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Book Summary – What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

What Got You Here Won't Get You There - Book summary

Marshall Goldsmith is a renowned executive coach who has coached some of America’s most influential leaders and CEOs. He holds a Ph.D. in organizational behavior, and worked with >100 executives over more than 30 years. In this book, Goldsmith shares how successful people can move to even greater heights by addressing certain habits at work that’re jeopardizing their otherwise-outstanding career. In this free version of the What Got You Here Won’t Get You There summary, we’ll briefly outline some of the core ideas and insights.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: An Overview

The Paradox of Success

One core idea in the book is this: Often, the same beliefs that contributed to our past successes can also hinder our future successes.

Specifically, successful people have 4 beliefs which may also hold them back:

What Got You Here Won't Get You There summary - the paradox of success

  • I have succeeded“. Focusing on past successes, skills and talents helps you to confront new challenges, but also leads you to overlook your failures & others’ role/contribution.
  • I can succeed“. Believing in your abilities helps you to grasp opportunities, but can also lead to over-confidence in your skills/effort and neglection of the role of luck.
  • I will succeed“. Motivation & optimism give you the drive to succeed, but you may end up taking on too many projects or too much risks.
  • I choose to succeed“. Believing that you choose your actions gives you a sense of control & commitment, but also makes it harder to change course.

As people move up the career ladder, the factors holding them back tend to be more behavioral than technical. In fact, Goldsmith found that most successful people have 1-2 annoying interpersonal or leadership behaviors that’re keeping them from the next level. Although it’s normal for human beings to have bad habits, the impact is much greater for senior leaders. Just a handful of such habits—if repeated frequently and intensely—can create a real problem for the people around them.

We’ll now outline the 20 habits that hold successful people back from the next level. Do get a copy of our complete version of the What Got You Here Won’t Get You There summary for details on each of the 4 beliefs above, as well as examples and tips on the 20 habits summarized below.

The 20 Ineffective Habits of Leaders

There are 20 unhelpful habits common amongst senior leaders. Most successful people only have 1-2 of such habits, and these behaviors can be fixed easily—simply by stopping them. The key is to become aware of them and to make a decision to change.

What Got You Here Won't Get You There summary - 20 unhelpful habits to stop
Let’s zoom in on 2 of these habits in more detail.

Judging others

Successful people tend to have such strong opinions and high standards that they can’t resist passing judgement on others’ actions/inputs, and imposing their own standards on others.

It’s especially annoying when they critique others’ comments even though (i) they invited people to voice their views freely, or (ii) the inputs were a sincere attempt to help. Over time, people simply clamp up around them.

The solution is simple: learn to keep your thoughts to yourself. Instead, learn to listen and say “Thank you.” Over the next week, each time someone shares an idea, force yourself to say “thank you” and nothing else. You can get a friend to point out each time you judge others. You’ll end up wasting less time in pointless arguments, and start to appear more welcoming and agreeable.

Making destructive comments

Successful people may use sarcastic or cutting remarks to assert themselves, sound smart, or put others down. For example, they may say, “even my dog could do that” or “oh that’s really smart” (with a smirk that suggests otherwise). Such remarks are typically not an issue, but they create problems for about 15% of people who do it habitually.

Just because something’s true to you doesn’t mean it’s worth saying, so don’t use candor as an excuse to be inconsiderate. Ask yourself if the comment will help the other person, your company or other important stakeholders. If not, don’t say it.

We’re usually oblivious to the destructive comments we make, so it helps to have others point them out to you. You can even offer to pay your team members $10 each time someone catches you making a destructive comment. You’ll quickly stop such remarks once they burn a hole in your pocket.

