The Power of a Checklist


The basic challenge faced by managers is not understanding the practice of leadership – it is practicing their understanding of leadership. ~ Marshall Goldsmith

Marshall Goldsmith’s proven leadership growth process centers on consciously choosing new behaviors and committing to adopt new behaviors on a daily basis. To ensure that we measure our progress he stresses on frequent follow-up meetings with stakeholders. I attended his 2-day program at ISB Hyderabad last week on Executive Coaching. It was fascinating to see him take the same analogy and apply it for our personal behavioral changes.

Marshall narrated his personal example to illustrate the point. He has a checklist with a few questions listed on it. Three of his questions are below (I may not be using the exact words he uses).

  • Did I do some physical exercise today?
  • Did I say or do something nice to my wife today?
  • Did I say or do something nice to my son and daughter today?

He goes through this checklist every day before signing off the day. What inspired me was the fact that he has been reviewing his checklist daily for several years (may be decades). Now, he has hired a lady to call him every day and ask the questions on this list and hear out his answers J Wow! Now this needs courage, humility and discipline! Hats off to you Marshall!!!


After we heard this, the entire class was silent for a while and we started making our checklist questions. Marshall said with a saintly smile, most of you will stop this process within 2 weeks – not because this checklist doesn’t work; because this will work.

He also recommended us to reach the book “The Checklist Manifesto” authored by Atul Gawande to know more about this topic of checklist and how this simple and yet profound idea can change our behaviors for better.

Inspired by his personal story, I wrote the following questions on my checklist to consciously do or stop certain behaviors.

  • Did I interrupt anyone while they were speaking ?
  • Did I mindlessly eat junk or unhealthy food?
  • Did I engage myself in some physical exercise?
  • Did I procrastinate on any important matter?
  • Did I make destructive or negative comments about others?

Marshall was right, I reviewed this checklist for 5 days and forgot to review the checklist after that J Within those 5 days I really felt great when I consciously focused on these behaviors. I was a better human being, a caring father & son and a loving husband 🙂 I wrote this article to reaffirm my commitment to review this checklist daily!!! This reminds me of Marshall’s quote – we don’t become better by knowing, we become better by doing