“What Got You Here Won't Get You There”

Photo from: http://www.pricelessprofessional.com/leadership-traits.html

This title is of course taken from one of Marshall Goldsmith’s best sellers, who is one of the pioneers and most well-known executive coaches in our field! It was 2007 when I first read his book that also happened to be part of my favorite class at London Business SchoolCreativity and Personal Mastery. Marshall actually visited our class when I was a student (and some of the subsequent ones when I was the teaching assistant); he led us on several simple yet powerful exercises that invited us to examine who we were as a person and as a leader. To Goldsmith, what was important for a leader (and at the end of the day a person) were being self-aware, making continuous personal development, and upholding his/her personal values and promises. These all seem very basic as concepts. It's easy for us talk, often harder to keep and share through our behaviours and actions, especially as we face competing demands and choices in our everyday lives. And more often than not personal or leadership failures can be traced back to them.

You may think by using this title I am writing a review of some sort of his book. Well, not directly. I picked this title, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” (a video review of the book on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIeZ95q2QvE), because although I intellectually understand and accept what the title was saying back in 2007, it was not until a recent new encounter and realization that I fully understand and embrace the concept.

What happened was, I have been leading a team of trainee coaches as their mentor coach since earlier this year, and I did not feel it was as successful as I have expected. As a group, we successfully managed our objectives: skills and knowledge development, which from demonstration and reflection the coaches showed progress and improvement towards a level of mastery.  However, as a team, I was more concerned with the lack of involvement and proactiveness amongst individual team members. This outcome, which I considered unsatisfactory and had talked to the team a few times, prompted me to respond the way I normally did, which was to push harder, believing in my mind that I’ve done everything required of me and hence assigned the responsibility for the outcome to others. This behavior just made it worse and the coaches became more disengaged.

I questioned for some time why this was happening, and it gradually dawned on me that I was responding to my “problem” automatically by resorting to what worked for me before … push harder. On reflection, I realized that this belief was formed quite some time ago, at a time when I was working in a large organization with formal structure and corporate culture. Because it had worked before, this particular pattern of behaviour just came up automatically. Without my processing the fact that I am now in a very different profession and operating in a different environment, where the participants were actually my clients, they have a much greater freedom in choosing how much they wanted be engaged and motivated. Seen in this light by reframing the situation, the problem was actually made worse by my not understanding my team’s motivation, which would have then led me to think of a different way in response to the situation. I am not too happy that in hindsight my behavior was not entirely coach-like but I do really appreciate this opportunity that helped me discovered a blind spot and the possibility to make a more effective choice next time.

For self-reflection:

  • Can you recall an experience where you did not get a different outcome even when you tried harder? What’s the belief that’s at work here?
  • “What Get You Here Won’t Get You There” – does it resonant with you? What came up for you?
  • What experience of past success is stopping you from succeeding right now?