Book Summary: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith

Title: What got you here won’t get you there
Author: Marshall Goldsmith
Publisher: Hachette books
ISBN-10: 1781251568
ISBN-13: 978-1781251560
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Marshall Goldsmith is a behaviour coach in leading companies. His day-to-day life involves working with CEOs of top companies, entrepreneurs, top lawyers and dignitaries. Goldsmith takes these already successful people and makes them more successful. How can he do that? Is he an engineer? A businessman? A mystic?

None of these. Goldman has discovered that for the people who are already in the top 2 percentile in their field, further growth is not limited by skill or lack of magic. Instead it is limited by their own behaviour. The way they behave with themselves, their colleagues, their families and their support group influences their success. Goldsmith describes 20 habits that act as a hindrance to further growth of these already highly successful people. With these habits, people stand in their own way. Some of them hit a plateau, while a few of them self-destruct, throwing away their careers and relationships.

The 20 self-destructing habits

  1. The urge to win everything: Successful people are used to winning more often than losing. But for some, humility never sets in and they become competitive everywhere, even where not necessary. People who are obsessed with winning find the urge to win everywhere, be it an argument with their spouses or best friends, or using their high-cost SUVs to shove their way around vehicles on the road. The dopamine hit from big and small wins alike becomes an addiction. The competitive spirit starts becoming annoying for those around them.
  2. The desire to add too much value: Highly successful people often form the urge to have their opinion heard in every discussion. It can be in the form of suggestions to improve a product which is already doing well. Or it may be an advice that is unsolicited.
  3. Passing judgement: Most successful people have seen their methods work over a long time. Sometimes so much that they are unable to accept the ways of others. They have a really high regard for their own procedures and attitudes. This makes them pass judgement on the nature and the ways of the others.
  4. Making destructive comments: With so much success around them, some successful people become intolerant to mediocrity. Success also makes these people highly competitive. The frustration and competition sometimes takes an ugly turn as the superstars lash out at juniors or speak unacceptable things about competition.
  5. Starting with ‘no’, ‘but’ and ‘however’: During a discussion, plenty of people who have seen a lot of success start negating the opinions and methods of others by using the three words mentioned above, when the prudent thing would be to listen and form an opinion only when asked for or if the others start sliding towards failure when their methods are applied.
  6. Telling the world how smart you are: Some successful people cannot resist the temptation to show off that they are smarter than others. One manifestation is in the form of boasting about their success stories. Another way this habit shows up is through phrases such as, ‘I already know that’ or ‘I have been through this. I remember the time when…’. More often, a simple ‘Thank you’ or ‘All the best’ will suffice.
  7. Speaking when angry: Some successful people become cranky and autocratic. They take to lashing out at their staff when things don’t go their way. The staff develops a habit of not breaking bad news to the person anymore.
  8. Sharing negative thoughts: This habit is similar to habit 2 and 3. Here, the successful people start sharing feedback without being asked for it. This usually results in them being excluded from further discussions.
  9. Withholding information: It is necessary to withhold information so as not to divulge classified information or so that a company maintains a competitive edge over rivals. However, some successful people have attained their success by not sharing vital information with their own colleagues, superiors, juniors or teammates. They try to hold onto information exclusively and use it as a trump card for their success. Such people are soon alienated by their own peers.
  10. Failing to give proper recognition: Nothing is more arrogant than a successful persons occupying a top position which enjoys success, but not sharing that success with his/her subordinates. Subordinates are looking for appreciation and rewards for the advancement of their own career. If the superiors cannot give it to them, they will soon start searching for a more rewarding job.
  11. Claiming undeserved credit: This is worse than habit 10. Because in this case, the person who doesn’t share his / her success with subordinates goes a step further by accepting all the limelight for him/herself. This demoralises the subordinates and makes them resentful.
  12. Making excuses: Some successful people stop accepting blame for failure. Instead they blame everything from the traffic to the company policy for their failures.
  13. Clinging to the past: Even the most successful people have one area of weakness. However some people do not address those weaknesses and instead attribute it to someone or something from the past, such as a poor teacher or a past event in school, etc.
  14. Playing favourites: Sometimes successful people breed fans of their success. They dote over the people who admire them, but alienate those who come with negative feedback. Soon, some of the people who brought neutral or negative feedback find themselves changing to someone who keeps praising their boss to be in their good books. Meanwhile, employees who are not interested in being a suck-up find themselves being more disinterested in working with that person.
  15. Refusing to express regret: Even when all evidence points to them or when they are supposed to accept responsibility, some people take failure in a really bad way. They refuse to accept their fault and start finding scapegoats. Yet others deny that a failure has occurred and insist that everything is under control.
  16. Not listening: Successful people are often used to getting attention from a room of less successful people. Such people lose their ability to patiently sit back and listen to what others have to speak. Even when they are listening, they are doing so with the intention of framing a response.
  17. Failing to express gratitude: Successful people forget or refuse to appreciate the contribution of others and to express their gratitude. They feel that the others are obliged to help them and think of the others ‘as just doing their jobs’.
  18. Punishing the messenger: In the heat of the competition or due to a frenzied life, successful people often take shortcuts to get things done at the expense of creating cracks elsewhere. But when someone alerts them to these cracks, they become livid and punish the well-wisher in some way. It may be a temper snap or a hasty dismissal.
  19. Passing the buck: As covered in some of the points before, a successful person when staring at a failure, does not own it up. Rather, he / she starts looking for others to blame.
  20. Excessive need to be me: Often, successful people have their own negative traits. Some may be impunctual, some disorganised and some short-tempered. But when pointed out, these people are quick to say, “Hey that’s me. This is the way I am. Despite that flaw, I have been super successful and I don’t need to change. So just deal with it.”

The transformation

When someone has pointed any of these problems to you and you have acknowledged them, that is good start! Now Goldman suggests that you use the following techniques to reverse that habit and replace it with a good one.

  1. Apologise to everyone offended: Think of where you used your obnoxious habits in the past and apologise to those who were offended. They will appreciate it and even help you in your tirade against your habit.
  2. Be truthful about what you want to change: It is possible that you may have several bad habits from above. But only one or two of those may be requiring immediate attention. This is most people find you errant. Do not try to change habits where your return is minimal. Also do not blame your habit on things such as poor health or a crammed timetable.
  3. Identify the most obnoxious habit to change first: You can only change one habit at a time. So identify one that you wish to change.
  4. Enlist help from others: Announce to your friends, peers and colleagues that you want to change. They will find ways to help you.
  5. Seek feedback and feed forward: Constantly seek feedback when someone seems unhappy with your behaviour. Also follow the approach of feed-forward, which is the question, ‘How will you act differently the next time.’ So while feedback tackles the problem, feed-forward arrives at a solution.
  6. Follow up: Periodically ask people who have agreed to help you to evaluate you. Also, ask other people to remind you to practise your altered behaviour when the opportunity arises. E.g. someone could tell you, ‘Ok, here we go to this meeting in 10 minutes. Please keep your opinions to yourself until asked for.’


While your level of skill may not undergo a lot of change once you near the peak, your behaviour can change your relation with others and help you get more done and make you happy. Here’s to a smooth and happy change in yourself.

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Published by

Harikrishna Natrajan

Unleashing life's full potential

2 thoughts on “Book Summary: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith”

  1. Self – examining and creating changes are hard but the only way to get dramatically better results for ourselves. I found writing down as a good way to arrive at observations on myself.

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