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A conversation between Marshall Goldsmith & Moe Abdou
Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How To Marshall Goldsmith with Moe Abdou
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About Marshall Goldsmith & Moe Abdou

Marshall Goldsmith

Marshall Goldsmith is corporate America’s preeminent executive coach

and the New York Times of 22 books, including What Got You Here Won’t
Get You There – a Wall Street Journal #1 business book. Dr.

Moe Abdou

Moe Abdou is the creator of 33voices — a global conversation about things

that matter in business and in life. 1
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I have a few questions that I want to get your perspective on. The first one
is really simple because you’re one of the happiest people that I’ve ever
met and that I ever get to speak to. I have to ask you, how do you stay
that way?

Number one, I am a Buddhist. There are many schools of Buddhism. So when

somebody says they’re a Buddhist, it doesn’t tell you that much. My school is a
simple school. It’s basically, find happiness and meaning now.

I think the great Western disease is I’ll be happy when I get the car, the status,
the money, the BMW, the achievement, the condominium. I’ll be happy when
we all have the same win. We’re going to die eventually. I think the secret of
life is find happiness, contentment and meaning now, and not next week, not
next month or not next year.

By the way, many Western people misinterpret what I just said to mean you
have to be happy every second of all eternity. That’s not what it means at all.
You only have to be happy this second, now.

But you know one of the things you talk about in all of your work
specifically in this book is that typically as human beings, at least
Westerners, is our default response in life is typically not to experience
that happiness.

No, our default reaction in life is to experience inertia. We all tend to go

where we’ve been going, and do what we’ve been doing, be what we’ve been
being. It is very hard for us to break this incredible spell of inertia. One of the
great challenges is learning how to break that spell of inertia and achieve
happiness and contentment where we are, not next week.

From your perspective personally, what do you do to not have to deal with
that inertia from a day to day?

A couple of things, one thing I do is I have a coach. I have this daily question
process. If anybody would like a copy of my questions, just send me an email at I’ll send you a copy of them. My coach asks
me questions everyday, 24 questions. Every question has to be answered with
yes, no, or a number. You put it on an Excel spreadsheet. It’s very simple to do.

The first question everyday is how happy were you yesterday on a 1 to 10 scale;
and, how meaningful is yesterday. How many times yesterday did you try to 2
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prove you were right when it wasn’t worth it? How many angry or destructive
comments did you make about other people yesterday? How many minutes did I
walk? How many pushups? How many sit ups? They are a bunch of basic
questions about life.

I find this to be a very, very useful process. I have something in the book called
the MOJO Meter which I have. I get constant reminders to go through the day at
the end of every interaction. Two questions, how happy was I and how
meaningful was this? Everyday, I get this ongoing reminder to keep doing things
that make me happy and provide meaning.

So your 24 questions stay consistent and his 17 stay consistent?

They may change over time. One question I used to ask was did I plan my day? I
found out I was just wonderful at day planning. I never did anything too much
that was on the plan but I was very effective at planning my day. Now I ask on
a 1 to 10 scale how effectively did I execute my plan for the day. I don’t think
I’ve ever gotten a 10 in my whole life.

There will be a lot of entrepreneurs who are going to have the opportunity
to listen to this podcast and read the text of this. One of the biggest
takeaways for me personally is to be able to find a friend to do this with.
How would you recommend that if two entrepreneurs want to work
together to do what you and your coach do each day? How do they begin?
Do they follow your questions? Is there a thinking process that you would
encourage them to follow to get started with this?

I would say, number 1, they write their own questions. You can get a copy of
my questions to give you some ideas. But the idea behind the process is you
write your own questions. The second thing I would suggest is whoever they do
this with it doesn’t have to some kind of technical expert.

It just needs to be somebody that they like to be around and somebody who
they feel will be looking out for their own best interest and somebody who
doesn’t have a political agenda.

Is there a particular time of day that you do this?

No, it depends when you’re available?

So with your travels, do you still find time to do it? 3
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That’s why you’re Marshall Goldsmith. You say in MOJO that MOJO is
about achieving two simple goals; loving what you do and showing it. Yet,
I’ve been in the business for a long time, I don’t know a whole lot of people
at least that I’ve been around who love what they do as much as you talk
about. Is there a shift taking place certainly to the people who get
exposed to your material?

