Book Review – What Got You Here Won’t Get You There By Marshall Goldsmith

What Got Yo Here - Marshall GoldsmithIntroduction
Marshall Goldsmith is one of those professors (has a Ph.D in organizational behaviour) who has a long list of honours attached to his name and has been in this field for a long time. He writes this book as an executive coach who has worked with 100’s of business executive. His premise here are those habits that we have that may be preventing us from moving forward in our career or even home life. Many people may have performed excellently to get to where they are, but may be at risk of jeopardizing all that hard work because of certain nuances that they can’t see. In this book Goldsmith’s aim is to help us see those nuances and change them.

Is this an easy book to read or one filled with psycho babble? I will go with easy. And it does have stories too which make it even more palatable. I checked on Amazon US and UK for the book’s rating. It has a 4.5 rating on the US site and a 4 on the UK one. The book is not large with just 223 pages of reading content and 14 chapters divided into 4 distinct sections. Following is a chapter by chapter review.

Chapter One – You Are Here: This chapter starts out with a map analogy. Some people never need maps, they just have a knack for getting the directions right. In keeping with the subject on discussion they are the people who know where they are in life and know where they are going. In Marshall’s own words, we say they’re grounded and they don’t need his help. But the audience of this book are those of us who have lost our internal, “you are here” map. The author uses three case studies to emphasize what he means by people who have lost their map and he concludes the chapter using other metaphors to explain what the aims of the book is. Here is one – A Chef at one of my favorite restaurants in San Diego told me that his signature dish succeeds or fails on one secret ingredient (which like Coca-Cola’s heavily guarded recipe, he refuses to reveal). Leave it ourtand the patrons’ plates come back to the kitchen only half empty. Sprinkle it in the proper amount and the plates come back clean.
Think of me(Goldsmith) as the honest diner  who sends back the meal untouched to let you know that something is missing.

Chapter two – Enough About You: This short chapter is all about the author. In it he explains how he got into his line of work as an executive coach. He also briefly outlines the framework he uses to work with people consisting of:

  • 360-degree feedback
  • Confronting people with information from the feedback
  • Help the person to apologize for their behaviour
  • Get them to advertize how they are going to change
  • Support them to follow up monthly with their colleagues
  • Teach them to listen to their colleagues non-judgementally
  • Coach them to receive feedback with gratitude
  • Teach them the practice of feedforward which is the process of seeking advice from people on what they can do better

Chapter Three – The Success Delusion or Why We Resist Change: An interesting chapter which deals with why successful people resist change, something Goldsmith refers to as the success delusion. Explained as beliefs that successful people have that may prevent them from changing, here they are:

  1. Belief 1: I have succeeded –  successful people’s believe that they have skill and talent to succeed and keep succeeding.
  2. Belief 2: I can succeed – Having the belief that “I can succeed”. That because of who I am I can succeed.
  3. Belief 3: I will succeed – I have the motivation to succeed.
  4. Belief 4: I Choose to succeed – I do what I do because I choose to do it. I have chosen to succeed.

The delusion here comes from the fact that, the success may not be due to any of these mindsets. In fact the success may be due to other factors irrespective of any of these beliefs.

Chapter Four: The Twenty Habits That Hold You Back from The Top: This is a large chapter which chronicles twenty habits that hold people back from moving further. Goldsmith defines them as, the most annoying interpersonal issues. Here are a couple of them:

  • Winning too much – The need to win all the time even when it is not necessary or doesn’t matter.
  • Adding too much value – The overwhelming desire to add your own contribution to the issue at hand even when it may be seen as detrimental.
  • Judging others – The need to rate others and impose your standards on them.
  • Speaking when angry – Using emotional volatility as a management tool.
  • Not listening – The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
  • Passing the buck – The need to blame everybody else but ourselves. Simply not taking responsibility

Chapter Five – The Twenty-First Habit: Goal Obsession: Goldsmith separated this twenty-first habit into a separate short chapter. Unlike the previous twenty habits, you don’t do this habit to others, rather it’s a habit people have that turns them into somebody who may then exhibit one or more of the other habits. Goal obsession turns people into something they shouldn’t be. Goldsmith describes it this way, “In it’s broadest form, goal obsession is the force at play when we get so wrapped up in achieving our goal that we do it at the expense of a larger mission.” This chapter takes the time to expand on why goal obsession may become a problem.

