What makes you successful doesn’t make you more successful. An odd sentiment when you think about it but in Marshall Goldsmith’s self-development thriller ‘What got you here, won’t get you there’ he successfully argues the case.
The premise of the book is fairly simple; successful people try to be more successful, by continuing to exhibit the behavior that got them there in the first place. This makes logical sense, however the higher up the chain of command you go, the less your initial skill base becomes important and the more important social and interpersonal skills become.
The book is broken down into two main sections, the first half focuses on taking you through twenty interpersonal habits that Marshall has identified as potentially destructive to your career. The second half of the book looks at how to identify these habits in yourself, and most importantly how to tackle them. The first half of the book is the most interesting, I enjoyed thinking about these habits and how they might apply to me. As you read through you have these ‘light bulb moments’ when you think ‘oh I do that!’, followed by the realisation of what that behavioral tick means to those around you, gulp.
We’ll look at some of these habits in a moment, but before that Marshall makes some interesting points around motivation. He writes that if you want to make any change in yourself, or if your helping to support someone else to change, you need to be able to identify what will motivate someone to do it. Often this is the most important factor in any self-development challenge, as without motivation, it just isn’t going to happen. Marshall talks about people’s ‘hot buttons or self interest’ and its when these are threatened that people commit to change. These are:
You can decide which is most important to you and make sure you do. As its being able to link what you want with what’s holding you back that creates the most powerful motivation to change.
Now for the all important habits, what are those behaviors holding us back, what is wrong with us?
- Winning too much
- Adding too much value
- Passing judgment
- Making destructive comments
- Starting with ‘No’ ‘But’ or ‘However’
- Telling the world how smart we are
- Speaking when angry
- Negativity, or ‘Let me explain why that won’t work’
- Withholding information
- Failing to give proper recognition
- Claiming credit that we don’t deserve
- Making excuses
- Clinging to the past
- Playing favorites
- Refusing to express regret
- Not listening
- Failing to express gratitude
- Punishing the messenger
- Passing the buck
- An excessive need to be “me”
I suspect that as you read through that list you started to link some of them to your own patterns of behavior. I’m going to pick out a few and go into more detail, but before I do that it’s important to note that just because you have some of these habits they may not be destructive to your career. The key here is to understand which ones are and to focus on them. We’ll look at how you can do this later.
Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are
I found this an interesting concept, as once you read the chapter you can see that people do it unwittingly almost every day, I am totally guilty on this one. Whether we do this in a subtle way, when agreeing with someone offering practical advice; a simple yet impatient nod of our head while people are talking, or when our body language suggests we already know that information, to the more obvious response of actually saying ‘yes, I already knew that’. The problem with this behavior is not that we are just boasting, but we are insulting the other person, or making them feel less valued. What you’re really saying is ‘you didn’t need to waste my time with that information.’ The thing here is that the attempt to show that person how smart we are, rarely hits it intended target. I often see people in meetings or company presentations nodding furiously away when those in higher positions are talking. While that maybe reassuring to the person on stage, the rest of the room are not thinking ‘wow he’s smart, he already knows this.’ Their thinking ‘look, Bob is trying to show how clever he is’ or ‘Bobs brown nosing again’.
Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two pennies worth into every conversation.
Surely adding value is what you’re supposed to be doing right? We’ll yes, but not too much, and it is extremely difficult for successful people to be told something they already know without them communicating back either a, ‘I already knew that’ (see previous paragraph) or ‘ I know a better way’. In this chapter Marshall asks you to imagine yourself as the MD or CEO of an organisation. A staff member comes to you with an idea that you think is really good, rather than just say good job, because of the overwhelming desire to add value, instead you say ‘good idea but it would be better if you tried it this way’. Now you may have improved their idea by 5%, but you’ve reduced their commitment to executing it by 50%, because you’ve taken ownership of the idea. The job of the person in charge is to make other people winners and not a winner yourself, you’ll gain much more in the long run from it.
The second half of the book looks at how you can identify what behaviors are affecting your ability to reach your career goals. Marshall talks about soliciting anonymous feedback from your colleagues and direct reports, which although maybe uncomfortable is often a great way to uncover key areas for improvement. It is a lot easier for others to spot these behavioral characteristics in you than it is for you to see in yourself. My organization offers a 360 feedback tool, coupled with asking the question of your colleagues what should you Stop, Start and Continue doing. This also works well. The book does contain a self-reflection survey, which you could use to help you along your way.
In summary, this is a great book and a really useful read for anyone in a managerial position or someone who leads directly or indirectly. Remember, if you continue to rehash the same old behavior that got you to where you are, you’re unlikely to get where you want to go!
One of the great things about writing this blog so far is all the awesome books I’ve been recommended. So thanks to my good pal Gemma Shallard for this one!