Goldsmith's work centers on helping people identify and break the bad habits that are getting in their way. The meat of What Got You Here Won't Get You There is thus his elaborate and revealing discussion of the "Twenty Habits That Hold You Back from the Top." They are:
1. Winning too much: Goldsmith notes that the hypercompetitive need to best others "underlies nearly every other behavioral problem."
2. Adding too much value: This happens when you can't stop yourself from tinkering with your colleagues' or subordinates' already viable ideas. "It is extremely difficult," Goldsmith observes, "for successful people to listen to other people tell them something that they already know without communicating somehow that (a) 'we already knew that' and (b) 'we know a better way.'" The fallacy of this sort of behavior is that, while it may slightly improve an idea, it drastically reduces the other person's commitment to it.
3. Passing judgment: "It's not appropriate to pass judgment when we specifically ask people to voice their opinions ... even if you ask a question and agree with the answer." Goldsmith recommends "hiring" a friend to bill you for each episode of needless judgment.
4. Making destructive comments: We are all tempted to be snarky or even mean from time to time. But when we feel the urge to criticize, we should realize that gratuitous negative comments can harm our working relationships.” The question is not, 'Is it true?' but rather, 'Is it worth it?'" This is another habit Goldsmith recommends breaking via monetary fines.
5. Starting with "No," "But," or "However." Almost all of us do this, and most of us are totally unaware of it. But Goldsmith says if you watch out for it, "you'll see how people inflict these words on others to gain or consolidate power. You'll also see how intensely people resent it, consciously or not, and how it stifles rather than opens up discussion." This is another habit that may take fines to break.
6. Telling the world how smart we are: "This is another variation on our need to win."
7. Speaking when angry: See number four.
8. Negativity, or "Let me explain why that won't work": Goldsmith calls this "pure unadulterated negativity under the guise of being helpful."
9. Withholding information: This one is all about power. Goldsmith focuses on ways even the best-intentioned people do this all the time. "We do this when we are too busy to get back to someone with valuable information. We do this when we forget to include someone in our discussions or meetings. We do this when we delegate a task to our subordinates but don't take the time to show them exactly how we want the task done."
10. Failing to give recognition: "This is a sibling of withholding information."
11. Claiming credit we don't deserve: To catch ourselves doing this, Goldsmith recommends listing all the times we mentally congratulate ourselves in a given day, and then reviewing the list to see if we really deserved all the credit we gave ourselves.
12. Making excuses: We do this both bluntly (by blaming our failings on the traffic, or the secretary, or something else outside ourselves) and subtly (with self-deprecating comments about our inherent tendency to be late, or to procrastinate, or to lose our temper, that send the message, "That's just the way I am").
13. Clinging to the past: "Understanding the past is perfectly admissible if your issue is accepting the past. But if your issue is changing the future, understanding will not take you there." Goldsmith notes that quite often we dwell on the past because it allows us to blame others for things that have gone wrong in our lives.
14. Playing favorites: This behavior creates suck-ups; rewarding suck-ups creates hollow leaders.
15. Refusing to express regret: "When you say, 'I'm sorry,' you turn people into your allies, even your partners." The first thing Goldsmith teaches his clients is "to apologize -- face to face -- to every coworker who has agreed to help them get better."
16. Not listening: This behavior says, "I don't care about you," "I don't understand you," "You're wrong," "You're stupid," and "You're wasting my time."
17. Failing to express gratitude: "Gratitude is not a limited resource, nor is it costly. It is abundant as air. We breathe it in but forget to exhale." Goldsmith advises breaking the habit of failing to say thank you by saying it -- to as many people as we can, over and over again.
18. Punishing the messenger: This habit is a nasty hybrid of 10, 11, 19, 4, 16, 17, with a strong dose of anger added in.
19. Passing the buck: "This is the behavioral flaw by which we judge our leaders -- as important a negative attribute as positive qualities such as brainpower, courage, and resourcefulness."
20. An excessive need to be "me": Making a "virtue of our flaws" because they express who we are amounts to misplaced loyalty -- and can be "one of the toughest obstacles to making positive long-term change in our behavior."
Goldsmith even includes a bonus bad habit: Goal obsession or getting so caught up in our drive to achieve that we lose track of why we are working so hard and what really matters in life.