Top five competency companions that will help leaders develop this critical skill.
By John H. “Jack” Zenger, CEO and Co-Founder, Zenger Folkman
When leaders set out to improve their effectiveness, what do they choose as the most important skill to improve? Choices range from technical competence, problem-solving skills, strategic thinking, innovation, leading change, or how to work more effectively with people.
Zenger Folkman did a study to answer this question. First, we analyzed the personal development plans of nearly 11,000 leaders from a variety of industries, mostly from North America. After reviewing their 360-degree feedback, we found that more than 50 percent of the leaders chose “interpersonal skills” as their top area for improvement.
It is clear that most leaders have received technical training and many have been educated in business theory courses, but few business schools offer practical courses on how to work more effectively with colleagues. There seems to be a growing awareness and understanding among leaders that the only way to significantly improve organizational profitability is to develop better interpersonal skills. To help leaders achieve this goal, we researched the top five statistically proven competency companions that will best help leaders develop this critical skill.
Communicate powerfully and prolifically: Many leaders fall short in their interpersonal skills because they lack the ability to communicate well. Leaders can overcome these challenges, in part, by being prepared for presentations. Start by thinking about employees’ backgrounds and needs, and about where they stand on the issue you will be discussing. Consider what people need now, what they don’t need until later, and what they can discover for themselves. Ask others for ideas about how to present arguments to people who might oppose your position. You can even practice your presentation in front of people who articulate their ideas effectively and know your organization well.
Inspire and motivate others to high performance: Doesn’t every leader want to know how to energize people to go the extra mile? Start by learning how to empower individuals. Have people develop their own specific plans for how they will accomplish their goals and regularly ask them how they’re progressing and what you can do to help them. Express confidence in others and demonstrate enthusiasm to them by talking about why your goals are important.
Build relationships: Quite often, leaders struggle to make an emotional connectional with their co-workers. Leaders should focus on being more approachable and friendly so they can be trusted by those they work with. Start by demonstrating a genuine interest in people and their work, and keep yourself informed about what they are doing. Expand your conversations to include outside hobbies and interests. Make yourself available to talk to others.
Develop others: A great leader doesn’t do the work of 10, he teaches 10 to do the work that is needed. Act as a coach or mentor to facilitate learning from experience. Foster a learning environment that encourages others to learn from their experiences. Build the visibility and credibility of junior people by discussing their accomplishments with others in the organization. Help others refine their career development plans. Give honest and candid feedback in a helpful way.
Collaborate and encourage teamwork: Leaders’ interpersonal skills can greatly help set the tone for collaboration and teamwork within a group. Leaders can bring the group together to discuss the ways to work more effecti vely as a team. Design projects that require cooperation, then encourage direct contact between team members. Be sure to give credit to the group for team accomplishments. Don’t act as the center of problem solving for your group, but don’t hesitate to roll up your selves and help others when they need it.
Leaders can start improving their interpersonal skills today by evaluating where they stand in the five competency companions mentioned above. Make specific plans on how to improve those areas. Discuss these plans and goals with peers, manager, and direct reports. The more planning and support that goes into a leader’s development, the more likely they will be to improve and create a positive impact in the organization.
Speaker, consultant, and executive coach John H. “Jack” Zenger is the co-founder and CEO of Zenger Folkman. He is a world expert in the field of leadership development.