The ONE principle you must know for career success
I’ve been working with someone I’ll call Marco, a wealthy business owner and managing director who mentioned recently that he doesn’t really know how to send emails. When he meets people, he gives out the email address of his assistant. Or he directs customers and other contacts to the relevant directors within his own business.
He doesn’t know how to use Excel, PowerPoint or Word to create spreadsheets, presentations or even the simplest documents. And he admits that he doesn’t know most of the day-to-day happenings within his company.
Yet he runs a thriving business. The company is growing and profitable. And his managers and employees enjoy his leadership and value his opinions.
Marco is an extreme example. But he illustrates a central principle when it comes to achieving success in pretty much any career.
The more senior you want to become, the less your job is about knowledge and technical skills.
Thriving in your early years
In the first years of their careers, many people get hired because of their technical skills and knowledge. Many jobs – becoming a professional accountant, psychologist, lawyer or doctor, for example – require certain qualifications. It doesn’t matter how skilled you think you are in a lot of these jobs. Unless you have the right certificates, you won’t get the job.
When you move into your first supervisory or management job, the nature of your work becomes slightly less about technical know-how. Instead, you have to spend more time explaining tasks to people, motivating them to do their jobs well and offering constructive criticism when they make mistakes.
When you move into your second and third management jobs, the weighting of your work continues to change. You spend less time working on tasks and more time understanding people and persuading them to do things for you. So when you become a manager of managers, your work isn’t just about delegation; your work needs to be about coaching your people. And there’s probably a big chunk of dealing with customers – whether they are external clients or colleagues in other departments and divisions. So again, the relative importance of your technical knowledge decreases.
Stepping into senior management
Move into senior management and the majority of your time needs to be spent on people issues. You need to be coaching the managers within your team on how they can coach and create an appropriately supportive culture in which junior people can learn and grow. You need to be networking externally and persuading customers to give you their trust – and money.
At the most senior levels, success is nearly all about influence and persuasion – not technical know-how.
I can think of so many examples of executives and business owners who admit that they know relatively little about the technical aspects of their work. For example, I work with the managing partner of a law firm who admits that his knowledge of the law is fairly terrible. But he’s a great networker, spokesperson, figure head and coach. He spends a lot of time asking questions and listening – really listening – to customers, competitors and his team. Rather than doing projects himself, he is helping all of the people around him to think about how they can do things better.
So many clients come to me for advice and it turns out that their problems are due to the fact that they are concentrating too much on tasks and not enough on influence, persuasion and relationships. For example, if people in your team aren’t getting on, is it really because you haven’t spent enough time talking to them, listening to what they’re doing and sorting out the minor disagreements before they turn into major resentments? Or if you’re not being offered the promotion you want, is it because you’re doing, doing, doing projects rather than networking with the right people and getting yourself known?
Developing your influence
Whether you run your own business or are working your way up the hierarchy, consider these tips for growing your influence:
- Ask a few people for comments on your level of influence. Talk to several business people who know you well – clients, colleagues or other knowledgeable individuals – and ask them questions pertaining to how influential you are. “Would you rate me as an above-average coach and people manager?” “Do you see me doing more networking and brand-building activities than most people at my level?” “In terms of my business relationships, how likeable would you say I am?” By asking these sorts of questions, you can figure out how much (or little) influence you have.
- Gradually modify how you spend your time. Over the next month, see if you can spend just an extra hour coaching people within your team. That may mean having three or four short conversations with different people – or perhaps having one intensive coaching session with a different person each week. And see if you can network outside of the business just for one morning or evening extra every week.
- Ask for help. Whatever the stage of your career, ask people around you for ideas on developing your people skills and influence. If you have a line manager, express your desire to develop this part of your repertoire. Ask for help in developing your coaching and relationship building skills – and then listen to that advice.
- Make a plan for growing your influence and persuasion skills. No matter how good your intentions, you will fail unless you have a plan. So write out a simple plan – even if it consists of only a couple of new activities. Set yourself goals. Break your goals down into smaller tasks. Track your work and then review your progress every month or so.
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