Three lessons from my walk with legendary executive coach Marshall Goldsmith

In May, I attended an International Coach Federation Tennessee webinar hosted by world-renowned executive coach – and now fellow Nashvillian – Marshall Goldsmith. At the end of his presentation, he invited anyone who lived in Nashville to email him to schedule a walk. I sent him a note not really expecting to hear back, telling myself a story that everyone would respond and my email would get lost. Amazingly, he responded, and we walked for 90 minutes in his neighborhood on a beautiful September Friday afternoon (lesson #1 – stand by your commitments). 

The conversation was rich, personal and authentic. Marshall shared his life story, and I shared mine. As I spoke, he listened quietly, urging me to continue at each stopping point with one simple question: “and then what?”. At one moment, he interrupted me to notice a grudge I was still holding, and did some on-the-spot coaching to help me release it. But mostly, he listened deeply, non-judgmentally and patiently. And when I was done, he gave me some of the best feedback I have ever received. Here are three of the top lessons:  

Welcome feedback 

Feedback isn’t always easy to hear. Marshall quickly identified something I wanted but couldn’t admit even to myself, and he was absolutely right. (It’s still too raw to write publicly about what the realization was, but it’s coming soon!). Self-awareness is the first step to growth, and we humans struggle to see ourselves clearly. Taking the time to provide feedback is a gift the speaker gives the listener, and I received Marshall’s insight as such, even if it wasn’t easy to hear. When someone cares enough to give you feedback, assume they are giving you the elusive gift of self-awareness, and listen carefully. 

Release the burden of grudges 

When I was 18, I moved to Vienna, Austria to play the violin for a gap year between high school and college. I auditioned for a well-known teacher who told me that I was a terrible violinist and should quit playing – and sadly, I did. As I told Marshall that story, he said, “You haven’t forgiven her.” And he was absolutely right – I’m not sure why it was so hard to forgive this woman whom I had met only once 35 years ago, but we did some coaching to release that grudge. Now that mental real estate is free to focus on other, more constructive topics and ideas. It’s a relief to have let that grudge go.

Pay it forward

In spending 90 minutes with me, Marshall gave me a gift. With a long waiting list of clients willing to pay him handsomely for his time, interviewers and journalists around the world eager for his insight and two grandchildren nearby, Marshall’s time is a precious resource. Walking with a stranger – me – had no immediate or apparent benefit to him, and when I thanked him, he told me I could repay him by doing the same for other people. He mentioned many times in our walk that he hasn’t achieved his success alone and encouraged me to be generous with my own gifts. Message received, Marshall – you have my word!

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