow of the Academy (America’s top HR award), World HRD Congress (India) – global leader in HR thinking. His work has been recognized by almost every professional organization in his field.
About Bill Shepard
Bill Shepard founded and launched the COO Forum in 2004 in the San Francisco Bay/Silicon Valley Area. The association’s objectives include: to provide a forum for Chief Operating Officers and other Second-in-Command Executives seeking peer learning and collaboration to expand their professional development; to share and develop best practices; and to improve the understanding, awareness and professionalism of COOs and their important role throughout the greater business community., Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is the author or editor of 36 books, which have sold over two million copies, been translated into 32 languages and become listed bestsellers in 12 countries. Along with Triggers, his two other New York Times bestsellers are MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – the Harold Longman Award winner for Business Book of the Year. In 2016, Amazon.com recognized the ‘100 Best Leadership & Success Books’ in its To Read in Your Lifetime series. The list included classics and newer books – management and self-help books. Both Triggers and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There were recognized as being in the top 100 books ever written in their field. Marshall is only one of two authors with two books on the list. Marshall’s other professional acknowledgments include: Harvard Business Review and Best Practices Institute – World’s #1 Leadership Thinker, Global Gurus, INC and Fast Company magazines – World’s #1 Executive Coach, Institute for Management Studies – Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching, American Management Association – 50 great thinkers and leaders who have influenced the field of management over the past 80 years, BusinessWeek – 50 great leaders in America, Wall Street Journal – top ten executive educators, Economist (UK) – most credible executive advisors in the new era of business, National Academy of Human Resources – Fellow of the Academy (America’s top HR award), World HRD Congress (India) – global leader in HR thinking. His work has been recognized by almost every professional organization in his field.
- Dr. Marshall Goldsmith
- Chief Operating Officer Business Forum
- What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
- Design the Life you Love
- Ayse Birsel
- Sally Helgesen – Previous episode
- How Women Rise
- Rita McGrath
- Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez
- Chester Elton – previous episode
- Jim Kim
- Price Pritchett
- Frances Hesselbein
- Peter Drucker Foundation
- Marshall Goldsmith on LinkedIn
- Marshall Goldsmith interview with Chris Cuomo
- Bill Shepard
- COO Forum
- COO Forum on LinkedIn
- Pacific Linen
- Keith Krach – previous episode