What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith

What Got You Here Won't Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith

“All other things being equal, your people skills (or lack of them) become more pronounced the higher up you go. In fact, even when all other things are not equal, your people skills often make the difference in how high you go.”

Marshall Goldsmith is one of the most prominent executive coaches in corporate America. His book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is an interesting reflection on the most typical pitfalls that he has observed while working with hundreds of actual or soon-to-be CEOs.

Is Your Behavior Your Flaw?

Goldsmith reveals that the problems faced by corporate leadership seldom result from flaws of skill, intelligence or personality; they are usually an offshoot of an individual’s behavior. The limitations that these individuals face in sustaining their success or taking it to the next level, have a direct correlation with very basic behavioral flaws.

Almost everyone I meet is successful because of doing a lot of things right, and almost everyone I meet is successful in spite of some behavior that defies common sense.

Goldsmith identifies 20 pernicious habits that are present in the behavior of those top executives, in some way or the other. According to him, none of them is “a life threatening disease”, “although ignored for too long they can destroy a career”.

These include things like “the need to win at all costs in all situations”, “the overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion”, “the needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty”, “speaking when angry” (or “using emotional volatility as a management tool”), “the inability to praise and reward” and “failure to express gratitude”, to cite a few.

The Solutions Are Behavioral Too

Goldsmith provides a set of very simple solutions that he argues are powerful enough to eliminate the problems. These are: Feedback, Apologizing, Advertising, Listening, Thanking and Following up.

He cites “Feedback” as the most powerful tool for executives to identify areas for improvement in their professional relationships. He emphasizes upon the need for ”360-degree feedback”, i.e. feedback solicited from all levels of an organization.

When I work with a coaching client, I always get confidential feedback from many of my client’s coworkers at the beginning of the process. (…) I involve my client in determining who should be interviewed. Each interview lasts about an hour and focuses on the basics: What is my client doing right, what does my client need to change, and how my (already successful) client can get even better!

He regards “Apologizing” as “a magic move” and a central action towards fixing behavioral problems.

(…) I regard apologizing as the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make. It is the centerpiece of my work with executives who want to get better –because without the apology there is no recognition that mistakes have been made, there is no announcement to the world of the intention to change, and most important there is no emotional contract between you and the people you care about.

Then comes “telling the world”, or “Advertising”. What does it mean to advertise in this context?

AFTER YOU APOLOGIZE, you must advertise. It’s not enough to tell everyone that you want to get better; you have to declare exactly in what area you plan to change. In other words, now that you’ve said you’re sorry, what are you going to do about it?

(…) It’s a lot harder to change people’s perception of your behavior than it is to change your behavior.

And some classics, which are equally, if not more, important even if they are not new: “Listening” and “Thanking”.

(…) 80 percent of our success in learning from other people is based upon how well we listen. (…) The thing about listening that escapes most people is that they think of it as a passive activity. (…) Not true. Good listeners regards what they do as a highly active process – with every muscle engaged, especially the brain.

Thanking works because it expresses one of our most basic emotions: gratitude. Gratitude is not an abstraction. It’s a genuine emotion, which cannot be expected or exacted. You either feel it or you don’t.

Finally, “Following Up”. This step is imperative in order to ensure that change actually happens.

Once you master the subtle arts of apologizing, advertising, listening, and thanking, you must follow up-relentlessly.

Follow up shows that you care about getting better. Following up with your coworkers show that you value their opinions. Following up consistently, each month or so, shows that you are taking the process seriously, that you are not ignoring your coworkers’ input.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is a must-read for all those executives who are looking for self-improvement and growth (both personal and professional). It is also a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in leadership development.

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