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Book Review: What Got You Here Won't Get You There

I've been reading What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith over the past couple months, and found it to be a useful book. My one sentence summary is that it teaches without the ability to be introspective and let go of your pride, you can't evolve to use your potential. In fact, a big reason I picked up the book is that it's a problem I've seen often and of course suffer from myself at times. Especially in start ups, it's pretty common for the people that helped get things going just aren't the people that take you to the next step - sometimes because of lack of experience, but more often because they don't want to change.

Introspection is hard. First because you're biased, followed by being defensive. Not a lot of fun to look at yourself and see flaws, and fixing them sometimes requires adjusting long held positions. I find many people view introspection as self defeating or worse, and while it's possible to work on it so much you only see flaws, it's good to realize once a year that you can be better than you were last year. Not just technically, just better in general.

So to give you a better idea of the book, here's the list of the bad behaviors that are listed as most common, and there are examples and ideas for fixing each one. I'll make this a little more personal by adding a note to each about where I think I stand, and you can tell me if you disagree!

1. Need to win at all costs. (I've long outgrown this one, which isn't to say I'm not a fierce competitor once engaged)
2. Desire to add our (my) two cents to every discussion. (I worry that sometimes I do this, I like to participate and think ideas grow from discussion - but too much maybe?)
3. Need to rate others and impose our standards on them. (I don't think I'm bad about this, but I do assess people against my own scale)
4. Needless sarcasm and cutting remarks that we (I) think make us sound witty and wise. (I don't think I'm too bad on this)
5. Overuse of "No," "But" or "However."  (Don't know, need to watch my conversations more)
6. Need to show people we (I) are (am) smarter than they think we (I) are (am.)  (If anything the opposite, I try pretty hard to be a regular guy - though one of the points of my blog is to show that I enjoy and can do "deep think")
7. Use of emotional volatility as a management tool.  (Think I'm ok here)
8. Need to share our (my) negative thoughts, even if not asked. (??? Maybe part of adding two cents, but I think I'm not bad at this)
9. Refusal to share information in order to exert an advantage.  (Not at all)
10. Inability to praise and reward. (I've improved on this a lot in the last couple years, I tended to expect people to do their job, but I've added 'thank you' as a powerful tool in my bag of tricks)
11. Annoying way in which we overestimate our (my) contribution to any success. (Don't think so, if anything I tend to be too low key about things)
12. Need to reposition our (my) annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it. (Hope not!)
13. Need to deflect blame from ourselves (myself) and onto events and people from our (my) past. (nope)
14. Failure to see that we (I) am treating someone unfairly. (Hard to know? Don't think so, but not to say I don't hold a grudge sometimes)
15. Inability to take responsibility for our (my) actions. (No)
16. Act of not listening.  (Could be better, but only because I'm often enthused, but listening is a great way to learn)
17. Failure to express gratitude. (Same as 10)
18. Need to attack the innocent, even though they are usually only trying to help us (me). (No)
19. Need to blame anyone but ourselves (me). (No)
20. Excessive need to be "me." (Yeah, sometimes maybe. Like to think that isn't all bad)
21. Goal obsession at the expense of a larger mission. (No)

It's kinda in the self help category, but I think how useful it will be is more about whether you can answer those 21 questions and then try to change your behavior - let go of your pride, but might also be useful to get you thinking about other people you deal with too. More on this soon, but I'll just add that once you build the ability to be introspective it changes you, and it changes how you view others.


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by jcrawf02 on 21 May 2009

"I'll make this a little more personal by adding a note to each about where I think I stand, and you can tell me if you disagree!"

It depends . . .

Posted by Andy Warren on 21 May 2009

But..but...truly it does!

Posted by NotElite on 21 May 2009

"9. Refusal to share information in order to exert an advantage. "

I find that the person doing this is not usually doing it as a strategy.  They are usually saying "It is just quicker if I do it myself" or "But I need it done right and have no time to explain".  

The result is a team that doesn't have the knowledge to perform at the level of the "old hands" because, after all, who has time to document anything?

Posted by Andy Warren on 21 May 2009

Not, that's a great comment, I didn't see that angle. I've been around the ones who deliberately do it and not fun. I'm definitely guilty at times of saying it's quicker to it myself - the lever that moves me off that is when I start to see my weekly hours go up and up, that prompts me to either kill a task, make it faster, or hand it off.

Posted by Steve Jones on 21 May 2009

I think I suffer from 2, a little in 5, 8, maybe some 21.

Being introspective is something I have tried to do. Grabbed a Kindle sample, let you know what I think.

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