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?

2014 Executive Coaching summary from the Conference Board

Hello friends,

I thought you may want to see some recent trend data for external coaching and internal coaching, by industry and size of company.


  1. After the recession, companies are investing more than ever in leadership development and key talent, with both external and internal coaching  
  2. 39% of these 140 companies use internal coaches for leaders who are lower in the organization, and over 75% use external coaches for their senior leaders (directors and above)
  3. The top 3 types of coaching remain 1) development-focused coaching, 2) performance-focused coaching, and 3) 360 debriefs
  4. Fees invoiced at a standard or fixed rate per engagement, rather than an hourly or variable rate, have increased from 26% in 2012 to 38% in 2014
  5. Hourly rates for executive coaching range from $600+/hour for CEOs and direct reports to $300/hour for directors and above; naturally, those rates vary by size of the company, industry, and level of the leaders
  6. The top 3 topics covered in coaching engagements have not changed for many years; they include:  1) executive presence/ influencing skills, 2) relationship management, and 3) leading teams and people development

If you should have any questions, please let me know.

Doug Gray, PCC,  CEO/Founder


Corporate Trends in diversity coaching

Diversity in Corporate America.

I recently did some research on trends in diversity and leadership coaching.  As you may know, an international assignment is often mandatory for high potential employees in global companies.  Recent research indicates that corporate leadership teams with more diversity yield higher shareholder values.  Initiatives within companies designed to identify and promote internal talent lead to higher retention and engagement rates.  Global markets require experienced leaders.  Many companies want to increase cultural diversity for the employees who are relocated, and for those in the host culture.  There is a subset of executive coaches who specialize in supporting the diversity goals of those companies.  That subset is called “diversity coaches.”

One article is an interview with Bo Razak, a senior consultant and diversity coach, conducted by Wendy Conklin, editor of The Diversity Factor (2006.) Razak specializes in diversity issues, and developing leadership skills that can support organizational missions such as increasing diversity awareness.

Razak states that executive coaching “for diversity” narrows the focus or framework to specific leadership capabilities that support the leader in developing his or her capacity to incorporate diversity into all aspects of work (37).  Also, the coaching engagement may be shorter term than another executive coaching engagement.  The diversity coaching engagement may focus on “leading by feeling” so that members of subordinated groups may feel supported with examples of empathy, or awareness of group identity and its effects.

Group identity is so central to Razak’s description of diversity coaching that I include his explanation.  “Everyone has multiple group identities, including age, ability/ ableness, class, education level, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, nationality, race, first language, religion / spirituality and sexual orientation. In organizations and society, the extent to which we are aware of the meaning and impact of these identities is key to understanding the impact of diversity and changing the status quo.”  (38)

Razak describes 4 critical factors for diversity coaches.

1) The primary factor is organizational support for diversity coaching, and diversity issues, that are tied to compensation rewards.  He states that leaders need to adopt a “diversity lens” and become inclusive in language, action, and words.

2) Leaders need to become comfortable with a common language that is inclusive and enables them to discuss words like “gender” and “sexual orientation” in any strategic or operational discussion,

3)  Leaders must pay attention to the dynamics of difference, and multiple perspectives from multiple group identities, by engaging a broad range of perspectives.

4)  And leaders must actively solicit feedback on how they are embracing the capabilities of diversity, and make open statements that reflect awareness of multiple perspectives.

My takeaways from this article include the following:

1) My 25 year-old nephew was recently promoted into a role that required an international assignment.  That experience is exciting for him, and he is young for such an assignment.  I cannot imagine that he will eagerly embrace that culture; he would benefit from such a diversity coach.

2) Diversity coaching requires a systems approach to others.  The coach must be aware of the layers of corporate expectations.  The leaders/ coaching clients must be willing to engage in anything called diversity coaching.  If it is an EEO requirement for compliance, or an extension of a training, those requirements may minimize the impact of diversity coaching.  Razak states that compensation must be tied to behavioral outcomes based on the diversity coaching.  That point reminds me of Peter Drucker’s maxim that “what gets rewarded leads to results.”

