Who among us hasn’t encountered an irrational person? Whether at home or in the workplace, encounters with these people leave us feeling drained, defeated, and anxious. What we do know is that reasoning and logic don’t work. In his #1 Non-Fiction Bestseller, Talking to Crazy, Mark Goulston, M.D. teaches us all a revolutionary new way to deal with the irrational people in our lives by leaning into crazy.
Mark Goulston, M.D. may be best known as a “people hacker.” He is a business advisor, consultant, speaker, trainer, and coach to CEOs and Founders. Mark’s rich and diverse background and experience includes FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, UCLA professor of psychiatry, and Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He contributes to the Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Fast Company, Huffington Post, and Psychology Today. Mark is a frequent media guest on all the major networks and cable television. He hosted a PBS special, “Just Listen with Dr. Mark Goulston,” authored and co-authored seven books and set the Citrix webinar attendee record with 9,200 participants. Mark is also the co-founder of Heartfelt Leadership and Resident Big Brother at Business Women Rising. He serves on the Board of Advisors of American Women Veterans and Dr. Oz’s foundation, Health Corps.
I loved Mark’s book so much that I asked him to sit down with me to share with all of us some insights and strategies that will help us best “lean” into the crazy so that we can learn how to change the dynamic and transform ourselves from a threat into an ally. I feel very privileged to have had this conversation with Mark and to be able to share it with you as part of our Leadership Compound Conversations Series. I hope you enjoy reading Part Two of our two-part conversation.
Susan Gilell-Stuy: When we know that a person we are interacting with is behaving irrationally and also know that it isn’t time to run or to avoid the encounter altogether, what comes next? And what’s that one thing that we’re most inclined to do that we really should avoid doing in that situation?
Mark Goulston: This is the process that you can use. Identify those crazy-making people—make a list of them—and next, never expect them not to act that way when they want to get out of something when they want to push you into doing something that’s really unfair and unreasonable regarding other people. Identify who they are and never be blindsided by the conversation, because sometimes what happens is you’re dealing with one of those people—you’re kind of like Bambi wandering through the woods—and you give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and what happens with these people is you forget to realize that they’ll say something in the conversation that knocks you off balance just like Bambi hearing the hunters’ rifles, and what it does is it triggers your amygdala to hijack you, and pushes you into wanting to rip their throat out, which goes against your core identity, and then once they do that you’re off balance, and then they can go for your jugular.
So the first thing is to identify who they are and never expect them not to do it. If they don’t do it, it’s gravy, but don’t expect that to happen. Therefore, hold a little bit of yourself back, so you’re not caught off balance. But that doesn’t mean being aloof. Expect them to do that. And then what happens is when the conversation happens, and they move in that provoking direction, what you say to yourself—and this is what the people I coach say to themselves, “Dang, it happens every time. This is just like the trains being on time. They do it every time!” But don’t smile in front of the other person because then they’ll know that you’re onto them. And remember that at that moment when they do it, they’re going to expect you to be provoked.
I’ll give you some of the steps that you can take. Let them finish whatever they’re saying to knock you off balance. First, say to yourself, “Okay, there they go.” And if you’re with them, look into their eyes. Not in an angry way, but in a very calm and intent and unwavering way, in which your look basically says, “I’m onto you,” or, “You just did this again, didn’t you?” That’s what you’re saying with your eyes.
They may not notice it because they think they’re going along, trying to provoke you, and then it didn’t happen. After they say whatever they say, pause for two to four seconds and keep looking into their eyes. What’s going to happen is they’re going to become anxious, and they’re going to become anxious because their plan to provoke you didn’t work. In all likelihood, when you’re doing that, and you’re still looking into their eyes—and maybe it’s one to three seconds since you have to pick the right time for you—they’re going to say, “What?” in an offended accusatory tone. And they’re going to bark at you because they’re nervous. They’re nervous because they’re afraid that you’re onto them.
At that point, there are a variety of things that you can say. One of those is, “Would you repeat what you just said in the last few minutes because my mind wandered?” And they’re going to go, “What?” And you repeat, “My mind wandered, and I started thinking about something else.” That’s going to discombobulate them.
