Anyone who is ambitious dreams of becoming the boss.
But just being an outstanding performer won’t get you there. Technical knowledge is always admired, but getting to the top also needs some very specific people skills.
Such as being able to project your confidence and integrity to those around you. And explain concepts clearly and persuasively.
To have a good feel for what people are thinking. To be able to interpret their body language and behaviour, especially when they conflict with what someone is saying out loud.
And to be able to read social situations, so you know what’s likely to happen next.
These are all critical leadership skills. So people who were promoted purely for their drive and technical expertise often fail in leadership positions.
In fact, all the best jobs combine social skills and technical abilities. Think of how doctors, lawyers and management consultants need to empathise, persuade and motivate others.
And at the highest levels, bosses also have to set the tone of their organisation, represent it to the public, and win over customers, stakeholders and subordinates.
Fortunately, all these are learnable skills. And in a perfect world, they’d be taught in schools, colleges, and management development programmes.
So that managers would understand the people they lead better, and present themselves more effectively. But somehow they’re mostly overlooked.
So can you learn them yourself? Yes! Though it can be hard work breaking up old habits.
Start by consciously tracking your own feelings, especially anger or self doubt. Figure out what triggered each one.
So that in future you can stay cool under pressure by heading off unhelpful emotions before they arise. Do the same with the reactions of the people you interact with.
Think about every social interaction you engage in. And if something happens that you don’t understand, develop both positive and negative interpretations before drawing a conclusion.
Work on being assertive. Because you’ll frequently need to tell people where you stand. Learn how to set your own priorities and how to disagree or say no effectively.
For example, by avoiding judgemental phrases like ‘you need to …’ Most people tune out the rest of the sentence once they feel judged.
Work on your non-verbal communication — gestures, interpersonal distance, posture, facial expressions, eye contact, clothing, and hairstyles are important.
Especially eye contact, which conveys emotions and signals interest and attraction.
Become more aware of barriers to communication such as culture, gender, slang, jargon and dialects — like the way men and women follow different conversational rules.
Be interested in everyone you meet. Ask questions. Be helpful. Follow up and stay in touch. Almost everything you ever achieve will depend on the people you interact with.
So give them your complete and undivided attention. Listen hard, and treat anyone you’re talking to as if they were the most important person in the world.
Because your technical skills got your career started. But it’s your social skills that will get you into the boardroom.