Get to know all the 20(+1) Habits

Do get our complete text, infographic and audio summaries of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There summary for more details on all 20 habits: understand their associated behaviors, impact on others, and how to stop them. You can also get our full 16-page summary. Once again, the 20 ineffective habits are:

  • Being overly competitive
  • Adding too much value
  • Judging others
  • Negativity
  • Making destructive comments
  • Showing how smart you are
  • Speaking or acting in anger
  • Living in the past
  • Withholding information
  • Punishing the messenger
  • Frequent use of negative qualifiers
  • Not giving due recognition
  • Stealing others’ credit
  • Playing favorites
  • Refusing to apologize
  • Not listening to others
  • Not expressing gratitude
  • Making excuses
  • Passing the buck
  • Clinging to a self-concept

Goal obsession was singled out as the 21st habit since it isn’t a flaw in itself, but can create flaws if taken to an extreme. The ability to focus on your goal is crucial for success. The problem comes when the goal is pursued at the expense of other more vital priorities. This usually happens when you misunderstand what you want or what others want from you. For example, you focus so hard on earning more money that you neglect your loved ones and your health. Or, you may push so hard to meet a deadline that you bulldoze over others to hurt team morale and disrupt other projects.

The 7-Step Approach to Permanent Change

Marshall Goldsmith also breaks downs the 7 steps you can use to improve your interpersonal relationships and lock in the changes permanently.

1. Get Feedback

Feedback is crucial to help you identify your strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. It’s like having a “You are Here” indicator so you know where you are on a map.

In our What Got You Here Won’t Get You There summary bundle, we’ll also elaborate on how to (i) solicit feedback effectively, (ii) receive unsolicited feedback (and uncover blind spots) and (iii) gain insights from observational feedback.

2. Apologize

Feedback tells you what to change, but not how to do it. As a rule of thumb, start with an apology.

3. Declare your Intentions

After apologizing, you must declare how you intend to change, repeat the message, and back it up with action.

4. Listen Actively

Good listening isn’t about sitting there passively. Do get our complete book summary bundle to learn the 3 ingredients behind active listening.

5. Express your Gratitude

Thank people regularly, starting with the 25 people who’ve helped you the most in your life.

6. Follow Up

Change is an ongoing process. Take concrete action based on the feedback you received, then follow up consistently.
o You can also find a coach or an accountability buddy to follow up with you daily on a pre-agreed list of questions. This will push you to track and address your most critical areas for improvement.

7. Practice Feedforward

Feedforward is similar to feedback, except (i) you’re receiving ideas (not negative feedback), and (ii) the ideas are general (not personal). This makes it easier to listen fully without resistance. Find out more about this step from the book itself, or from our full What Got You Here Won’t Get You There summary :)

Improving your Odds of Success

In our complete 16-page summary.lso cover additional tips by Marshall Goldsmith on (i) how you can improve your chances of successful change, (ii) how to lead a team more effectively.

Getting the Most from What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Do get more details and examples from our complete book summary bundle  which includes an infographic, a 16-page text summary and a 25-min audio summary.

What Got You Here Won't Get You There summary - book summary bundle

This is a clearly-structured, easy to read book. Besides the key insights captured in our summary, the book also includes many other examples and anecdotes from Marshall Goldsmith’s personal and coaching experiences. You can get the book here for the full details, or check out more resources at

About the Author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful is written by Marshall Goldsmith— an American executive leadership coach and author. He holds a degree in mathematical  economics from RoseHulman Institute of Technology, an MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, and a PhD from UCLA Anderson School of Management.

From 1976-1980, Goldsmith was an assistant professor, then associate dean, at Loyola Marymount University’s College of Business, before serving as a professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. In 1977, he entered management education and later became a founding partner of the Marshall Goldsmith Group. Goldsmith has since worked with CEOs from >200 companies.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There Quotes

“If you can measure it, you can achieve it.”

“You are here. You can get there. But you have to understand that what got you here won’t get you there.”

“There’s a fine line between being competitive and overcompetitive, between winning when it counts and when no one’s counting.”

“Successful people become great leaders when they learn to shift the focus from themselves to others.”

“There simply is no excuse for making excuses.”

“How well you own up to your mistakes makes a bigger impression than how you revel in your successes.”

“The best ideas are like great wines. They improve with age. But they can also go through a dumb period when they need time to settle and sink in.”

“What we say is proof of how well we listen. They are two sides of the same coin.”

Click here to download the What Got You Here Won’t Get You There summary & infographic

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