Or you can say, “Could you run that by me again in a different voice because the way you said it to me before just triggered me, and when I get triggered, I get reactive, and then I don’t think very clearly, so can you take it from the top again in a calmer voice so that I can think about what you said?”
Probably the shortest version is you look at them, and you tilt your head, and you go, “Huh?”
But if, in your mind’s eye, you can picture that, and then you watch them, they may get agitated and may even say, “That’s stupid! Why weren’t you listening?” And then you say, “I was trying to listen, but then I got distracted.” Or, “I was trying to listen, but your tone of voice reminded me of someone else’s tone of voice, and I started thinking about them, and I forgot what you were saying, so can you run it by me again?” And so those are for people who tend to try to bully you.
Here’s another tip for people who are either bullies, venters, or complainers. This technique is called the FUDN technique. F-U-D-N. What FUDN stands for is frustrated, upset, and disappointed; now what? And the way that works is when they’re complaining, or whining, or venting—but not bullying you—again, you let them finish whatever they’re saying, what they’re complaining about. You look into their eyes, you pause, and then the first thing you say to them is, “You sound frustrated; what’s that about?” The reason you start with frustrated is that almost everybody will own up to being frustrated. If you were to say to them instead, “You sound angry,” then they’re likely to become defensive, and it will escalate.
Most people will talk about what they’re frustrated about. And something you can learn in both my books Just Listen and Talking To Crazy is using something I call “conversation deepeners,” and a conversation deepener is getting people to say more about what they’re feeling underneath.
So when they tell you what they’re frustrated about, there are four things you want to notice that reveal emotion you want to have them go deeper about. First, there’s hyperbole. For instance, if they use “awful” or “horrendous,” that’s hyperbole. Next is inflection. That’s when they raise their voice and say loudly, “We’ve got to do something about that!” Both hyperbole and inflection reveal emotion.
For people who really like this training and want to go further, I tell them to notice adverbs and adjectives because an adverb is a way to embellish a verb, and an adjective is a way to embellish a noun. Those also have emotional juice on them. So if you notice those four things—hyperbole, inflection, adverbs, and adjectives—as they speak, they finish and imagine they’re talking about being frustrated. If they say the word “awful” or ”horrendous,” you pause again and say, “Say more about the ‘horrendous’ thing.” What you’re doing is that instead of shushing them, you’re helping them even get more off their chest but without having it upset you. You’re not becoming upset because you’re in charge of the conversation and because you’re learning a way to be present with these crazy-making people.
After they talk about that, say, “If I were you,” and you say it that way. You don’t want to talk about anger. “If I were you, I’d feel upset. I wouldn’t just feel frustrated; I’d feel upset. What’s that about?” That’s different than saying, “You sound upset,” because that’s like, “You sound angry,” and they’re going to get defensive. You say, “If I were you, I’d feel not just frustrated but upset. What’s that about?” Then let them talk about that. Then use the conversation deepeners to get more out of them.
The real game changer is what you say next, which is: “If I were you, I wouldn’t just feel frustrated or upset; I’d feel disappointed. And I don’t know if I’d feel disappointed in the company, in me, in yourself, but I’d really feel disappointed. So what are you disappointed about?” There’s something about the word “disappointed” that’s very calming and is very powerful.
That’s why it’s difficult to say to your child, “I’m not angry at you; I love you. I’m just disappointed.” When you enable irrational people to express their disappointment, you’re actually going to see them calm down. Then what you do is when they finish, and after you’ve again used conversation deepeners to have them go deeper, you say, “This is really important, so I want to be sure that I got exactly what you said.” When you use the word ”important,” that further calms people down, you’re not telling them they’re right— you’re just saying what they said was important because it was important to them. It doesn’t have to be important to you.
Then say, “So let me see if I got this right. What you said you were frustrated about is (repeat what they said). What you said you were upset about is (repeat what they said). What you said you were disappointed about is (repeat what they said). That correct?” Causing them to have to listen to you repeat to them what they said—because it was “important”—further calms them down.
