GolWhat 08-07-93 

What Got You Here Won't Get You There

How Successful People Become Even More Successful


Marshall Goldsmith

Hyperion, 2007, 236 pp., ISBN  978-1-4013-0130-9



Many people achieve a high level of success in spite of serious behavior issues.  Goldsmith, America's premier executive coach, says bad habits may prevent you from being successful at the next level.  Interpersonal behavior is the difference-maker between the great and the near-great.  Here's what to look for and how to fix it.  Successful people find it hard to change, and Goldsmith's methods for getting them to admit their mistakes and make changes is the added value.


Sometimes a person's "inner compass of correct behavior has gone out of whack--and they become clueless about their position among their coworkers."  "They have no idea how their behavior is coming across to the people who matter--their bosses, colleagues, subordinates, customers, and clients." (7)  "Over time these 'minor' workplace foibles begin to chip away at the goodwill we've all accumulated in life…."  (7-8)


The cure is pointing out the bad habit, showing the havoc it causes, and demonstrating how a slight behavioral tweak can make a big difference. (9) 


Here is Goldsmith's brutal regimen for executives:

·        Get feedback from colleagues at all levels.

·        Confront them with how they are observed, their weakness.

·        Help them apologize.

·        Help them advertise their efforts to improve.

·        Help them follow up religiously. (13)


When people are successful they become deluded about their liabilities.  (17)  They also tend to become over confident.  "If you're born on third base, you shouldn't think you hit a triple." (21)  They tend to over commit, which hinders them from devoting the time and energy they need to change. (23)  And they begin to believe they are successful because of (instead of in spite of) their idiosyncratic behavior. (26)  The most effective way to get people to change is to appeal to their self-interest.  (81)


Section Two: The Twenty Habits That Hold You Back from the Top

Start your list of things to stop doing.  (37)  For example, stop being a jerk. (38) 


Here are several from the top twenty list: (40)

1.      Stop competing when it doesn't matter.  You annoy people.

2.      Stop adding something to what everyone says. 

3.      Stop making destructive comments.

4.      Stop responding with "No," "But," or "However," which tells everyone they are wrong.  Just say thanks.

5.      Stop showing off how smart you are.

6.      Stop explaining why someone else's ideas won't work.

7.      Stop making excuses for our bad behavior.

8.      Stop avoiding responsibility for your actions; admit you are wrong and apologize.


The higher you go, the more likely that your problems are behavioral. (42)  People who have a personal frailty may not recognize it, may not have been told about it, or may be aware of it but refuse to change.  Even those who recognize and admit a problem are unlikely to take corrective action.  (44)


"Emotional volatility is not the most reliable leadership tool." (62) 


"If we aren't careful, we can wind up treating people at work like dogs: Rewarding those who heap unthinking, unconditional admiration upon us." (82) 


"As a Buddhist I believe that we reap what we sow." (84)


"Apologizing is one of the most powerful and resonant gestures in the human arsenal--almost as powerful as a declaration of love."  "If love means, 'I care about you and I'm happy about it,' then an apology means, 'I hurt you and I'm sorry about it.'" (85) 


Not listening is one of the most common complaints.  It sends out a multitude of negative messages. (86) 


Section Three: How We Can Change for the Better

"Information and emotion.  We either share them or withhold them."  "…we have to consider if what we're sharing is appropriate.  Appropriate information is anything that unequivocally helps the other person."  (108)  When sharing information or emotion, ask:  Is it appropriate?  How much should I convey? (109)


Chapter 6.  Feedback

"Successful people only have two problems dealing with negative feedback: …(a) they don't want to hear it from us and (b) we don't want to give it to them." (111)


"Stop asking for feedback and then expressing your opinion." (117)  "Treat every piece of advice as a gift or a compliment and simply say, 'Thank you.'" (118)


"…interpersonal behavior… is vague, subjective, unquantifiable, and open to wildly variant interpretations.  But that doesn't make it less important."  "…interpersonal behavior is the difference-maker between being great and near-great, between getting the gold and settling for the bronze."  (120)


"Basically, feedback comes to us in three forms: Solicited, unsolicited, and observation.  Each of them works well, but not for everyone." (120)


"In soliciting feedback for yourself, the only question that works--the only one!--must be phrased like this: 'How can I do better?'" (122)


Two big lessons:

"1.  It is a whole lot easier to see our problems in others than it is to see them in ourselves.

