What Got You Here Won't Get You There (2007), Marshall Goldsmith - Book Summary

Social and people skills are important as you climb the ladder of fame. What Got You Here Won't Get You There (2007) will explain some of the bad habits that hinder success and help you change those habits.

This book is for:

  • Managers who want to be more successful;
  • Those who want to gain credibility and improve relationships with colleagues;
  • Leaders who pride themselves on character defects.

About the author:

Marshall Goldsmith is a leadership trainer with over 30 years of experience researching and analyzing collective behavior. Having worked with over 100 top leaders, Marshall was rated one of the ten best leadership trainers by the Wall Street Journal.

What is this book for me? The secret to becoming a better leader, colleague, and person.

Think of the typical tie and suit director. Now try to imagine his personality. Most people would choose adjectives like slow, competitive, busy, and a little self-obsessed. Actually, they're not too bad.

Extremely successful people are just as full of bad habits as anyone. However, a lot of them take pride in those vices. They claim that they have partly helped them become successful.

That's when Marshall Goldsmith's experiences come in handy. He has worked with many successful people, and he believes that it is these bad habits that are hindering their success. This summary will discuss the unhealthy habits of successful people, and how to get rid of them immediately.

In the summary, you will understand:

  • How Time Warner's Gerald Levin damaged his reputation;
  • Why your flaws are not virtues worth preserving;
  • How to say "thank you" more.

The more successful we are, the more superstitious we often become

Although luck is not always on your side, you will always have a tendency to "have a holy spirit and a healthy diet". Don't worry, you're not alone. Most of us have a bit of "superstitious" blood in us, mistaking a few harmful habits for our success.

Just because we get results after we behave a certain way, we automatically think we should continue the behavior. We believe that it is only because of it that we are successful, when it is very possible that things are not like that at all.

The author has directly observed this way of thinking. At the time he was working with an extremely talented director, but with one great flaw, he was completely unskilled at listening. Just because his ability was excellent, his subordinates had to accept his personality and thought it was useless to have opinions.

Meanwhile, because the director believes that his "lack of listening" is the key to success, helps him eliminate bad ideas and preserve his creativity.

It's really hard to get rid of this mindset error, because successful people get very defensive when criticized. Imagine how the director would behave if someone told him to “learn to listen”? Especially when he still believes his habit of refusing to listen is his special weapon.

However, in the future, that weapon will turn into a double-edged sword and harm him. That is why it is so dangerous to attribute bad habits to success.

Think about it, even if he moves up the ladder of fame, how long will his colleagues endure his indifference to their input?

There is a truth that needs to be acknowledged at work, which is that to get a job, you must avoid making mistakes.

Let's say you've just concluded a very lucrative contract, and in a few minutes you will be praised by your boss for your work.

But what if during the negotiation process, you suddenly realize that this transaction may not bring any benefits to the company, and decide to refuse to sign the contract? Do you expect your boss to still praise you when you hear this? Probably not.

We are used to receiving praise for achievement, but strangely the same does not happen when you avert the danger. In other words, people won't praise you for avoiding mistakes.

That's because in today's competitive and professional working environment, we're constantly under pressure to be successful, and most of us believe that to succeed requires breakthrough.

But in everyday life we ​​don't behave like that. If you can quit smoking, of course you will give yourself a little encouragement for that achievement!

And we should do the same for work, because stopping a bad deal can have greater long-term benefits than signing a lucrative short-term deal.

Take, for example, Gerald Levin, the former Chairman of Time Warner Media Corporation. In the 1990s, his reputation was enviable when he founded HBO and turned Time Warner into a media giant. But soon he made the fatal mistake of having the company merged with AOL, which nearly ruined Time Warner. If only Levin had calmed down and given up on that mission, he could have preserved his fortune.

So what is the lesson to be learned here? That is, companies should encourage employees to stay away from harmful behaviors. If the work culture is to change, the change must start at the top.

Bad habits still exist because we have a strong belief that "Jiangshan is easy to change, nature is hard to move".

In the previous sections, we learned that even successful people are thwarted by their bad habits. And one of the reasons why they can't give up those bad habits is because they believe they're part of their personality. Whether it's our strengths (like loyalty) or our weaknesses (the habit of interrupting others), we tend to assume those traits are unchangeable. So we often console ourselves, saying, “What else can I do when I was born like this!”

This is even more true in successful people, they often believe that "very talented" is "many defects". But they are “disabilities,” not some precious quality! And the truth is, those bad habits separate us from others and hold us back in the long run.

