Review of Marshall Goldsmith’s Triggers

“Triggers are what shape our behaviour. Certain situations can provoke even the most rational among us into behaving differently – and in business, that can be fatal. The difference between success and failure is as simple – and as hard – as mastering triggers.”

These words from the back-cover of Marshall Goldsmith’s newest book reminded me of the words by Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor in his 1946 classic Man’s Search for Meaning: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Frankl implies that people often react without thinking. We frequently don’t choose our behaviours so much as just act them out. But he observes that we don’t need to accept such reflexive reactions. Instead, we can learn to notice that there is a “space” before we react. He suggests that we can grow and change and be different if we can learn to recognise, increase, and make use of this ‘space.’ With such awareness, we can find freedom from the dictates of both external and internal pressures. And with that, we can find inner happiness.

Goldsmith does a remarkable job in describing the behaviours that so often in life trigger a reflexive reaction instead of a careful, considerate response.

Goldsmith’s book is divided into four parts. In part one: “Why Don’t We Become the Person We Want to Be?” he explains why meaningful behavioural change is so very hard to do.

We not only have to deal with the internal triggers that keep us from moving forward but also with the triggers from our environment. To be able to successfully change our behaviour it’s important to recognise and identify the triggers that keep us where we are, but don’t want to be.

One of the many gems in this book is Goldsmith’s explanation why we are such superior planners and inferior doers. He uses the theory of ‘Situational Leadership’ to show us that there is a leader and follower inside all of us. The leader plans our desired behavioural change and the follower in us has to execute that plan. We think that they are both part of who we are. But we are wrong. We often start the day as a bifurcated individual, part leader and part follower, but as the day progresses, the two grow further apart.

Situational Leadership was developed by Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard at the Center for Leadership Studies in the late 1960s. Which leadership style a person should use with individuals or groups depends on the readiness level of the people the leader is attempting to influence (Management of Organizational Behavior, Hersey, Blanchard and Johnson).

Since I personally use this theory with almost all my executive coaching clients and management teams, it immediately struck a cord.

Basically there are four distinct leadership styles: directing, coaching, supporting and delegating. Goldsmith suggests that if we use the different leadership styles with our own behavioural development issues, we’d probably have a better chance to succeed in that endeavour. Executing the change we hold as a concrete image in our mind is a process that requires vigilance and diligent self-monitoring, which brings us to part two of the book: “Try”.

Besides offering some powerful tools in the form of questions and lists, Goldsmith introduces the acronym of AIWATT: Am I Willing, at this time, to make the investment required to make a positive difference on this topic? He calls this the first principle for becoming the person you want to be. It helps us to choose to either engage or “let it go”.

Goldsmith claims that we do not get better without structure. This brings us to part three of the book where he offers multiple structures to help us succeed in becoming the person we want to be. Structure not only increases our chance of success, it makes it more efficient at it.

As always, and what I like so much about Goldsmith’s writings, he uses many examples to state his case. It not only helps us to understand his point of view but helps us to become more effective learners as well by placing the theory in a context that’s easily recognisable.

The last part of the book, part four, is titled: “No Regrets”. In this book’s opening pages Goldsmith promises that if he did his job properly, the reader would have a little less regret in their life. When we prolong negative behaviour – both the kind that hurts the people we love or the kind that hurts us in some way – we are leading a changeless life in the most hazardous manner. We are willfully choosing to be miserable and making others miserable too. And make no mistake; it would be all our doing, our choice.


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