Interview Q&A's

Howard, for the past quarter century you've been working with top performing executives globally — coaching thousands of people on issues that winning organizations continually confront in the workplace. What are the issues that organizations most often confront?

When I ask groups what issue, if resolved, would make the biggest difference, communication is always #1 or #2 on the list. The other issue is maintaining focus and priority on producing revenue. Everything and everyone in an organization communicates, in some way, publicly or privately. I'm talking about memos, what happens or doesn't happen in a meeting, the design of a new product, and what the customer is saying. The intention and awareness of the leaders of an organization to relentlessly build productive and satisfying communication is a constant challenge and is a competitive factor in most of the best companies where I have worked.

Why do you feel that so many people find it difficult to communicate in a meaningful, honest and productive manner?

Most people, most of the time, are blind to their communication and its impact on other people. We also are not particularly observant of the dialog we conduct in the privacy of our heads. I call this "having thoughts". Honesty in communication is often sacrificed for an overriding desire to "look good" in many circumstances. This is not a particularly flattering portrait of how we operate both personally and collectively. But it sure accounts for a lot of what you are referring to when you mention the difficulty of communicating in a meaningful and productive way.

You coach people on how to go beyond perceived limits and old habits and to create a renewed focus on their work. What type of resistance or roadblocks do you typically encounter when trying to move people beyond their "default systems" of working and transform their ability to accomplishment"

I can't get people to change or transform. They have to want something in their work or life beyond where they currently are — beyond what's currently stopping them. I work with people to clarify their ambition and start working effectively beyond simply their historic patterns of victimization and self-righteousness. When I say victimization, I am talking about how the circumstances determine what one has done and what can be done. By self-righteousness, I am talking about going past their reasons why they can't succeed. They need to change the "system" under which they operate.

What factor lies at the heart of even the best companies turning problems into success and overcoming self-limiting practices?

There are four cornerstones at the heart of achieving success and establishing winning practices. The first has to do with ownership and the buy-in of people to embrace objectives that they can relate to and feel authorship of. Even if someone has created these objectives, everyone must be able to translate them into relevant terms that matter to them.

The second aspect has to do with individuals and companies being able to envision an exciting future and taking on its achievement before they necessarily have the resources, experience or know-how. All entrepreneurship in this regard is about achieving what's envisioned and then backfilling with the resources and know-how as opposed to getting everything figured out first, and then committing to its achievement. The third aspect of high-performance is to systematically be able to identify and resolve problems and issues as they arise. This is what distinguishes great companies and great teams—the ability to keep dealing with problems innovatively and without getting bogged down in self-pity.

Lastly, the three aspects I just mentioned occur in a medium of communication and relationship. People's ability to create together, to take risks together, and to innovate in the face of problems is a function of their communication, their affinity, and their shared perspectives.

As Americas' top performance coach you note in your book, Choose What Works, that some people may not always be coachable. How so?

What's ironic is that when we are most in need of coaching, we are often least receptive to coaching — those moments when we are frustrated, upset, or not winning. In these instances, coaching can be heard as preaching, giving unwanted advice, or some form of patronage. Essentially we are trying to pour coaching into a receptacle that's turned upside down. Conversely, in order to be coachable a person must have a challenge that they can't resolve and they are willing to receive the input of others. I call this permission-based coaching.

You tout your creation — High Performance Operating System. In a nutshell, what is it?

An operating system in computer terminology is a master program that effects performance, drives applications, and is invisible to the user. Applying this metaphor to human terms — over the last 25 years I've developed with my clients a step-by-step approach that distinguishes ways of thinking and acting and working with others so that your intentions are fulfilled faster, more powerfully, and with less of the circumstances left to chance. This approach can be readily learned and "installed." I term this a high-performance system of operating for individuals and teams.

Early in your career you were the Director of Artist Development at Capital Records/EMI. What was it like to work with The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Linda Ronstadt?

It was thrilling and very challenging. I had to get past star worship and concentrate on what would add the most value to their projects and the sale of their singles and albums. Uniquely at that time, I focused on building a brand for these individuals, not just selling records. It was a long-term investment. This involved the coordination of sales, marketing, and promotional activities. It left many of these artists with a feeling that the record company understood them and their music, and knew how to reach a larger share of their audience.

What need did you fill in writing Choose What Works? With all of the books on management, communication and workplace what do you contribute that is new, unique, different or better?

The need that Choose What Works fulfills is that it provides an easily accessible approach for any professional, in a small or big company, to dramatically move to higher levels of success and satisfaction. I have developed this simple and attainable system in real business situations. People gain the insights and new practices that repeatedly have led to successes, in various industries, around the globe. What is common about these applications is at the core of a company are people working, and the dynamics that they can master to win. I have worked with the best companies, large and small, and produced in many cases, remarkable results. 95% of those companies renewed their work with me after our initial engagement.

What are some important things a manager should seek in order to become a successful leader?

First, clarifying the distinct roles between a manager and a leader: a manager is concerned with implementing change, stabilizing operations, and bringing predictable order to a business; A leader instigates and directs change, provides new perspectives, and breaks up limiting routines. In some ways these roles can be seen as antagonist: Change agents versus those striving to implement process and stability.

Secondly, leadership is not a job title — it is a way of thinking, a way of communicating, and of acting. Every one of us performs in multiple roles with our jobs. The key is to understand when each role is appropriate and to break out of our blind habits and supply what's needed.

