Many professionals get stuck at a certain level of success. For instance, they manage to climb to a middle-management position at their organization, but always get passed over for promotion to the executive level.
Author and business coach Marshall Goldsmith believes that many professionals’ careers stall in this way because they slip into bad behavioral habits. In other words, they start to treat their colleagues poorly. For instance, they may become so self-important that they refuse to listen to anyone else’s ideas, instead dismissing them outright.
Ultimately, to climb to the top of the corporate ladder, you need to have good people skills. If you’re constantly irritating everyone around you with your bad behavior, your superiors won’t have confidence in your interpersonal skills. Therefore, you won’t get picked for top-flight roles.
In What Got You Here, Won't Get You There, Goldsmith explains how you can reach your full potential by eliminating 21 harmful work behaviors. He argues that while engaging in these behaviors may not have stopped you from getting “here”—to your current level of success—they won’t get you “there”—to the heights of success that you ultimately aspire to.
(Shortform note: We’ve split the 21 habits into five categories to clarify themes and make the habits easier to recall.)
These five habits are rooted in not only believing that you’re “better” than all of your colleagues, but also feeling the need to demonstrate your apparent superiority at every opportunity.
Bad Habit #1: Constantly Needing to Win. This habit becomes problematic when you try to “win” at things that don’t really matter—for example, when you need to win an argument with a colleague about something as trivial as which coffee brand is best. This combative attitude will quickly irritate and alienate your coworkers.
The Healthier Behavior: Evaluate whether “winning” a certain situation will provide any long-term benefits to you or your company. If it won’t, consider whether pursuing this win is really worth the damage you may do to your reputation.
Bad Habit #2: Compulsively “Adding Value” to People’s Ideas. This means trying to improve every idea that’s presented to you because you’re certain you know a better way forward. It’s a sure-fire way to make the person who presented the idea feel inferior—like they’re not good enough to come up with strong ideas on their own.
The Healthier Behavior: Instead of trying to add value, simply thank people for their ideas or suggestions and move on.
Bad Habit #3: Passing Judgment on People’s Ideas and Opinions. Constantly passing either positive or negative judgment on your colleagues’ ideas makes them feel like you’re always grading them on the quality of their input. This puts them under a lot of pressure.
The Healthier Behavior: When people make suggestions or give their opinions, don’t pass either a negative or positive judgment. Just thank the person for their input.
Bad Habit #4: Overusing the Words “No,” “But,” and “However.” Responding to someone’s idea with these words sends them the message, “You’re wrong, I’m right, and I’m about to tell you why.” When you tell people they’re wrong, their first instinct is to fight back and prove they’re right. A bitter argument ensues, which isn’t conducive to a healthy working environment.
The Healthier Behavior: Consider whether the criticism or challenge you want to make is really important enough to risk starting an argument. If it’s not, keep it to yourself.
Bad Habit #5: Letting People Know How Smart You Are. This habit often manifests when someone tries to tell you something you’ve heard before. You may reply, “I already knew that” or “I’m way ahead of you,” the implication being “I had this idea before you did, meaning I’m smarter than you.” This belittles the other person and makes you seem arrogant.
The Healthier Behavior: If someone tells you something you’ve heard before, just say thank you and move on. There’s no need to humiliate them by making your prior knowledge clear.
The next five bad habits all involve either expressing negativity (for example, through anger or criticism) or withholding positivity (for instance, by refusing to praise people).
Bad Habit #6: Making Harmful or Hurtful Comments—for example, telling someone who’s made a sub-par suggestion in a meeting that they’re a waste of space. Making such comments will give you a reputation for being unkind and turn many people against you.
The Healthier Behavior: Keep your hurtful comments to yourself. Remember that being rude to a slacking employee won’t improve their performance—it’ll just make you look like a jerk.
Bad Habit #7: Expressing Anger Towards Others. If you regularly get angry at your colleagues, people will see you as volatile and out of control. You’ll appear too emotionally fragile to be trusted with further responsibilities.
The Healthier Behavior: Quickly remove yourself from any situations that start to make you angry. If that’s not possible, take deep breaths and pause before you react.
Bad Habit #8: Shooting the Messenger. Getting angry at the person who has to tell you something negative, such as bad news, is a sure-fire way to gain a reputation for being an unjust leader. After all, you’re directing your rage at someone who isn't at fault. The messenger didn’t create the bad situation—they’re just telling you about it.
The Healthier Behavior: When someone brings you bad news or criticism, simply thank them for telling you and move on. If you’re too upset or angry to do that, just say nothing at all.
Bad Habit #9: Expressing Relentless Negativity—for instance, whenever someone presents you with an idea, immediately listing all the reasons why it won’t work....
