What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful; by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter


“It is extremely difficult for successful people to listen to other people tell them something that they already know without communicating somehow that (a) ‘we already knew that’ and (b) ‘we know a better way.'”

Marshall Goldsmith is one of the most successful executive coaches in Corporate America. The founder of executive coaching firm Marshall Goldsmith Partners LLC, Goldsmith has worked closely with more than seventy CEOs during his career. The chief executives of many multi national companies including Ford, GlaxoSmithKline and Cessna all sing his praises.. The Wall Street Journal ranks him among the world’s top 10 executive educators.

The power of Goldsmith’s book lies in its simplicity. There are no complicated formulas for becoming a better boss. When you peel away all the management language the truth is that this is not actually a corporate book, it’s a book about good manners!

Goldsmith’s book is built around the bad habits that keep highly successful people from succeeding even more. Goldsmith notes that at a certain professional level, neither intelligence nor skill accounts for the fact that some people continue to advance while others stay put. The difference between moving forward or stagnating has nothing to do with a person’s abilities, experience and training, it has everything to do with their behavior. Goldsmith explains, successful people often sabotage their own success with behavioral traits that they don’t even know they have. Likewise, successful people tend to assume that the behaviors that got them this far will take them all the way to the top. Unfortunately it is more likely that their success has come in spite of their bad habits, or that their behavior is preventing them from realizing their full potential, not only at work, but also in life.

Everyone’s Bad Habits

Goldsmith’s book is all about helping people identify and overcome the bad habits that are stopping them from achieving further success. The backbone of the book is the definition and discussion of the “Twenty Habits That Hold You Back from the Top.” They are:

1. Winning too much: The need of the overly competitive need to constantly better others “underlies nearly every other behavioral problem.”

2. Adding too much value: This happens when you can’t stop yourself from having your input on your colleagues ideas. “It is extremely difficult,” Goldsmith says, “for successful people to listen to other people tell them something that they already know without communicating somehow that (a) ‘we already knew that’ and (b) ‘we know a better way.'” The problem with this behavior is that, while it may slightly improve an idea, it drastically reduces the other person’s commitment to it and therefore their level of motivation.

3. Passing judgment: Constant judgment of the ideas of others will cause those ideas to dry up. Don’t ask for input and then judge any contributions you receive.

4. Making destructive comments: Everyone reaches the end of their tether at some stage and it’s tempting to take it out on those around us who may also be the cause of our frustration. But when we feel the urge to criticize, we should realize that negative comments can harm our working relationships.”The question is not, ‘Is it true?’ but rather, ‘Is it worth it?'”

5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However.” Almost all of us do this, and most of us are totally unaware of it. But Goldsmith says if you watch out for it, “you’ll see how people inflict these words on others to gain or consolidate power. You’ll also see how people resent it and it stifles rather than opens up discussion.”

6. Telling the world how smart we are: See bad habits 1 & 2

7. Speaking when angry: See bad habit 4.

8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: Goldsmith calls this “pure unadulterated negativity under the guise of being helpful.”

9. Withholding information: This one is all about power. Goldsmith focuses on ways even the well meaning people do this all the time. “We do this when we are too busy to get back to someone with valuable information. We do this when we forget to include someone in our discussions or meetings. We do this when we delegate a task to our subordinates but don’t take the time to show them exactly how we want the task done.”

10. Failing to give recognition: We have already seen that many of bad habits centre around wanting to be right and have input.  Failing to recognize the input of others just worsens the problem and creates resentment.

11. Claiming credit we don’t deserve: To catch ourselves doing this, Goldsmith recommends listing all the times we congratulate ourselves in a given day, and then reviewing the list to see if we really deserved all the credit we gave ourselves.

12. Making excuses: This can either be an outside influence such as traffic, delays etc or even using our own weaknesses as an excuse:eg. I just don’t have attention to detail.

13. Hanging on to the past: “Understanding the past is perfectly admissible if your issue is accepting the past. But if your issue is changing the future, understanding will not take you there.” Goldsmith explains that quite often we get stuck on the past because it allows us to blame others for things that have gone wrong in our lives.

14. Playing favourites: This behavior rewards those who focus on your happiness, not the facts of the situation.  If they end up as leaders they may well be ineffective for this reason.

15. Not saying sorry: “When you say, ‘I’m sorry,’ you turn people into your allies, even your partners.” The first thing Goldsmith teaches his clients is “to apologize,  face to face, to every coworker who has agreed to help them get better.”

16. Being a bad listener: This behavior says, “I don’t care about you,” “I don’t understand you,” “You’re wrong,” “You’re stupid,” and “You’re wasting my time.”

17. Not saying thank you: “Gratitude is not a limited resource, nor is it expensive.” Goldsmith advises breaking the habit of failing to say thank you by saying it,  to as many people as we can, over and over again.

18. ‘Shooting’ the messenger: This habit is an unhappy mixture of habits  10, 11, 19, 4, 16, 17, with a strong dose of anger added in.

19. Passing the buck: “This is the behavioral flaw by which we judge our leaders — as important a negative attribute as positive qualities such as brainpower, courage, and resourcefulness.”

20. An excessive need to be “me”: Making a “virtue of our flaws” because they express who we are amounts to misplaced loyalty,  and can be “one of the toughest obstacles to making positive long-term change in our behavior.”

Just in case 20 habits aren’t enough Goldsmith even includes a bonus bad habit: Goal obsession, or getting so caught up in our drive to achieve that we lose track of why we are working so hard and what really matters in life.

The beauty of Goldsmith’s approach lies not just in the simplicity, but also in the straightforward nature of his advice. Because it is our behavior that holds us back, he argues, we can change our future by changing how we act. The key to a better future comes from learning to listen to what others have to tell us about our behavior. We learn best if the lessons others have for us come not in the form of “feedback,”which focuses on the past and makes us defensive, but on “feed forward,” which is constructively focused on the future, and takes the form of helpful advice about things we have the power to change.


Ten things you can learn from this book:

You can learn more than 10 things by going back over the 20 bad habits and being honest with yourself!



Goldsmith’s message is really a very simple one: The secret to success is that you must be able to work well with others. If this sounds basic, that’s because it is. But it’s also the stuff of top-level corporate coaching, and there aren’t many better to take this advice from than Marshall Goldsmith