Will Pembles ‘practical guide to successful business leadership.’

I received a hand-signed, personally addressed copy from Will Pemble after attending a coaching seminar during CloudFest 2019. I only read the book in late 2019. It helped me understand critical aspects of high-performance teams better.

Similarities to Getting Things Done (GTD) exist, but while GTD focuses on the individual, GOAL BOSS focuses on getting things done as a team.

Apparently, you can get this book for free (you need to pay for shipping and handling though?) on https://book.goalboss.com/. Seems to be legit, it might not even be a scam.


The book is divided into several short chapters. They are all about one central topic, referencing earlier and later chapters. Some notes on the chapters are included as comment in HTML.


I’m not part of a big business corporate workplace yet, but It helped me get a clearer picture of some common pitfalls. I’ll attempt to avoid them going forward.

What I’ve noticed, though: almost all principles are applicable to club and student group meetings as well.

Main Takeaways

There are quite a few things I’d like to touch upon at least. Even though I got most of my deeper understanding from other sources (or personal experience), Will Pemble - his presentation, coaching seminar or the book - is probably where I became aware of those first.

Each of these topics has one or multiple chapters dedicated to it.

  • Death by Winning
  • Always have a clear Goal and Leader
  • Meeting Ground Rules
  • Leadership
  • Team Problem Solving
  • Sandbag Goals
  • Always Improve Your Communication
  • Have a One-Page Strategy Summary
  • On-Board Terrorists
  • The Value of Internal Recognition
  • Measure Everything
  • Coaching

Death by Winning

The first chapter was all about ‘getting crushed by your own success’. They were successful, but since they could not grow their company by speed and scale they were getting requests, it seemed similar to a DDoS to them - even though they worked their ass off.

Ultimately, it is a story about effectiveness and planning. Working hard will get you far, but you also need to work on the right thing. There was a similar story learned in The 7 Habits.

Always have a clear Goal and a clear Leader

While I was aware that meetings require an agenda, I was not aware that a lot of meetings apparently do not have one. It is only one implication of always having a pre-specified goal and leader.

In student-led groups the same issues surface: things that do not have a dedicated leader rarely get done with high quality or at all. Most of the time, it is not clear what the goal is or what the next steps will be.

I internalized that only after reading Getting Things Done. Always know (and ask if you do not) what the goal is and what your next steps ought to be.

Meeting Ground Rules

Meeting ground rules are simple rules everyone in a meeting has to follow. The example ground rules given include that everyone has their phone on airplane mode, and to attack the problem instead of the person. The one I’m most guilty of not following is ‘no rabbit holes’ - stay on topic, basically.

While receiving detailed reports is relevant, not everyone is interested in detailed discussions - they should happen prior to the report. More important than staying on topic is that everyone should (be required to) participate. It is everything but polite to keep someone somewhere where they can’t do anything or participate in a meaningful way.

Leadership Keys

The five keys to leadership appear incomplete to me, but I certainly have not fully understood or internalized them yet. For me, leadership as described in Extreme Ownership feels more tangible.

The five keys to leadership are:

  • Communication
  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Controlling
  • Leading

Team Problem Solving

This is a problem-solving strategy adapted from NASA. I have not heard of it before, but I can see that it can be effective if used properly.

I can actually remember using it (in parts) without being aware of it, and receiving quite decent results.

Sandbag Goals

Sandbagging goals - aiming to achieve 80% of your goals changed my life. I used to set goals that are easily achievable. Aiming for an 80% success rate instead of my usual (close to) 100% was new.

This allowed me to go for higher short-term goals, and to feel better about not achieving all of them. This also forced me to prioritize more and better, especially as urgent tasks come up during the week.

You Can Always Improve Your Communication

One thing I noticed first when reading this book is the recommendation to continuously work on improving your communication skills. I have since found the same recommendation in other books, e.g. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This advice being recommended multiple times from different sources inspired me to work on my communication skills.

Have a One-Page Strategy Summary for Everyone

In The 7 Habits the benefits of a ‘personal mission statement’ were explored, and I believe having a one-page strategic summary is just an extension of this. This is further explored in Extreme Ownership - Everyone needs to understand why he does what he does. This enables faster reaction times when things change - and they will.

Clearly, there are benefits to break down the overall strategy to something simple enough for everyone to understand. Everyone will have a clear reason why, and has a better framework for making decisions in the field. I will make sure to follow the idea behind this.


An On-Board-Terrorist describes people demoralizing and sabotaging the whole team.

While the terminology of ‘On-Board-Terrorists’ is a bit harsh, I can understand where he’s coming from. Being aware of this concept has helped me to notice and sometimes help them, avoiding them in other cases.

Get rid of [attitudes][ego] and On-Board-Terrorists as fast as possible, if transformation fails. Especially on the higher ranks.

The Value of Internal Recognition For Good Work

The importance of internal recognition for good work was something I had on my mind, but had not fully internalized its importance yet. I do hope to get more information in Drive soon.

Measuring Everything

The habit of measuring everything is something that is focused more on in The Lean Startup. Goalboss provides new concise arguments for why you should do it in the first place, and what benefits to derive from doing so.


The original workshop where I received this book was about coaching, and I was unsure what to expect. I now understand it much better, but I have to admit that the border between mentoring and coaching is still somewhat fuzzy for me.

Regardless, I now understand better what it is, how it works, as well as when and why it should be done.


The book is structured quite well. So well, in fact, that it gets repetitive. He does touch a lot of topics, but never quite goes deep on any of them, referencing and re-explaining them over and over. It is arguably the most predictable book I have read.

Being predictable in itself is not a bad thing, but you can rarely learn from that.

The examples are good, even though too rare. Explanations are easy to follow. Reasons are included, but I would love to have gone in depth for many of them.

Will Pemble gave a talk about the content of the first chapter as well, which was more human, relatable and realistic. So yeah, reading the ‘introductory’ chapter while it screams ‘fake’ in your face is not exactly a good way to start reading a book.

Overall the book contains multiple concepts I found useful, and even though I did not understand them yet, they certainly got more of my attention. This is more than some other books make me do.

It compliments quite well with Getting Things Done, since GTD focuses on personal productivity exclusively. Then again, do not expect GoalBoss to be on the level of GTD.

I would recommend reading GoalBoss to you, if you want to work in a high-performance workplace. Even though Will Pemble glosses over the important aspects, it will help you become aware of why certain teams are not high-performance, and give you ideas on what to change.

Favorite Quotes

When no one is in charge, everyone is in charge. What a terrible way to build a business!

Success is a process, not an event.

An individual can go fast, but a team can go far.