February 04, 2011

Human Resources: Communication is critical

Technical skills not enough for managers

Question:
"Many of my co-workers have engineering or other technical backgrounds. I’ve noticed that it’s hard for some of them to make the move from independent contributor to manager because their communication skills don’t seem to have kept pace with their technical skills. They seem more comfortable doing the work than helping others do the work. Now, this isn’t true in every instance, but the tendency seems to be toward "black and white†messages, consistent with a strong facts orientation. I wonder if you could write about this issue.â€

Answer:
I’m sure many readers can resonate with this issue. Many organizations promote from within, using a process in which the best "doer†is tabbed to be the leader when a managerial vacancy occurs. Stating the obvious, "doing†and "leading†are different endeavors, requiring different approaches and competencies.

The best contributor does not always make the best leader, as we all know simply by looking at the history of top-flight athletes who have been given a shot at managing or coaching. The list of people who’ve successfully managed the transition is short. Pat Summit, the terrific women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee comes quickly to mind.

Conversely, the list of unsuccessful transitions is lengthy, including some of the biggest names, including baseball players like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, football players like Bart Starr and Herman Edwards, and basketball players like Isiah Thomas and Earvin "Magic†Johnson.

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) has documented that in terms of "rising star†leaders with whom they have worked who later became "plummeting comets,†80 percent of them share a common Achilles’ heel: an "interpersonal flaw or deficit.†So, this is a common, widespread challenge.

Think about it for a moment. Effective communication is a skill that can be used in many one-on-one or group conversations, discussions, etc. in the workplace, including:

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