You implore people to do something that's very difficult — to examine the awful truth. You note that once one speaks truthfully and clears the air, it releases everyone to relate and act with a new sense of freedom. The problem is most people want to lay blame on others for a problem, remaining more comfortable not to take responsibility for it. How do you convince people to stop being irresponsible "victims?"

When the cost of acting the victim exceeds the possibility of being effective, people are freed to choose. That is an essential choice each of us has: to be effective or to be "right" about how terrible things are. It is very seductive to be the victim. In our culture, in the portrayal we see in the media the victim is exalted. Look at the front page of the newspaper: it is the chronicle of somebody being right; somebody making others wrong. Something interesting happens when people step out of this trap and take actions that are based on new opportunities rather than just having the circumstances determine who we are.

You talk a lot about the mood of a work environment. As you know, the mood can predetermine how you feel, what you think, and ultimately, what you do. How do you get the mood to be filled with high energy and enthusiasm as opposed to grim determination, or worse, the resignation of complete cynicism?

First be able to detect the current mood. It sometimes is difficult to step outside it and tell the truth to yourself and others about the current situation: Say this place feels dead; we're not having as much fun as we used to; or we're chasing our tail. Ask others how they are experiencing things. Once people express themselves honestly and authentically then you can ask what can be done to shift the current state and operate in a more expansive and energized environment. When people tell the truth about the current situation, and it is heard without a chorus of "yeah, buts, " they can go on to discuss what can be done. The mood can shift dramatically and quickly if the process is managed carefully.

Howard, you see the product of speaking as "verbal math." Can you explain what factors we should always consider before we open our mouths?

Something gets created when we speak. Speaking puts something into our world, in terms of its content and tone. What gets created when you speak? Clarity, affinity, and productive relationships? Or, confusion, upset, and resistance? Most of us seldom take responsibility that something is created in the act of our speaking: in our words, in our tone, in how our communication was received. We cloak our actions and the reactions of others to us in explanations and justifications. Watch what gets created when you open your mouth and begin to see if by altering what you say, and how you say it, something different occurs "out there" in your world.

What do you mean we "operate within the bandwidth provided by others" — or within the bandwidth we are willing to grant to ourselves?

If you think you can, or think you can't, you will probably be right. We fulfill the "space" that we provide for ourselves and what others have provided for us. Notice that with some of our relationships we are smarter; with some we are funnier, more creative, and sexier. This has a lot to do with the "listening" that others provide for us — how they have decided we are; what expectations have been created in our interaction with them. This "listening" for each other is not fixed, not solid. It is malleable — we can shift the performance of others by seeing them in a different light, before the fact. Their actions will often follow suit. Ultimately, if we accept the judgments others have for us that will be the container of our abilities and actions.

We know that some problems can just overwhelm us. Your work contains a lot of coaching on effectively managing problems. How can we most effectively resolve problems and make confident decisions?

Confronting and resolving problems, rather than being reactive and avoiding them, is a key to effectiveness and satisfaction. Problems are very real, especially when we are stuck in the grasp.

"I have known Howard Goldman for 20 years as friend, colleague, and performance coach. He and his powerful system is always there to support my leadership, my vital relationship to people — and the results which are at the core of being a CEO of a high-tech start-up."

Keith Schaefer, Former GM, NEC Technologies,
and CEO, Liquid Thinking

However if we can shift the way problems occur for us we start to have a new access to solving them. Simply asking "What or How" a situation could be different (rather than just finding fault with "Why ?") is a start. The next step is to objectively describe the current situation: What are the facts? What is the data? What is actually happening? This essential step alters our perception from subjective judgments to objective facts. The problem can now be seen as it is; rather than magnified by our reactive fear.

Now we are in a position to imagine solutions and possibilities to deal with the issue. This is the engine of innovation. When we have outlined what we could do, we move into action – what we will do. These are commitments to act. We have shifted the problem to something that originally occurred for us as a sort of cosmic complaint to coordinated action.

Choose What Works highlights a system of management that starts with what you call Focused Intent. It is your larger vision of accomplishment for the future. You note people historically fall short of embracing this because they often work from restricted boundaries and set expectations. So how do they break free?

They break free by realizing that:

  • They created their relationship with those boundaries.
  • They proceed by envisioning a possibility of what most matters to them and then committing to fulfill it.
  • They construct pathways, with the support of others to achieve what they envisioned.
  • They deal with the inevitable problems that the world presents, often through the guidance of a coach and a network of support.
  • They are able to communicate more completely, build supportive relationships and acknowledge the contribution of others.

In summary, they break free by embarking on a path that is a blueprint for success. They Choose What Works!

How can someone instill positive actions in another?

The best managers I know and admire speak to people as capable, intelligent and responsible. They are often willing to confer these qualities to people before the fact. They are generous in that they speak to "what's great" in others. In most cases, people respond with actions that are consistent with the qualities these managers extend to them. Three examples that demonstrate extending qualities to people before the "evidence is in," are:
"I know you'll do a brilliant job..."
"I'm sure you're already familiar with these ideas..."
"I know this is something that you care about..."

How does one get into a frame of mind to be successful?

I have worked with dozens of leaders and entertainers who've reached high levels of accomplishment. In most cases, these people planned and took action as though they were already successful. They were able to work in a future they envisioned, and make choices and take action consistent with that achievement. They were up to something important, and they were able to inspire and attract others to join them in building it. Resources alone won't do it. Your ability to focus and to build on your core enthusiasm, knowing you will somehow succeed, is your platform for enlisting the support of others.







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