Book Summary: What’s putting a lid on your success?

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

by Marshall Goldsmith

“What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” explores the habits and behaviors that can keep us from advancing in leadership.

Renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith argues that the focus shifts from technical skills to behaviors as we move up the organizational ladder. And bad habits and outdated strategies—many of which helped us get to where we are—can hold us back. He provides a roadmap for identifying and addressing these limitations and achieving next-level personal and professional growth. He uses real-life examples from his extensive coaching experience with top executives and leaders.

About the author: Marshall Goldsmith is an executive coach, leadership expert, and personal and professional development author. He has worked with top executives and organizations worldwide, helping individuals overcome self-limiting behaviors, foster self-awareness, and drive positive change. Goldsmith’s work has significantly impacted leadership practices and organizational development, making him a leading authority in the field.

About the book: The book is organized into four parts. Part 1 discusses our difficulties with success, including what Goldsmith calls the “success delusion.” which makes us resist change even if it benefits us. Part 2 discusses 21 habits that may hinder our career growth. Part 3 provides a seven-step process for making positive changes. Finally, Part 4 outlines the ground rules for change and the unique challenges those in leadership positions face.

Goldsmith’s approach is pragmatic and actionable, offering readers a clear framework for recognizing and addressing their limitations and practical strategies for building more effective relationships, enhancing communication, and achieving lasting success.

This summary reflects my takeaways from a useful book I recommend to others. Reading a summary isn’t a substitute for reading the book. There’s much more than I can cover here. Plus, this is my interpretation. If these ideas resonate with you, I encourage you to get a copy from your library or favorite bookseller. Here are the Amazon links: e-book | Audiobook | Print

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes should be attributed to the book’s author.


A successful career is a journey from one state of professional development (“here”) to another (“there”).

  • “Here” can be a good place, but it may still have gaps or areas for improvement.
  • The goal is to reach “there,” a better place where leadership and teamwork thrive.
  • As you progress in your career and aim for higher positions, it’s essential to continually to refine and adapt your approach to changing for the better – your path to “there.”

The trouble with success is that “our previous success often prevents us from achieving more success.” Success can close our eyes to how others perceive our actions, so we continue to rely on past behaviors and habits even when they are no longer effective.

The “success delusion” also causes us to resist change: We overestimate our achievements, status, and contributions in the workplace. This results in resistance to change, as we strongly believe in our abilities and feel that future success is guaranteed based on our past achievements.

Overcoming resistance to change involves appealing to natural law: we act based on our self-interests, usually tied to money, power, status, and popularity.

Some everyday habits may be holding your career back:

  1. Winning too much: The relentless drive to win in every circumstance, whether essential, inconsequential, or irrelevant.
  2. Adding too much value: The overwhelming need to interject our opinions into every conversation.
  3. Passing judgment: We need to rate others and hold them to our standards.
  4. Making destructive comments: Using sarcasm and cutting remarks unnecessarily to showcase our wit and sharpness.
  5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”: The overuse of negative qualifiers that imply “I’m right. You’re wrong.”
  6. Telling the world how smart we are: The need to prove that we’re smarter than they think.
  7. Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a way to manage people.
  8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: We need to share our negative thoughts even when unsolicited.
  9. Withholding information: Refusing to share information to maintain an advantage.
  10. Failing to give proper recognition: Inability to praise and reward others.
  11. Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contributions to success.
  12. Making excuses: Repositioning annoying behavior to seek forgiveness.
  13. Clinging to the past: Blaming events and people from the past to deflect responsibility.
  14. Playing favorites: Failing to recognize when we treat someone unfairly.
  15. Refusing to express regret: Inability to take responsibility, admit wrongdoing, or acknowledge the impact on others.
  16. Not listening: A passive-aggressive demonstration of disrespect for colleagues.
  17. Failing to express gratitude: Ignoring the most rudimentary form of politeness.
  18. Punishing the messenger: Attacking those trying to help.
  19. Passing the buck: Blaming others instead of taking responsibility.
  20. Excessive need to be “me”: Elevating faults as virtues because they define us.

The 21st habit: goal obsession, which can lead to tunnel vision in pursuit of specific objectives at the expense of broader values and missions or when admirable talents are applied to undesirable behaviors because of misaligned goals. The solution: Reflect on the factors driving goal obsession and align actions with broader life goals and organizational missions.

The higher you go, the more the problems become behavioral. At the higher levels of organizational life, all the leading players are smart and technically skilled. As you progress, your people skills become more apparent and decisive.

Know what to stop:

“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.” –Peter Drucker

  • Stopping negative behavior can be as crucial as initiating positive behavior. Create a “to stop” list alongside your “to do” list.
  • Instead of trying to make numerous positive changes, like being sociable, you can achieve your goal by stopping negative behaviors, like being rude. This simple approach streamlines improvement efforts.

7 Steps to change for the better:

  1. Seek Feedback: Obtain 360-degree feedback for a comprehensive view. Different types of feedback (solicited, unsolicited, observational) offer varying perspectives.
  2. Apologize: Acknowledge mistakes, vow to improve, and keep it sincere.
  3. Advertise: Inform others about your commitment to change.
  4. Listen Effectively: Engage in respectful, thoughtful listening and response.
  5. Say “Thank You”: Express genuine gratitude as a skill to enhance relationships.
  6. Follow-Up: Consistent reconnecting with colleagues ensures lasting improvement and trust.
  7. Practice “Feedforward”: Seek future-focused suggestions for positive behavioral change.

Changing for the better has rules:

  • Interpret feedback carefully. Feedback must be carefully interpreted to distinguish between genuine behavioral issues and those that are not.
  • Pick the right thing to change. Distinguish between “miswanting” and “mischoosing.” Don’t avoid addressing your most critical issue by focusing on more accessible or enjoyable tasks.
  • Don’t delude yourself about what you really must change. Make sure the change will acutely lead to the result that’s needed. And make realistic assessments of the effort, time, and rewards required to achieve meaningful goals.
  • Don’t hide from the truth you need to hear. Seek the truth, even if it’s uncomfortable. Discovering and constructively addressing the truth is better than remaining in counterproductive denial.
  • There is no ideal behavior. Avoid the pursuit of perfection and focus on making improvements where they matter most.
  • If you can measure it, you can achieve it. Measure and track soft values in personal and professional life to drive meaningful improvements.
  • Monetize the result and create a solution. Use financial rewards or penalties to incentivize behavior change effectively.
  • The best time to change is now. Start immediately; the ideal time will never come.

Conclusion: Take the advice from your 95-year-old self, which, based on two streams of research will probably be along the lines of:

  1. Find happiness and meaning in the present instead of constantly seeking fulfillment in the future.
  2. Prioritize your friends and family, as they will be the most important in the long run.
  3. Pursue your dreams, regardless of their size, and don’t be afraid to go after what you truly desire.

Book details and where to buy it:

Get the book on Amazon: e-book | Audiobook | Print (affiliate links*)
Amazon rating: 4.6/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.0/5 stars
Page count: 256
Publication date: Feb. 1, 2013
Author website: Marshall Goldsmith

*These are affiliate links. We may receive a small commission from Amazon on your purchase at no additional cost.