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Are you a professional who’s already seen a lot of success in your working life, but is struggling to progress any further? For instance, are you a middle manager who always seems to get passed over for promotion to the executive level? Are you a top executive who can’t seem to make the jump to becoming a CEO?
Many people get stuck at a certain level of success. This isn’t because of a lack of direction—lots of these professionals know exactly where they want to be. Likewise, it’s not because of a lack of self-esteem. Many successful people have excessive self-esteem and are arrogant. According to business coach and author Marshall Goldsmith, the problem lies in successful people’s bad behavior.
Goldsmith believes that as high-fliers chase and ultimately achieve success, they become so obsessed with gaining results and so convinced of their importance that they slip into harmful behavioral habits. In short,...
Do you want to get from “here” to “there”? Reflect on the habits holding you back and what you hope to gain from this book.
What are your career goals? Be as specific as possible.
In this section, we’re going to explore the 21 bad habits that successful people often slip into. These habits aren’t deep personality flaws that would take extensive psychiatry to change. Instead, they’re the everyday annoying traits that many successful people—especially those in leadership positions—tend to develop.
Most of these bad behaviors harm others at our own expense. Some professionals wouldn’t characterize harming others for personal gain as a bad thing. Instead, they might see these bad habits as a useful way to gain an advantage over their rivals. However, Goldsmith argues that the key to becoming successful isn’t pushing other people down on your way to the top. Instead, it’s gaining allies who will back you and help to lift you up to further success. Therefore, it’s important to overcome these harmful behaviors.
Before we get started on exploring these habits, there are two important points to address:
The next five bad habits center on either expressing negativity (for example, through anger, criticism, or hurtful comments) or withholding positivity (for instance, by refusing to praise people).
Making harmful or hurtful comments to your colleagues means insulting or belittling them in some way. For example, you might tell someone who’s made a sub-par suggestion in a meeting that they’re stupid and a waste of space, or humiliate someone by publicly mocking a time when they failed or made a mistake.
Many leaders think harmful comments serve a purpose. For instance, they believe that being rude or harsh to an underperforming employee will shock them into finally improving. Likewise, they may think that putting other people down is an effective way to build themselves up and gain more power as a leader.
But any possible “benefits” of being rude pale in comparison to the harm it does. If you’re hurtful to the people around you, they’ll quickly lose respect for you. You’ll gain a reputation for being unkind—a reputation that won’t serve you well when you look to progress in your career. This reputation will...
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These five bad habits all relate to avoiding accountability: in other words, making excuses for your poor behavior and refusing to take responsibility for your actions.
This bad habit is also known as “passing the buck.” If you’re a leader, “passing the buck” may mean trying to entirely blame your subordinates for their poor performance when, as the person in charge, you should be taking responsibility for at least a part of the failure.
Often, leaders are drawn to blaming others for their mistakes because they can’t bear the thought of appearing flawed. They think admitting they’re imperfect and mess up from time to time will make them look weak.
In reality, the opposite is true. Admitting that you’ve made a mistake takes strength and courage. It’s a humbling gesture that people generally respect. In contrast, if you blame others for your missteps, you’ll lose the respect of those around you. You’ll seem disloyal, devious, and willing to sacrifice others for your own gain.
The Healthier Behavior: Fully accept the blame for things that are your fault and tell your team members that you’re doing so. Show...
The next two bad habits we’re going to discuss are not saying thank you and refusing to listen to other people.
(Shortform note: We’ve given these two bad habits their own chapter because Goldsmith discusses them in great detail and gives them great importance. He identifies the processes of learning to listen and learning to express gratitude as crucial elements of becoming a good colleague and leader. Even if you don’t think that these bad habits are issues for you, it’s important to at least consider how you might build upon and improve your already strong listening and gratitude skills.)
One of the simplest tenets of good etiquette is saying thank you when people compliment you or give you a helpful suggestion. Yet when it comes to putting politeness into practice, many leaders fall short. They fall into the bad habit of not expressing gratitude for other people’s help.
People may refrain from saying thank you for a number of reasons. First, they may do so because they’ve fallen into one of the other bad habits we’ve covered. While these leaders know that saying thank you is important, their compulsion to engage...
The final four habits we’re going to discuss don’t really fit into any of the above categories. However, they still negatively impact the people around you and are therefore important to eradicate.
Withholding information from your colleagues can take various forms. For example, you might exclude them from information-sharing meetings, not copy them on important emails, or fail to update them on changes in policy.
You might think that people withhold information from their peers deliberately and maliciously. They know that not having access to certain information—for example, data about the most promising client leads, or information about which markets are most open to prospecting at the moment—will put their peers in a weaker position than themselves.
