What got you here

Tomorrow is the first meeting of this spring’s Leadership Reading Group at SPSU. We’re starting with Marshall Goldsmith’s “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” It’s a good, short book that highlights the difference between being successful at a job and becoming a leader. One of the points in the first section is about motivation. He argues that most people are motivated by self-interest, especially early in their careers, and how this may evolve into a higher-level goal over time. Goldsmith identifies four self-interested motivators: money, power, status, and popularity. Examples of the larger goals include “leaving a legacy,” “serving as an inspiring role model,” and “treating a great organization.”

When I speak to leadership groups, I usually start with the message of “know thyself.” Understanding our own motivations — truly knowing what is important to us, what motivates us, and what underlies our behavioral choices — is a critical step in thinking clearly about how to become a leader.

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One Response to What got you here

  1. JRN says:

    I’ve found that one of the most fundamental misunderstandings that can undermine effective communication among a group and the ultimate success of a project is assuming everybody else is motivated by the same thing you are. We don’t have to have the same motivations, but we need to understand each person’s motivations or we’ll end up working at cross purposes.

    Because I teach history, I often find examples in history that help me see the point. Here’s one for motivations: The 1840s was a decade of amazing passion for reform in the United States. There were all kinds of groups working to reform all kinds of social, political, and economic conditions. But people got involved for one of two broad reasons: they were convinced that their civilization was destined to be the shinning example to the world and they just had to do the work to make that happen (the optimists). Or: they were convinced America was going to Hell in a handbasket and they had to get out and do the work to slow down or stop the decline (the pessimists). The point is, they often worked to solve the very same problems for completely different (even opposite) reasons, but they were still applying double the effort to solving the problem.
    It’s entirely possible if we’re all on the same page about what needs to be done even if we come at it from really different motivations. In fact, if we have different motivations we may work together better because we’re not all competing for the same “reward.”

    I also take comfort from the knowledge that at any given point in American history, somebody was absolutely convinced that the place was going to Hell in a handbasket.

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