What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith

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What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: A management text that is much more readable than most, this is the what to do (and what not to do) guide from one of the most eminent authors on success and leadership.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: June 2008
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1846681370

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Marshall Goldsmith is one of the business world's top five coaches of CEOs and future CEOs according to Forbes, while The Times, only slightly less impressed, named him one of the top fifty most influential management thinkers alive. He has written more than twenty books, worked with more than eighty business leaders. He's clearly doing something right. I'd not heard of him before but then I'm not a CEO (yet), and I also don't tend to read a lot of the industry press. I'm also not really one to read too many management books – if I'm getting on a plane I'd rather pick up a trashy novel than some thick bible on how to seal my next big business deal – but every so often I get intrigued and flick through a couple. Meaning Inc and Gut Feelings both changed the way I treated my job, at least temporarily, and What Got You Here… is the latest read to be added to that pile.

I liked the book the minute it arrived. It has a guy on the front shamelessly climbing a career ladder, and comes with the subtitle How Successful People Become Even More Successful. Now you have to admit, that's a pretty appealing claim. I wouldn't count myself in the ranks of the successful people of the world (yet) but the chance to learn from them (and maybe even skip straight to more successful) attracted me instantly.

While many books tell you what you need to do to succeed (think The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People), this book starts by telling you what not to do – twenty things not to do in fact. These are common mistakes leaders at all levels inadvertently make, but continuing with them may be the real reason you're only getting so far. Most of these are a mixture of common sense and general good manners – don't boast, take credit for other people's successes or blame them for your failures, for example – but sometimes you just need to hear these things again for them to sink in. After listing all the many things people do wrong, you'd think it would be time to move on to what we all should be doing instead, but you'd be wrong. Instead, each of the twenty habits are dissected in minute detail, illustrated by case studies of the author's friends, family and clients. Only after you have really thought about these twenty no-nos (and added an additional one for good measure) do you get to move on and talk about how to change for the better. It's hard to summarise the book in one key message as it has so much to say, but I suppose Be you, only better/nicer/smarter would be a start. It's not about fundamentally changing who you are and how you act, but about tweaking a few character 'flaws' to optimise your potential.

Another thing Goldsmith believes is that confidence in an ability to succeed can make success happen. That's the reason for the repeated use of (yet) above. I'm not overly cocky, I'm just trying to do as I'm told and test the theory that if I remain confident and believe I can succeed, I will do. A week after finishing the book I still haven't got anywhere impressive, but I'll keep you posted…

While self-obsession can be a little annoying in management books (and would contribute to several of those twenty bad habits) the continued reference by Goldsmith to his own personal life is quite the reverse: I thought the insights into his work and home life were interesting, from the way he related to his children to his fitness regime (or lack thereof), and they made the lessons in the book more accessible and human. If I don't end up being the sort of CEO he would have as a client (minus the need to work on those twenty bad habits, natch) then I wouldn't mind having his job instead.

My only query with this title would be around who the intended audience is. Reading this as a not especially successful 20-something I could identify with a number of the scenarios and observations. I can't guarantee I will remember all the advice, but I'm pretty sure some of it has stuck already. Luckily, I still have a large part of my career ahead of me, and have the time to change my ways. If I were a properly successful 40-something, things might be a little different. I suppose my query is how people would get to be successful while still making all the 'mistakes' this book tells us about, and if they did, whether they would be the sort of people to take advice from a management guru. Some of the issues just seem like such fundamental barriers to success that you couldn't imagine people would get further than junior management if they were regularly committing them. The book's blurb implies a target audience of people whose hard work is paying off and who are doing well in (their) field and that doesn't seem to tally for me, unless the book is secretly aimed at the likes of me whose chest would puff out like a proud peacock at the thought that I was already part of that 'elite' group. Either way, it is a great read, and both accessible and entertaining, even if the intended readership is open for debate.

The text in the paperback book is on the small side, and all the other 20-something colleagues round for book club last week agreed (yes, we have a book club, made up entirely of Public Sector bureaucrats. It's a wacky world out there.) If you need reading glasses for a normal text you will struggle with this one. The flipside is that the paperback edition is also nice and portable, and you could cart it round with you for moments on the tube or train when you feel the need to look all intellectual.

Once you've fixed any bad habits you recognise in yourself and are back on the way from here to there you might also find it useful to brush up on the Unwritten Laws Of Business.

Thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book. For more on the author and his work, have a look at his website.

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