Some people go through life with an unerring sense of direction. They know who they are and where they’re going. We feel secure around them. We feel that any surprises will only be pleasant surprises. They are our role models and heroes. However, we also meet some people of the opposite trait.
They think they have all the answers, we see it as arrogance. People like this don’t realize that these flaws may sabotage their otherwise golden career. Worse still, they do not realize that (a) it’s happening and (b) they can fix it. Marshall Goldsmith’s book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” is a map—a map that can turn the maze of wrong turns in the workplace into a straight line to the top.
Success Attainment Blinkers
Four key beliefs help us become successful. Yet each can make it tough for us to change. That’s the paradox of success: These beliefs that carried us here may be holding us back in our quest to go there.
Belief 1: I Have Succeeded
Successful people believe in their skills and talent. It’s a mantra that goes like this: ‘I have succeeded. I have succeeded. I have succeeded.’ Whether or not they actually voice it inside their heads, this is what successful people are telling themselves. It’s not because they are reminded of all the screw-ups they’ve created and failures endured in recent days. On the contrary, it’s because they edit out the failures and choose instead to run the highlight reel of their successes.
Belief 2: I Can Succeed
This is another way of saying, ‘I am confident that I can succeed.’ Successful people believe that they have the capability within themselves to make desirable things happen. Given the choice, they will always bet on themselves and one of the greatest mistakes of successful people is the assumption, ‘I am successful. I behave this way. Therefore, I must be successful because I behave this way!’
Belief 3: I Will Succeed
This is another way of saying, ‘I have the motivation to succeed.’ Successful people have an unflappable optimism. They not only believe that they can manufacture success, they believe it’s practically their destiny. As a result, successful people tend to pursue opportunities with an enthusiasm that others may find mystifying. The danger with this, of course, is that, unchecked, this ‘we will succeed’ attitude leads to burnout and over stretching of critical resources and focus.
Belief 4: I Choose to Succeed
Successful people believe that they are doing what they choose to do, because they choose to do it. They have a high need for self-determination. When we do what we choose to do, we are committed. When we do what we have to do, we are compliant. It’s called cognitive dissonance. The more we are committed to believing that something is true, the less likely we are to believe that its opposite is true, even in the face of clear evidence that shows we are wrong.
These four behaviours and their limiting factors highlight the theme behind this book, the reason that ‘what got us here won’t get us there.’ As Goldsmith states “Almost everyone I meet is successful because of doing a lot of things right, and almost everyone I meet is successful in spite of some behavior that defies common sense.”
Peter Drucker put it succinctly stating, ‘We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop. Half the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.’
Habits worth breaking
Let’s look at some of the constraining habits Goldsmith covers in the book, which he calls habits worth breaking.
Habit A: Winning too much
There’s a fine line between being competitive and over-competitive, between winning when it counts and when no one’s counting—and successful people cross that line with alarming frequency.
If we argue too much, it’s because we want our view to prevail over everyone else. If we’re guilty of putting down other people, it’s our stealthy way of positioning them beneath us (again, winning). If we ignore people, again it’s about winning—by making them fade away. If the need to win is the dominant gene in our success DNA—the overwhelming reason we’re successful—then winning too much is a perverse genetic mutation that can limit our success. Here is an example.
Let’s say that you want to go to dinner at restaurant X. Your significant other wants to go to restaurant Y. You have a heated debate about the choice. You point out the bad reviews Y has received. But you grudgingly yield and end up going to restaurant Y. The experience confirms your misgivings. What do you do?
Option A: you can critique the restaurant and smugly point out to your partner how wrong he or she was and how this debacle could have been avoided if only you had been listened to, or Option B: Shut up and eat the food. Mentally write it off and enjoy the evening. Which do you think will have the better outcome?
Habit B: Adding too much value
Imagine you’re the CEO. I come to you with an idea that you think is very good. Rather than just pat me on the back and say, ‘Great idea!’ your inclination (because you have to add value) is to say, ‘Good idea, but it’d be better if you tried it this way.’ The problem is, you may have improved the content of my idea by 5 percent, but you’ve reduced my commitment to executing it by 50 percent, because you’ve taken away my ownership of the idea. My idea is now your idea—and I walk out of your office less enthused about it than when I walked in.
The higher up you go in the organization, the more you need to make other people winners and not make it about winning yourself. For bosses this means closely monitoring how you hand out encouragement. If you find yourself saying, ‘Great idea,’ and then dropping the other shoe with a tempering ‘but’ or ‘however,’ try cutting your response off at ‘idea.’