Hopefully, they will say, “Yes,” or correct what you said, and having that kind of dialogue further calms them down.
Then say, “Well, given that all of that or some of that might be true, now what?” They’re going to go, “What?” Say, “Yes, given that a lot of that is possibly true, and I can understand how you feel all those things, now what?”
Can you feel and see, Susan, in your mind’s eye, that you’re actually taking charge of a conversation with someone who drives you crazy?
You’re actually calming down their amygdala and your own, and you’re letting them vent into you without getting defensive, you’re re-framing it, and you’re letting it all come out.
It’s almost like if you think of the amygdala as boiling water, and when an amygdala hijack happens is like turning up the boiling water too high, and it just goes all over the stove. What you’ve done with the FUDN technique is you’ve lowered the heat under the boiling amygdala, at which point it doesn’t need to hijack anyone anywhere, and you can now have a rational conversation.
Now I know this seems so artificial, and the reason that sounds too complicated if you’re reading this is that you’ve had your amygdala hijacked so many times you’d rather go to plan A, which is to rip their throat out, which would feel great but it probably wouldn’t be that effective.
SGS: Sometimes crazy gets the best of us; how do we recalibrate, learn, and prepare for the next time?
MG: There are a number of things you can do. One thing is one of my favorites, but people who want to really get even with the people don’t like it. What I would say is to identify those people ahead of time, so they don’t blindside you, and then when they do their crazy-making behavior, what you say to yourself—and what I say to the people I coach is, “Use my words talking to you, if you can’t use your own… think of me as a benevolent big brother or whatever and say to yourself ‘opportunity for poise.’”
Poise is rare in this world. And when we see people showing poise—and by poise, I don’t mean being shut off like Mitt Romney was in the last presidential election—I mean being poised and present. That was the problem with Mitt Romney. I think he was a pretty decent guy, but people experienced him as a shut-off. Poised is being present. But if you say to yourself, “opportunity for poise”—and if you know that every time these difficult people act up, you’re going to get another opportunity to build that muscle—then it becomes something to be motivated to do. You take a conversation you want to avoid and turn it into an exercise, and you can use all the different approaches you can learn from my book and other people’s books.
Now people get angry at me because most people bark in their mind’s eye at me, “I don’t want an opportunity for poise. I do want to rip their throat out. I don’t want to think reasonably. I don’t want to think rationally.” What’s happened is your amygdala just hijacked you, and you just left the barn. You better lasso yourself and bring yourself back in there. Using the “opportunity for poise” internal script, I think, is a really neat thing to be able to develop because if you do it, and you handle the situation with poise, you’re going to leave a situation feeling classy, and I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. You’re going to leave and say, “I can’t believe I handled that situation in such a classy way,” and you’re going to feel better about yourself. And if other people see you handling it with poise, they’re going to say, “Wow, that person’s classy.” Then you start to be looked at as a potential leader because there’s a hunger to have leaders who are classy in the way they act, especially during confrontations.
Another technique that I use that’s near and dear to my heart is I think of my mentors. All my mentors have died, and I think how they made a difference in me not only because they believed in and respected me but all my mentors enjoyed me. What I realized is that while respecting me was great, when I would see them, I’d put a huge smile on their face just for who I was. Just feeling enjoyed like that healed something in me, and it didn’t just make me a better leader or coach—it made me a better person. It made me more giving, generous and even loving.
Now, what I say to mentors and bosses is, “You have a grand opportunity to heal the people in your company because many people in your company did not come from the happiest of homes. They came from negative homes in which not only did they not feel enjoyed, but nobody enjoyed anyone.” It’s amazing when I feel my mentors’ enjoyment of me. I immediately feel blessed that they were in my life, I immediately feel appreciative of them, and the reason that works for me is whatever chunk this crazy-making person is taking out of me immediately gets filled.
I can picture any of the mentors smiling and saying something to me. One of my earliest mentors was the Dean of Students at my medical school, and he died too young of lung cancer. In my mind’s eye, he has an Irish Catholic Boston accent, and he’ll say in a thick Bostonian accent, “M-a-h-k. M-a-r-k, get a hold of it. M-a-h-k, be poised. Come on; it’s not a big deal.”
