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Advice for Life and Leadership | Mark Goulston

Advice for Life and Leadership | Mark Goulston | 524

Focusing on the things that matter in life.

An interview with Mark Goulston about his life as a thought leader and coming to terms with death.

Death is a natural part of life, but our ideas and dreams can live beyond us – and be an inspiration for generations to come.

Today, our guest is a dear friend and mentor, Dr. Mark Goulston. During his long career, Mark moved from being a psychiatrist and FBI hostage negotiator to being one of the most highly regarded coaches and keynote speakers in the business. He helps companies and individuals gain deeper self-awareness and grow as leaders.

Now Mark is facing his most difficult challenge yet.

Having been diagnosed with a condition that leads to acute myeloid leukemia, Mark is learning not only to accept his diagnosis, but also, how to walk the road ahead with grace. Moreover, Mark is sharing that knowledge, and the lessons he’s learned through life experience, to help others.

Mark discusses how he can have a good death because he has lived a good life.  But what does a good life look like?  Mark shares how he is focusing on the things that really matter in life, the need to hire and connect with people that share compatible values, and how his life as a psychiatrist has translated to corporate leadership.

In this frank and open conversation Mark gives advice for life, death, and leadership. It’s a must-experience episode that celebrates life, and how our journey can help others – even generations after we have passed on.

If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.



Peter Winick And welcome, welcome, welcome. This is Peter Winick. I’m the founder and CEO at Thought Leadership Library and you’re joining us on LinkedIn Live, which is an extension of the podcast. So this this is going to be a different episode, to say the least. So today my guest is a dear, dear friend, Dr. Mark Goldston. Mark has taught me and many, many people that I know how to live and love, how to be in a relationship. And now, unfortunately, he’s kind of teaching us how to die, which is kind of a strange thing to say. But Mark is the author of I don’t even know how many books at this point. Six or eight. One is better than the other. And he is a psychiatrist. He’s a friend, he’s a mentor, and here he is. So, Mark, what’s going on?

Mark Goulston Well, I’m dying to tell you what’s going on. I’m dealing with mortality. Rumors of my demise, though, have been slightly exaggerated by me. So I’m not dying imminently. But I will be dying sooner than I plan. I have a condition that that leads to acute myeloid leukemia. And, you know, which is fairly significant. And the main treatment, the definitive treatment is a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, my children are all donors and I don’t have a reaction to that. So if we go down that route, that’s what we’ll do. But what I wanted to. Meet with you is because I’m the calmest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m the most serene. Part of what I’m doing also, Peter, is, you know, I know you have that kind of interesting sense of humor. One of the things I’m learning is I’ve always had trouble letting anyone care about me because I’m a caretaker therapist. Doctor, Father. And lately I’ve been letting people care about me. Mean, I feel they care about me like you do. I get emotional and the emotion is embarrassment. Because I don’t want to burden anyone. Appreciation and. Maybe something I’ve always wanted. I mean.

Mark Goulston I wrote a blog that’s going to come up on Chip Connelly’s Modern Elder Academy called Love and Caring near Copa. Meaning it may be that all the love and caring I’ve given the world is something that I want it.

