“We gather information (selectively), interpret it (prejudicially), and recall it (unreliably).”

–  Marshall Goldsmith

In his book, Triggers, executive coach Marshall Goldsmith had thousands of leaders worldwide grade their performance. The results are shocking, 70% of leaders believe they are in the top 10% of their peer group.  And almost every leader (98.5%) believes they are in the top 50% of their peer group. This is a poignant example of how prone we all are to self-deception. Why do we all have such difficulty seeing ourselves accurately and are you prone to this same problem?

Goldsmith’s research clearly demonstrates that most people have an inaccurate perception of their personal performance. In a world where most leaders claim to embrace self-examination, how can so many be deceived? As Goldsmith says, “Our inner beliefs trigger failure before it happens. They sabotage lasting change by canceling its possibility.”  Mental models (or triggers) either neutralize us or set us free to create. They are installed in us and possess great power, whether we acknowledge them or not.

What triggers are getting the best of you? 

High performers are oftentimes the most influential people in the room, suffering from a false sense of power and a belief that tricks them into thinking they can control the behaviors of others. They are mistaken.

If Goldsmith is right, our biggest struggle is implementing change, not just recognizing the need for it.  Our triggers often catapult us back into limiting behavioral patterns. Frequently, they are not based in fact, but they are real nonetheless, dramatically influencing our subconscious, beliefs, and actions. When we are tired and let our guard down, we are even more responsive to triggers. Fatigue and energy depletion also create weaknesses in judgment and expose our vulnerabilities as leaders. For example, at the end of a long week of work most of us hit a wall where we have a higher susceptibility and vulnerability to bad decisions and unconscious triggers.

We all need trusted coaches, advisors, and consiglieres who have the courage to shine light on parts of our personalities that often get the best of us.  We must embrace trusted friends that care about us enough to tell us the truth.  After decades of coaching, observing, and counseling leaders I am more convinced than ever that most people never hear the truth about how they impact others.  Their view of themselves is a mirage and their own self-analysis is distorted.

Regardless of how our habits trigger our regression, Goldsmith shares one principle that is always effective in preventing it: “Any effort to contain our normal impulses in the face of other people’s obstinacy can be high depletion. Creating structure is how we overcome depletion.  When we have structure, we don’t have to make as many choices; we just follow the plan.”

Structure gives us freedom, and we become less reliant on emotionally draining self-discipline. Structure drives results. Think about asking these structured questions each week:

  • What is hindering or stunting our team’s growth and internal alignment?
  • What competitive threats, new risks, or customer trends should we focus on?
  • What truly creates value for the customer and what is getting in the way of the team having fun?

We all tend to favor information that confirms our opinions, true or not.  Do not always trust your gut; build some structure to interrupt toxic biases.

What trigger is getting the best of you?


“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).”
― Mark Twain