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Got Skills? That’s Not Enough.

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You know how to do things. You were trained, or you taught yourself, or you went to school. But skills aren’t enough to succeed in the workplace.

This notion comes from Kevin Eikenberry, who writes that skills aren’t enough to make a leader:

When organizations plan their leadership development programs, they start with the skills that will be needed to be successful. It is an understandable goal – to know what people need to be able do in order to lead. Here’s the problem: asking about the right leadership skills isn’t the only question that needs to be asked, because skills aren’t enough.

To give him full credit, here’s the reason that skills aren’t enough. Again, according to Eikenberry:

Before anyone can do the work to learn and apply the skillset, they must have beliefs and a mindset that allows and encourages them to do that work


© Flickr user Limarie Cabrera.

This isn’t the only thinking on this topic. In a Harvard Business Review article, it’s noted that leadership skills are more than helping managers and employees relate:

Interpersonal leadership sets up an expectation that leaders must be in dialog or at least in view of their followers. Yet this style of interaction is less likely as work stretches across locations and company boundaries as we telecommute, crowdsource, and take on joint ventures. Modern leadership may be as much about facilitating strategy through hiring, training, technology, and focused tasks and goals, as it is about face-to-face interaction.

To summarize, we’ve got three points so far:

  • Skills are important to leadership, but they aren’t sufficient on their own
  • You need to have the beliefs and mindset to put those skills to work
  • Plus, modern leadership is about culture and strategy as much as it is about one-on-one time with people

Following all that? It’s about to get bigger.

Plants Growing

© Flickr user spurekar.

Skills Aren’t Enough for Any Workplace Responsibility

Leadership is only one element of what makes a team succeed. Here’s another one: accountability. There are lots of mechanisms to ensure that people do what they are supposed to do. These include concepts such as checklists, sign-off forms, reports, reviews, and testing procedures. You can learn how to do all of them in a classroom environment or on your own.

But what happens if you don’t have the belief or mindset that accountability is important? It’s probably not going to happen.

And what if you can’t be there in person to conduct accountability work? You had better have a culture of accountability, otherwise people won’t get things done.

Everything Groups Do Has These Three Elements

You’ve got to have them all. First, your team must have the skills (or knowledge) of how to do the task. This includes the resources as well, since you can’t really have the skill if you didn’t have the tools to learn it.

Second, your team must believe the work matters and is possible. Lots of people don’t care about their work and are just punching a clock. Or, they don’t think the organization can achieve what has been defined. Success will be a tough road with these boat anchors in place.

Finally, you must have more than face-to-face support, but a culture of action. Anyone can do work if the boss is there watching. But if the shared perspective of everyone is one of getting things done, then the work will happen.

When Disaster Strikes

That Harvard Business Review article outlines major crisis that happened in a company with these elements in place:

Horrible flooding .. took out a critical bridge and put two feet of water into their highly electrified plant. From sandbagging to dealing with dangerous electrical systems and arranging for cross-state transport of construction equipment, individuals from across the plant took charge.

“Nobody told them to do it. [Our] people — [our] culture just reacted to situation. I was blown away, but I shouldn’t have been.” “Who better to do the job than the people who own it? They’re in this together. I don’t want somebody else [e.g., contractors} in there fighting the battle. We know the result we’re looking for, and we’re prepared.”

They were prepared because they hire, train, and reward for their goals — not because of the interpersonal skills of their formal leaders.

Skills alone aren’t enough. You’ve got to believe in your capacity, and be willing to do what is right because it is right.

That’s what makes the difference.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
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