Peter Winick Yeah, well, just stay there for a minute, though, because I. One of the things that I think about. From a thought leadership perspective is why do people pick the topics that they do? And it’s usually obviously something that interests them, but it’s a problem that they’re personally trying to wrestle with, solve, whatever the case may be. Right. So I think you might be on to something there. I can speak to from firsthand experience, as well as dozens of people I know personally the number of people you’ve touched on, the number of people that care about you. So. Mark Scott, I’ll give you a couple of mark stories. So the first time I met Mark was, I think, 25 ranks of almost 20 years ago, Sunset Tower Hotel in L.A., which is cool and funky and whatever, and Mark and I or neither. So there were the two guys that were not in the business sitting there with the script. And Mark proceeded to within 10 minutes, connect with me in a way that very, very, very few people in my life have and takes out one of his books or his workbooks and has me circling. Words that describe feelings. I don’t do feelings. It’s the F. It’s not my favorite F word. It’s not even my top five favorite F words, and just broke through to me in a really powerful way. And I’ve seen him do that dozens of dozens of times. And what I always found fascinating about Mark is if you read a transcript of what he says to people and you didn’t understand the way that he delivers it, you would think the next response from the other person would be a right hook. But it’s usually a hug. It’s always a hug. I don’t know if it’s ever been a right hook. So anyway, something I wanted to share with you. So you’re now you know, you’ve written so many books, you’ve done so many cool things with so many senior level folks all around the world, and you are calmer than I’ve ever seen you before. So to me the question is, okay, well, I’d like to be that calm, but I don’t want to get the news that you got right. So what can I. What’s the hack? Everybody wants to know the ‘How can I get some level of calmness before hearing something catastrophic?’

Mark Goulston Well, I had sort of an insight this morning, and it’s half-baked because I never thought about it. So one of the things that mortality is teaching me. Every day are things that I never thought about in a certain way, something that’s always made me feel like an outsider. As I’ve been curious my entire life. And it’s a curiosity, just pure curiosity. And I felt like an outsider because when I was younger. What are you wasting your time for, you know? What are you so curious about? Why don’t we all get drunk? And. And I admit to getting drunk a few times and doing pot at Berkeley in the sixties. You know, it’s not like I’m a total Pollyanna, but I’ve always been curious. And what I’ve been curious about, I realize, is what a good life is. What is a good life? And here’s the irony is I think it’s giving me peace and I get a little emotional. Yes, I think I’m having a good death. Because I realized I live that good life. I didn’t know how so.

Peter Winick How are you defining good life? Because you and I have worked together for years and been friends for. Two decades now. And on the one hand, you’ve always said, Oh, but I haven’t hit it as big as whoever else is the big thing du jour. And I said, But you’ve touched more people than you know. I mean, I don’t know how many zillions of copies the books have sold, but people that read your stuff to get your stuff, whether it’s the blogs or whatever and whatever format. It gets internalized in a way that most stuff doesn’t. You know, I spent my life working with people in business books. Most of it’s great stuff, but you take it and you do something with it, you move on. It’s not life alter. So how are you defining or thinking about the good life?

Mark Goulston Well, I have a friend named Bill Liao L.I.A.O. You can look him up, but also SOSV Ventures, and we kind of mentor each other. And we were talking recently about values. And one of the things you point out is he said you should always hire for values and there are certain values that are compatible. For instance, compassion, warmth, kindness. Those are all crossover, just as are a lie. But a near term results are all compatible with each other. But if you hire people who have those different sets of values, there’s going to be a real conflict. And one of the things that Bill and I share. Is my top four values, which I think I’ve lived. Top one is kindness. And to me, kindness is not the same thing as niceness to me. Nice. Is your a lightweight? Oh, he’s a nice guy. Kind means you have the power to hurt people. But you choose to never do it. Right. So kindness is really important to me. Curiosity is somewhat of a distant second because kindness is so important. The third thing is getting stuff done. Just get stuff done. And the final thing is take total personal responsibility for your actions, your responsibility. You know, no whining, no complaining, no blaming, no. What we’re seeing in politics. And so I think I’ve lived according to those. And that has set me up also in these little videos I’m putting out. I know I’ll do one. I also define another thing about a good death that I’ve defined, which is calm me down, which is enabling me to be calm is number one, I’m not great with intolerable pain and suffering. So for me, you know, I’d like the pain and suffering to be manageable. Second, I do not want to be a burden to anyone. Because I’ve watched people be a burden to other people. I’ve experienced some of that going on in the family I grew up in, and I think I internalized. Never do that. The third thing is I’m involved with about five or six projects, right? Unbeknownst to me, I’m the visionary. I’m the one who created the IP. This is what it looks like. We’re getting traction and I don’t want to leave people hanging. So my focus now is how this lives on without me. And then the fourth thing is, you know, I’ve listened more to people probably than I’ve been listened to. And when you listen to people for 50 years. You just learn things. And I want to share that like one of my lessons, which is very ironic. I used to do house calls to dying patients. And I remember seeing someone who is this iconic, beloved figure. Everybody loved him. And he liked that I could be direct with them. And I remember I visited him and I said, What’s the matter? You look like crap. And I don’t think it’s because you’re dying. I’ve been dying. You’ve been dying as long as I know you. What’s going on? And he looked at me and he said, I don’t think I’ve done anything important. I said, What? You’re a wacko. You got a hospital named after you. You got a beloved fans. You know, the public loves you. Yeah. Your private life could have been a little bit different. And he looked at me and he had this wonderfully engaging, wry smile. Now he was getting a little bit skin and bones. And he said, Don’t call it a con man, especially when he’s dying. I’ve got all the love that money can buy. And he said, But everything I thought was important. Isn’t. And everything. Everything I thought wasn’t important is. And I’ve run out of time to fix it.

