Some of Your Skills Don’t Generalize to People Management


‘…in many domains in life, success and satisfaction depend on knowledge, wisdom, or savvy in knowing which rules to follow and which strategies to pursue.  This is true…for many tasks in the social and intellectual domains, such as promoting effective leadership, raising children, constructing a solid logical argument, or designing a rigorous psychological study.’

– Justin Kruger and David Dunning, ‘Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments

Leading people in an enterprise takes a very specific suite of skills.  In a growing organization, you’ll need different skills at different stages — and if you’re a first-time CEO or business owner, nothing you’ve done has prepared you for this experience.

That’s ok.  Your experience also also failed to prepare you to run a winning baseball team.  To conduct a symphony orchestra.  Or to run a country.

Fundraising requires sales skill.  Technical and creative ability is key for product development.

Making sure every team member understands your organization’s goals?  Dealing with complaints about the guy who really needs to shower?  Or bigger things?

Active learning is key to building skills to handle these eventualities.

Some say that 70% of management development comes the hard way, from experience.  Many of your mistakes will be due to your inexperience.  (Not because you’re Evil.)

That said, your intentions don’t matter.  Results do.

Getting a group of people to perform at scale requires a lot of listening, communicating about goals and values, recruiting, delegating, coaching and cheerleading.

You’re not an expert at everything.  And you don’t have time — or probably the inclination — to master every function needed in a healthy organization.

That’s the point of having a team:  that’s why it takes a team.  (NB:  It’s not a family.)

One key to competence is knowing when your skills won’t generalize to the challenge at hand; if you’re operating in a new arena, you may not know this without outside input.

Confident leaders surround themselves with experts who bring different skills and expertise to the table.

A dream team of subject matter experts can give you a solid start.   Your capacity to listen to them, and act on their counsel, is key.

Photo:  cropped from Juggling in Glacier, by Evan Lovely via Flickr under CC2.0 license.

Note:  this piece is also cross posted on Medium.  It’s one of several follow-ups to my recent piece, What You Disregard, You Accept:  Red Flags for CEOs, originally published here and also over on Medium.

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