Anna Shipman : JFDI

What got you here won't get you there

22 December 2019

Earlier this year, I read What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Great title. For me, the book didn’t quite live up to my initial hopes, but it was interesting and thought-provoking. Here are my notes.

The book is about bad habits that stop you progressing

Marshall Goldsmith is an executive coach, and this book is about the 20 behavioural habits that he sees preventing executives getting to the next level.

He quotes Peter Drucker: “Half the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.”

Stop adding too much value

As a leader, you often know a lot about a piece of work, maybe more than the person you’ve delegated it to, and when they tell you your ideas for how to do it, you may try and add some value by suggesting an improvement to their plan.

However this is counter-productive because it is demotivating. “You may have improved the content of my idea by 5 per cent, but you’ve reduced my commitment to executing it by 50 per cent, because you’ve taken away my ownership of the idea… and I walk out of your office less enthused than when I went in.”

He tells a story about someone he coached who developed the habit of taking a breath before replying to anything, and once they’d got into that habit, they realised half of what they had been about to say was not actually worth saying.

Make sure you are clear about your goals

When are you in a hurry? All the time. So it is all the more important to make sure you know why you are doing what you are doing.

You will always feel too busy or overcommitted.

(This reminded me of something I heard ages ago which I’ve found useful for things like agreeing – or not! – to do conference talks: don’t agree to do anything you wouldn’t do tomorrow. Because one day it will be tomorrow.)

He says part of being an effective leader is setting up systems to measure everything. That’s how you know how you are doing.

Retention is about relationships

He talks about retaining good people and tells a story about changing someone’s role: “we would have done anything to keep her happy, we wanted to keep her”.

Your relationship with top talent is a strategic alliance rather than an employment contract.

Relatedly, he says that the Hawthorne effect is not just that people work better when the boss is watching, but also “it’s the reason entire factory floors work harder with greater morale when they see their bosses care about their welfare”.

Ask for feedback often

Leaders who ask for input on a regular basis are seen as getting better. Remind people what you are trying to do by bringing up your objectives and asking “how am I doing?”

He also talks about what he calls “feedforward”; asking “what can I do to improve in the future?” This is a way colleagues can help each other.

You are still you outside of work

Your flaws at work don’t vanish as soon as you get home.

He suggests you request feedback at home – what can I do to be a better partner/parent/friend?

This is a theme he goes more into in his subsequent book, Triggers. I have not seen this in other management books but I like this approach, that both your home/personal life and work life are areas equally worthy of your investment to improve.

How to recalibrate if you find your staff “too needy”

He tells an interesting story about an executive who found they were spending too much time attending to requests for support from their staff. People are the most important part of the job, so if people feel they need your help, as a leader you want to be able to give it. However, as Camille Fournier points out in this excellent post, being helpful can actually be harmful, and this executive needed to recalibrate.

In the story Goldsmith tells, the executive addressed it with two questions to their staff:

Some suggestions about delegation

He suggests saying “I want you to do as much of my job as you can handle”.

You also have to remember you’re not managing you.

He quotes Drucker again: “know how to ask rather than tell”.

Follow up is really important

He talks about an executive who asked for something to be done by sending a memo: Goldsmith asked them: how many read it, understood it, acted on it? The executive couldn’t answer.

For things that you want to get done, you need to do follow-up. Send the message. Ask people the next day if they heard it. Then ask if they understood it. Then a few days later ask if they did something about it.

Leadership Inventory

The book finishes with an appendix called the “Global Leadership Inventory”, part of a research project sponsored by Accenture into what characteristics high potential leaders have. There are 72 (grouped into areas) and I made a note of a few that resonated with me:

The whole appendix is an interesting list to return to when looking for ways to develop and grow.

Some miscellanous things I liked

These don’t fit into a theme particularly, but some thoughts and ideas that I wanted to remember.

It’s worth reading

Although I found this book didn’t fulfil my early expectations, it was definitely an interesting read and made me reflect on some aspects of my own leadership style.

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