Peter Winick Yeah. I want to go back to a couple of things that you touched on this not wanting to be a burden and then the caring thing. So not wanting to be a burden doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of people that are burdens every day when they’re healthy. It’s not a sick or dying thing, But is that burden thing connected to your being the caregiver and not being comfortable being on the receiving end of care?

Mark Goulston Oh yeah, totally. And here’s a little bit of my Peter Winick humor. Letting people care about you when you’ve never let people care about you usually stamps you as a non burden. They like caring about you. They are some people. When I start crying and I apologize, they say, Just stop it. Stop it. I say, Why? They say it’s an honor to care about you. And this is possibly the most emotionally intimate conversation I’ve had in months, maybe years. Yeah. You know, Yeah, I got a husband, I got a wife, but it’s not this intimate. And so they say it’s really a gift. So here’s my friend, Peter Huma. Now, if you’re a someone who’s always been a taker and a grabber. Who’s sucked all the caring out of other people. You’ve used up all your chips so this doesn’t apply to you. If you’ve lived your life being a burden to other people and having a heck of a time doing it.

Peter Winick Right? Well, I mean, there’s I mean, there are people that that’s just how they roll, right? They don’t they’re not even aware of it. But, you know, one of the it’s funny, when you were talking about your four pillars there, I was scribbling down before this call some of the things that that I reflect on when I think about you. And it was wise, kind and grounded. And the grounded is the last one because it’s more recent in terms of.

Mark Goulston Well, no, Peter, Peter, I’ve always been grounded. I’ve just beaten up on myself because I never focused on money.

Peter Winick Right.

Mark Goulston You know, I would see, you know, I have a pretty good track record. None of my patients died by suicide in 35 years. And if you paid me, that was fine. If you didn’t pay me, that was fine to. I mean, I tell you.

Peter Winick Because, you know, there are those out there that are all about the money. There are those that are all about the ego. And there are those all about sort of the. More evangelical in a non-religious sense. They want to get it out there. And it’s easier to measure money because it’s universal. How many dollars did you make to do the thing or money in the bank or whatever? The other things are harder to measure, but I would say if there was a standard scale for that, your stuff’s off the charts and those other buckets. Right. And. You’re not going to take the bucks with you.

