Do People Skills Really Matter?

You’ve heard it said that “leaders” bring out the best in others. That’s not necessarily true.

Some people hold a “leadership” title, but that is no guarantee that he or she knows how to bring out the best in others.  That’s why Richard Leider, the founding partner of the Inventure Group, wrote in Forbes magazine, “People don’t leave companies; they leave leaders.”

So what kind of leaders do people leave?

1. People leave leaders who lack people skills.

You can find examples everywhere.  One marketing executive said, “Teamwork is a lot of people doing what I say.”  And one supervisor remarked, “We know communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with the employees.”

And if you can believe it, one employee shared this story about his so-called ‘leader.’ He said, “My sister passed away and the funeral was scheduled for a Monday. When I told my boss, he suggested that my sister died on purpose so that I would have to miss work on the busiest day of the year. Then, he asked me whether we could change her burial to Friday instead. ‘Because,’ my boss said, ‘that would work better for me,'”

Obviously, some “leaders” are lacking in the people skills they need.  I even see so-called “leaders” e-mail a coworker who is seated just 25 feet away rather than go and talk to the person face to face.

And other “leaders” fail to see the value of people skills.  Joe Herman, one of my clients and the Vice President of a major computer company, talks about that.  In his attempt to develop the leadership talent of others in his organization, Joe sent out a notice saying he would give out 1500 free copies of Dale Carnegie’s book on How to Win Friends and Influence People–one to each leader in the organization. The only requirement was that the leaders who got a copy would agree to read it. Only 50 people grabbed onto his offer.

Truly astute leaders know…

2. Nothing is more important than a leader’s people skills.

Highly respected author and consultant, Karl Albrecht makes that quite clear in his writings. He writes, “There is an ancient and immutable truth: The ability to sell, explain, persuade, organize, motivate, and lead others still holds first place. Making things happen still requires the ability to make people like you, respect you, listen to you, and want to connect to you. And by connect, I mean connect personally, not digitally. The human connection will always, always, always outrank the digital connection as a get-ahead skill.”

Daniel Goleman backs up Albrecht’s comment with tone of research on Emotional Intelligence.   In study after study he outlines the importance of people skills. For example:

The Harvard Business School identified empathy, perspective taking, rapport, and cooperation as the most desirable qualities in their applicants.

A national survey of employers revealed that technical skills were less important than the ability to learn on the job, listening and oral communication skills, adaptability and creative responses to setbacks, personal management, confidence, motivation, initiative, and pride in one’s accomplishments. And,

A similar study of corporations and their requirements for incoming MBA’s identified the three most desirable capabilities as communication skills, interpersonal skills, and initiative.

So what kinds of leaders are most effective?  What people skills seem to be most important?

That’s the essence of my keynote and seminar on 4C Leadership: Communication, Cooperation, Commitment, and Change.

Here are a couple of tips to improve your people skills.

3. Increase the quantity and quality of your communication.

If you’re a manager, for example, Eileen McDargh’s research says you should spend 80% of your time, money, and energy communicating with your supervisors. And if it’s your job to communicate with front-line employees, it had better be face-to-face. Anything else will be considered less than effective and employees will complain about a “lack of communication” in your organization.

One of the best ways to enhance the quality of your communication is to give your total attention. Notice the color of the other person’s eyes as you shake hands. You’ll establish great eye contact as you communicate real interest.

At a reception following a business seminar, one man seemed to attract women like a magnet. There were more physically attractive men in the room, so this led one executive to ask another, “What’s his secret?” “Watch his eyes,” said the other. “When someone speaks, his eyes never leave theirs. He listens with rapt attention. That’s the secret. He knows that even if a person isn’t a charming conversationalist, he can be a big hit as a charmed listener.”

4. Recognize those around you.

No one ever seems to get too much recognition — sincere recognition, that is. And great leaders are great recognizers.

Coach Bear Bryant said it beautifully:

“I’m just a plow hand from Arkansas. But I have learned how to hold a team together, how to lift some men up, how to calm down the others, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat together, a team. There are just three things I’d ever say: If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.”

And it’s not hard to find things to recognize. Nicki Joy reported the following story in her book, Selling is a Woman’s Game.  A psychology professor sent cards to a dozen acquaintances which he selected at random. Each card had the same message, “Congratulations, you should be very proud.”

The result of his experiment was quite interesting. Everyone who received a card replied with a hearty “Thank you.” They reported new promotions, new grandchildren, new home purchases, and sports and school victories. Some of the respondents were pleasantly surprised by the professor’s acknowledgment, but they all felt they had done something worthy of praise. The moral is obvious:

  1. Everybody wants recognition;
  2. It’s easy to give; and
  3. There’s always something you can recognize.

Take a moment to be honest with yourself.  Are you spending as much time, money, and energy developing your people skills as you are your technical skills? Or are you guilty of spending little or no time, money, or energy developing your people skills?

If you plead guilty, decide to listen to at least 30 minutes of audio training on this subject each and every week.  Or read one chapter of a book on this subject each and every week. It will be one of the best investments you’ll ever make.