What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There; book summary and notes

What got you here, Wont get you there; author Marshall Goldsmith.  Discover the 20 workplace habits you need to break. The amazon link to the book is below.


In this book the author identifies the 20 habits managers need to break so they can have more influence in their organization and continue to grow in their organization and their career.  A lot of books teach people what to do, Mr. Goldsmith takes the approach of what leaders need to stop doing.

Although this book was written for managers and leaders, I believe that the 20 principles can also be applied in your daily life as a friend, a colleague, a relative, a parent.  These habits can be displayed in all of our interactions with others, and they can diminish our influence with this individuals we wish to have influence with.

Like all of my book summaries, they are quasi book summaries where I provide you with a solid overview of the book, in addition to my key takeaways from the book. I hope you enjoy the read.

  • The higher up you go in an organization the issues that arise for people are always behavioral.  Everyone in leadership positions are usually equally as talented technically. They’re all smart.  This is why behavioral issues become so important at the upper rungs of a corporate ladder.
  • All other things being equal, your people skills (or lack of them) become more pronounced the higher up you go.
  • As we advance in our careers, behavioral changes are often the only significant changes we can make.

1.  Winning too much:  The need to win at all costs and in all situations.  When it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally besides the point.

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

3.  Passing judgments:  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 which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right, You’re wrong.”

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

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

8.  Negativity, or “let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our 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 to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.

  • Apologizing is one of the most powerful and resonant gestures in the human arsenal, almost as powerful as a declaration of love.

16.  Not listening: The most passive aggressive for 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 but ourselves.

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

7 Ways to Change these bad behaviors:


Feedback tells us what to change, not how to do it.  But when you know what to change, you’re ready to start changing yourself and how people perceive you.


Apologizing is the magic move.  It shows others that you were wrong and you aren’t afraid to admit you were wrong.  It opens up trust in a relationship.  The best way to apologize is to do it quick and move on.

Telling the world, or Advertising:  

It’s not enough to tell everyone that you want to get better, you have to declare exactly 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 someones perception of your behavior than it is to change your behavior.  I calculate that you have to get 100% better in order to get 10% credit for it from your coworkers.

You must constantly tell the world and your coworkers how you are getting better through your actions, your commitments, and the way you act.  It takes a while for it to sink in, but if you do it consistently it eventually will.  Think about the process of electing someone to office.  It tasks years for a message to really resonate and then people vote.  That is exactly what you have to do.


80 percent of our success in learning from other people is based on how well we listen. In other words, success or failure is determined before we do anything.

Good listeners do these three things: They think before they speak; they listen with respect; and they’re always gauging their response by asking themselves, “Is it worth it?”

Don’t say I knew it.  Don’t use words no, but, or however.  Eliminate any striving to impress the other person how smart or funny you are.


Thanking works because it expresses one of our most basic emotions: gratitude.  It’s a genuine emotion. If you can earn a A+ in gratitude, nothing bad will ever come of it.

Follow up

Once you master the subtle arts of apologizing, advertising, listening, and thanking, you must follow-up–relentlessly.  Continue to ask people for feedback and ask them how you are doing on some of the changes you have made.

Follow up is how you measure progress.  Follow up is how we remind people how were making an effort to change, and that they are helping us. Follow up is how we erase our coworkers skepticism that we can change.

Follow up is how we acknowledge to ourselves and others that getting better is an ongoing process, not a temporary religious conversion.

More than anything follow-up makes us do it.

4 Lessons the author learned around feedback:

1.  Not everyone responds to executive development, at least not the way the organization desires or intends.

2.  There is an enormous disconnect between understanding and doing.

3.  People don’t get better without follow-up.  Ongoing and consistent follow-up.

4.  Becoming a better leader (or a better person) is a process, not an event. 

Feed Forward

You’ve identified the interpersonal habit that’s holding you back. You’ve apologized for it.  You’ve continued to advertise your intention to change. You’ve started listening more and thanking people more.  You are seeking feedback and follow-up on your process of getting better in the area.

You are now ready for feed forward:

Racecar drivers are  taught to look at the road, not the wall.  Thats what feed forward does. It allows you to start looking forward to new changes you want to make and developing a process around that so you can continue to get better.

A study on goal achievement:  Most research on goals and goal setting centers around diet and fitness for a few reasons: A) there’s a huge population of people interested in such goals. B) its easy to measure. C) with record numbers of Americans either obese or out of shape, there’s a huge (and compelling) history of failure in this area. There are five reasons people do not succeed with their diet and fitness goals. the mistakenly estimate:

  • Time: Its takes longer than they expected
  • Effort: It’s harder than they expected. It’s not worth all of the effort.
  • Distractions: They do not expect a “crisis” to emerge that will prevent them from staying with the program.
  • Rewards: After they see some improvement, they don’t get the response from others that they expected.  People don’t immediately love the new and improved person they’ve become.
  • Maintenance: Once they hit their goal, people for get how hard it is to stay in shape. Not expecting that they’ll have to stick with the program for life, they slowly backslide or give up completely.

So any kind of goal you set out to accomplish.  Health and fitness or changing a behavior, it will require lots of time, hard work, personal sacrifice, ongoing effort, and dedication to a process that is maintained over years.

  • Sometimes the desire for “perfect” can drive away “better.” 

Things you must stop: 

  • Stop trying to change people who don’t think they have a problem.
  • Stop trying to change people who are pursuing the wrong strategy for the organization.
  • Stop trying to change people who should not be in their job.
  • Stop trying to change people who think everyone else is the problem.

The Great Western disease lies in this phrase….I will be happy when…, As in I will be happy when I have this much money, or that promotion, or that family. Be happy where you are and make sure you are following your purpose.

As I stated at the beginning of this book summary.  This book is based on the author and his years of coaching executive level clients to be better in their positions. However, as I have stated before, the 20 habits, the 7 steps of change, the behaviors that prevent people from hitting their goals are applicable to all of us.  My advice to you is to take inventory and see where you are and create some goals of where you would like to be.  Be the best you, you can be.

To your success and your future.







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