I have work to do

On my recent trip to Washington DC for NIH study section, I loaded up on books to read during my flights. I started with a business (personal) development book by Marshall Goldsmith called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – how successful people become even more successful. Marshall Goldsmith is an Executive Coach with an interesting approach that is described in more detail in his book. I read many books and blogs on business and personal development. My goals for this are really three-fold: (1) to understand people better, (2) to understand myself better, and (3) to become more effective (i.e. better) personally and professionally.

This book focuses almost exclusively on becoming more effective. Goldsmith dissects those personality traits that might be preventing you from being as effective as possible. Granted the vignettes in the book depict current and future CEOs of large companies but I think the advice is more generally applicable. Unlike many books, this book assigns homework, lots of homework. It’s not written to make you feel good and then change nothing when you are done. It is geared to get you looking in the mirror for those twenty (well twenty one) traits and habits that might be standing in your way. The difficult thing about his approach is that it is not something that you can undertake alone. He advises one to solicit input, help, and forgiveness from those around you.

Many of the behaviors are subtle. In reading them, they are things that I know that I do. I took them for granted and did not realize how they might have a negative impact. As an example, he calls one of the flaws "Adding too much value: the overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion." This is flaw number two. I’m not sure whether they are ranked by negative impact but it is the second one tackled in the book. Goldsmith writes "Imagine you’re the CEO. I come to you with an idea that you think is very good. Rather than just pat me on the back and say, "Great idea!" your inclination (because you just have to add value) is to say, "Good idea, but it’d be better if you tried it this way." The problem is, you may have improved the content of my idea by 5 percent, but you’ve reduced my commitment to executing it by 50 percent, because you’ve taken away my ownership of the idea. My idea is now your idea-and I walk out of your office less enthused about it than when I walked in. That’s the fallacy of added value."  I see this happen every day, many times a day at work and at home. I’ve done it. I’ve had it done to me. It never occurred to me that it might be causing harm.

Almost all of the advice in this book is to stop doing stuff that may cause harm. You don’t need to add a new habit you just have to know when to shut up and stop doing something. Don’t focus on the myriad ways you could be nicer, focus simply on not being a jerk. One thing I love about this book is that it is specific and action oriented. You don’t need to change how you think or who you are. You only need to focus on minimizing those actions that cause harm or don’t create value.

I have work to do.