A while back I spoke with a friend of mine. He uses a lot of great quotes and one that really sticks with me is, “Teachability is man’s capacity for growth.” It’s about always being open to learning something new. As true as this is, at times it can be difficult to do. Even avid learners can get stuck sometimes. Even if you are committed to constant improvement, by constantly reading and trying to stay ahead, you can still get stuck. Everything cannot be learned from a book. Some things you have to experience. As consultants, one of the biggest challenges we see is leaders getting stuck when it comes to people skills and communication.
Even best-selling authors will tell you that the bottom line for leaders is getting the message out and communicating it effectively. It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. Your audience needs to hear it, understand it and act upon it. A leader’s job is to create the: vision, alignment, and execution. The way you align people to get things done is by communicating your vision. Let everyone clearly know what has to happen to make it happen.
This is one of the biggest issues for new supervisors who are in a management role for the first time. The reality is most people get to a supervisory or management position based on their technical skills. The best welder becomes the welding manager, the top finance guy becomes the finance manager, or your best salesperson becomes the sales manager. They are promoted because of their skills and knowledge base; not for their leadership and communication skills. Often times, these highly skilled technical people may “lack the people skills.” It’s not that they can’t develop these skills, but up to this point they haven’t had to develop these skills.
The reality of leadership is that technical skills are the price of admission. Having the skills to go from A to B gets you in the door. What sets you apart as a great leader is developing your people skills. Learning to take a vision and communicate it effectively, so that people understand it and will act upon it. I’m always fascinated when I talk to business owners, business leaders, and new supervisors. They will suggest that hard skills are the technical knowledge of getting it done and soft skills are just the “huggy-huggy” stuff. The reality is that soft skills are very hard to implement. They are not soft skills at all! People need to understand that communication skills, people skills and understanding how to get your message across is the hard side of business. They are very difficult to do and lacking those skills will derail great companies, individuals and entrepreneurs. It’s just one of those issues that can take everything you are trying to accomplish and knock it off the tracks.
The other day I spoke to Dr. Rick Brandenburg. He has been doing some world-class work in crop development in some of the poorest countries in the world. I found it very interesting when he said, “I really wish I had paid more attention in sociology class and anthropology, so I understood how to communicate my message and how people tick so that I could be even better at doing what I’m doing.”
Leaders need to take a good look at their communication skills, as well as their manager’s communication skills and find ways to help develop them. They probably didn’t get to that position because they lacked a technical skill, but they need the communication ability to sell the vision. It is important for leaders to take their knowledge and communicate it in a way that can be heard and understood by their followers. The bottom line is that it is completely irrelevant what leaders say. What is absolutely crucial is what is heard and understood.
There’s a great book called “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith. It explains that the skills that brought you to this point in your career may not be the ones that get you to the next level. Leadership is a continuous improvement process and is not something that is going to come naturally all of the time. This requires constant focus for leaders everywhere. And, if you are a business owner, focus on getting your supervisors the help they need to get better, as well.