Book Review: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshal Goldsmith

I first got the book from San Jose Library, browsed through it and found it less than interesting. Then I listened to the audio book through Audible and was captivated by the contents. Interesting takeaways:

1. Most people who couldn’t go on higher up in corporate ladder or grow are mostly due to their behavior, not their technical expertise. This is what prevents them from getting there.

2. The art of apologizing

3. Advertise their effort to change their behavior.

4. Follow up. Listen without prejudice – just say “Thank you.”

5. Feedforward – eliciting advices from peopl eon what they can do better in the future.

The twenty habits:
1. Winning to much: The need to win at all costs in all situations – what it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s total beside the point.

2. Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to ad our two cents to every discussion.

3. Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.

4. Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.

5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers what secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”

6. Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.

7. Speaking when angrey: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.

8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share the negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked.

9. Withholding information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.

10. Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward.

11. Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.

12. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.

13. Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.

14. Playing favorites: failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.

15. Refusing the express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.

16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.

17. Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.

18. Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help us.

19. Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone by ourselves.

20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.

The 21st habit that was singled out is “Goal Obsession” – hog the spotlight and ended up losing talented people in the team. The classical example was the “Good Samaritan” research that showed even the priests-to-be may practice what they preach when they’re obsessed with the goal (to teach a sermon about the “good Samaritan”). One should ask himself/herself frequently, ” what am I doing?” and “why am I doing this?”

Most of the bad habits center around these two interpersonal flaws: appropriately sharing and withholding of information and emotion.

When getting feedbacks from coworkers, get the 4 commitments from them: 1) Let go of the past, 2) Tell the truth, 3) Be supportive and helpful – not cynical or negative, 4) Pick something to improve yourself – to focus on “improving” and not judging – create a parity and bond.

The questions to ask for feedback are: Does the subject 1) communicate a vision, 2) Treat people with respect, 3) solicit contrary opinions, 4) Encourage other people’s ideas, and 5) listen to other people in meetings?

The 4 quadrants, based on x-axis of known or unknown to self and y-axis of known or unknown to others, are 1) Blind spots, 2) Public knowledge, 3) Private knowledge, and 4) Unknowables.

You can obtain the feedback yourself by 1) Make a list of people’s remarks about you, 2) Turn the sound off – observe the how other physically dealing with you, 3) Complete the sentence exercise, 4) Listen to your own self-aggrandizing remarks, 5) Look homeward (check with your family members).

About techniques of “apologizing”: say “I’m sorry, I’ll do better in the future” – get in and get out quickly. Do not justify why and explain.

The next step following apologizing is to advertise that you’re improving – be your own PR person. The classical corporate troubleshooting process 1) assessing, 2) isolating the problem, 3) formulating the solution, 4) getting approval from the top, 5) getting buy-in or agreements from coworkers, 6) getting acceptance from subordinates, 7) implement the solution. Do not skip #4~#5 that most people forget.

Practice listening and say “thank you” often and then “follow up” (“how am I doing?”). The last step is to practice “feed forward.” Tell people that you’re improving one area and ask for 2 advices and then say “thank you.”

The rules about “changing”: 1) May not be able to change, 2) Pick the right thing to change, 3) Don’t delude yourself what you really need to change, 4) Don’t hide yourself from the truth you need to hear, 5) There is no ideal behavior, 6) If you measure it, you can achieve it, 7) Monetize the result, create a solution, 8 ) The best time to change is NOW.

I like the last chapter about imagining yourself being of 95 years old and asking yourself what advises you would give. Most advises you get from people are: 1) Be happy now, don’t wait until you’re old. 2) Treat your friends and family members well; they are the ones surrounding you at your dying bed – not your colleagues. 3) Follow your dreams – best to die trying than to regret not trying. Most people stay at a certain workplace because 1) They enjoy what they’re doing, 2) they enjoy the people they work with, 3) they’re following their dreams. Tips for people managers.

This is a good book. It’s amazing how subtle the changes need to be to get to the next level; we often think being technical/knowhow savvy is the critical step, when it’s probably the least of the problem. Marshal Goldsmith as his own “What Got You Here” website.