Mark Goulston Yeah, absolutely. Here’s something that I realized, you know, so I don’t practice now. So please don’t reach out to me. I’m retired, I’m not licensed. I’m just trying to share what I knew. So one of my I guess one of my proudest things is that one of my focuses was suicide prevention, and none of my patients died by suicide. And people would say, Isn’t that really depressing? And I’d say, No. And let me give you my simple formula, which to me, you know, would help end suicide, but it’s not evidence based. Whenever I’d be with someone. I had two focuses. The first thing is they’re hurting so much. That death is compassionate. I mean, there are some people who are hurting so much and there’s no escape. That, you know, death is reasonable. And so my whole focus was how do you lessen that hurt? So that death isn’t the only solution. And then I have something called Michelangelo, a Michelangelo point of view, which is Michelangelo said, I saw the angel marble and I carved to set it free. So in suicidal patients, I saw the hope inside the hopelessness. And I just carved away the hopelessness until they could see and feel the hope and, you know, a little bit of hope, which is a future, a little less hurt. Voila. You know, you know, maybe I can make it through another day. And it’s interesting what my first episode of I’m Dying to Tell you is called Michelangelo Dying, because what I’ve done is I’ve identified what’s not important in life. And it’s stunning, at least in my life. Now, granted, I don’t have to earn a living. I’m 75. My wife said they’re going to be okay. But I’ve identified what’s not important in life and just scraped it away and what is truly important glow. I mean, it is a statue of David.

Peter Winick If you’re enjoying this episode of Leveraging Thought Leadership, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about our podcast, please leave a five-star review at and share it with your friends. We’re available on Apple Podcasts and on all major listening apps as well as that thought leadership leverage dot com forward slash podcast.

Peter Winick So how do you how might you have or how might others that are listening today identify those things earlier. Right because I would argue with you that wouldn’t have been cool if you figured that out. Ten years ago. 20 years ago.

Mark Goulston Well, one of my favorite books, which is a lesser known book by Susie Wells, she was the editor in chief of Harvard Business Review. Then she got into a relationship with Jack Welsh and yadda, yadda. One of her books was ten. Ten, ten? Yep. And she said, Before I make decisions and you can change the criteria. She said, I think of what would be the result of that decision. 10 minutes, ten months, ten years from now. Now you can change the parameters. So, for instance, when I was a divorced mother. I might have to tell my kid birthday parties off. Got to work. I mean, 10 minutes, I’d be looking at a tantrum.

Peter Winick Yeah.

Mark Goulston But in ten months, I’d be looking at a raise.

Peter Winick Right?

Mark Goulston And then she said, But the toughest one. Which was when she knew she had to get divorce from her first marriage. Is when you walk on a beach or take a nice hike in the woods and you think ten years from now. And that’s when she knew I can’t be doing this ten years from now. I can’t be in this marriage ten years from now. So I think that’s a nice way to try to look at your life. As a way, as a filter. There’s also a transformation.

Peter Winick I’m going to I’m going to share with you. So 15 years ago, when I got divorced, you had said something to me along the lines of, well, you know, all half of marriages end in divorce and half of the other half don’t even have don’t have the courage to go through it and wish they did, which was a depressing Goulstonism. That’s probably true. Right. So but that speaking to your point of, you know, the person that you’re with now, do you look forward ten years from now and say, Geez, oh my God, that would be a nightmare. What am I going to do and then not do anything about that, whatever that relation?

