What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

As a good follow up to last week’s piece on Managerial Delusions, Knowledge @ Wharton recently ran a piece titled on To Marshall Goldsmith: Thank You for Writing This Book that reviewed Marshall’s Goldsmith new book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

The article states that the power of the approach, and the book, lies in its simplicity, and the basic insight that good manners is good management. The review states that the book is built around the bad habits that keep highly successful people from succeeding even more. Basically the hypothesis is that, once a certain professional level is reached, neither intelligence nor skill accounts for the fact that some people continue to advance while others plateau. According to Goldsmith, the secret lies in behavior, identifying the hidden behavioral tics that are preventing you from succeeding and eliminating them, and, furthermore, recognizing the delusion that the behaviors that allowed you to advance to a certain point will continue to serve you.

The article then goes on to outline the “twenty habits that hold you back from the top” that Goldsmith discusses in detail in his book, but before we get to those, I’d like to point out that this philosophy mirrors the philosophy I have for successful companies – that what served you well yesterday is not enough to serve you well tomorrow. That’s why you need to continually improve, and innovate. This is what Goldsmith is telling you. He’s saying that, at a personal level, you must continually improve as a person in order to continue to achieve. I agree, but whereas he believes all of the answers are behavioral, I’m not sure I entirely agree. But it’s definitely part of the puzzle, and all of his insights are true, and one should definitely work to eliminate the bad habits he identified.

The bad habits, as summarized by the McKinsey article, are:

  • Hyper-competitiveness
    The need to always best others.
  • Adding too much value
    The need to always improve an idea, even those that are quite good.
  • Passing Judgement
    It’s not always required.
  • Destructive Comments
    Too much criticism, and not enough constructivism.
  • Starting with “No”
    Start with “Yes”, then modify.
  • Constant Bragging.
    Or, constantly flaunting your greatness.
  • Speaking when angry
    Good rarely comes of it.
  • Negativity
    Try to be positive instead.
  • Withholding information.
    As I continually try to impress, Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate
  • Failing to recognize.
    Others in the organization can succeed too. Recognize when they do.
  • Claiming unjustified credit.
    As with “failing to recognize”, it’s important to give credit where credit is due.
  • Making excuses.
    If you’re management, it’s important to remember the buck stops with you.
  • Clinging to the past.
    It’s important to learn from the past, but it’s also important to let it go.
  • Playing favorites.
    Rewarding suck-ups creates hollow leaders.
  • Refusing to express regret.
    There are times to say “I’m sorry”.
  • Not listening.
    Just not good. Not good at all.
  • Failing to express gratitude.
    There are times to say “Thank you” as well.
  • Punishing the messenger.
    Remember, as a manager, the buck stops with you.
  • Passing the buck.
    “The buck stops with you” means no passing!
  • Excessive need to be “me”.
    Well, as much as you want to be, you’re not perfect. Recognizing that and continually striving to improve is the best way to build commitment and loyalty.

There’s also a bonus bad habit, but you’ll have to read the book, or at least the McKinsey article for that one, just as you’ll have to refer to the book for his advice on overcoming the bad habits.