Are People Skills a Boardroom Blind Spot?

By Lou Solomon

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Are "people skills" a boardroom blind spotPeople skills. Once you get to the boardroom, do you really need them?

Sitting in a boardroom with your leadership team, you might be seduced into believing that you can drive change for employees while avoiding the pain of self-inventory. You might even imagine that your company’s problems are caused by everyone else.

Perhaps you believe that you have earned the right to expect employees’ trust. Maybe you don’t think you need to be the role model for communication practices that build trust.

I can see how that happens. The demands of customers who want the latest innovation, shareholders who push for short-term gains and a Board of Directors who are eyeing your performance can take up all of your headspace.

Costco on earning employee trust

Leaders like Costco Co-founder Jim Sinegal and current CEO Craig Jelinek are role models for customer service and team spirit at the retail giant. They have earned the trust of employees—and it has paid off for everyone.

Costco outperforms Wal-Mart and Target in culture and employee satisfaction. And, Costco is outperforming its competitors when it comes to the top line and the bottom line for the past five years. Jelinek and Sinegal have staked the long-term success of Costco on a culture of happy employees and customers.

They believe that if employees are happy, they will be more productive, and together with happy customers, they will reward shareholders.

Is that philosophy too simplistic or too complicated for the rest of us? Our ability to drive profitability begins with how we interact with employees, and pushes out to customers and shareholders. Consider your interactions and relationships within the organization—and how your employees would describe them.

How we lose our competitive edge

Too often we lose our competitive edge not because we don’t understand business, but because we have forgotten the real work of business, which begins with the people who work for us.

According to Harvard professor and Ph.D. John Kotter, 70% of all change initiatives fail. Why? Not only are we distracted by the latest trends in change management, most leaders involved are, despite their good intentions, still trying to change other people through one-way downloading disguised as a change initiative.

Responsibility begins with your review of the practices that make you unhappy and your contribution to those practices. For example:

I am unhappy with… My contribution…
A lack of trust within the team Do I make it safe for people to offer their ideas and say what they really think? Am I willing to be imperfect, or am I the only one with the right answer?  What am I doing to extend trust?
The overall communications culture  of our team What am I doing to model the behavior I want? Have I established a pattern of communication that activates the best performance within the team?
Lack of urgency Do employees know what’s expected of them with an element of freedom as to how to reach the goals?
Lack of respect Can people count on me to make a stand? Do I keep promises?  Do I play it safe and swing with the company line each and every time?
Your influence Who am I being when I connect with employees?  Can I make an individual connection with any employee and be curious about their insights?
Lack of accountability Am I tolerating an individual who brings the team down while asking others to engage?

If you are not being a role model for the behavior you are expecting from others, your success will be limited to incremental gains here and there.

However, if you are willing to take ownership of team practices and collaborate with members to make them better, you will earn the trust of others. You will overcome one of the biggest blind spots of all—responsibility as a role model for employees, who hold an indispensable key to your success.

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