Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Archive for September, 2010

Personal attributes trump business acumen. —2

A couple of years ago I posted the following entry. With my readership increasing since then, and my work consistently reminding me of the power behind its message, I’m compelled to share it again. Your comments and experiences are always welcome.
Personal attributes trump business acumen. (Originally posted Nov 8, 2008)

Many times over the years—when facilitating management or leadership workshops—I’ve asked participants to engage in an exercise where I ask them to reflect on a current or past direct manager whom they see or remember as an awesome manager and/or leader, who motivated them to work at their best. Once they have the person in mind, I ask them to list any strengths, attributes or qualities that they remember this individual possessing.

Here are some of the attributes that I repeatedly see listed: high integrity, positive attitude, trustworthy, great listener, strong presence, ability to engage others, motivating, shares a clear vision, empowering, praises work well done, flexible, sets clear expectations, gives credit where credit is due, admits mistakes, honest, makes people accountable, a great mentor.

In my experience, without fail, up to 98% of the qualities mentioned in these exercises have nothing to do with the individual’s business acumen or technical skills. This reminds us of how important our communication and people skills are to our, and to our team’s, ability to be successful.

Want to apply some of that great leadership training or coaching?

If you’re looking for leadership development, you’re in luck. There are abundant resources available, from on-line courses, to great books, to week-long retreats, to one-on-one executive coaching. Regardless of what you choose, the objective undoubtedly will include your ability to follow through after the reading, training, or coaching experience, and apply some of what you identify as your most significant learnings.

But here’s the thing. It’s not unusual—even if you look forward to trying new skills—to go back to work and have your day-to-day demands generate old reactions and tendencies, that may get in the way of your good intentions.

One thing you can do that may help you apply and practice new skills, is to commit to applying them in smaller steps—during, or relating to, specific situations or initiatives. For example, if you have several new business strategies you want to explore, choose one to start, and document a few initial steps you might take or information you might gather in the short term. That may provide a great first step that may fuel more action. Or,  instead of making a commitment to “listen more”, you might choose a specific meeting you have scheduled with an employee, or a delicate conversation you’re having tomorrow with a colleague, to apply your new listening skills. You might simply make a commitment, that during the one meeting or conversation, you’re going to make an effort to ask more questions before offering your input, so that you remain open to learning more about the other person’s viewpoint.

Applying skills within specific situations, with a more focused intention, and experiencing benefits from doing so, may help you apply and practice the skill, and build upon it, until it becomes more of a natural tendency.