3) Selecting and matching coaches with leaders/ coaching clients requires a high level of awareness of group identity.  But there are no rules.  It may be ideal to match people from dramatically different group identities in order to be more effective.  For instance, if I were being coached by a Hispanic, lesbian woman from Brazil, and I am a Caucasian, heterosexual male from the U.S., we may be well matched.  Or it may be a setup for failure.

4)  Diversity coaching may be a shorter-term engagement than executive coaching engagements.  However, the effects of diversity coaching may be more anecdotal than measurable, and longer term rather than shorter.  And in a country that is more ethnically diverse, such as Canada, diversity coaching may be more effective than a country that is more ethnically homogenous, such as Japan.

Conklin, W. (2006). Executive Coaching for Diversity: An Opportunity for Leaders to Learn and Change. Diversity Factor, 14(2), 37-42.

What are some of your takeaways from this subject?

Call me or contact me to discuss them today.

Why leadership development “training” is dead…

Yesterday I met with an economic buyer who did not know the potential of her company.

She was representative. So here are some trends and resources and options for you and your colleagues to consider:

1. Customized leadership development programs are the new norm. (Whatever the phrase “new norm” truly means…) Off the shelf programs simply do not work well.

2. Leadership development programs are a $170 billion dollar industry, according to the ASTD, American Society of Training and Development. Corporate earnings are at an all-time high, and individual wage earnings are at an all-time low. Hence, the market opportunities are in corporations that are willing to invest in professional development.
Most leadership development programs fail because they are events, rather than a process based on assessment, consulting, and coaching.

3. “Training” is dead. Training teaches content to a norm. Training is becoming digital and shorter because our digital workforce demands that change. And most training managers do not resist. They are frightened and struggling for funding. At a recent conference for learning and development managers one presenter shared how her department generated revenue (rather than costs) by video taping and selling training modules for their strategic partners. The audience “oohed and ahhed.” However, no one asked, “What will occur 3 years from now when the modules are all digital and only 30% are being passively used by workers who are mandated to take the modules?” Or, “What about the need for powerful interactions between people that only occurs in a live, synchronous event?” Sadly, training is dead.

4. Some “leadership development companies” have survived to date despite the fact that they are event-based. Most challenge courses have been retired. Most companies regard “team building” as an occasional expense- and send people to events such as a spa, winery tour, amusement park, or golf courses. These events are not integrated into strategic needs for most corporate buyers.

5. Leadership development programs can be integrated into strategic needs, and they can target specific needs and industries. We have done so for years. With metrics and case studies that satisfy any cautious economic buyer.

6. Future business revenue for leadership development companies will come from select alliances/ partnerships with service providers who can a) provide customized content in related subjects, such as assessments, change management, operational efficiency plus b) targeted sales to high growth industries such as health care, technology, and mid-market businesses. The money exists.

Leadership development companies can make big money by targeting those industries.

Call me for details on global leadership development coaching with the largest providers of assessments and coaching and consulting.

And stay away from any providers who are not affiliated with partners who can provide the scope your company needs.

The “next normal” (whatever that phrase means) in leadership development requires smart alliances and partnerships with trusted service providers.


Why Coaching can never be a commodity

I just got off a peer coaching call with a man I have never met.

Yet for 3 years we have held each other accountable to our dreams, goals, and visions.  He is my peer coach.

We agreed that coaching can never be a commodity because:

1.  Coaching is an interactive process.  We exchange all that is human.  We interrupt.  We rant.  We share evidence-based wisdom.  We guarantee results.

2.  Commodities have no emotions.  And people do.  You can buy consultative video coaching snippets.  You can buy self coaching units.  And you can buy junk food.  Those commodities are worthless.

One goal of coaching is to enable people to garner their emotional strength into constructive action.

We KNOW that emotions drive thoughts.  And thoughts drive actions.  We even know what portions of the brain, and what neuro-chemical triggers are involved.  So why would anyone even consider that coaching can be a commodity?

I am not threatened by the commoditization of coaching services.

However, I am disappointed by the distrust and fear that some people have that prevents them from asking for help.

Give me a call.  Let’s talk about what you are feeling and thinking and doing.