People First! with Dr. Mark Goulston


By Morag Barrett

Dr. Mark Goulston coaches entrepreneurs, chairs, and CEOs to become the best version of themselves. He is an international keynote speaker, has been a UCLA professor of Psychiatry for 25 years, and is a former FBI hostage negotiation trainer. His experiences were forged in the crucible of real-life and high-stakes situations. He is the author and co-author of nine books and his latest book is titled, Just Listen.

Back to the Basics

Mark wanted to learn to trust his gut feeling in a world that told him it was wrong. His family was not a particularly happy home and when Mark would visit his friend’s homes as a child, he felt happier than when he was at home. But when he brought this up with his family they said they were part of a happy home. There was anger, fear, and tension hidden away in his family and Mark could feel it. He now understands that underneath the anger is always hurt and fear but you don’t know that when people express anger or lash out. The only thing you are aware of is anger. In good people, when you see them becoming angry they have been hurt in some way and live in fear of being hurt again. Mark began the process of learning about people and how they respond to pain from an early age. 

Coping or Healing?

While coping skills are extremely important and beneficial, Mark points out that they can often get in the way of healing. If a person is coping, they are mitigating the pain and not allowing themselves to fully heal and move on. When someone is hurt deeply, they can cope in one of two ways: anger or fear. Of these two, anger is often preferable because it leads to action while fear leads to panic and immobilization. Mark has spoken about trauma response for years. In fact, Mark has tried to rename PTSD for decades! He calls it RTA - retraumatization avoidance. People who have been traumatized engage in behavior that allows them to avoid the trauma recurring. Veterans engage in behaviors that allow them to escape and avoid the feelings and scenarios that could lead to or remind them of trauma. 

Courage and Perseverance

Mark believes in and promotes what he likes to call Michelangelo Leadership, following the ideas that Michelangelo created when he said that his sculpting was simply freeing the angel from the marble. As a leader, your job is to free your team members to be the best employees that they can be. The people you are leading want to respect, admire, and follow their leaders. To fulfill this desire and to place yourself in a good position, leaders need to take charge without being controlling. A leader should give off a confident, calming first impression and continue to maintain this, and allow people to feel comfortable. 

Successful Leaders

One of the common observable behaviors of a successful leader is to show your team that you are unflappable while also present. You are not a robot and you are calm but approachable. A leader should also be knowledgeable, wise, and able to set priorities. The best leaders combine this with a sense of humor while taking the world seriously. They are inspiring simply by the fact that they are present in a crisis. 

Cultivating Leadership

When Mark engages in leadership coaching, he asks, “Where are some opportunities in the next week where you can demonstrate some of the characteristics of a great leader?” Then during a follow up meeting, he asks them to grade themself, they discuss, and they rinse and repeat. This model is an absolutely amazing, action-focused approach to cultivating leadership skills. Mark says that 90% of people are ready for change but only 10% are ready to change. The way you show your readiness to change is that you are ready to commit to a process and that even when the novelty rubs off you are engaged in the process, however uncomfortable it might be. 

What Next?

Mark says that people don’t do what is important, they do what they care about. If they do not care about something enough they won't commit to it, so sustained action is the key. To combat this, a strong leader should always be in the moment and be conscious as to what they should be communicating to the team around them. Also, an important thing is to focus on what they can do today and tomorrow and not run too far into the future. So, while being present and engaged, find that one thing – the 1% change. Then, trust your abilities to navigate the situation as things unfold.


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