Marshall Goldsmith Talks Mojo

By: Kristin Clarke, CAE

Some people just have it: confidence, happiness, energy. Executive coach and leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith calls it "mojo," and he has research-based advice on how you can find and keep yours.

Mojo is not a term often seen in business publications. It sounds a little too swingin', too what-you-feel-like-after-a-second-oversized-margarita.

And yet mojo is exactly what Marshall Goldsmith, one of America's top executive coaches and bestselling business authors, wants you to bring into your professional and personal life. As defined in his latest book Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, and How to Get It Back If You Lose It, "Mojo is that positive spirit toward what you are doing now that starts on the inside and radiates to the outside."

In other words, mojo is made up of both happiness and meaning. "One without the other just does not seem to work," says Goldsmith.

A longtime executive educator, ranked in the world's top-15 most influential business thinkers by Forbes and The (London) Times, Goldsmith is basing his conclusions on research into thousands of people's personal and professional experiences with happiness and meaning.

"Decisions aren't made on the basis of logic. They're made based on human emotions." —Marshall Goldsmith

"No one can define happiness for you but you, and no one can define meaning for you but you," Goldsmith says.

"[Mojo] is a different way to look at achievement," he adds. "Historically, people have looked at achievement as just half of that model—the professional side or 'What am I bringing to this activity?' … But in the new world of work, where work is such an important part of people's lives, it's important to look not just at what you're bringing to it, but what it's bringing to you."

If work isn't bringing you happiness or meaning, you may suffer from the opposite of mojo—nojo—which shows up as bitterness, cynicism, anger, and disengagement. "I don't think nojo is the norm for top executives, at least with the people I work with," says Goldsmith. "But I think nojo is pretty common out there."

Can we blame the weak economy? Discussions of happiness and meaning at work could seem a tad odd right now, when so many people are desperate for a job of any kind.

Goldsmith, who recently led a mojo session for unemployed professionals, disagrees. "I'm finding the opposite. The book came out at a time when this was much more important, because a lot of people are down right now. … What people are starting to realize in terms of mojo is, don't look for it on the outside. If you can find it, it's probably going to come from the inside. Don't expect someone else to give it to you."

Mojo Makeup

Goldsmith divides mojo into four parts: identity, achievement, reputation, and acceptance. While his study did not examine the importance of one element over another, he does know that all areas must be addressed to achieve optimum mojo scores. That's not always easy, since tensions can flare among the elements.

Association Executives' Mojo Moments

"For me, it's when I'm at the finish line of a marathon. … At work, it's when our board accomplishes major tasks as a team."

—Todd Bourgon, executive director, Toronto, Ontario Automobile Dealers Association

"The sweet spot for me at work is when I'm allowed to use my creativity to come up with a product or event or press release that really benefits the members and then when I see it used. …

In my personal life, creativity also [is the key to] my mojo. My sweet spot is in my church life, whether as a member of the prayer team or the puppet ministry or teaching singles salsa dancing. It's that intersection when my God-given gifts can meet the needs of others."

—Jennifer Rondon, associate director, public relations, American Physical Therapy Association

"The perfect business day for me is when I am fortunate enough to connect with other progressive-minded business professionals who have the unquenchable desire to make the world a little brighter by embracing the many facets of corporate social responsibility. Equally, [it's when I] see my collective efforts help gain the attention and respect of the business community in a way that drives new business to our company as a direct result of having reshaped our corporate priorities. …

"Home is truly where the heart and core of my happiness resides. Making my two-year-old daughter smile and laugh and sharing the day's victories or missteps with my wife make me exceedingly happy."

—Kevin McKenney, account manager, vice president of outreach communications and environmental initiatives, The Goetz Printing Company

"The sweet spot for me is when that a-ha moment occurs for the donor who is helping us to create some new program or fund new programs to help leverage project management for social good. My goal is to make a difference. That's my own personal mission, too."

—Jeannette Barr, development manager, Project Management Institute Educational Foundation

"[Often] people are in positions they don't want to be in," Goldsmith notes. "That's why I talk in Mojo about how you have two choices: You can change you, or you can change it. The other alternative is just to whine."

On the way to changing your mojo, though, you face myriad choices within each of the four building blocks.

Identity. Goldsmith urges you to take a broad view of identity by considering four aspects of how you see and define yourself. The first is remembered identity. "How do you know you're a bad tennis player? You recall the times when you lost. It's that historical memory that helps shape who we are," he says.

The second, reflected identity, is feedback from other people in our past. Someone tells you you're a bad listener, and you begin to define yourself that way.

Third is programmed identity, messages others have given us about who we will be in the future. Goldsmith himself says that he didn't realize until age 27 that he could indeed develop mechanical skills, because he had been "programmed to believe I had no mechanical skills as a kid. … I bought into that and believed it and incorporated that into who I was. We all limit ourselves unnecessarily through programming."

