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In future, employees will know more than their leaders: Marshall Goldsmith

Chief executives need to appreciate that with rapidly changing technology leaders seldom know more than the people they manage and that they have to learn to play the role of facilitators, acclaimed American business educator and coach Marshall Goldsmith told ET’s Saumya Bhattacharya in an interview on the sidelines of the Global Business Summit in New Delhi. Edited excerpts:

How would you view the maxim and title of one of your books, ‘What got you here won’t get you there’, in the context of leadership today? The patterns are the same, yet the strength is perhaps greater. For example, in the past there was an assumption that the leader was somehow superior to the person being led. In the future, that is all changing. In the new world, people manage those called ‘knowledge workers’. The definition of knowledge workers is that they know more than the manager. If I know more than you, I can tell you what to do and how to do it. However, if you know more than me, I can’t tell you what to do and how to do it. I have to ask, listen and learn. Leaders today have to be facilitators and that is a very challenging change for people. Technology is changing so rapidly that very seldom is the leader more knowledgeable.

What should future leaders watch out for and be cautious about? (They should be cautious about) adding too much value. As the CEO, your suggestions become orders. When you manage people who know more than you, and you give them suggestions, they might do it. The problem is even well-meaning CEOs may not know what they are talking about. A simple ‘have you thought of this’ may lead employees to run around and do it. The CEO’s suggestion becomes an order. They have to be very sensitive not to make suggestions, not to push people in directions unless they really know what they are talking about. In the future, most of the time the employees are going to know more than them.

How should leaders gauge their own effectiveness when they are leading a diverse workforce in times of disruption? I tell leaders to get confidential feedback. Find out what everyone thinks of you. Find out your strengths, not as judged by you but as judged by those around you. Leaders are now a lot more open to receiving feedback than they used to be earlier. Once the CEO has feedback from all stakeholders – from direct reports, co-workers, boards – thank the stakeholders for the lessons. With the lessons, they ask for ‘feedforward’ (ideas for the future) and work on that plan.

How can leaders get better at what they do? I call this daily question process, and it helps people get better at almost anything. We have done this research where people test themselves on six questions every day, and it is amazing how much better things can get. One is – Did I do my best to set clear goals? Two – Did I do my best to achieving those goals? Three – Did I do my best to be happy? Four – Did I do my best to find meaning? Five – Did I do my best to build positive relationships? And six – Did I do my best to be fully engaged? The results are amazing. Just by testing on these questions, research showed 34% people said they got better at everything. All you can do is be who you are and do your best. This is what (Bhagavad) Gita teaches.

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