As I’m repeating it to you, you’re laughing, and in turn, I’m laughing, but I just got a buzz right now from loving and missing and being grateful to him. I don’t even know what I was ticked off about now. So to me, I think that’s one of the best ways to center one’s self because it’s very human and interactive. It’s making the most of the people who cared or still care about you. That’s my favorite approach. So those are a couple of techniques, and there are more in the book if you like those kinds of ways to deal with the crazymakers.
SGS: Great. We’ve talked about situations where someone we know is behaving irrationally, and yet there are times when someone’s irrational behavior could be a sign of a more significant issue. How do we distinguish between the two? And in those cases, what should we do?
MG: You don’t have to be a psychologist or psychotherapist to pause and say to yourself, “Are they crazy-making, or are they mentally ill?” I think what happens is if you can calm yourself down and know a way to deal with crazy-making behavior, you’re able to think more rationally. And so part of what you can do is part of the way psychiatrists assess mentally ill people: they kind of pause and say, “I wonder how they’re functioning in different parts of their life or different parts of their life within their company?” Are they withdrawing from other people? Are they on the defensive? Is there increased absenteeism? Is there something where they could be really depressed? Hopefully, it will change with the millennials because they appear to be more forthcoming than prior generations, but sadly what’s happening in older generations is something in their private life has happened that they just haven’t shared. You’ll find out that their grandpa or grandma died, or their parent died. They don’t talk about that at work because people don’t talk about that stuff.
Here is another tip for calming yourself down from one of the people I speak about in Talking To Crazy, whose name is Bob Pratt. He is president of Volunteers of America, Los Angeles. There was something about him. I told him, “I’ve never seen a person who is so positive and not a Pollyanna. How do you do that?” What he said is, “I assume innocence. If someone cuts me off in traffic, I assume someone cuts them off at the office. I just assume innocence.”
That’s something I aspire to be able to do because I think it’s a great way to go into the world. My view of the world is that there are really not that many evil people. When you identify evil people, stop them, keep them from hurting others, avoid them, and cut your losses. But everybody else is just flawed. I’m flawed. You’re flawed. Assume innocence and cut them some slack.
SGS: I’d like to shift the focus and discuss your experience writing the book. Was there something that you learned that you didn’t expect to learn about yourself? If so, what was it, and how has it affected you since?
MG: I think the insight—which I wasn’t aware of while I was writing the book, but now it’s one of the key things that I talk about—is the power of leaning into people to calm them down and getting them to listen to reason. And part of why that works— and I’ll go back to a little bit of neuroscience—is when people are stressed, their cortisol is high. High cortisol and stress correlate with each other. And when people feel close to another person, cortisol goes down, and oxytocin goes up. Oxytocin is the hormone related to bondedness. It’s what causes mothers to be able to bond with screaming children. If mothers didn’t have oxytocin and that child was having a tantrum, they’d throw them out of the car.
What I realized is that a number of people that are acting crazy do so because their cortisol is high, nobody is bonding with them, and they’re taking it out on the world. So when you can connect with them by leaning into them, it immediately gives them a burst of bonding oxytocin and lowers their cortisol. I think in the first chapter, or an early chapter, there’s an anecdote, which is a favorite anecdote of many readers, from when I was moonlighting in a psychiatric state hospital.
When I did that, I’d be on call for 48 hours, and I’d be taking turns with another psychiatrist, 12 hours on, 12 off. Basically, this would be the weekend: I’d go in, I’d get calls to order medications for someone who was acting up and tearing apart the day room and put them in restraints, something like that. I remember when I was called to write an order for security to come in and restrain this large man and get him a shot of an antipsychotic tranquilizer. I remember when I entered the room; all the nurses were in the nurses’ station. The day room, which is where patients spend their day outside their rooms, was all torn apart. Chairs everywhere. There was this big hulk of a man standing with his back to me. If you saw the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, he was very reminiscent of the American Indian character who was central to that movie. So he’s just standing there.