For example, this story about a CEO, employees never received a positive response from him. Not because he thought they deserved praise; he just said that he was not a hypocrite and did not want to flatter unduly. But after working with the author, the CEO eventually realized that that habit won't help employees achieve maximum work efficiency. So he gave up his bigotry and started motivating his employees more. And immediately, he saw very positive results.

Another reason successful people get stuck in their habits is that they don't realize how easily their behavior can be misunderstood.

For example, there is a finance professional who has won the opportunity to work with a large business. During the preliminary interview, he excitedly advertises himself and his past achievements. But he didn't realize that while he was talking about himself, he had completely forgotten about the customer and did not ask a single question regarding their needs. So he ended up losing the precious job opportunity of his life.

The desire to win creates the motivation to succeed, but don't let it overwhelm your reason

Too many successful people can't tell the difference between an overwhelming desire to win. That desire is indeed an effective motivator, but when overused, it can also easily hinder success.

In fact, we are all aggressive, but it is important not to let it overwhelm us. This is not just a professional matter, but also a personal one.

It's like you and your lover looking for a place to eat. The two of you argue fiercely between the two options, but in the end you will still choose the restaurant that the other likes. Unfortunately, the food there is not very good. How will you handle it? Complaining all night and implicitly implying that this would never have happened if you were the one choosing the restaurant? Or will you shut up and try to get through that dinner?

When the author brought this story to ask his customers, 75% of them answered that they would turn to criticize the restaurant.

That's because successful people are always aggressive even when it's not necessary. So controlling that instinct, not letting it overwhelm your reason is very important.

For example, you come home after a long day. Then your spouse also just got home and started complaining about their day. You immediately feel the urge to interrupt the other person and prove that your workday is much more tiring. Have you seen how ugly aggression is? Even on the “suffering” aspect, you want to outdo your loved one!

But you can completely change everything. From now on, every time you feel like winning and proving yourself, think about whether that wish is reasonable or not, is it worth your effort? If restraining it yields better results, then why not refrain?

Learn to listen to others without editing their ideas

In the previous excerpt, we saw that successful people always want to surpass others, and that desire also makes them want to "correct" the opinions of outsiders. But that habit won't help because in the long run, helping everyone move forward is more important than you going alone.

This is something every leader should keep in mind. You think you are operating a model of democracy. But in essence, your employees will still feel hierarchical and treat your suggestions as imperatives. This will make it difficult for them to disagree with your opinion and discourage them.

That's what happened when the design team of a famous food company presented their packaging ideas to their CEO. When the new owner only made one suggestion, which was to change the packaging to blue to create a luxurious feeling, the design team immediately obeyed and remade a new model. The CEO was quite pleased, but started questioning the employees, “Would red be better?”, leaving them feeling rather confused and dismayed.

To avoid this situation, try rethinking the way you communicate with your employees. If you find yourself saying “Great idea” but with “but” and “however” in the back, think again.

Obsessed with achievement can cause you to distort important values ​​and cloud your ability to judge

As you can see, successful people have a lot of annoying habits. But behind most of these habits is usually a reason: an obsession with achievement . This happens when you focus so much on a certain outcome that you forget the big picture.

Of course, goal focus is a useful virtue, it gives us the motivation to overcome all barriers to success. But when that focus spirals out of control, it becomes an obsession that distorts your ability to distinguish right from wrong.

The author has worked with a typical "go-to" marketing executive: creative, energetic, and consistently achieving excellent results. However, when reporting the results to the leader, she took all the credit for herself without mentioning the employees' efforts. In other words, her obsession with achievement has turned her into a "global" person. This brought her a lot of notoriety, and it wasn't long before she lost many talented and hard-working employees.

That's how the obsession with achievement distorts your true goals and obscures your perception and evaluation.

The Good Samaritan is another good example of achievement obsession. A group of theology students was assigned to give a lecture on the subject of the Blessed, but the experimenter told them that they were running late and had to hurry because there were so many people waiting. On the way, they encountered a ragged man lying in the hallway coughing (in fact, this person was an actor pretending to be). 90% of the students ignored him because they were in a hurry to get to the lecture.

After all, the religious students who arrived on time to give a lecture, 90% of them ignored an unfortunate person. Clearly they were focusing on the wrong goal – the sermon, instead of practicing what they were going to preach to the people.  

Accepting positive criticism will help you change the habits that hold you back from success

In theory, everyone values ​​feedback. But in reality, successful people are not very good at taking criticism.

