Brendan Walsh assesses the management thinker’s influential bestseller in which he explores the bad habits that stop successful leaders making the next big leap forward
Business Week has called Marshall Goldsmith “one of the world’s most influential practitioners in the history of leadership development”; The Economist gave him the accolade of “one of the most credible thought leaders in the new era of business” and he’s earned similar credentials from Forbes and the Wall Street Journal.
Goldsmith is the author or editor of 31 books, including the award-winning What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, which has been translated into 28 languages and is a bestseller in eight countries.
He was inspired to write the book by Peter Drucker, following a 10-year stint at the Peter Foundation. It is in quoting Drucker that he summarises the book’s main purpose: “We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop.”
Goldsmith identified a series of bad habits that prevent successful people achieving even bigger things, based on his years of experience as a successful coach.
He observed that success can result in a person’s “inner compass of correct behaviour” going “out of whack” – which, left undetected, produces an inability to lead effectively and work well with colleagues. A gulf develops between how they perceive themselves, and how others see them.
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is a manual to help high achievers eliminate bad behaviours that are limiting their potential. He identifies a list of 20 potentially destructive bad habits which a leader consciously or inadvertently imposes on their colleagues, preventing a business from running smoothly and effectively.
While it is extremely rare that people possess all or many of these bad habits, Goldsmith argues that even one or two can be harmful to a leader’s ability to succeed.
Marshall Goldsmith on flawed behaviour
The 20 practices he identifies range from making unhelpful comments and speaking when angry, to playing favourites or failing to express gratitude. Are you guilty of claiming credit that isn’t deserved? Or, do you add “too much value” by expressing your views in every discussion?
Almost every reader will be able to identify these habits in someone they work with, and most likely will recognise some in themselves too.
These traits are irritants, and in eliminating them leaders will go a long way in building their success and enlisting employees and co-workers as allies, says Goldsmith.
His 21st-century bad habit, goal obsession, is given an entire chapter because, as a “creator of flaws”, it underpins many of the other inclinations. Goal obsession is “the force at play when we get so wrapped up in achieving our goal that we do it at the expense of a larger mission”.
He claims that negative traits rise from two factors – information and emotion. We are all too compelled to share the former and too likely to act on the latter. Instead we should think about what is appropriate and conduct ourselves accordingly.
In addition to understanding how we can change for the better – by getting feedback, apologising, listening and thanking people – Goldsmith offers eight rules that will help leaders change. These range from picking the right thing to change to simply doing it now.
As people progress from achiever or doer to leader, their habits must change, he advises.
They must transition from “being right to helping [them] be right, from getting credit to giving
Change on this level will require leaders to swallow their pride; it will mean admitting they are doing something wrong, or behaving in a way that isn’t instinctive.
Goldsmith’s book makes that journey a little easier. Many people will find it difficult to accept that they have bad habits and may be reluctant to put the effort in to change for the better, but for those who do, the next few rungs of the ladder will undoubtedly be easier to climb.
Brendan Walsh is executive vice president and head of global corporate payments, international at American Express
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Sales What Got You Here Won’t Get You There featured in the New York Times Bestseller List in the year of publication. It won the Harold Longman Award for Business Book of the Year
Plaudits Goldsmith has been recognised as one of the top 10 most influential management thinkers in the world – and the highest- rated executive coach – at the 2011 and 2013 Thinkers50 conferences in London
Did you know? He describes himself as a “philosophical and psychological Buddhist”