Chapter Six – Feedback: This chapter starts off the third section of the book. It gives a history of feedback and then discusses a very crucial feedback tool known as the four commitments aimed at making people give more effective feedback. They are:

  • Let go of the past
  • Tell the truth
  • Be supportive and helpful – not cynical or negative
  • Pick something to improve yourself – so everyone is focused more on “improving” and “judging”.

Other areas pertaining to feedback are also discussed. For instance, we are adviced not to offer opinions when we ask for feedback and when we are given some feedback we must simply  to say “thank you”. Also the three sorts of feedback are discussed which are, solicited feedback, unsolicited feedback and observational feedback.

Chapter Seven – Apologizing: This chapter deals with the second stage in Goldsmith’s personal change strategy and it involves the person who asked for feedback apologizing for previous innapropriate behaviour that she wants to change. Goldsmith writes that – it is the centerpiece of my work woth executives who want to get better – because without the apology there is no recognition that mistakes have been made, there is no announcement to the world of the intention to change. A story is used to express the importance of apologizing and then the chapter concludes with a section on how to apologize.

Chapter Eight – Telling The World, Or Advertising: Goldsmith starts this chapter with this statement – After you apologize, you must advertize. It’s not enough to tell everyone that you want to get better; you have to declare exactly in 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? This chapter is all about how to advertize the intention to change after making an apology. Doing this gives you a greater commitment to change because now people know your intentions.

Chapter Nine – Listening: This ninth chapter focuses on the common topic of listening. Goldsmith quotes that, 80 percent of our success in learning from other people is based upon how well we listen. He presents three ingredients of good listening which are:

  1. Think before you speak
  2. Listen with respect
  3. Ask yourself, is it(what I want to say) worth it?

In his opinion the ability to listen effectively is what separates the great from the near-great.

Chapter Ten – Thanking: In this chapter Goldsmith challenges people to get used to saying thank you, especially because it is necessary for the final two-steps of follow-up and feedforward in his personal change strategy. An interesting aspect of this chapter is also Goldsmith’s plea for us to say thank to people who have been good to us in the past. It may be thanking our parents or a teacher in the past. His premise is that the practice of gratitude is a good and empowering practice.

Chapter Eleven – Following Up: Goldsmith writes that after mastering apologizing, advertizing, listening, and thanking  the next thing to do is follow up. But why? According to him follow up really makes the previous steps more effective. In the journey of change follow up is about asking the question – how am I doing? Marshall writes that follow-up:

  • Is the protracted part of the process for changing for the better.
  • Follow-up is how you measure progress
  • Follow-up is how we remind people that we’re making an effort to change and they’re helping us.

There is more about follow up but Marshall says he has learnt three things about why follow up works.

  1. Firstly not everyone changes with executive development as organizations like to believe.
  2. There is an enourmous disconnect between understanding and doing.
  3. Based on the previous two points, he concluded that people don’t get better without follow-up.

Chapter Twelve – Practicing Feedforward: After the previous steps then comes feedforward, which as Goldsmith says is simple but very effective. He describes it in four steps:

  1. Pick one behaviour that you want to change that would improve your life.
  2. Describe the objective you want to achieve with someone in a one to one dialogue.
  3. Ask the person for two suggestions that will help you achieve the goal in the future.
  4. Listen to the suggestions  Don’t judge, rate or critique them. Just say thank you.

Chapter Thirteen – Changing: The Rules: This chapter is all about how to make change happen and stick. Eight rules to help people get to grips with the process of change is presented. Here they are:

  1. You might not have a desease that behavioural change can cure. In other words what you want to change might not need to be changed or changing it might be impossible.
  2. Pick the right thing to change.
  3. Don’t delude yourself about what you really must change.
  4. Don’t hide from the truth you need to hear.
  5. There is no ideal behaviour
  6. If you can measure it, you can achieve it.
  7. Monetize the result and create a solution
  8. The best time to change is now.

Chapter Fourteen – Special Challenges For People In Charge: This is the last chapter but not the end of the book. For me it felt like a total disconnect from the rest of the book, though it has some great information. It has information about how a manager can help his/her team members better work with them. The advice is about managers letting their direct reports know how they behave and what they need tp know to manage them. But it also has some advice about why managers need to change their mindset to handle the worker of the 21st century who think differently and want something different from work.

The book concludes with a short section called, You Are Here Now. A key question is posed here, if you were aged 95 and looked back on your life now what would you want it to be like? What would you do that would make your life meaningful? Obviously that’s a question only the reader can answer. At the end of the book the author’s advice is this:
You are here
You can get there
Let the journey begin


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