I think that actually most of the great leaders I work with do love what they do
and they do communicate this to others and they do a good job of it not a bad
job. If you look at three leaders I’ve worked with who I put at the top of the
list. One is Frances Hesselbein , former CEO of the Girl Scouts; Alan Mulally
who is now CEO of Ford and General Eric Shinseki who was head of the U.S.
Army, who is now head at Veteran Affairs.

I’ve been around these people a lot of hours and I’ve never seen any of them
be downbeat or depressed. They’ve always found meaning in what they’re
doing. I would imagine when General Shinseki got his leg blown off, I’m sure he
didn’t complain. That’s just not who he is. I think that the people I worked
with who are the best or people who really focus on communicating the sense
of, I’m really happy to be here and this is meaningful to everyone around them.
Because, think of the opposite message.

Let’s say you’re an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur by the way is even more

important than a corporate person. Because when you’re an entrepreneur, that
message is not just about you, the company is you if you’re an entrepreneur.
It’s all connected. I think very important for the entrepreneur to communicate,
you know, this is important. My work is important. I’m happy do to this.

A lot of entrepreneurs wonder why their kids don’t want to go into the business.
The reason is obvious. They come home at night and they whine and bitch and
moan and complain and they talk about how bad their lives are. Their kids say,
“I don’t want to do that. You don’t have enough money. Why would I want to
live like you?” We don’t think about the message we send to the people around
us when we don’t communicate this sense of happiness and meaning. Not just
the message to ourselves but to the message to everyone we touch.

You’ve been advocating for a long time and certainly in MOJO that there
needs to be harmony between internally what you feel inside and certainly
what you show outside. I find it difficult sometimes for people to feel that 4
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internal happiness. I don’t know if it’s the struggle and most people
haven’t been able to master their minds yet. But the internal piece seems
to be a lot more difficult.

I think what happens here is we just get lost. We just get lost and forget what
matters in life. I mean the people that you and I meet on a scale of people who
have less in history of the world, are pretty much all way up in the top 10%. I
mean, if they’re not happy, whose fault is it, right? These people aren’t
starving to death.

Many of the people you’re talking about are healthy. They have families. They
have plenty of food. Their incomes are in the top 10% of any human who ever
lived. If you can’t be happy, whose fault is it? Look in the mirror.

By the way, if you look at studies of wealth and happiness in the United States,
over 70,000 bucks a year doesn’t matter anyway. There is no correlation
between wealth and happiness after that. The common misconception people
who win the lottery are happier. No they’re not. Five years later, no increase
in happiness.

When you mentioned the ingredients for MOJO in particular and you talk
about identity, you talk about achievement, you talk about reputation and
you talk about acceptance. I believe while a great number of us probably
don’t really know who we are, acceptance to me seems to be a really
difficult one. I’d like to get your perspective on that notion.

I’ll give you one concept about acceptance that I found incredibly helpful for
me and it was thought to me by Peter Drucker. This sounds amazingly simple
and obvious. That so few people ever get this at a deep level. Every decision in
the world is made by the person who has the power to make the decision. Make
peace with that. Not the best person or the right person or the fairest person
or good person or logical person. Every decision is made by that person. Well,
that person is the decision maker. Once you make peace with that, life is a lot
better. Your job is to influence that person if that decision is important to you
and treat that person like a customer. But not to go through life judging or
critiquing other people for who they are. People are who they are, make peace
with that. Once you make peace with that, life is a lot better.

Let me ask you a question. Have you ever said this to yourself? I am amazed
that someone at that level followed by this weird crazy does dumb things or
isn’t fair. Have you ever said these words to yourself? 5
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Of course.

I want to point out how completely idiotic that sense is. Have you ever read a
history book in your life, yes or no?


In the history of the world, most people at these exalted levels have been
women or men?


Have they been younger or a little older?


Is there anything in the history of the world that indicates you take a bunch of
old men, you give them incredible amounts of status, money, and power, they
begin to act excessively sane and rational. Did you read that book?

Not yet. I’m waiting for you to write it.

Just waiting for that book. We talk about life as if somehow, people who have
power is supposed to be sane and rational and good and logical. Why would you
believe that? What in the history of the world would lead you to believe that’s
true? They’re just as crazy as anybody else is. They’re just crazy with status,
money, and power.

