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

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

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

GetyouthereWhat Got You Here Won’t Get You There is an excellent book, well deserving of the interest and hype that surrounds it. Goldsmith has the reputation of being one of the most effective executive coaches in the business. His experience in coaching senior management into higher levels of achievement and productivity has led to Goldsmith identifying a number of habits that inhibit the promotion of such managers. This book identifies those habits and provides guidance on how best to overcome them and reach the higher levels of performance to which managers aspire.


Section 1 – The Trouble With Success

Chapter 1 – You are here

In this chapter, Goldsmith sets the scene for the problems he is addressing by highlighting the types of behaviour that stop people progressing up the promotion ladder. He presents a number of case studies that outline the problems that people generate for themselves and which typify the ways in which people sabotage their careers.

Chapter 2 – Enough about you

Goldsmith uses this chapter to establish his professional credibility. He rolls out his impressive CV and then outlines some of the techniques that he employs to coach people to higher levels of performance. His primary tools include 360 degree feedback and a habit of encouraging his clients to accept feedback as a gift rather than a personal criticism.

Section 2 – The Twenty Habits That Hold You Back From The Top

 Chapter 3 – The success delusion or why we resist change

Successful people have confidence. However, this may lead to over confidence as we become deluded into thinking our past successes predict our future performance.

Goldsmith outlines the 4 beliefs that help us become successful.

  • I have succeeded – therefore, I have skills and talent
  • I can succeed – I have confidence that I will succeed
  • I will succeed – because I have the motivation to succeed
  • I choose to succeed – in choosing, I will succeed

Our previous successes lead us to a belief that we will succeed because of our current level of achievement is, and that all we need do is continue to behave the way we have in order to continue to succeed. This may not always be the case.

Chapter 4 – The Twenty Habits

Goldsmith points out the twenty most annoying interpersonal issues that prevent people progressing. These are:

  1. Winning too much – Sometimes it is better to accept a lower output level for the benefit of team cohesion.
  2. Adding too much value – The feeling that we need to add value to everything we touch.
  3. Passing judgement – in comparison with our own standards.
  4. Making negative comments – Needless negative input.
  5. Starting a sentence with ‘No’, ‘But’ or ‘However’- This automatically invalidates the previous comment.
  1. Showing how smart we are – Personal Hubris
  2. Speaking when angry – Feeding off emotion rather than logic.
  3. Negativity – Defeatist attitudes are infectious.
  4. Withholding information – Attempting to maintain an advantage over others.
  5. Failing to give proper recognition – Not giving positive feedback.
  6. Claiming the credit for the work of others – Fraudulent activity.
  7. Making excuses – Asking for forgiveness for consistently inappropriate behaviour.
  8. Clinging to the past – Blaming previous events for current shortfalls.
  9. Playing favourite – This equates to unfair and inconsistent treatment.
  10. Refusing to express regret – Not taking responsibility for your actions.
  11. Not listening – Disrespect in its simplest form.
  12. Failing to express gratitude – Just bad manners.
  13. Punishing the messenger – The messenger is often innocent!
  14. Passing the buck – Blaming others.
  15. Excessive need to be me – Not everything is about you!

Chapter 5 – The twenty first habit: Goal Obsession

Goal obsession is the focus on the specific goal we want at the cost of the overall outcome we are aiming for. Ask yourself, ‘What am I achieving here and how does is support the overall mission or aim?’

Section 3 – How We Change For The Better

Chapter 6 – Feedback

The most effective feedback is confidential 360 degree feedback. It requires 4 commitments from you and the people in the organisation:

  1. Let go of anything hurtful in the past
  2. Be truthful
  3. Aim to be supporting and helpful not negative and hurtful
  4. Pick something you need to improve yourself so all focus on improvement not judgement

Remember to be thankful for the feedback as it is the best tool you have for self improvement.

Chapter 7 – Apologising

There is power in apologising, accepting responsibility and then acting to improve your future behaviour.

Chapter 8 – Telling the world or advertising

After the apology, you have to get proactive and advertise the fact that you are going to improve. It is hard to get people to accept that you are going to change your behaviour so start early, be committed and follow through with your actions.

Chapter 9 – Listening

It is important to listen well. Eighty percent of our effective learning is based on how well we listen. Listening is a highly active process and requires effort and practise. Listen with respect and stop generating your answer in the moments when you should be listening.

Goldsmith has a few top tips to improve your listening:

  • Listen actively
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Don’t complete the other person’s sentences
  • Don’t say I know that
  • Use the phrase ‘thank you’ even if you don’t agree
  • Don’t use the words ‘No’, ‘But’ or ‘However’ – Use ‘And’ instead.
  • Don’t become distracted
  • Keep you your end of the dialogue with encouragement and questions
  • Avoid trying to impress the other person

Chapter 10 – Thanking

The act of thanking someone is very effective. It expresses gratitude and engages the emotions of the recipient. Both are very effective at building morale and demonstrating respect.

Chapter 11 – Following up

It is essential to follow up routinely to demonstrate an enduring commitment to any change that you are attempting to make. It also gives you the necessary feedback to ensure that you are staying on track in the perception of your team and in reality.

Chapter 12 – Practising Feedforward

If feedback is getting people’s opinion on how you are doing, feedforward is getting people’s opinion on what you should be doing.

Goldsmith suggests 4 simple steps:

  • Pick a behaviour you want to change
  • Describe the objective to someone you know well
  • Ask that person for 2 suggestions for the future
  • Listen, take notes and thank that person

After a short time you will have a number of suggestions that you can pick from to help make the change you desire.

Section 4 – Pulling Out The Stops

Chapter 13 – Changing: The rules

Goldsmith offers 8 rules that will ‘stack the deck in your favour’ in the process of personal change.

These are:

  1. The problem you have might not be behavioural – It may be a skill or knowledge shortfall that behavioural change will not affect.
  2. Pick the correct thing to change – Start with the thing that will have most benefit
  3. Don’t delude yourself about what you really must change – Don’t choose weight loss over listening more effectively
  4. Don’t hide from the truth you need to hear – No point in denial!
  5. There is no ideal behaviour – Only better than you are now
  6. If you can measure it you can achieve it – You can measure current state and future state and see if the change has made a difference.
  7. Monetize the result to create motivation – Its the same logic as government taxing the behaviour they want to reduce.
  8. The best time to change is now – Ask yourself, what are you willing to change and start with that!

Chapter 14 – Special challenges for people in charge


In this chapter Goldsmith outlines a few extra tips for when you are in charge. These are:

  • Don’t let your staff overwhelm you – Don’t continue to so the work you did when you were at the level below.
  • Stop acting as if you are managing you – Your staff are different to you so don’t try to manage them like you would manage yourself.
  • Let go of the prejudice – let go of any inflexible intolerant beliefs about a person or team
  • Stop trying to coach people that shouldn’t be coached – Some people don’t want to change so don’t try to change them.


I will not hide my admiration for Marshall Goldsmith or What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. I found it to be an excellent read, rich in case studies and full of extra advice. Don’t just buy and read this book, reread it and study it. Then dare to make the changes that will propel you to the top.

Dare to Aspire

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