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Sep212009

How leaders sabotage their careers. Listening to Marshall Goldsmith

Common sense often passes for an enviable degree of insight. Marshall Goldsmith’s remarkable book, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There is a great example.  On page 42, there’s a deceptively simple 10-word sentence: “The higher you go, the more your problems are behavioral.”

A few years ago, I jotted down those 10 words and find it to be an accurate barometer of nearly every leader I have met. But what Goldsmith writes goes beyond common sense.  His book leavens common sense with his experience as one of the preeminent executive coaches in America.

He writes compellingly about the 20 bad habits that can sabotage a leader’s career – the egregious everyday annoyances that make the workplace substantially more noxious than it need to be. 

Goldsmith and his collaborator, Mark Reiter have identified those interpersonal qualities that can stunt the growth of a career.  Many leaders delude themselves about their achievements, status and contributions to the success of a project.

“But our delusions become a serious liability when we need to change,” he writes.  We sit there with the same godlike feelings, and when someone tries to make us change our ways, we regard them with unadulterated bafflement.”

Equally baffling the sheer number of managers that rise to leadership positions with these bad habits proudly in tow. 

But Goldsmith is not a finger pointer but a positivist. The subtitle of his book is How Successful People Become Even More Successful.  He has a coach’s approach to improvement. “Research and experience shows that the most powerful driver of successful behavioral change is a leader's partnership with stakeholders to obtain feedback, reflect, and act upon it. We therefore see the coach as a catalyst, not as the driver of the change process.”

I will list all twenty of the sabotaging habits at the end of the blog, but I want to highlight the three that I have witnessed most often. 

#16 Not Listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect. 

Goldsmith:  “When you fail at listening, you’re sending out an armada of negative messages.” 

Far too many managers are immersed in their own thoughts or busy formulating their next bon mot.  Frequently, they cannot recall the substance of a meeting but only how they felt during the meeting. 

#3 Adding too much value.  Goldsmith: “It is extremely difficult for successful people to listen to other people tell them something they already know without communicating a) we already knew that or b) we know a better way. 

“That’s the problem with adding too much value. Imagine you’re the CEO. I come to you with an idea that you think is very good.  Rather than just pat me on the back and say, “Great idea!” your inclination (because you have to add value) is to say,  “Good idea, but it’d be better if you tried it this way.”

“The problem is, you may have improved the content of my idea by 5% but you’ve reduced my commitment to executing it by 50%. , because you’ve taken away my ownership of the idea.”

Goldsmith isn’t saying executives have to zip their lips, but he emphasizes that the higher up you go in the organization, the more you need to make other people winners and not making about winning yourself.

Sometimes you have more to gain by not “winning” or demonstrating how smart you are.

#10 Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward.

Goldsmith: “In withholding your recognition of another person’s contribution to a team’s success, you are not only sowing injustice and treating people unfairly, but you are depriving people of the emotional payoff that comes with success.”

Recognition is really about positive closure. For some reason there is a scarcity of kudos from the top.  In fact, I have met literally hundreds of employees who have told me that they would rather have an honest thank you than a bonus. 

Creativity in leadership, I’m convinced, has less to do with product, organizational and service innovation than it does with turning the lens toward yourself.  It is about identifying those habits in your personality and finding ways to change adapt or minimize them.

Recognize your sharp edges. Redefine what success means for the entire organization and not just yourself. Make the idea of continuous improvement relate to you and not just the processes of your company or organization. 

And yes, please read and absorb Goldsmith’s wise and wonderful book: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. 

The Goldsmith 20:

  1. Winning too much
  2. Adding too much value
  3. Passing judgment
  4. Making destructive comments
  5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”
  6. Telling the world how smart we are
  7. Speaking when angry
  8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”
  9. Withholding information

10.  Failing to give proper recognition

11.  Claiming credit that we don’t deserve

12.  Making excuses

13.  Clinging to the past

14.  Playing favorites

15.  Refusing to express regret

16.  Not Listening

17.  Failing to express gratitude

18.  Punishing the messenger

19.  Passing the buck

20.  An excessive need to be me (Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they are who we are.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (2)

great blog buddy. these are really good tips that all managers and execs should take to heart. love it.

September 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeffé

Thanks Jeff. Yes, an if history repeats itself, few will take the advice to heart.

October 7, 2009 | Registered CommenterCreativity Central

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