The final element of identity is created identity, which Goldsmith says is the heart of Mojo. To illustrate, he points to U2 musician and global poverty activist Bono, who Goldsmith calls "a great case study of a person who has changed his identity from a rock-and-roll star to a humanitarian. He's not a phony. … He is just a different person than he used to be."

Achievement. Achievement is a vital ingredient of mojo, providing a "what-have-you-done-lately" aspect that explores not only what you are doing for a task but what the activity is doing for you.

Reputation. The third key of mojo-making, which describes who other people think we are, is sadly and surprisingly often neglected. "A lot of us are clueless about our reputation," says Goldsmith, adding, "That's why confidential feedback can be very important and … enlightening."

Even poor reputations can be revamped, he says. But changing your reputation is harder than transforming your behavior: "Ultimately, if we don't change, our bad reputation will just come back and start limiting our mojo."

Acceptance. The final building block requires something simple but difficult: changing what you can and letting go of what you cannot.

"One line I like in the book a lot—and it's something I learned from Peter Drucker—is 'Every decision in life is made by the person who has the power to make that decision'—not the smartest person or the right person or the best person. Make peace with that," Goldsmith says. "Then, one, you are happier, and two, you get more done, because you quit focusing on what you can't do, and you focus on what you can do. You quit looking for logic where none exists, and you realize that decisions aren't made on the basis of logic. They're made based on human emotion."

Mojo Maintenance

Mojo requires mindfulness. "Self-discipline is very important," says Goldsmith, who has integrated several easy, effective exercises into his own regular regimen and uses a "daily question program" to monitor his levels of overall happiness and purpose.

Measure Your Mojo

Want to try some of the exercises mentioned in this article? These resources can help:

Try the Mojo Survey to catalog your own experiences with happiness and meaning.

If you'd like to try Marshall Goldsmith's Daily Question Program to discipline yourself to develop stronger mojo, you can get started with the 25 questions he uses (see "Daily Questions" section).

Tools are also available to simplify Goldsmith's personal metrics system. You can try a free Mojo Meter app for iPhone or BlackBerry. But paper and pencil work fine, too, if tech stuff mashes your mojo.

"I have a coach talk to me every day, and we go through [25] simple questions," Goldsmith says. "Every question has to be answered with a yes, no, or number. It takes about five minutes a day, and it's shocking how well it works.

"The first question every day is, 'On a scale of one to 10, how happy was I [yesterday]?' The second question is, 'How meaningful was yesterday on a one to 10 scale?' One question I ask that is good for a lot of people I know … is, 'How many times yesterday did I try to prove I was right, and was it worth it?' My entire life I've almost never gotten a zero to that question.

"I also have a lot of basic questions: 'How many sit-ups did you do?' 'How many pushups did you do?' 'Did you do something nice for your wife or your son or your daughter?' These are all basic questions of life that I find powerful. They keep me focused."

A system of personal metrics doesn't hurt, either. Goldsmith, who holds an undergraduate degree in mathematics, clearly adores numbers and what they can communicate. One of his most powerful exercises involves rating on a scale of one to 10 how happy and meaningful you find each activity completed during your day. It's simple—and often surprising—at the end of the day. After a week or so, you begin spotting patterns of what deflates and boosts your mojo.

"It's also amazing how that exercise gets you thinking," says Goldsmith. "For example, let's assume that at work you have to go to a boring meeting … and that the meeting will last an hour. Option A is that you can be angry, bitter, cynical, and make everyone around you miserable. Option B is to make the best of it.

"My theory is that, if at the end of that hour you're going to have to evaluate yourself on how happy you were and how meaningful this is, you would do a better job of making the best of it. … Just this consciousness helps people focus on increasing their own experience with happiness and meaning and becoming more creative."

Another major mojo killer? Overcommitment.

"We can't do as much as we think we can," Goldsmith says. "That's when we start burning out, and mojo actually goes from very high to very low fast. Challenge yourself and ask, 'What would my life be like if I didn't do this, or if I didn't do this as much?'"

He points to football analyst John Madden, who exchanged much-feared airline trips for cross-country bus treks as he traveled to National Football League games. "It ended up creating a positive change in his life," says Goldsmith, because Madden had more time to review game tapes and talk to fans during rest stops, which added color and more hard data to his on-air commentary.

A positive mojo mentality? Sounds like a winner.

Kristin Clarke, CAE, is a writer, editor, and researcher for ASAE & The Center. Her mojo zooms when she interviews smart people about their passions and insights and then shares it with you and her tolerant family. Email: [email protected]

Marshall Goldsmith will be a general session speaker at ASAE & The Center's 2010 Annual Meeting & Expo in Los Angeles, August 21-24.