In my job, I spend a lot of time working with emerging leaders. Sometimes, they are leaders making a jump to a VP level role for the first time. Sometimes, I work with companies to develop programs that help their highest potential leaders take that next step.

Regardless of the circumstance, we always talk about the best books for these leaders to read. There are lots of great books out there that focus on such topics as business success and becoming an inspirational leader.

Perhaps the highest impact leadership book I have ever read in my 20-year career is What Got You Here Won't Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world's preeminent leadership thinkers and coaches.

In it, he talks about what is so critically different about moving to top levels of leadership. Most important is that at this level, it is all about behavior. You have already demonstrated technical skills. Those are now table stakes. 

It's the behaviors that become the differentiators.

Often times, though, we are unaware of the behaviors that could be derailing us. In the book, Goldsmith talks about "the 20 bad habits." Some of those bad habits contributed to helping you achieve your success to date but have now become barriers to getting further (hence the title of the book).

I often ask leaders I work with to identify which of the 20 bad habits they feel they need to work on. When I look at the aggregate results, some interesting trends emerge. It's far from an exact science, but it is compelling nonetheless.

Four of the 20 workplace bad habits show up time and time again as things the leaders know they need to work on. Interestingly, I see these same four behaviors derailing otherwise very successful people who may not even be aware of it.

1. Winning too much

Business is competitive, so how could you win too much? This is what Goldsmith describes as "...the need to win at all costs and in all situations, when it matters, when it doesn't, and when it's totally beside the point."

Many of us have trouble differentiating between the battle and the war, often mistaking every battle for the war.

Why is this such a derailer?

Quite simply, others don't want to work closely with someone who fights every battle, even those not worth fighting. It is tiring and debilitating. In the long term, the relationship suffers, and the relationship at leadership levels is the prize commodity.

2. Withholding information

We've all been told that "information is power." Often, people then behave to protect information under the belief that the person who has it is valuable and needed. It certainly is understandable, especially considering that at many points in our careers, we are valuable and needed specifically because of the information we have.

Why is it such a derailer?

The problem occurs when, as Goldsmith describes, you demonstrate "the refusal to share information in order to maintain the advantage over others." As leaders, ultimately the job is about ensuring that everyone has access to the right amount of information to successfully optimize his or her work.

The power of information isn't in keeping it to ourselves for job security but rather in being open about it. Many leaders have a hard time making this shift in thinking. Conceptually, it is easy, but under every day pressures, sometimes there is a belief that information is the only thing to hold onto.

3. Not listening

This might be the most important one, and it comes up in spades everywhere I talk to people about their own bad habits. Goldsmith calls it "the most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues."

Why is it a derailer?

Beyond the almost too obvious notion that people don't like working with people who simply don't listen or talk over them, there is a subtler version of not listening.

It's that thing many of us do where we look like we are listening but are actually planning what we are going to say to someone in response to what they are saying. In those cases, we aren't really listening at all but planning our rebuttals.

4. An excessive need to be "me"

Often, if we've made it this far in the leadership journey, we develop a false belief that because we've proved our success being who we are that others have to take the bad with the good. Goldsmith describes this as "exalting our faults as virtues simply because they're who we are."

Why is it a derailer?

All leaders have faults. The best leaders, regardless of how tenured and experienced, recognize that and don't make excuses for them. That level of vulnerability humanizes us and helps us build sustainable relationships with others. When we don't do that, we are saying that we simply don't care what you have to deal with to work with me.  

As a whole, this book is filled with real stories from real leaders having real challenges. All of it is highly relatable regardless of where you are in your career and what aspirations you have. I've read it five times and will probably read it another five times before I'm done and hang things up for retirement.

Published on: Nov 2, 2017
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