He wasn’t throwing things around actively when I got there. I think he’d done what he needed to do. I walked into the unit, and the nurses said, “Where are you going?” Because I didn’t go into the nurses’ station. I said, “I’m going to go talk to him.” They said to me, “You’re crazy.” I smiled at them, and I said, “Why don’t you make two orders for restraining orders [laughter]? One for him, one for me. I said, ‘I’m going to see what’s going on.’” This was an example of leaning into people and going into their world. One of the things that happen in state hospitals in the day room is that nearly all patients smoke cigarettes. They’re even smoking parts of cigarettes. That’s what they did. You’d often see cigarettes and ashtrays on the floor with burn marks on the linoleum. And the favorite cigarette back then was Camel because there was no filter on it. You just went directly into the tobacco and got a straight hit from the nicotine.
I got about ten feet from him, and his back was to me; we’ll call him John. I called out, “Hey, John,” and I said it in an inviting vs. confrontational tone. I said, “Hey, John.” And he said, “What?” He turns around and looks at me. And I said, “Do you think they have any Camels in the cigarette machine outside?” He said, “What?” I said, “Do you think they have any Camels in the cigarette machine outside?” And he says, “Yeah, I guess so.” And I said, “Do you think they have any matches?” He looked at me, and he laughed. He said, “What are you crazy? This is a mental hospital. They’re not going to have matches!”
And I said, “Well, you’re probably right.” By the way, I noticed it looked like he had calmed down already, even though they were still sending security over. I said, “Well, I’m going to go get a pack of Camels and bring you a few and leave the rest for you in the nurses’ station. That will be yours, and you can have some of those later. And by the way, some people from security are going to come around and assess this situation, and they may have to put you down with restraints. John, you’ve been here long enough. You know the routine. Are you okay?” What happened is I leaned into his world, a world where he had had his tantrum—it’s kind of like after you have sex, you want a cigarette [laughter]. He’d had his “sex” in the day room in the form of a tantrum, and he wanted a cigarette. So I ordered that for him, and I was immediately his friend.
He even said to me, “Jeez, I kind of went crazy. I kind of went bonkers.” I said, “John, look, I’ll get you the Camels. They’ll come. They may not even have to put you in restraints, but cut yourself some slack; you’re in a mental hospital. Going crazy happens, so don’t be too hard on yourself. They can rearrange the furniture; it’ll be okay.” And that worked out. I think that was an example of the power of leaning into someone.
By the way, when we talked about FUDN, that was also a perfect example without using the specific steps overtly. Taking someone who’s agitated and you go through all the levels of their agitation: frustrated, upset, disappointed, and then now what? And you can see it’s a way of leaning into where they’re coming from. When you lean in, and you’re there helping them talk it through, their oxytocin goes up, and they feel bonded to you as opposed to alienated. They don’t feel judged by you—they feel cared about by you, which is all the stuff they feel is missing in the world. Then they bond with you, and they’re more agreeable.
SGS: As we draw near the end of our time together, there are two things that I want to talk about. The first is, what mix of skills and abilities do you think makes up your unique success compound, or what I would call your leadership compound? And then secondly, I’d like to give you a chance to share with everyone what you’re doing now and what they should be on the lookout for from you in the future.
MG: I’ll share a very personal story, and this will actually explain nearly everything I’ve said and answer a question that might be on your mind, namely, “How did you learn this?”
One of my greatest personal accomplishments in life, other than my great family and kids, is that I dropped out of medical school twice before finishing. I don’t know anyone who dropped out of medical school twice and finished. I didn’t drop out to see the world. I dropped out because I hit a wall where I was highlighting all the books I was reading, and I was retaining nothing. I probably had untreated depression.
I took an initial leave of absence and worked in blue-collar jobs, which I loved. My mind came back to a blue-collar level. I went back to medical school after my first leave of absence, and my mind came back for a few months, and then I lost it once more and where I was just highlighting books again and not retaining anything. So I asked for a second leave of absence, and I was passing everything so they couldn’t kick me out.
