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?

Free download of Passionate Action: 5 Steps to Creating Extraordinary Success in Life and Work, chapter 1

I wrote this book in 2007 when preparing for a relocation.  Yesterday I re-read chapter 1.  It provoked me, and it should provoke you.

Here you go:

Passionate Action, Chapter 1

To order the full book, go to

Please forward this chapter to anyone who may need to be provoked!




Book Review on “The Dan Sullivan Question” (2009)

I’ll give the book 5 stars for the model, and 3 stars on the writing quality.  This review will focus on the model behind “The Question.”

The subtitle explains its lofty vision:  “Ask it and transform anyone’s future”

This book was referred to me by several clients.  They had taken part in the Strategic Coach Program.  They wanted to work with me because they needed more customized executive coaching.

Also, I have been solicited by Strategic Coach sale people to attend their program.  (I must have attended a webinar.)

Dan Sullivan has coached over 13,000 business leaders and entrepreneurs, over 20 years.

So, what is the one question that 1) warrants a book, 2) warrants so much acclaim?

He starts the book with an anecdote from a business leader who feels: 1) confused, 2) isolated, and 3) powerless.  Despite his financial success, he is working long hours.  He needs a better system.  Like many people, that business owner is seeking how to 1) transform confusion into clarity, 2) isolation into confidence, and 3) powerlessness into capability.

Sound too magical or impossible?  Give this review another minute.

Imagine that you respond to that business leader with a question of your own.  Your question has two parts.  Part one is this:

“If we were having this discussion three years from today, and you were looking back over those three years, what has to have happened in your life, both personally and professionally, for you to feel happy with your progress?”

Sullivan found that 85-90% of these business owners pause, then provide a substantial answer.  These are the “users.”  These people become your prospects and clients.  And you can ask them part two of the question.

5-10% of the business owners are confused.  They cannot abstract or imagine the future in this way.  These are not your prospects or clients.  Thank them and move on.

And less than 5% of the business owners are “refusers.”  They are not willing to embrace a relationship.  They refuse to answer the question.  Therefore they have just saved you tremendous time and energy.  Thank them and move on, quickly.

Notice how you are pre-qualifying your prospects?  Notice how the question is all about building rapport?  Notice how the question is all about the other person– their aspirations and vision?

Humans are aspirational.

Some characteristics of this question include:

1. it is futuristic, and implies a continued relationship with you

2.  it is specific to a time period– “in three years”– which most people can envision and describe

3.  “looking back” requires synthesizing skills, abstraction, and specific descriptions

4.  “for you to feel happy” is subjective, and happiness is the primary motivator for mankind.  Through all recorded history.

Now that you have asked that business leader part one of the question, you are ready for part two.  Sullivan calls part two the D.O.S., an acronym standing for Dangers, Opportunities and Strengths.  You can use simialr words.  The point is to use specific words that help others clarify their intentions into actions.

Part two of the question is:

“Specifically, what dangers do you have now that need to be eliminated, what opportunities need to be captured, and what strengths need to be captured?”

This structure invites the other person to articulate specific Dangers/ Opportunities/ Strengths.  When I have used this question I ask for permission to record notes.  Then I help the other person articulate their top three items.  Then I provide those notes as a gift.  Or a coaching focus.  The results have been astounding.

Now imagine putting part one and part two together…

“If we were having this discussion three years from today, and you were looking back over those three years, what has to have happened in your life, both personally and professionally, for you to feel happy with your progress?”

“Specifically, what dangers do you have now that need to be eliminated, what opportunities need to be captured, and what strengths need to be captured?”

Can you imagine adopting this as a script?

Print this blog article.  Forward it to your team.  Then adopt this script.

It has helped me.  It has helped thousands of entrepreneurs focus on adding value and transforming others.

Yes of course, I can help you implement this model into your business. 

Then call me at 704.895.6479.  Tell me what you think.

Or add a comment below…








Success Tips from John Maxwell

You may know that John Maxwell has written several best sellers, including “Developing the Leader Within You” and “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.”  At one time he managed two leadership training companies-  one in the business world, and one in the christian world.  IMHO, no one bridges these worlds better than John Maxwell.  He has been called the leadership guru of the century.

He defines “leadership” as influence, nothing more or less.

I have trained teams and individuals using the 5 levels of leadership content:  1.  position based upon rights, 2.  permission based on relationships, 3.  production based on results, 4.  people development based upon reproduction, 5. personhood based upon respect

Here are some of his gems:

1.  You can’t export what you don’t have.  Specifically, you can’t be a “leadership consultancy” unless you have proven expertise leading others.

2.  My greatest leadership challenge is not leading others, my greatest leadership challenge is leading my self.  Nothing is harder.  And nothing is more important.

3.  Examples prove concepts.  When I use an illustration it “brings the cookies to the lower shelf” so that everyone has access to the cookies.  See the point?

4.  Leaders are readers.  There are so many great ideas that others have explored.  We need to sift through those books and blogs and determine what we need, so that we can serve others.

What are some of your favorite gems from John Maxwell, or others?

Great Book: The Happiness Project

Hello fellow book lovers…
Perhaps you have read or know The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  If not, I heartily recommend it for a book discussion group.  Or as a gift for loved ones.
Great combination of self-disclosure, research, wit, personal development.
I bought this impulsively for a loved one  for Christmas, and of course she has not yet touched it.   I’ve inhaled it.   So I thought you might appreciate it…