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What Got You Here Won’t Get You There Summary and Key Lessons

“What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith is a guide for successful people who are looking to make the next leap in their professional lives. 

The book states that the traits leading to initial success can hinder further growth, emphasizing the importance of soft skills and interpersonal behaviors at higher levels.

It identifies 20 detrimental habits, highlights the significance of feedback, and suggests strategies like ‘feedforward’ and daily rituals to foster continuous personal and professional development.

Full Summary

Goldsmith, an acclaimed executive coach, begins by addressing a common paradox in the business world: the very traits and habits that help individuals achieve initial success might become obstacles to their further advancement. 

He asserts that while hard skills and technical competencies are critical for early career development, soft skills and interpersonal behaviors become increasingly important in higher-level positions. 

This foundational idea sets the stage for the book’s exploration of the subtle, often-overlooked behaviors that can impede professional growth.

Key Habits

Goldsmith dives into the heart of his message by identifying 20 habits that often hinder high-achieving individuals. These are –

  1. Winning Too Much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations.
  2. Adding Too Much Value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.
  3. Passing Judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.
  4. Making Destructive Comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound witty.
  5. Starting with ‘No,’ ‘But,’ or ‘However’: Overusing these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”
  6. Telling the World How Smart We Are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.
  7. Speaking When Angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.
  8. Negativity, or “Let Me Explain Why That Won’t Work”: The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked.
  9. Withholding Information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.
  10. Failing to Give Proper Recognition: The inability to praise and reward.
  11. Claiming Credit That We Don’t Deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.
  12. Making Excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.
  13. Clinging to the Past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.
  14. Playing Favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.
  15. Refusing to Express Regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.
  16. Not Listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
  17. Failing to Express Gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.
  18. Punishing the Messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help us.
  19. Passing the Buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
  20. An Excessive Need to Be “Me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.

Each of these behaviors, Goldsmith argues, can erode an individual’s ability to lead effectively. 

What makes these habits particularly dangerous is their insidious nature; they are often unconscious and can be easily rationalized as strengths. Goldsmith’s clear and concise descriptions of these behaviors allow readers to recognize and reflect on their own potential pitfalls.

Feedback and Personal Development

A crucial part of the book revolves around the concept of feedback and its importance in personal development

Goldsmith emphasizes that successful people often struggle to receive honest feedback, either because their status intimidates others or because they have become defensive. He presents a systematic approach for soliciting feedback and stresses the importance of listening to it without judgment. 

This process is not just about hearing what others think but is also about fostering an environment of continuous learning and adaptability. 

Goldsmith underscores that this approach to feedback is not a one-time effort but a lifelong practice essential for ongoing development.


In addition to identifying problems, Goldsmith provides actionable strategies for change. 

One of the key techniques he advocates is “feedforward” – instead of focusing on past mistakes, this approach encourages individuals to focus on future opportunities for improvement. 

By engaging colleagues in a dialogue about future goals and how to achieve them, leaders can create a more positive and forward-thinking atmosphere. 

Goldsmith also emphasizes the importance of apologizing for past missteps, a simple yet powerful way to rebuild trust and open lines of communication

He underscores the importance of gratitude and recognition in building a supportive team environment.

Daily rituals

Finally, Goldsmith ties his ideas together by stressing the importance of daily effort and persistence in changing behavior. 

He acknowledges that while identifying bad habits is a crucial first step, the real challenge lies in the ongoing practice of new behaviors. This requires not just self-awareness but also a commitment to long-term change, often in the face of deeply ingrained habits. 

Goldsmith encourages us to view this process as a journey rather than a destination, emphasizing that continuous improvement is a key aspect of sustained success and personal fulfillment.

what got you her won't get you there summary

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Key Lessons

1. The Importance of Self-Awareness and Continuous Feedback

Goldsmith emphasizes the critical role of self-awareness in personal and professional growth. 

He argues that successful individuals often become blind to their own faults and the small, damaging habits that can limit their further advancement. 

Continuous feedback from peers, subordinates, and superiors is essential to gaining this self-awareness.


Cultivate a habit of actively seeking feedback in your personal life. 

This could involve asking friends, family members, or colleagues for their honest opinions on your behavior, communication style, or how you handle certain situations. 

It’s important to approach this with an open mind and a willingness to listen, rather than to defend yourself. Regularly reflecting on the feedback you receive can help you identify patterns in your behavior that you might want to change.

2. The Power of Adapting Communication and Behavior

Goldsmith details how certain behaviors and communication styles, while beneficial at earlier stages of a career, can become hindrances at higher levels. 

This includes being overly competitive, failing to give proper recognition to others, or speaking out of anger.


Be mindful of how you interact with others in your daily life. 

Do you acknowledge others’ contributions and successes? 

Are you listening more than you speak? 

When you do speak, are your comments constructive? 

Practice active listening, where you fully concentrate on what is being said, rather than planning your response. 

Learn to give genuine compliments and show appreciation. 

If you have a tendency to react emotionally, practice taking a moment to compose yourself before responding to challenging situations.

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3. The Concept of ‘Feedforward’ Instead of Feedback

Instead of focusing solely on past mistakes, Goldsmith introduces the concept of ‘feedforward’, which encourages focusing on future improvements and solutions. This approach is more forward-looking and positive, emphasizing growth and potential rather than past errors.


In your personal interactions, when discussing areas of improvement or conflict, focus on what can be done differently moving forward. 

For example, if you’re resolving a disagreement with a friend or family member, instead of dwelling on what went wrong, discuss how you both can handle similar situations better in the future. 

This shifts the conversation from blame to collaborative problem-solving. Additionally, apply this to your own self-improvement efforts by setting specific, future-oriented goals for yourself and regularly reviewing your progress towards these goals.

Final Thoughts

“What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” is a guide that challenges the reader to reevaluate their leadership style and personal habits. 

Goldsmith’s insights are particularly valuable for those in leadership roles seeking to refine their interpersonal skills and continue their professional growth. The book is a reminder that continuous improvement and adaptability are essential for long-term success, especially in leadership positions.

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