That's because these individuals are too delusional about their own achievements. For example, the author once asked three business partners what percentage of the company's profits they think they contribute to the firm's profits. As a result, the answers of the three people combined exceeded 150%! In other words, they all think they've brought in half of the company's profits.

When you have to work with people who think they're the elite on the team, it's not uncommon for them to succumb to criticism.

However, negative feedback is a valuable learning opportunity. And even if people don't always tell you where you're wrong, we can tell through body gestures, eye contact, and response times. It is important that you pay close attention to those precious moments.

Every time someone makes a random comment about you or your behavior, for example, "Oh, that's pretty smart," or "You're late," or "Are you listening?", write it down. At the end of the day, review the list of those comments and rate them as positive or negative, and do so again the next day. After a while, you will see a clear trajectory.

A friend of the author did this for a week, and the comment that came up the most was “I know, it sucks, keep talking!”. He realizes that saying the same thing over and over again makes people quite uncomfortable.

And when you really try to improve your bad habits, you will also listen to your "conceited" thoughts.

People often brag about their strengths to cover up their weaknesses. For example, imagine a person who brags about his punctuality all the time when you know he's always half an hour late. Would you do the same? Be careful.

The power of saying sorry and expressing gratitude

Although most parents teach their children proper manners, most successful people think the act of saying "sorry" or "thank you" is submission. That is simply completely wrong. We should have said such words more often.

It sounds simple, but an apology is actually quite powerful. Straightforward apologies can help put an end to an ugly incident and move you forward.

However, this healing process can only happen after you learn to accept failure. So once you think you're ready to apologize, do it! You don't have to make things so complicated for yourself – the fallacy will only make your message appear sloppy.

Richard Clarke, Former US National Security Coordinator, used this method when he was sworn in at the 9/11 Mission. He told all American families, “The government has let you down, the people entrusted with defending your country have let you down, and I have let you down.”

Many people just saw Clarke's speech as empty words, that he had no authority to apologize. But by taking responsibility and admitting his fault, he has helped many people overcome tragedy and move on in life.

Like an apology, expressing gratitude has the same effect. Saying thank you is an effective way to release a tense conversation. After all, you can't keep arguing with someone who just thanked you, right!

The author first realized this when he was on a flight and the plane suddenly crashed very hard. In the midst of life and death, a short life suddenly flashed through his mind, and he realized that there were too many people who had not received a kind thank you from him.

I don't think that's strange at all. In fact, it's the first thing a child regrets when a parent dies – we often forget to tell our loved ones how much we appreciate them while we have the chance.

That's why we should say thank you as much as possible every time we feel someone has really helped us. But make sure you say them honestly!

If you want a change, give yourself time and ask the people around you for constant feedback

If you want to get rid of your bad habits forever, you'll definitely need someone else to comment on your change. Continually getting feedback is the best way to realize that change.

Make a plan to get feedback from your co-workers monthly (for 12-18 months) and ask if your behavior is improving.

This question will get them to acknowledge your change efforts. And so, month after month, your co-workers will gradually accept that you are changing. You don't have to tell them, but they will confirm that you are changing.

It was Ed Koch, Mayor of New York City in the 1970s, who successfully applied this tactic. Koch is famous for visiting five towns and asking everyone he meets the question “How do you see me doing?”, so often that it has become his slogan. And that method worked brilliantly: voters became accustomed to the image of Mr. Koch always striving to be a good mayor. Even if someone criticized him for something, he would immediately improve it so he wouldn't have to listen to that complaint again.

All in all, it takes a whole process to become a good leader. That means no one can change overnight as they say in training courses or inspirational lectures.

This may surprise those who have attended leadership development programs. Often these programs make you think that, if you understand the problem, you will definitely change. However, it is always easier said than done. Everyone knows that smoking is injurious to health, but not everyone can quit.

But time consuming does not mean impossible. It's important that you really practice new habits, update your progress, and stick to your goals.

Final summary

The main message of this book is this: Most leaders often fail to realize that their behavior has a very different impact on their partners and employees. But they'll be able to climb even higher up the career ladder if they're aware of the impact of those behaviors. Listening to and receiving feedback is the key to successful change.

Useful tips:  

If you want to find ways to improve yourself, have colleagues at all levels of your company do a survey.

The best way is to do a 360-degree feedback and distribute it to your colleagues, managers, and employees. To ensure confidentiality, ask someone else to conduct the interviews, asking respondents for candid feedback based on the following 4 criteria:

  • Let go of the past
  • Tell the truth
  • Have a spirit of support and help, not just criticism
  • Find out where they can help you improve.
  • That way, the feedback will be focused on improving, not on judging others.