Mark Goulston So I’m going to share something with you because it’s going to come out in the next. Few days. So I write all over the place and I blog. I just. And so my latest article for Newsweek Expert Forum. So that’s a place where I put up content and this will be out in the next few days. It’s called the Seven Year Itch 2.0, and it’s an epidemic. And for your younger listeners, in the fifties, there was a play, there was a movie with Marilyn Monroe who her dress got all blown up, you know, the seven-year itch. And the idea is in seven years it was thought that a lot of romance goes away and I’m seeing an epidemic. So I’m just sharing this with you is a preview of that article. What often happens now is that working moms and dads before they have children, you know, you can live in an impatient world, yadda, yadda, yadda. I mean, you know, the younger generations speak faster than I can think. And it’s okay to be impatient, but then you get an infant. And that infant and you don’t have the nannies to dump them on. And that infant is exhausting. If you’re working and if you’re a working mother. What happens. And here’s where the seven-year itch begins. Is most people don’t bare their necks. Most working women who are exhausted won’t share with their husbands. I think I’m a terrible mother. We shouldn’t have had kids. I felt like I feel like yelling at the kid all day long. But they don’t bear their neck. What they do is they’re afraid to admit to themselves how angry they sometimes are. And they’re exhausted, so they displace it onto their husband. So the husband comes in and he feels like he can’t do anything right now. Add to the frustration in that working woman is she is developed, she is experienced, the feeling bonding with that infant who after a couple of months starts smiling when the infant’s feeding what’s a gone beyond what she could have imagined. It’s unbelievable. Husbands are distant. Even loving dads are a distant second. And what happens is it’s is it’s so huge that she can’t talk about how great it is to be a mother at work. Right. You know, she has to give high fives to the young people who just landed the seven-figure deal. And isn’t it great? And she doesn’t want to be a Debbie Downer because it looks like she’s not there ready for work. So she has to suppress her joy at work and being a mother, and then she has to suppress her anger at home. She displaces it all in her husband who feels like he can’t do anything right. The husband goes off on trips with associates, clients. And what happens is the husband runs into a woman who looks at him in the same way as his wife did when they first met. And he doesn’t have all this insight or introspection. Allie Noses Oh, I’m going out there and I can’t do anything wrong. And when I come home, I can’t do anything right. So in about seven years, you have a couple of kids, you know, maybe four and under, and the dads finally bonding to the kids, Daddy, daddy, daddy. And so the father feels secure in the connection with the kids, but he often looks at the marriage like you’re not happy. I’m not happy. You know, let’s not make a mess out of this for the sake of the children. Goodbye. And I think it’s epidemic.

Peter Winick Right?

Mark Goulston Right. So could you track with any of that, Peter?

Peter Winick Yeah. I mean, seven might not be the number, but I think that’s fairly, you know, we everybody’s busy, everybody’s depressing. It depends what stage in life you are, which stage.

Mark Goulston And so here’s the solution, here’s the solution. And if you’re dating a new Peter, there’s another principle I talk about, which is. Any time you’re reactive or you have a reactive mind, the chances of you making the situation worse are about 100%. But any time you can be proactive and this goes to leadership, too. The more you can be proactive, the better the chance you can actually prevent what’s going on. So if you’re in this kind of marriage or this could be with your executive team. And what you say is we’re scheduling once a month a dinner. And the focus of the dinner husband and wife or executive team. Is we need to bring up an out anything that gets in the way of our looking forward to seeing each other. Because once upon a time when we. When I hired you, we dated you. And I look forward to seeing each other. And now we don’t put a smile on each other’s face.

Peter Winick So stay there for a minute. So you just did a classic Marc thing, and I want to sort of point it out. So you’ve got all this experience as a therapist, obviously as a psychiatrist. On working on relationships that are in need of work, right? And some of your magic has happened and I’ve been part of it firsthand, is then you took a lot of that. You spent a lot of your career moving that over and saying, you know what, I’m not that into the, you know, the husband and wife dealing with their stuff. Again, I want to move this into the corporate arena. Right. Because a team as a team, as a team and most leadership teams. There’s levels of dysfunction that could be more functional. And when they are more functional, it’s optimizing the business, optimizing the people’s life. All that you’ve been able to take from traditional psychiatry and therapy and all that, and go right there and put that in front of folks that didn’t necessarily volunteer for it when their companies said, Hey, we’re going to bring in this crazy outside doc named Goulston to help us sort of optimize our team because at all it was always framed in our impact business language, never the F word again. Right? But you’ve done that better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Do it firsthand in senior teams at some of the biggest companies across the globe. So where did you get that spark to move it from one domain to the other?

Mark Goulston Well, I think one of the things that potentially dying has freed me is. I’ve always been able to see the elephant in the room. And sometimes you had to pull your punches because you had to pull your punches because you’re dealing with a fair amount of narcissism. And I’m not pulling my punches. And so here’s one of my non pull punch. If you’re a parent and you’re too busy and you bail out your child. From taking responsibility for his or her actions. Keep this in mind Every time you bail out your child and give them a trophy for finishing last there. At the same moment, there are 10 million. Children your child’s exact age and they are facing adversity, dealing with adversity, taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions. And one day one of those children are going to grow up. They’re going to be your child’s boss and they’re going to fire them.

