Marshall Goldsmith on 20 Bad Habits

By | February 22, 2021

[February 22, 2021]  In his book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” Marshall Goldsmith outlines practical advice on how to be more successful.  Goldsmith is one of the foremost thought leaders on executive coaching; a good place to begin to see how bad habits can hold you back.

Today, I’ll focus on just one of Goldsmith’s themes … bad habits of leaders.  I found his list thought provoking and, of course, I’ve read them before in other self-help books.  A critic of Goldsmith once wrote that the title of his book should have been “How to be Less of a Jerk.”  Well, he was right but it does not take away the practical information Goldsmith gives us.

The 20 Bad Habits: Challenges in Interpersonal Behavior, from his book, pages 40-41:

  1. Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations.
  2. Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our 2 cents to every discussion.
  3. Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.
  4. Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasm and cutting remarks that we think make us witty.
  5. Starting with NO, BUT, HOWEVER: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone that I’m right and you’re wrong.
  6. Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.
  7. Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.
  8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked.
  9. Withholding information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.
  10. Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to give praise and reward.
  11. Claiming credit that that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.
  12. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.
  13. Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.
  14. Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.
  15. Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.
  16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
  17. Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.
  18. Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help us.
  19. Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
  20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “Marshall Goldsmith on 20 Bad Habits

  1. KenFBrown

    14. Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly. This is the one I hate the most. I’ve seen the most destructive situations come from this. It is always a powder keg just waiting to go off.

    1. British Citizen

      Yeah, and many don’t have a clue what is happening behind their backs. Leaders who over look it, deserve to fail.

  2. Danny Burkholder

    Good man, Marshall Goldsmith. I think I’ll go buy one of his books and see for myself what all the fuss is about. Thanks Gen. Satterfield for letting us know about this guy.

  3. Watson Bell

    Just another super duper list. Folks, pay close attention, re-read this list a few times, and commit them to heart. You will be a better leader for it.

    1. Anya B.

      Some great ideas on this website. The more I read it, the more I learn how to be a good leader and how not to be a poor leader.

  4. corralesdon

    Great practical list. Like others, I’m saving this one. 😊😊😊😊

  5. Max Foster

    A lot of folks here seem to like this list of bad habits to avoid. There are many, of course, and Gen. Satterfield has made his own list. This list is darn well succinct enough for just about any body to understand. But here is the clincher. If you’ve never experience these ‘bad habits’ in a leader and suffered the consequences, then you really don’t understand the impact. This alone should motivate you to do better. Now, if you are a long time reader of this blog by Gen. Satterfield, then you know this is one of his themes. Bad leaders are good in that we learn how not to be a bad leader.

    1. Rev. Michael Cain

      Excellent points, Max and thanks. I agree with your premise that we can learn from bad leaders but maybe it doesn’t take a bad leader for us to be motivated to do good.

      1. Colleen Ramirez

        Humans are just prone to learn the hard way. I think another theme of Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog is that we don’t always have to learn the hard way but we can study leadership failures and common obstacles and learn how to get around them (learning by watching others struggle and fail).

    2. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Good comments here. Another reason we are all fans of Gen. S. and his blog.

  6. Valkerie

    Excellent list of ways to avoid being a “jerk.” Wouldn’t you know! Ha Ha Ha. Boy, have I known some jerks who could have learned from Marshall Goldsmith.

  7. Doug Smith

    Nice list. I printed them out, cut them, and then posted them on my refrig. Hey, thanks Gen. Satterfield for making me aware of Marshall Goldsmith, I’d never heard of him before (why, I don’t know). Well done!

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      I never heard of him either and that is exactly why I keep coming back to Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog. It keeps me in the know. I also learn a tiny bit of leadership info daily, get a few hints on how to improve myself, and also some philosophy on how to be a better person. Now that’s worth taking a couple of minutes each morning for me to read this site.

      1. Greg Heyman

        Most of us keep coming back for the same reason. I’ve been reading this leadership blog regularly now for over three years and find every day a refreshing new idea to think about.

    2. Lady Hawk

      Same here, I had never heard of him, as well. Now I know. Good for us all that Gen. Satterfield makes us aware of some of the better thinkers of today and yesteryear. 👍

  8. Frank Graham

    Mr. Goldsmith is spot on with this practical advice. I also highly recommend his books, all of them. Thanks.


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