Marshall Goldsmith: Be more like your heroes

Recently I was at a workshop with my good friend designer Ayse Birsel. Ayse has created a program that helps leaders Design the Life You Love. During the program, Ayse asked us (the participants) to list our heroes.

I made my list. Here are some of the people who were on my list.

  • Frances Hesselbein, Former Girl Scout CEO
  • Alan Mulally, Former Ford CEO
  • Paul Hersey, Co-creator of Situational Leadership®
  • Peter Drucker, Father of Modern Management
  • Bob Tannenbaum, UCLA Professor
  • Warren Bennis, Renowned Leadership Expert
  • Richard Beckhard, World Leading Organizational Development Consultant
  • Buddha

Then, Ayse asked us to put down next to each person’s name, what we found so heroic about them. I did that and this is what it looked like.

  • Frances Hesselbein – extremely generous, great teacher
  • Alan Mulally – extremely generous, great teacher
  • Paul Hersey – extremely generous, great teacher
  • Peter Drucker – extremely generous, great teacher
  • Bob Tannenbaum – extremely generous, great teacher
  • Warren Bennis  — extremely generous, great teacher
  • Richard Beckhard — extremely generous, great teacher
  • Buddha – extremely generous, great teacher

Finally, Ayse asked us to cross out our heroes’ names and put in our own name.

Marshall Goldsmith – extremely generous, great teacher.

Ayse said “That is your heart’s desire – to be an extremely generous, great teacher like your heroes. This is the kind of leader you want to show up as.” I thought more specifically about what each person has taught me. Below is the short list of what I have learned from them. Each of these people has taught me so much. This is just a kernel of the wonderful learnings that they gave to me so freely.

  • Frances Hesselbein taught me that listening is an art, and that it is oftentimes crucial to our success to “listen first, speak last.”Read more here.
  • Alan Mulally taught me the #1 Greatest Lesson for Coaches – If you are a coach, make it about your clients, not about you and your own ego.  Read more here.
  • Paul Hersey taught me that sometimes being too good at something can hold us back from being the best we can be, it can hold us back from investing in our future and achieving our true potential. Read more here.
  • Peter Drucker taught me one of the most fundamental concepts that I use in all of my coaching and client work – how to effectively influence decision makers keeping one key notion in mind. “Every decision that impacts our lives will be made by the person who has the power to make that decision – not the ‘right’ person, or the ‘smartest’ person, or the ‘best’ person – make peace with this fact.” Read more here and here.
  • Bob Tannenbaum taught me that sometimes it’s easier to see our problems in others than to see them in ourselves. Sometimes what really bothers us about someone else is just a reflection of our own behavior. Read more here.
  • Warren Bennis taught me by example that if the answer to the question, “Do you love what you do?” is “I don’t know,” it is time to rethink what you are doing and perhaps change it. Read more here.
  • Richard Beckhard taught me that while we may think it would be great to have enough money to never work again, we’d never have to wake up early, go to work, or meet deadlines again. It is hard to find fulfillment in what we won’t have do. We can only find fulfillment and meaning in what we will do. Read more here.
  • And, finally, Buddha… Buddha taught me to do only what he taught if it works in the context of my own life. He encouraged people to listen to his ideas, think about his suggestions, try out what made sense – keep doing what worked – and to just “let go” of what does not work. This is the essence of my feedforward coaching. Read more here.

Here is my suggestion for you. Make a list of your heroes. Next to their names, write down why they are your heroes. Now cross out their names and put in your own name. To the degree possible, be a leader, manager, coach, person just like that.

After doing this exercise myself and reflecting on what I learned from my teachers, I made a decision. I decided that just like my many teachers before me, I will give to others what has been so freely given to me.

How will I do this? With my new project 15 Coaches. 15 Coaches is my legacy project. I am going to teach 15 people everything I know, for free! This is my chance to honor the many wonderful teachers and heroes that I have had over the years and to give to others as they gave to me. If you would like more details, please go to


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