It’s a very interesting perspective.

Yeah, once you make peace with that, life is a lot better. How much of our
energy is wasted complaining about politicians or sports coaches or God knows
what, stuff we have no control over. Yet, we’re just wasting our lives
complaining about all these things. What is the matter, for what?

One survey I had on the book, I said, what percent of all interpersonal
communication time is spent on A, somebody talking about how smart, special,
and wonderful they are or listening to others do that. Plus B, somebody talking
about how stupid, inept or bad somebody else is or listened to people who do
that. Well the answer from tens of thousands of people around the world the
average answer is 65%. That’s a lot of time. When and why you can be happier 6
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and save a lot of time is? Reduce that number for ourselves and reduce that
number for others.

You’re certainly one of the smartest people that I’ve ever had the
opportunity to be around. I know that there is still such a need out there in
society especially with some leaders in particular to be the smartest
person in the room. As you are out there promoting this message, are you
starting to see a shift in that where people aren’t as worried about that
today as much?

A lot of the stuff I deal with it’s just very basic human behavior. My coaching
clients are only people whose issues are behavioral. They want to get better.
They’re willing to do all the stuff I talk about. So I’m often asked, what about
the broader sample of people and the answer is I don’t know. I don’t really
work with a broader sample of people. I only work with the people that care. I
think the broader sample of people, it’s probably more people are willing to
change and do the stuff that I’m talking about than used to. But, I don’t have
any statistics to support that. So the answer is, I don’t know.

So obviously that’s an ego thing when somebody is really consistently

thinking — or even just a security thing that if I’m the leader of this
organization and I don’t have the answer, how am I going to get these
people to believe in my vision?

Yeah, and the reality is none of us have all the answers. One way is to recruit
the people to help you put together a vision as opposed to fill a need you have
to be a little god and know everything yourself.

One of the most fascinating concepts towards the end of the book is when
you talked about quota. Really, more so as a parent more than anything
else it really opened my eyes. Can you elaborate a little bit on that?

When I started writing the book, my goal in writing the book, I think was a real
positive goal. Help people be happier and find more meaning in their lives.
There is certainly nothing wrong with that.

In the intent of the book, it was directed actually toward the reader. The
customer was kind of the reader. But after I started writing the book and
getting into the concepts, I realized, the reason we need to do this isn’t just
about ourselves, it’s about everyone around us. 7
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Now, think about it. Let’s say you have a hard day at work, you go home.
You’re angry and bitter. If you communicate you are not happy, what is the
message you send to your children? Being around you doesn’t make me happy.
What’s the message you send to your spouse, your partner? Being around you
doesn’t make me happy.

You communicate this is meaningless, what’s the message you send to your
children. Being with you doesn’t mean anything. What’s the message you send
to your partner? Being with you is irrelevant. What message do you send at
work when you communicate I’m not happy. I don’t want to be at this place.
I’d rather be retired or do something else, playing golf. What’s the message
you send when you communicatet this isn’t meaningful? This place is a joke. Is
that really the message we want to communicate to the people we love and
respect? Probably not.

I hope not.

I hope not. Well I think the main reason to do this is not just for ourselves but
it’s for all those people around us.

How about this whole notion of identity? One of the tools you have in the
book and you provide 14 fabulous tools that we’ll talk about. One of the
first things you talked about is decide what to measure about your
identity. How do you recommend that people start to think about their

If we look at our identity, I have in the book, a matrix. On one dimension we

have the past to the future. On the other dimension, we have self and other.
We can look at our identity from four different perspectives. How do we know
who we are? Well, MOJO is a positive spirit toward what you were doing that
starts from the inside and radiates to the outside. Who is the you in MOJO? Well,
you is our identity the way we define ourselves.

The first part of identity is called our remembered identity. Let’s say your
identity is you are a bad tennis player. Well, how do you know that? Well you
remember times when you lost playing tennis. That becomes part of your

The second part is our reflected identity. That’s feedback. How do you know
you’re a bad listener? People told you, you were a bad listener and then after 8
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awhile that becomes part of your reflected identity that becomes who you
define yourself to be.

