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You just can't plan a career like Marshall Goldsmith's. When he left Rose-Hulman in 1970 with a degree in mathematical economics, Goldsmith didn't know where he was headed, other than to graduate school. Best-selling author? Top leadership guru? Not only would he have never dreamed it possible, it could never have even occurred to him.

Yet that's what he has become, and it didn't take that long for Goldsmith to
move from graduate school to the world of executive education and coaching. A mentor was Paul Hersey, an executive development expert known for shaping the situational leadership model. Hersey was a widely sought professional speaker who one day found himself double-booked.

"He said, 'Can you do what I do?'" Goldsmith recalls. "I said, 'I'll do my best.'"

That's how, at age 28, Goldsmith unexpectedly launched a career of professional speaking, executive coaching, writing, and lots of travel. Last year-10 million frequent-flyer miles and more than 30 books later-Goldsmith was recognized by Thinkers50 as the world's most influential leadership thinker.

That begs the question, how does the most influential leadership thinker come up with his ideas?

"Everything I learn, I learn from my clients," he says of the high-level executives he coaches. "These are real people doing real work in the real world, and I always feel that I learn more from them than they learn from me. These are things you can't learn in school."

Goldsmith has a way of pulling together the diverse experiences of these leaders and helping make their lessons sensible to everyone. These range from lessons on the global nature of leadership, the value of building alliances, and the importance of becoming aware of one's own behavioral flaws and potential areas for improvement.  Enhancing interpersonal relationships is a theme in his best-seller, What Got You Here Won't Get You There, and developing a powerful positive spirit drives his latest book, Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back if You Lose It.

The notion that everyone can change is part of the Buddhist underpinnings
enlightening Goldsmith's executive coaching. Leaders learn to release past behaviors, ease up on ego and the need to control, and understand the
interdependence of all members in an organization.

"I help important people to get better," he says. The first task is to help them
determine what behaviors they need to change.

It's not just a matter of introspection. His methods include candid interviews
with people who interact with the person being coached. Goldsmith helped pioneer the 360-degree feedback technique which solicits input from people all around the client. He works with clients to set goals. Then, he coaches them as they pursue those targeted changes.

Though Goldsmith didn't sketch a detailed career path while attending Rose-Hulman, it turns out his studies in mathematical economics have been quite helpful in his coaching. "I use measurement in everything that I do," he explains. ■

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