Peter Winick Right.

Mark Goulston Just the way It’s just the way it is. And so I’m able to sort of speak that truth to people. I’m thinking of changing. You’ll get this. But everyone listening in wouldn’t get this. I’m thinking of changing my LinkedIn profile. I was going to be dying to help you, but to morbid. And I was going to call it, because people would say, say to me, you’re an empathic. Emphatic. Catalyst.

Peter Winick Right?

Mark Goulston Not a coach. So what’ll happen is if I can tune in to where you’re coming from. And part of my leverage is people will say, How did you know that about me? Well, look, don’t get paranoid. You know, it’s something I’ve developed. Is it true? It’s all true. How did you know that about me? Well, you know, I developed this over 50 years. And. But that gives me the leverage to be emphatic. There’s someone I’m coaching in a company that’s going to blow up into the billions. And. And I said. And he said, I’m terrible with conflict. And I said, Well, you know, if I’m an investor, you’re the visionary. You’re the IP person. You know, you can get a hitman, right? As long as you got that base covered. You’re good to go. I said, But here’s the caveat. If you bring in that hitman and you don’t delegate, you abdicate. That hit man has you over a barrel. Right. And you better be really careful when you bring in that CEO or whoever it is, because there are people who are sort of unscrupulous. And when you abdicate. Something like that. You’re vulnerable to. They’re taking advantage of you and squeezing you. And he said, No, no, no, no, no. I, I avoid conflict everywhere. It’s hurting my marriage. And. And I said and by the way, you know, a lot of founders with a lot of IP who aren’t good at conflict, they either get angry and make it worse. You know, we know the number of people like that. Who people or they avoid it. I said, by the way, if you learn to master it. The respect that people will have for you. Will surpass the admiration they have for your genius.

Peter Winick Right.

Mark Goulston So that’s a great opportunity. Yeah. People can admire. Oh, my God, You invent that, and that’s wonderful. But, boy, if you can be someone that people respect. Because you deal with what you’re supposed to deal with. You hire slowly and fire quickly. You’re going to have it all. So I love working. I love working with this guy, and he’s already seeing the results and people want to throw more money at him and yada, yada, yada.

Peter Winick Great stuff. All right. Well, as we start to wrap, I just want to share with you a couple little things. One is, you know, you touched on this theme of, you know, everything you thought as you were quoting someone else. You know, what’s important isn’t. And I think when you think about what’s important, it’s spending more time with the people in your lives like you. If you’re lucky enough to have so. That’s one of my big takeaways.

Mark Goulston Okay. And here’s what I want to and you’re hearing this live and you can reject this. You can reject this. I don’t think you will. So when I’ve run into people who care about me and I start to cry and then I apologize and I’m embarrassed. And sometimes, you know, you know that, you know, they’re transactional. They have an agenda.

Peter Winick Sure.

Mark Goulston But when I apparently give them the gift of caring about me. These are very busy people. It’s tough to schedule anything with them. And I think you would fit this. What they say to me is Mark 24 seven.

Peter Winick Yep.

Mark Goulston You can call me 24 seven.

Peter Winick If I think you’ve got a long list of folks that you can call.

Mark Goulston Pretty special. You’re. You’re. You’re pretty special.

Peter Winick So are you, my friend. I love you, my friend. Thank you, everybody. Thank you, Mark.

Mark Goulston Thank you.

Peter Winick To learn more about Thought Leadership Leverage, please visit our Web site at To reach me directly, feel free to email me at Peter at and please subscribe to leveraging thought leadership on iTunes or your favorite podcast app to get your weekly episode automatically.


Peter Winick has deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. He is the CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Peter on Twitter!

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