2.  Even though we may be able to deny our problems to ourselves, they may be very obvious to the people who are observing us." (125)


"If we can stop, listen, and think about what others are seeing in us, we have a great opportunity." (125)


Picking up subtle signs from others in your presence is observational feedback.  It is unsolicited and less than explicit but important.  Some of the best feedback can come this way. (127)  "Every day, people are giving us feedback, of a sort, with their eye contact, their body language, their response time."  (128) 


"If you can see your world in a new way, perhaps you can see yourself anew as well." Here are some ways to get feedback by observing. 

·        Make a list of people's casual remarks about you. 

·        Pretend you can't hear anything and just watch people's body language.  Watch how people respond to you physically. 

·        Listen to your self-aggrandizing remarks.  Sometimes the things people boast about are really their weakness!  "We should be on high alert when we hear ourselves make self-deprecating remarks--because they might be giving us feedback about ourselves." 

·        Consider how you behave at home.  "Your flaws at work don't vanish when you walk through the front door at home."  "When you check out how your behavior is working at home, you realize not only what you need to change but why it matters so much."  (128-135)


"I calculate that you have to get 100% better in order to get 10% credit for it from your coworkers."  However, the odds improve considerably if you tell people that you are trying to change and you repeat the message week after week. (142)


Every successful project goes through seven phases:

1.      Assessing the situation

2.      Isolating the problem

3.      Formulating

4.      Get your superiors to approve

5.      Get your peers to agree

6.      Get your direct reports to accept

7.      Implementation

However, it is too easy to jump from 3 to 7.  (144)


"To learn from people, you have to listen to them with respect." (148)  "It's not enough to keep our ears open; we have to demonstrate that we are totally engaged." (149) 


·        "Listen.

·        Don't interrupt.

·        Don't finish the other persons' sentences.

·        Don't say, 'I knew that.'

·        Don't even agree…  Just say, 'Thank you.'

·        Don't use the words 'no,' 'but,' and 'however.'

·        Don't be distracted.  Don't let your eyes or attention wander elsewhere while the other person is talking.

·        Maintain your end of the dialogue by asking intelligent questions that (a) show you're paying attention, (b) move the conversation forward, and (c) require the other person to talk (while you listen).

·        Eliminate any striving to impress the other person with how smart or funny you are.  Your only aim is to let the other person feel that he or she is accomplishing that." (155-56)


"The more you subsume your desire to shine, the more you will shine in the other person's eyes." (156)


"Who are the people most responsible for your success?  Write down the first 25 names that come to mind.  Ask yourself, 'Have I ever told them how grateful I am for their help?'  If you're like the rest of us, you probably have fallen short in this area.  Before you do anything else…write each of these people a thank you note." (159)


"New York City's Mayor Ed Koch was famous for touring the five boroughs of New York and asking everyone he met, 'How'm I doing?'" (161)


Follow up is the key to change.  "Studies show that leaders who ask for input on a regular basis are seen as increasing in effectiveness." (165)  And the follow-up must include another person besides me. (168) 


Here are the improvement process steps:

·          You identify the interpersonal habit that's holding you back.

·          You apologize for whatever errant behavior has annoyed the people who matter to you at work or at home.  You say, 'I'm sorry.  I'll try to do better.'

·          You continue to advertise your intention to change your ways.

·          You master the essential skills of listening and thanking so you can listen to people's answers to your questions without judging, interrupting, disputing, or denying them.  You keep your mouth shut except to say "Thank you.'


Here are four steps to move forward: (171-72)

1.      "Pick the one behavior you plan to change.

2.      Describe the objective in a one-on-one dialogue with someone.

3.      Ask that person for two suggestions for the future to help you. 

4.      Listen attentively to the suggestions.  Take notes if you like.  Say, "Thank you."  Then repeat the process with someone else.


"Successful people have a glaring tendency to overcommit." (185)  Therefore, work on only one bad habit.  Pick the right thing.


"Everything is measurable if we're clever enough to see that it needs measuring--and can devise a way to track it."  "All you have to do is look at the calendar--and count." (195)


Summary: Commit to changing.  Apologize to all the people who gave you feedback.  Tell them you're trying to change.  Follow up with them regularly to find out how you're doing in their eyes. (179)




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