Habit C: Starting with ‘No,’ ‘But,’ or ‘However’
When you start a sentence with ‘no,’ ‘but,’ ‘however,’ or any variation thereof, no matter how friendly your tone, the message to the other person is You are wrong. It’s bluntly and unequivocally, ‘What you’re saying is wrong, and what I’m saying is right.’ Nothing productive can happen after that. The general response from the other is to dispute your position and fight back. From there, the conversation dissolves into a pointless war. You’re no longer communicating. You’re both trying to win.
If this is your interpersonal challenge, start monitoring how many times you begin remarks with ‘no,’ ‘but,’ or ‘however.’ Pay extra-close attention to those moments when you use these words in sentences where harmony with the other party is the objective. For example avoid, ‘That’s true, however . . .’ (Meaning: You don’t think it’s true at all.) Or the particularly common opener, ‘Yes, but . . .’ (Meaning: Prepare to be contradicted.)
Habit D: Telling the world how smart we are
This is a variation on our need to win. We need to win people’s admiration. We need to let them know that we are at least their intellectual equal if not their superior. We need to be the smartest person in the room. It usually backfires. Many of us do this covertly and unwittingly all day long. We do it whenever we agree with someone offering us some practical advice, whenever we nod our heads impatiently while people are talking, whenever our body language suggests that we are not hearing something we haven’t heard before. The problem here is not that we’re merely boasting about how much we know. We’re insulting the other person.
So, how do you tone down the need to tell the world how smart you are? Goldsmith suggests we use a three-step drill in which we (a) pause before opening our mouth to ask ourself, ‘Is anything I say worth it?’ (b) conclude that it isn’t, and (c) say, ‘Thank you.’ Try it, it works!
Habit E: Failing to give proper recognition
By withholding your recognition of another person’s contribution to a team’s success, you are not only treating people unfairly but you are depriving people of the emotional payoff that comes with success. They cannot revel in the success or accept congratulations—because you have choked off that option. Instead they feel forgotten, ignored, pushed to the side. And they resent you for it. In depriving people of recognition, you are depriving them of closure.
Recognition is all about closure. When you fail to provide that recognition, you are cheapening the success. You have the success but none of the afterglow. Of all the interpersonal slights we make, not providing recognition may be the one that endures most deeply in the minds of the slighted. Except for its more-evil twin, Habit F.
Habit F: Claiming credit that we don’t deserve
When someone you work with steals the credit for a success that you created, they’re committing the most rage-inducing interpersonal ‘crime’ in the workplace and it creates a bitterness that’s hard to forget. You can forgive someone for not recognizing your stellar performance. You CAN’T forgive that person for recognizing it yet brazenly claiming it as his or her own.
In business, when it comes to determining exactly who came up with the winning phrase in a meeting or who held together an important client relationship during a rocky phase, the evidence gets fuzzy. It’s hard to say who deserves the credit. So, given the choice between grasping the credit for ourselves or leaving it for someone else to claim, we fall into the success traps of the four beliefs of successful people above, and give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. We claim more credit than we have earned, and slowly begin to believe it. In the meantime, the victims of our injustice are seething. The best way to stop being a credit hog is to do the opposite. Share the wealth. Plain and simple. Share the love.
Habit G: Not listening
When you fail at listening you’re sending out a host of negative messages. You’re saying: I don’t care about you. I don’t understand you. You’re wrong. You’re stupid. You’re wasting my time.
Not listening is a silent, invisible activity. People rarely notice you doing it. You can be not listening because you’re bored, or distracted, or busy composing what you want to say—and no one will know it. The only time people actually see that you’re not listening to them is when you’re displaying extreme impatience. You want them to hurry up and get to the point. People notice that. And they rarely think better of you for it. When you find yourself mentally or literally drumming your fingers while someone else is talking, stop the drumming. Stop demonstrating impatience when listening to someone. Stop saying (or thinking) ‘Next!’ It’s not only rude and annoying, but it’s sure to inspire your employees to find their next boss.
Habit H: Passing the buck
A leader who cannot shoulder the blame is not someone we will follow blindly into battle. We instinctively question that individual’s character, dependability, and loyalty to us. And so we hold back on our loyalty to him or her. When we pass the buck, everyone notices—and no one is impressed. Passing the buck is the dark flip side of claiming credit that others deserve. Instead of depriving others of their rightful glory for a success, we wrongfully saddle them with the shame of our failure.