However, Goldsmith argues that such maliciousness is rare. In reality, most people withhold information accidentally. They’re simply too busy or too forgetful to pass it on. For instance, a busy executive simply may not find the time to share the latest company updates with their assistant. Someone with many tasks to juggle may not have the focus to...
We’ve discussed the 21 bad habits that many successful people adopt. Now, it’s time to explore how to overcome these bad habits and improve your reputation in the wake of the damage you’ve caused.
Overcoming your bad habits is a process consisting of three steps:
Following this process and overcoming your habits isn’t going to be quick or easy. It could take a year or more for you to totally cut out your bad behaviors, and doing so will require a lot of work. Likewise, it may take a long time for your reputation to fully recover from the damage your bad habits have inflicted.
However, this process is well worth the time and effort it demands. If you pursue it to its conclusion, you’ll develop the people skills and the good reputation required to progress to the top of the corporate ladder.
The first step in changing your bad habits is...
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Consider which of the 21 bad habits of successful people you might have adopted, and identify a healthier way to behave.
Identify one of the bad habits of successful people that you think you might have adopted. Why do you think you engage in this bad behavior?
Even if you think you’ve identified your bad habits, asking your colleagues for feedback on your behavior may highlight a bad behavior you hadn’t noticed before. Consider who you could ask for feedback and how you might do so.
List 3 to 5 colleagues who you think you could ask for feedback on your behavior, including a sentence explaining why you picked them. (Remember: Ideal candidates for giving feedback are honest, supportive, willing to let go of the past, and committed to changing their own behavior, too.)
You’ve gathered feedback from your colleagues. You’ve used that feedback to identify which bad habit you’re going to try to overcome. Now, it’s time to actually start the process of change: to begin to cut your bad habit out of your life.
It’s important that you start the process of change as soon as possible after deciding which behavior you’re going to tackle. For example, don’t fall into the trap of putting change off until a time when you’re “less busy.” As an already successful person, you’re always going to be busy. Bite the bullet and start to cut out your bad behavior now. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll begin to make progress.
Goldsmith doesn’t provide much information on the practicalities of making a behavioral change: for example, the steps you can take each day to reduce your temptation to engage in your bad habits and replace bad behaviors with healthier ones. Here are some practical tips we’ve devised to help you with this process:
Sometimes, the idea of switching straight from a “bad” behavior to a “good” one can seem too difficult to achieve. Identifying a neutral behavior to practice instead can stop you from becoming overwhelmed.
Think of a bad habit that you’ve adopted. Describe the two behavioral extremes of this habit: the bad behavior you’re engaging in and its “good” alternative.
A major barrier to self-improvement is resistance to change. Learn how to overcome this obstacle and develop a willingness to change your bad behavior.
Think of a bad habit that you’re currently struggling with. What factors might make you resistant to changing this harmful behavior? (For example, do you believe that your bad behavior benefits you in some way? Are you superstitious that if you cut out the bad behavior, you won’t be as successful in the future?)
Once you’ve decided how you’re going to change your bad habit and kick-started the process of self-improvement, your next move is to frequently and repeatedly discuss your behavioral change with your colleagues. Specifically, you need to:
The first conversation you need to have with your colleagues regarding changing your bad habit is an apology for your previous bad behavior. Say you’re sorry to everyone who your actions negatively impacted.
Apologizing is an important step because it’s the easiest way to make clear to your colleagues that you know you’ve messed up and that you’re going to do better in the future. It shows them that you’re willing to take responsibility for your actions, and they’re likely to respect you for doing so.
Likewise, apologizing gives people closure about the bad behavior you’ve inflicted upon them. It indicates that this behavior is in the past now and won’t be repeated. Once people have closure,...
Learn how to effectively communicate with your colleagues about the process of cutting out your bad habit.
When you start the process of changing your bad habits, it’s important to apologize to your colleagues for your previous bad behavior. Identify 3 to 5 colleagues who you think it’s particularly important for you to apologize to, and describe why you’ve chosen each colleague.
(Shortform note: In the final chapter of What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith provides various pieces of miscellaneous advice on how to improve as a leader. Most of these ideas don’t link to the book’s overall premise of identifying and addressing your bad habits. However, we’ve included them here for completeness.)
As we’ve already mentioned, the process of ending your bad habits will likely take a while to complete—months, or possibly even years. While you’re still in the process of trying to change—and are therefore still engaging in your bad habits, even if only occasionally—you should help your colleagues by directly and honestly telling them about the possible poor behavior they can expect from you, and apologizing for it in advance.
For example, if you know you have a problem with anger, warn the people around you about your short temper. Reassure them that if you do snap at them, it’s nothing personal, and preemptively apologize for doing so. Let them know that this is an issue you’re working on, and that you understand that it’s not acceptable behavior.
Forewarning your colleagues...