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July - 2007 - issue > People Manager
What Got You here Won’t Get You There
C. Mahalingam
Sunday, July 1, 2007
In our company, we do a leadership off-site once every 3 months, when we take around 150 of our senior managers for a two-day long trip involving intense discussions on company priorities and action plans. On such occasions, we also cover development inputs for the managers and supplement it with a book for them to carry, read, reflect and benefit from. In the May 2007 offsite, we chose a very powerful book titled: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by the well-known executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith. When we started receiving feedback from the managers who had been on the off-site, we realized that they had words of great praise for the choice of the book.

For the successful to get even better:
Here, I am going to talk about some aspects from this game-changing book for managers and leaders. Goldsmith dedicates this book to “all successful leaders who want to take it to the next level and get even better”. The wisdom contained in the book is so very valuable, leaders across industries and experience levels can benefit from it enormously. The author introduces a concept called proprioception. This refers to how you know where you are and where you are oriented.

Goldsmith opens up the eyes of managers and leaders alike, who go through proprioceptions, but are not even aware of it. His book elaborates on 20 behavioral tics or bad habits that many of us repeat dozens of times each day in the workplace, which, if unchecked, could ruin the career of otherwise highly successful managers and leaders.

Learning to differentiate between ‘because of behaviors’ from ‘in spite of behaviors’
Many successful leaders persist with these career-limiting bad habits due to their mistaken notion that they have been successful in their career so far ‘because of these habits’, while often the fact is that they were successful so far ‘in spite of these habits’. It is difficult for most managers to admit that they ‘suffer’ from these bad habits because often they tend to see them as their strengths.

Goldsmith has done a great job of discussing each of these bad habits in detail to help managers weed these out, so as to enable them achieve greater success in their careers. Let me touch upon just a few of these most common bad habits to help readers reflect if they are suffering from it.

The success delusion and why we resist change:
Before we proceed to discuss some of the bad habits, it is important to understand the reasons underlying our resistance to change and how our past success has contributed to the sorry state of affairs. If we reflect honestly and objectively, we as managers will recognize that not very infrequently, we
* Overestimate our contribution to a project
* Take credit, partial or complete, for successes that truly belongs to others
* Have an elevated opinion of our professional skills and our standing among our peers
* Conveniently ignore the costly failures and time-consuming dead-ends we have created
* Exaggerate our projects’ impact on net profits because we discount the real and hidden costs built into them

All the above delusions are a direct result of our success, not failure. According to Goldsmith, this wacky delusional belief in our godlike omniscience is not necessarily bad since it instils us with confidence. Our delusions become a liability when we need to change and we are not ready. And the following beliefs about our success actually hold us back from changing.

The first such belief with successful people is: ‘I have succeeded’. This is again a good feeling and gives us the confidence to wake up in the morning. The second belief is: ‘I can succeed’. Such managers are ready to bet on themselves and are not afraid of uncertainty or ambiguity. The third belief is: ‘I will succeed’. This sabotages our chances of success when it is time for us to change behavior. Fourthly, the belief: ‘I choose to succeed’ represents a high need for self-determination. This brings about what is now a well settled phenomenon in psychology: psychological dissonance. Little do we realize that together these four success beliefs make us superstitious. And that is the starting point for all the bad habits that exert enormous gravity pull on successful managers from reaching further success in their career and life.

Bad Habits that hold us back from where we want to go:

Winning Too Much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations—when it matters and when it does not and also when it is totally besides the point. If we suffer from this bad habit, we argue too much, we put other people down; we ignore them and withhold information. Surely, this is not going to get us future success.

Adding Too Much Value: This reflects in our overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion. In the process, we actually end up communicating that we know better than others and we actually rubbish others’ ideas. In the bargain, we may have got a better idea, but it is lost in our employees’ diminished commitment.

Passing Judgment: Our need to rate others and impose our standards on them.

Failing to give proper recognition: It represents our inability to praise and reward people who work day in and day out for our success.

Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contributions to any success.

Playing Favorites:Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly

Managing away these bad habits:
Our success beliefs often prevent us from recognizing that we suffer from the above mentioned bad habits and more that Goldsmith eloquently describes in his book. But then not recognizing them is what also keeps us wondering why we are not successful anymore as in the past. The good news is that these are habits that we can change, and change begins with our open-minded willingness to receive feedback.

And receiving feedback is difficult for those who are already successful. If we, as managers, can break this shackle, we will be able to accomplish even greater success in our careers. I suggest strongly grabbing a personal copy of this book and reading it with interest. This may mark the beginning of a career-shaping change, one that you never thought was necessary, but you will realize that it is one without which you will not get where you want to, no matter how successful you already are.

The author is Sr.VP-HR with Symphony Services Corporation. He can be reached at mahalingam.c@symphonysv.com
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