August 2005 - Marshall
Like many young Ph.D.
students, while I studied at UCLA, I was
deeply impressed with my own intelligence,
wisdom and profound insights into the human
condition. I consistently amazed myself with
my ability to judge others and see what they
were doing wrong.
Dr. Fred Case was both my
dissertation adviser and boss. My
dissertation was connected with a consulting
project with that involved the city
government of Los Angeles. At the time, Case
was not only a professor at UCLA, but also
head of the Los Angeles City Planning
Commission. At this point in my career, he
was clearly the most important person in my
professional life. He had done amazing work
to help the city become a better place, and
also was doing a lot to help me.
Although he was generally
upbeat, one day Case seemed annoyed.
“Marshall, what is the problem with you?” he
growled. “I’m getting feedback from some
people at City Hall that you are coming
across as negative, angry and judgmental.
What’s going on?”
“You can’t believe how
inefficient the city government is,” I
ranted. I then gave several examples of how
taxpayers’ money was not being used in the
way I thought it should. I was convinced
that the city could be a much better place
if the leaders would just listen to me.
“What a stunning
breakthrough,” Case sarcastically remarked.
“You, Marshall Goldsmith, have discovered
that our city government is inefficient. I
hate to tell you this, Marshall, but my
barber down on the corner figured this out
several years ago. What else is bothering
Undeterred by this
temporary setback, I angrily proceeded to
point out several minor examples of behavior
that could be classified as favoritism
toward rich political benefactors.
Case was now laughing.
“Stunning breakthrough number two,” he said.
“Your profound investigative skills have led
to the discovery that politicians may give
more attention to their major campaign
contributors than to people who support
their opponents. I’m sorry to report that my
barber has also known this for years. I’m
afraid that we can’t give you a Ph.D. for
this level of insight.”
As he looked at me, his
face showed the wisdom that can only come
from years of experience. “I know that you
think that I may be old and behind the
times,” he said, “but I’ve been working down
there at City Hall for years. Did it ever
dawn on you that even though I may be slow,
perhaps even I have figured some of this
Then he delivered the
advice I will never forget: “Marshall, you
are becoming a pain in the butt. You are not
helping the people who are supposed to be
your clients. You are not helping me, and
you are not helping yourself. I am going to
give you two options: Option A: Continue to
be angry, negative and judgmental. If you
chose this option, you will be fired, you
probably will never graduate, and you may
have wasted the last four years of your
life. Option B: Start having some fun. Keep
trying to make a constructive difference,
but do it in a way that is positive for you
and the people around you.
“My advice is this: You
are young. Life is short. Start having fun.
What option are you going to choose, son?”
I finally laughed and
replied, “Dr. Case, I think it is time for
me to start having some fun!”
He smiled knowingly and
said, “You are a wise young man.”
Most of my life is spent
working with leaders in huge organizations.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that
things are not always as efficient as they
could be. Almost every employee has made
this discovery. It also doesn’t take a
genius to learn that people are occasionally
more interested in their own advancement
than the welfare of the company. Most
employees have already figured this out as
I learned a great lesson
from Case. Real leaders are not people who
can point out what is wrong. Almost anyone
can do that. Real leaders are people who can
make things better.
Case’s coaching didn’t
just help me get a Ph.D. and become a better
consultant. He helped me have a better life,
and his advice can help you too. First,
think about your own behavior at work. Are
you communicating a sense of joy and
enthusiasm to the people around you, or are
you spending too much time in the role of
angry, judgmental critic? Second, do you
have any co-workers who are acting like I
did? Are you just getting annoyed with them,
or are you trying to help them in same way
that Case helped me? If you haven’t been
trying to help them, why not give it a shot?
Perhaps they’ll write a story about you
Post your comments at
Copyright © 2014 AIM Inlines. All rights reserved.
No portion of this web site may be used or
reproduced in any manner
whatsoever without written permission, except in the
case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Back to Articles
| Top of the Page