Consumers judge a service business not so much when it does things right (consumers expect that) but rather by how the business behaves in correcting a foul-up. It’s the same in the workplace. How well you own up to your mistakes makes a bigger impression than how you revel in your successes. If passing the buck is your challenge, you’re probably already aware that you’re doing it. You’re not fooling anyone—except perhaps yourself—and that no matter how much you think you’re saving your skin, you’re actually killing it.
Habit I: Goal Obsession
Goal obsession is one of those paradoxical traits we accept as a driver of our success. As a result, in our dogged pursuit of our goals we forget our manners. We’re nice to people if they can help us hit our goal. We push them out of the way if they’re not useful to us. Without meaning to, we can become self-absorbed schemers and be losing friends and supporters along the way.
The solution is simple, but not easy. We have to step back, take a breath, and look. And survey the conditions that are making us obsessed. We need to ask ourself: When are we under time pressure? Or in a hurry? Or doing something that we have been told is important? Or have people depending upon us? Probable answer: All the time. These are the classic conditions of the goal obsessed. We confront them every minute of every day. They do not go away. This makes it important to reflect upon our work, match it up against the life we want to live, and consider, ‘What am I doing?’ and, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Ask yourself, ‘Am I achieving a task—and forgetting my “true north” mission?’
Changing for the better
To help us break the habits, Goldsmith has created a seven-step method for changing our interpersonal relationships and making these changes permanent.
Step 1 Seek Feedback
Successful people have two problems dealing with negative feedback. (a) they don’t want to hear it from us and (b) we don’t want to give it to them. To break this chain and gain the benefit of feedback, they need to sign up to the following commitments. Can they let go of the past? Will they swear to tell the truth? Will they be supportive, without being a cynic, critic, or judge? Will they pick one thing they can improve in themselves to reciprocate change?
Step 2 Apologizing
Here’s the instruction manual: You say, ‘I’m sorry.’ You add, ‘I’ll try to do better in the future.’ And then . . . you say nothing. Don’t explain it. Don’t complicate it. Don’t qualify it. You only risk saying something that will dilute it. When it comes to apologizing, the only sound advice is get in and get out as quickly as possible. The sooner you can get the apology over with, the sooner you can move on.
Step 3 Advertising
After you apologize, you must advertise. 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? The odds improve considerably if you tell people that you are trying to change. Your odds improve again if you tell everyone how hard you’re trying and repeat the message week after week.. Eventually the message sinks in and people start to accept the possibility of a new improved you.
Step 4 Listening
The thing about listening that escapes most people is that they think of it as a passive activity. You don’t have to do anything. Not true. Good listeners regard what they do as a highly active process—with every muscle engaged, especially the brain. To learn from people, you have to listen to them with respect. It’s not enough to keep our ears open; we have to demonstrate that we are totally engaged. Listening also requires us to answer a difficult question before we speak. Asking, ‘Is it worth it?’ engages you in thinking beyond the discussion to consider (a) how the other person regards you, (b) what that person will do afterwards, and (c) how that person will behave the next time you talk.
Step 5: Thanking
Thanking works because it expresses one of our most basic emotions: gratitude. When someone does something nice for you, they expect gratitude—and they think less of you for withholding it. When you thank people for helping you, you’re admitting that you needed help in the first place—which is one way to pinpoint your deficiencies. If you didn’t need to improve in a specific area, you wouldn’t have needed another person’s help. It helps you identify your old weak spots (which may still be weaker than you think).
Step 6: Following Up
Follow-up is how you measure your progress. Follow-up is how we remind people that we’re making an effort to change, and that they are helping us. Follow-up is how our efforts eventually get imprinted on our colleagues’ minds. Follow-up is how we erase our coworkers’ skepticism that we can change. Follow-up is how we acknowledge to ourselves and others that getting better is an ongoing process, not a temporary conversion. More than anything, follow-up makes us do it.
Step 7: Practicing Feedforward
Feedforward asks you to do four simple steps: 1. Pick the one behavior that you would like to change which would make a significant, positive difference in your life. 2. Describe this objective in a one-on-one dialogue with anyone you know. 3. Ask that person for two suggestions for the future that might help you achieve a positive change in your selected behavior. 4. Listen attentively to the suggestions. Your only ground rule: You are not allowed to judge, rate, or critique the suggestions in any way.
So there we have it. What got you here won’t get you there – unless you break the habit.