Our programmed identity, I talked quite a bit about that in the book. That’s
the powerful messages others give us about ourselves. For example, in my case,
my dad had a gas station. My mom didn’t want me to work in the gas station.
What’s an element of my identity? She told me from birth, you have no
mechanical skills and you’ll never have any mechanical skills for the rest of you

Well how does this impact my development? I’m never encouraged to be

around cars, tools, mechanical things so I don’t learn. I’m 18 years old, I take
the United States Army mechanical aptitude test, I scored in the bottom 2% of
the entire United States. By the way, that test wasn’t called mechanical
achievement test then. That implies what you’ve done. Mechanical aptitude,
that implies what you are. Message is you can’t do that. You have no aptitude.

I’m 27 years old, I got a PhD at UCLA and Dr. Tennenbaum, my teacher said,
what do you do well? What do you do poorly? What do I do well? What did I
write; scholarly pursuits, research. What did I do poorly? What did I say? I have
no mechanical skills. I’ll never have any mechanical skills.

He said, “How do you know you have no mechanical skills?” I said, it’s hopeless
I took a test. He said, “How are you at mathematical skills?” I got a perfect
score in the SAT math test, nine courses, as matter of fact I passed calculus.
He said, “Why are your mathematical scores high and you can solve complex
mathematical problems but you can’t even solve simple mechanical problems?”

I thought that was a good question. He said, “How is your hand to eye
coordination?” I said, “I could play pinball games, shoot pools, drink beer.”
Why can you play pinball games and shoot pool but you can’t hammer nails?
When I was 27 years old I realized I had no mechanical skills because I was told
that, I bought into it, I believed it, and it became part of my identity. There is
no logic behind that.

Well as obvious as that sounds, I see it everyday with the leaders I work with.
They say things like, I can’t listen. I look in their ears, why not? Why can’t you
listen? You got something stuck in there? Or, I can’t give recognition. Why not?
Who is stopping you? 9
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As long as we define ourselves in this limiting ways, we put ourselves in a box.

One of two bad things happen, one is we continue on with this negative
behavior, this limiting behavior, I can’t listen therefore we’re bad at listening.
Or two, we really work on getting better and other people tell us we are better
and some people say, I think you’re doing a good job of listening but you know
what it feels like in the inside? A phoney. That’s not really me.

Well, if who I am is someone who can’t listen, and you tell me I’m a good
listener, what’s my reaction? He only thinks I’m a good listener. I’m really a
bad listener. I’m just acting like a good listener. Well, what’s the definition of
phoney, not me.

I really work on trying to help people and then in the final box is that identity
we create for ourselves in the future. I use an example in the book of Bono who
is a humanitarian. I mean the guy was a regular guy. He was a rock and roll fan.
He became a musician. He became a rock star and now he is a humanitarian. I
get to talk to him about his life and his identity and his history. I think he’s a
great role model, somebody who can be something completely different
without being a phoney. I mean, he’s not a phoney humanitarian. He’s really a

You have such an uncanny ability to simplify things. One of the things, as I
mentioned to you and just visiting with people about the contents of the
book just in the mastermind session, one of the great things that came out
of it is just as human beings, our ability to just simplify as much as we can
and certainly as leaders.

And as somebody who’s got an incredible mission of helping your clients

specifically leaders achieve positive change both in interpersonal behavior
and the people they work with. Is there a lesson that you continually are
learning as you’re dealing with these people that other leaders could apply
in their lives and/or in their organizations in leading others?

Well, you know, as I’ve grown older and older, my level of aspiration has gone
down and down and my level of impact has gone up and up. Because you know,
I’m not going to change the entire world next week. My job is tell very
successful people if he has achieved positive long term change in behavior.
Let’s tell people to read these books and have happier and more meaningful
lives. That’s good enough for me. 10
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Somebody sends me an email today and says, you know what, I listen to your
work and I’m a little happier. I listen to your work and my life is more
meaningful. That’s good enough. That’s enough for me.

I was teaching at UBS and a woman who worked for UBS had been under my
class two years before. I asked her, what would you change? She said, to be
honest, I haven’t changed anything. She said, I’m a better mother. You know
what I said? It’s good enough for me.

