Twenty Behaviors – The Unrecognizable You!



Marshall Goldsmith is the number one executive coach in the world. He’s also a mentor and a friend and has certified many of us in the MG100 Global Coaches program on his Stakeholder-Centered Coaching methodology.

I’ve read his best-selling book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, three times, and I keep coming back to chapter four on The Twenty Habits.


The corporate world is filled with executives, men, and women who have worked hard for years to reach the upper levels of management. They’re intelligent, skilled, and even charismatic. But only a handful of them will ever reach the pinnacle -- and as Marshall shares in this book, subtle nuances make all the difference. Beginning on page 35, he shares a list of specific behaviors, if not interpersonal patterns (flaws) that create challenges and roadblocks in our interactions with others.

In our current climate, where digital relationships are critical to both our ability to navigate the crisis, as well as to plan our post-crisis recovery, this is a list you’ll want to print and keep in front of you.


I’ve found glancing through this list before- and after- every online interaction to be particularly useful. I’ve added one or two lines about the current crisis to each as well:

  1. Winning too much: 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. The immediate focus for many leaders amid the crisis is the health and safety of their families, teams, and strategic relationships.

  2. Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion. Speed and agility are your best friends amid this crisis. And progress trumps perfection.

  3. Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them. If you suspend your judgment for a minute, you may see a whole different side of people in your virtual meetings!

  4. Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasm and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty. They tend to embarrass, shame, or otherwise demean others. And they’re not funny. Stop it.

  5. Starting with “no, but, or however”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right, you’re wrong.” In our current uncharted waters, no one has all the answers. And NO, BUT, and CAN’T are intellectually lazy; get creative on how we can get there.

  6. Telling the world how smart you are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are. Get over your imposter syndrome and convey your credibility with the questions you ask and your offer of support. Show them you care by bolstering them.

  7. Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool. Breathe. Relax. Most of us are not emergency department physicians, and people are not dying on our shifts. And as my friend and MG100 colleague Chester says, “when you lose your temper, everyone loses. No one loses more than you!”

  8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts even when we were not asked. You’re sucking the life out of the party. Stay positive, constructive, and move conversations and relationships forward.

  9. Withholding information: The refusal to share information with others to maintain an advantage over them. A clear sign of professional immaturity, political jockeying, and sooner or later, it’ll bite you – right out the company!

  10. Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward. We’re all working a ton of hours under incredibly stressful and uncertain situations right now. Ease up a bit, amplify your love and gratitude for others. You can’t praise others enough, particularly if it’s timely and authentic.

  11. Claiming credit that we do not deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contributions to any success. In the current climate, there is no playbook. The only way many organizations will survive is if they can learn quickly, share the learnings, and distribute them widely.

  12. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture, so people excuse us for it. I used to say, “that’s just my DNA,” until a coach pointed out and told me to stop it. Your DNA can change. So should your behaviors, starting with making excuses for annoying behaviors.

  13. Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset to blaming everyone else above. Put your time, effort, and resources on moving conversations and relationships forward instead. Must more productive and less annoying that way.

  14. Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are mistreating someone. Everyone has something to contribute; create a culture that’s unafraid of retribution by recognizing a broad spectrum of accomplishments by the entire team.

  15. Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others. If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not human. It’s what you choose to do with those mistakes that will set you apart – during this crisis or any other learning moment.

  16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues. In the midst of this crisis, people need to be heard. And you listening to craft your response isn’t listening. By the way, this is amplified when we’re all virtual and can’t be physically in the same space.

  17. Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners. It’s so much easier to see the failures and all that’s terrible all around; it’s dramatically more impactful to lead with gratitude every day!

  18. Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help. Challenge ideas, never the people. Address the bureaucracy, not the front desk clerk.

  19. Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves. Accountability is all about owning it. Say so when you screw up and focus on immediately addressing it, learning from it, and coaching others to move forward.

  20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are. Again, this one hits home – in my younger (read: stupid) days as a leader, “it was my way or the highway;” I lost a lot of amazing people “being me!” Don’t repeat my mistakes.

In my 90-Day Crisis Leadership Laser Coaching, this is the first list I review with execs I’m working with, as they attempt to navigate the current COVID-19 storm and plan their post-crisis rebound. With all the pressure that’s on all of us with our family’s health and safety, it’s imperative that we all pay particular attention to our behaviors.

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