Then I got a call from the Dean of Students with a deep Irish Catholic Bostonian accent, Dean McNary. I was of the mindset—not an unusual mindset—where you’re only worth what you can do in the world, and if you can’t do anything, you’re worthless. You may not even deserve to be in the world.
I was at a point where I really couldn’t do anything, so I wasn’t worth anything, maybe not even being in the world. Hopefully, you get my mindset. So I get this call from Dean McNary, and he says in his Bostonian accent, “M-a-h-k, come in heah, I got a letter heah from the dean of the school, you gotta read this thing.”
So I go in there, and the letter is from the dean of the medical school who is focused on finances and every time someone takes a leave of absence, the school loses matching funds. By asking for another leave of absence, I was becoming a real financial liability.
And the letter said, “I’ve met with Mr. Goulston and suggested an alternate career. Perhaps the cello.” I have no idea where “cello” came from. “And so I’m advising the promotions committee that he be asked to withdraw.” Again, they couldn’t kick me out because I was passing my classes.
I think a miracle actually happened, and I mean that in the literal sense because what happened is I think I said to Dean McNary, “What does that mean?” He said, “You’re being kicked out, M-a-h-k.” And so I’m there, and I didn’t become sarcastic where I could’ve said, “They can’t do that to me. I’m passing; they can’t kick me out!” I was too far gone. It was my good fortune that I also didn’t go into some “woe is me,” pathetic kind of sobbing thing either.
Instead, when he said that, I just became quiet, and about 20 seconds passed, and I felt my cheeks getting wet. I kept touching them. I was crying. I wasn’t sobbing; I was crying. It was like I was bleeding. I remember touching my cheeks and looking at my hands. Hopefully, you get a sense of my mindset. You’re only worth what you do, and I couldn’t do anything. So at that point, I didn’t feel worth anything.
Then imagine hearing this, Susan. Dean McNary says, “M-a-h-k, you didn’t screw up because you’re passing. I don’t know how you’re passing. But you are screwed up. But if you get unscrewed up, I think this school will one day be glad that they gave you a second chance. And even if you don’t get unscrewed up, M-a-h-k. Even if you don’t become a doctor. Even if you don’t do another thing in your life.” Which is about what I thought I was capable of.
He said, “I’d be proud to know you because you have goodness in you, and you have no idea how much the world needs that goodness. And you’re not going to know it until you’re 35. But you have to make it to 35.” I’m crying because he’s pummeling me with kindness, and I’m just standing there. He’s just there with me. He’s listening to me, and he leaning into me, and I can’t even look at him. Then he says, “M-a-h-k, look at me.” And with difficulty, because I was so vulnerable and exposed, I looked at him, and he pointed his finger and me, and he said, “You deserve to be on this planet. Do you understand me? And you’re going to let me help you.” Then he set up an appeal.
Basically, what happened in the appeal is people could see—I don’t know if they saw my goodness, I didn’t see it—but they saw something. So they gave me another leave of absence. I then actually went to work in Kansas.
I grew up in Boston and went to undergraduate school at Berkeley, but I went to a place called the Menninger Foundation, a psychiatric center in Topeka, Kansas. It’s now in Texas. I remember going there, and I thought, “Well, I don’t know much about psychiatry. I’m going to find myself or they’ll lock me up. So either way, I’m in a good location here.”
What happened is that I found a way to connect with schizophrenic farm boys. I’m from suburban Boston, and I don’t know how I was able to do that. I remember going to other psychiatrists there, and I said, “Is this legitimate? Is this a legitimate profession?” And they said, “What?” I said, “Just talking to people, trying to find out where they’re coming from and going on walks with them in the snow here in the middle of winter.” And they said, “Yes, it’s legitimate. It’s different from the other medical professions, but it’s legitimate. And you have a knack for it, Mark.” And so I held onto that as kind of my true north and went back to medical school and was able to finish it and go into psychiatry and to become a suicide expert.