Let’s say that people that I work with achieved positive change in only one
important behavior. That’s judged by any significant group of people in their
lives over any significant period of time. How do I feel? Happy. Not only are
they going to have a better life, the world around them is going to be better

You know, we can’t have everything. We can do something though. What I try
to do is get people to focus on what is that something you can do? Let’s forget
about that laundry list of things we cannot do because you know, you can’t do
them anyway. Let it go.

As an individual whose coached sales people and entrepreneurs my entire

career, one of the fascinating stories you share earlier on in the book I
believe was your whole notion of Mr. Mudd.

You really got me to think when I look at sales people today and I see how
the public really isn’t interested in dealing with a lot of sales people
because of the notion of just pushing, pushing and pushing.

Is that philosophy viable in today’s world for somebody that just say, hey,
take a look at the work, if you like what I do or you love what I do, pay me
what you think it’s worth?

Let me ask you a question, who is probably the highest paid executive coach in
the world.

You are.

That’s what I do.

How do you approach a client? If I come to approach you today and say,
“Hey, I have…” 11
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I only work on a pay only for results basis. I get paid zero during the entire
engagement. If my clients don’t get better, I don’t get paid a cent.

Do they determine that?

No, everyone around them determines that. I have a simple contract. If I’m
working with somebody who is a future CEO, I talk to the CEO and say this
person gets significantly better at these behaviors as judged by these important
people. Do I get paid? Is it worth it? He says it would be worth it. I said, “Fine,
hire me, you can’t lose.” If a person gets better, I get paid. If they don’t get
better, it’s all free. I’m been doing that for years. It hasn’t hurt me any.

I had no idea that you wrote a book called What Got You Here Won’t Get
You There in Sales.

That’s a new book. That book just came out. That’s brand new.

I couldn’t find it on Amazon but I found it on your site.

It just came out. It will be on Amazon. It’s not even on Amazon yet. It just
came out.

So it’s brand new?

Uhuh, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There in Sales. My friends Bill
Hawkins and Don Brown, they did most of the work in the book but they
adapted, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There to Sales. It just came out.

Can you share with us just kind of a brief overview of what to expect in

It’s like my book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Only, it’s not
applied to leaders. It takes the concept and it applies it to sales people and it
talks about teaching sales people classic challenges of what not to do in sales
and what to avoid in sales. It gives people some real clear simple techniques.

For example, how to apply Winning Too Much was a classic problem for leaders
also, a classic problem for sales people. And how this applies to sales and how
they can learn to — again, Peter Drucker inspired me to do this with a quote.
He said, we spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend
enough time teaching leaders what to stop. He said, half the leaders I meet 12
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don’t need to learn what to do, they need to learn what to stop. That led to
the book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. All this book does it takes
that same concept and applies it to sales.

When you look at sales people today, you know, you mentioned some
examples in the book about the difference between people who love what
they do and who aren’t. Sales people in general out there are in need —
everybody is looking for a silver bullet. I can imagine that this book is as
much of a silver bullet as more of a thinking process.

There is no silver bullet. In fact, I think one subtitle I have or one title I have
for a possible next book for me is just called Getting Better. The book is going
to start out by saying this isn’t a silver bullet. It’s not going to transform your
life. This book is just designed to help you get better at something. These are
very simple positive techniques, tools you can use to actually get better, not to
get perfect. None of us are going to get perfect anyway. I’m over getting
perfect. Let’s just get better.

I know that you’re only working with the best out there but when I take a
look at this and I see the emerging leaders out there even that you said are
out there. What message does your work have for the next generation of
leaders out there?

I think MOJO is really good for young people. In fact, I think that’s good for
high school kids or college graduates. In fact, I’ve already been asked to write
a book, MOJO for Teenagers because I think that’s very important for young

I think number one, my generation has nothing to be proud of in terms of what

we’re leaving to the world. What are we giving these young people today? One
word, debt. That’s our gift to young people, debt. Not a nice gift by the way,
right? We created it and you pay it back. Not a good gift at all. What I write in
the book, I mean, I think young people, it’s tough out there.

