Grabbing onto the future means letting go of the past.
Marshall Goldsmith’s book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” is all about how successful people can become more successful. It’s not about being more of a prick. It’s not even about trying harder.
The personality traits that brought you success (personal discipline, saying yes to everything, over-confidence) are the same traits that hold you back from going further. If you want to go further, you’re going to have to develop some new traits like learning to listen to lead, and not letting over-confidence make you over-commit.
You don’t need to learn what to do. You need to learn what to stop.
Goldsmith has a stack of stinging counter-intuitive insights. He tells some revealing stories about executives coming to terms with their shortcomings. One story is about Goldsmith dealing with a senior manager who complains about the employees not getting with the program, not understanding the company’s mission and overall direction. It’s a critical issue.
‘What the hell’s wrong with them?’ asks the manager. ‘I’ve spelled it out for them in a hundred meetings. I’ve even summarized it in a memo.’
Goldsmith has heard this before, but figures it’s best to take it step by step.
‘So how was this memo distributed?’
‘By email, of course. It went to every single person in the company.’
‘Okay, my hunch is the method of distribution is really all you know about this. How many people actually opened the email and read the memo?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Of those, how many do you think understood the memo?’
‘I have no idea.’
‘Of those who understood it, how many believed it?’
The manager looks out the window, and shakes his head. Goldsmith presses on.
‘And of this dwindling group of believers, how many remembered it?’
Another sorry head shake.
‘That’s a lot of unknowns for something you regard as vital to your company’s existence.’
The manager is lost for words.
‘You thought your job was done when you articulated the mission and wrote the memo - as if it was one more item on your to-do list for the day. You checked the box, and you moved on.’
Yep, stinging insights.
Goldsmith goes on to explain the failure of managers to see the enormous disconnect between understanding and doing. Most leadership development revolves around one huge false assumption - that if people understand then they’ll do. That’s not true. Not even close to true. Most of us understand, we just don’t do.
Goldsmith recommends following up to ensure the message hits home. Once you send out a message, you ask people the next day if they heard it. Then you ask if they understood it. Then a few days later, you ask if they did something about it.
If the first follow-up question doesn’t get their attention, the next one will, and so will the last one.