What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: Summary & Review

what got you here won't get you there book cover

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There teaches successful and ambitious executives how to go from an already high level of career success, to an even higher level. 
Often, explains author Goldsmith, it’s about overcoming the false belief that one’s own success justifies doing the same things we’ve always done.


About the Author: Marshall Goldsmith is an American leadership coach. He learned and trained under famed management consultant Peter Drucker, author of “The Effective Executive“. Goldsmith is the author of several career and management-related books, including “How Women Rise“.

The Belief That Prevents You From Getting to The Next Level

Successful people can get stuck because they believe that:

Since I succeeded, I must be good. Hence, all I’m doing must be good

So sometimes it can be hard to make successful and driven people understand that they can improve… By changing this or that.

What’s Stopping Top-Execs From Getting to The Next Level

  1.  Winning too much: The need to be the alpha male or alpha female at all times. The need win at all costs and in all situations, even when it doesn’t matter, or when the costs outweigh the benefits. 
  2. Adding too much value: This isn’t really about adding value, but to always add opinions and overpowering others
  3. Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them
  4. Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasm and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty
  5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers secretly says 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

The author says that Machiavelli might turn these habits around and say it’s exactly what makes these people succeed. 
But that’s not the case, because enlisting people as allies, in the long run, is a better strategies for success.
Also read:

To Change People, Leverage Their Self Interest

Robert Greene, author of “The 48 Laws of Power” said that the world is run by self-interest.

And Goldsmith says that to help people change, you must present change in a way that helps them get more of what they want.
As the author put it, “you”, that’s their “hot button”.

Luckily, he says, successful people all have the same hot buttons.

Successful People Want Power

Says the author:

Fortunately, successful people make it easy to find the button.
If you press people to identify the motives behind their self-interest, it
 usually boils down to four items: money, power, status, and popularity.
These are the standard payoffs for success. It’s why we will claw and scratch for a raise (money), for a promotion (power), for a bigger title and office (status). It’s why so many of us have a burning need to be liked by everyone (popularity).

People Get Rewarded for What They Do, Rarely For What They Avoid

People usually get promoted and rewarded for what they do, but not for all the equally positive things they stop doing, or for the bad deals they stall.

The CEO of Warner made history for the worst merger in US history when he at the height of the .com bubble merged with AOL.
The funny thing?
If he had stopped that merger at the last minute, everyone would have soon forgotten about it.

If You Want to Improve, You Must Focus on What You Must do Less

Since what you stop doing matters as much as what you are doing, you must also focus on what you are doing wrong.

Ask for Feedback, Especially With Your Most Important Relationships

It’s funny how some people manage to muster the courage to ask for feedback at work.

But they still never ask for feedback in the relationships that matter the most to them, with their parents, children, or spouses.
There is a psychological stumbling block stopping us: We figure if we don’t ask for critiques of our behavior, then no one has anything critical to say.

The author, for example, asked his daughter what she’d like to see more from him.
The answer shocked him: they didn’t complain that he wasn’t home for business trips, but that when he was home, he wasn’t spending quality time with them, but instead watching sports or being generally absent. 

You Don’t Need to Become The Best At It, You Just Need to Improve It

I loved this message.

Some people don’t work on themselves because they think they will never get great at it.
Well, fuck that, you don’t necessarily need to become great at it, you just need to get better.

That message alone bumped this book up to 4 stars.

Say the author:

The same applies to your task of changing your behavior.
Pick one issue that matters and “attack” it until it doesn’t matter anymore. If you’re a bad listener, choose to become a better listener—not the best listener in the world (whatever that means!). If you don’t share information, get better at sharing until it’s not an issue anymore

What People Want, By Age

Says the author that, on average:

People in their 20s want to learn on the job. In their 30s they want to advance. And in their 40s they want to rule.

what got you here won't get you there book cover

More Wisdom

  • The higher you go, the more it’s about people skills: says the author: “who would you rather have as a CFO? A moderately good accountant who is great with people outside the firm and skilled at managing very smart people? Or a brilliant accountant who’s inept with outsiders and alienates all the smart people under him?”
  • If you ask for feedback, don’t give your opinion right away: or it will seem like you never wanted to consider their opinion anyway. Instead, ask questions to let them share even more
  • Bosses prefer praise to criticism: so watch for giving “radical candor” feedback


On withholding information to accrue power:

The problem with not sharing information—for whatever reason—is that it rarely achieves the desired effect.
You may think you’re gaining an edge and consolidating power, but you’re actually breeding mistrust. In order to have power, you need to inspire loyalty rather than fear and suspicion. Withholding information is nothing more than a misplaced need to win.

How the author convinced an executive to start the coaching relationship:

As I told you, I can’t help you make more money. But I can get you to confront this question: Do you really want to have a funeral where you’re the featured attraction and the only attendees are people who came to make sure you’re dead?
Basically, that’s where you’re headed.

Some good realpolitik wisdom some people need to hear:

Criticizing the boss, no matter how ardently he or she tells you to “bring it on,” is rarely a great career move.

On the relativity of top performance:

I take great comfort in the fact that Michael Jordan, to many the best basketball player to ever play the game, was a mediocre baseball player in the minor leagues and, as a golfer, would have a tough time keeping up with at least twenty golfers who live within an 800 yard radius of my home in San Diego.

On personalizing your management to the people whom you manage:

By all means, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But realize that it doesn’t apply in all instances in management. If you manage your people the way you’d want to be managed, you’re forgetting one thing: You’re not managing you.


“What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” is perfect for successful people who like to improve.

Success can be successful people’s biggest enemy when it comes to improvement, as they believe that whatever they’ve done so far made successful, so they must keep it up.

What they don’t realize is that, at least for some behavior, they have been successful in spite of it.
And that there is always room for improvement.

Check the:

Or get the book on Amazon

Scroll to Top