I’ll give you an example from my daughter Kelly. I’m proud of my daughter. She
graduated from Duke. She was on the TV show Survivor Africa. She finished her
PhD at Yale and now she’s a professor at Northwestern in marketing at the
Kellogg school. When she was at Yale, there were 22 students in her PhD
program. How many were born in the United States of America? Answer, one —
her. She’s the only one. They didn’t have to compete with these kids. They’re
all from India, China, Eastern Europe. 13
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By the way, they’re not there to get drunk and go to parties. These kids are
serious. While the average American teenager survey by Kaiser Permanente in a
study that was just published, are spending 7-1/2 hours a day on non-academic
media; Twitter, email, voicemail to friends, texting, videogames, movies, TV.
Seven and a half hours a day, this is a disaster.

These kids are going to get stepped on by some kid from India or China who is
not wasting 7-1/2 hours a day. They’re actually studying. It’s a tough world out
there. I think very important to accept what is, realize that in the old world if
you didn’t love what you did, it wasn’t that bad. In the new world, if you don’t
love what you do, you’re screwed. I mean, I love my job. I work all the time
but I don’t have to work. I don’t work because I have to, I work because I want

I find the people I work with who are successful, none of them are working
because they have to. They’re all rich. They’re working because they want to.
If you do what you like to do, it’s not an imposition or a hassle or a challenge,
it’s fun. My job is fun. What am I going to do? Play crappy golf with old people
at the country club, eating chicken sandwiches and talking about who I used to
be. That doesn’t sound like fun to me.

What’s keeping you inspired now? I know it’s the people that you’re around
but is there anything in particular that you wish to try to change over the
next couple of years?

The hardest problem I have is just more time for writing because for every
person I can speak to, there are hundreds of people reading what I’ve written.
I’m very extroverted. So I like people. It’s very hard for me not to schedule
time with people but just to schedule time by myself to think and to write and
reflect. It has nothing to do with money.

I’m always flying on the airplane. On American Airlines alone, I have over 10
million frequent flyer miles like that man in the movie. Sometimes some poor
man sits next to me. Occasionally he says, “What do you do for a living?” Eight
hours later I look over the poor guy, he’s ready to kill himself.

You know, great is the need for the student to learn, far greater is the need of
the teacher to teach. My biggest challenge in life was not doing what I do. My
biggest challenge in life was stopping. I need more time to think and reflect
and it’s hard for me because I’m naturally extroverted and my challenge is to
realize I don’t have to always be extroverted. That sometimes I’m better off 14
Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How To Marshall Goldsmith with Moe Abdou
Get It Back If You Lose It (Unplugged)

just being by myself thinking, writing, and reflecting. I don’t even know how
many people have read something I have written but I’m sure it’s over 10
million. I can’t talk to that many people. So the way I reach people is writing
and thinking and reflecting, not just speaking.

How does technology help you? I know that there are issues there but how
do you use it to leverage that message?

Technology is huge. For example, if you go to, that’s my website.

I’m on it all the time.

If you go to that website, how many times does somebody listen to or

downloaded something from that website - 4.92 million from 195 countries.
Well, that’s one way I use technology. I give everything away. Again, I’m a
Buddhist. All my material I give away for free. You can copy, share, download,
duplicate, use any of my material anyway you want to. That’s how I reach

My blogs, I don’t even know how many people read one of my blogs every
month but I’m guessing a hundred plus thousand. I mean, I know over 30,000
read the one on the Harvard Business Review. That doesn’t count Business
Week. That doesn’t count the ones that are — that’s all reprogrammed over to
Bloomberg. I don’t even know how many people read this stuff but it’s a bunch,

So for me technology is basically — the biggest way I reach people is through

technology. I mean, I’ve sold over a million books but that’s nothing compared
to the internet in terms of the number of people I’ve reached.

Have your CEO retreats changed at all or is it still use this facilitating
conversation amongst these guys or ladies?

That hasn’t changed at all.

You just see yourself as a facilitator. You don’t go in with a preconceived

agenda. It’s really their agenda.

No, that’s not my show. It’s their show. Just give them an opportunity to talk
to each other about what’s important in their lives and then they don’t have 15
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Get It Back If You Lose It (Unplugged)

anyone to talk to. By the way, that’s not a bad thing, that’s reality. They
shouldn’t have anyone to talk to because at that level, you just cannot disclose
personal issues. It’s not appropriate. There is billions of dollars sitting there on
the table. You can’t just disclose that stuff.

How often do you those?

I tried to do a dinner about every three months. One of these more formal
retreats, probably a couple of times a year. Those are all just by personal
invitation. 16

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