According to some research studies, the number one reason why managers and executives find themselves with a stalled or underperforming career is a lack of interpersonal skills. This might seem surprising, given the amount of training and attention given to technical skills and business knowledge, but the fact remains that there is more to career success than just knowing the facts.
Hard skills vs. soft skills
A typical business degree program or executive training program will focus on what are considered hard skills. Examples might include strategic business planning, financial analysis, budgeting, or product development. These are all important things to know, but an increasing number of companies are also interested in the so-called soft skills.
These soft skills are best defined as how a manager interacts with people. An evaluation of soft skills might include answer the following questions:
What behaviors does the manager consistently demonstrate?
How is the manager viewed by others at levels at, above, and below his or her organizational level?
How does the manager communicate with others?
How does the manager handle team-building situations?
Does the manager get along with other people?
Many business professionals have difficulty with soft skills because they are so personal in nature, but it is exactly these soft skills that are keys to success as a manager and leader. Even more difficult is accepting the reality of poor soft skills and making an effort to improve.
It is not enough anymore to know how to analyze a profit and loss statement. A good manager or leader will take that profit and loss statement and use it to coach employees, facilitate team productivity, and lead toward performance improvement. This cannot be done simply by reading the numbers and telling people that numbers need to change. It is done by interacting with people in a way that encourages them, motivates them, and reinforces their value to the team.
Improving interpersonal skills
The good news is that everyone can learn new interpersonal skills and improve upon their old ones. Most managers will say that they already have good interpersonal skills, so it comes as a shock when they receive open, honest feedback that says they need to make improvements. Only through such feedback, though, can areas for improvement be identified and specific goals set for practicing new behaviors.
For example, if you are perceived as a poor listener then you can practice new behaviors to change that perception. You might set a goal to focus more on listening to another person in one-on-one situations, or to limit your contributions in a group discussion so that others can contribute more.
Another strategy is to enlist the help of a learning partner. This person observes you and provides you with regular feedback on whatever behavior you are trying to improve. He or she is your cheerleader when you do well and your coach when you can do better.
Putting it all together
The bottom line is that when it comes to being a good manager or leader, you must master the hard skills of your specific job as well as the soft skills of interpersonal relations. Interpersonal skills must be a focus of your leadership development. Some people are naturally better at personal interactions, but anyone can learn to do better. The key is to recognize the importance of interpersonal relations, honestly evaluate your skill level, and consciously improve those behaviors that need work.
for a wealth of leadership development information. Susan West has held many executive leadership positions during her 25 years of business experience. She shares her knowledge and lessons learned through a variety of programs offered by QuadWest Associates, LLC including coaching, leadership workshops, tele-seminars and consulting.