That takes me to today, and what I hope people will find out about me is that I’m on a mission to end violence in the world, and my first focus is adolescent and teenage violence. I interviewed Sue Klebold. She’s the mother of Dylan Klebold, who was one of the shooters at Columbine. She had a book that came out called A Mother’s Reckoning, and I interviewed her for The Huffington Post in three parts, but you get it in one full chunk in Psychology Today. It’s heart-wrenching and touching. And so I am now pulling together people to further this mission.
There’s a movie that’s being distributed through high schools, but I think it needs to be distributed through theaters. I’m doing my best to get it out there. If it does, I believe it will win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It’s called Listen. You can see the trailer, the official trailer, Listen. The filmmaker, Erahm Christopher, went around the world for nine years and listened to over a million teenagers—and just listened to them in a program called Teen Truth. He asked them, “What are you so frustrated about? What are you so angry about?” It’s a magnificent and absolutely riveting movie.
What I’m trying to do is pull together those elements. And I’m also co-authoring a book with a 47-year-old man called Inside The Mind of a School Shooter, who 29 years ago had 1000 rounds of ammunition and guns in his rural Minnesota high school, where he was also going to kill many people, including students, teachers and the principal after being bullied for years. Then five days before he was to do it, he had a religious experience, changed his mind and safely removed the guns and ammo. He went on to graduate from a police academy and work at a prison and is now in construction, but he never told his story to anyone but his wife. He wants to tell it now because of the increase in adolescent violence and shootings and because he believes sharing his story might lessen the violence. I agree with him completely. In fact, I think he’s an angel from God who has come to earth to help with ending adolescent rage and violence. And so I’m putting all these pieces together because it’s something else I think others will want to join in to help.
Something that I’ve discovered about life is I think there are three phases. The first phase of life—and maybe this is your professional life—is doing what you should do. You can’t be a rebel without a cause when you’re in your 20s or 30s. If you’re a genius, maybe you can get away with it. If you’re not a genius, doing what you should do is about not being stubborn and rebellious and contrary. That doesn’t mean you must be obedient and let yourself be walked over, but you’re building credibility. You actually accomplish things and can work with a team.
Then, by about age 35 to 55, it’s doing what you could do. That’s your work-life balance and spiritual balance. That’s when you look to fulfill your potential. And what’s the best use of my potential?
I’m in the last stage of life. And that’s when you’re above 60. That is what you are meant and born to do. Why am I on this earth? What is my purpose?
Maybe you can hear some emotion in my voice as I say that because that is where I am. What was I born to do? Why the heck am I here?
And so, I have two focuses. My purpose is to help, find, develop, and support the leaders that the world needs because my late mentor Warren Bennis shared with me the Schindler moment towards the end of his life where he felt leaders were worse than ever and that perhaps he hadn’t done enough. And he invented the field of leadership studies. That really bothered me because I loved him, and he’s right.
It’s helping develop—I don’t know how it’s going to happen—something about leadership. I have a site called Heartfelt Leadership. If you go there and look at the “Be Inspired” videos, these are examples of the leaders we need.
My other passion and mission are stopping violence. Partially it’s because as I’ve gotten to know the author of Inside The Mind of a School Shooter, I can feel the pain under his anger. It’s really amazing how he got through this.
I can’t wait to introduce him to Sue Klebold because every question she never got to ask her son, who was one of the shooters at Columbine, this co-author of mine will be able to answer. So she’ll finally get some answers. So stay tuned.
By the way, if this speaks to people, what I really need is people who can implement this stuff, or partner, or whatever, because I’m more of an initiator and creator, but I need help after that. I know that was long-winded, and I apologize for that. You gave me the green light, and I took it.
SGS: I so appreciate our conversation today. I’m looking forward to traveling that journey with you, and if I can help in any way, Mark, I’d be more than happy to do so.
MG: Well, let’s stay in touch because things are picking up speed in a positive way, and people are hearing it, and what I’m looking for is for people to say, “Let’s do this together.” And I say, “As long as you’re happy to be the doer in any of these projects, let’s do it.”
If you’d like to purchase Mark Goulston’s book, please click here.
In case you missed it, read Part One of my interview with Mark here and be sure to keep your eye out for the next Leadership Compound Conversation!