Leadership, promotions, and monkey parts

GEORGE CORBIN

SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, DIGITAL at Marriott International
 
“Watching people get promoted is a lot like watching monkeys," a colleague of mine once remarked. "The higher they climb, the more of their nasty bits you see.”

So, with that in mind, here’s a pop quiz: Who was the worst boss you ever had?

Quick, write down the two or three things that made him or her the worst.

Now, who was the best boss you ever had? Jot down what made him or her the best.

In my last post, I said that two things tend to happen when you move up in an organization:

First, to be successful in a more senior role, you must prepare yourself to undergo a step-change in the type of work you do. (This is summarized in the career step-change chart here.) Second, as you move up, soft skills become more crucial to your success. I’m going to focus on that in this post.

A couple years ago, I joined about 30 senior level executives for an offsite meeting. A consultant handed out a stack of post-it notes and posed the “best boss / worst boss” questions above. We scribbled furiously for five minutes.

Then he sketched the following circle on a flip chart and divided the circle into three wedges: iQ, Technical and eQ.



(To share this graphic click here.)

iQ means “intelligence and rational judgment.” Clearly these are important traits in a manager, and we assume smart people are more likely to be successful. So iQ is the first wedge for job success.

Technical means “job expertise.” We all know this is important, of course, and we regularly observe experts getting the career fast-track because they really know their domain/industry/company. So that’s the second wedge.

eQ means “emotional quotient” or “emotional intelligence.” These are the “soft skills” — the ability to inspire and motivate others, to empathize, to manage relationships, to defuse conflict. (More on eQ here.]

Our facilitator invited us to post our notes on the chart wedge that characterized the best and worst traits of those bosses; that is, were their strengths and failings Technical, iQ, or eQ in nature? (Take a moment to do this exercise yourself with the traits you just wrote down.)

We mobbed the flip charts. When we stepped back, here’s how it looked:



The post-it note comments were diverse but thematically consistent. Best bosses were “empowering,” “had my back,” “inspired me to do my best,” “made me stretch.” Worst bosses were “indecisive,” “micromanager,” “untrustworthy,” “terrible communicators.”

What does this tell us? In general, people feel the traits that make their bosses the best or the worst rarely relate to their intellect or their expertise. In fact, intellect and job expertise are considered the minimum price of entry for most leadership jobs (and yes, unfortunately, we can all cite exceptions to this).

Predominantly it’s the soft skills — the eQ — that matters. After all, it’s typically not your boss’s intellect or expertise that make you think about quitting.

A study by the Carnegie Institute of Technology adds even more weight to this: “85% of your financial success is tied to your personality and your ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical knowledge.”

Think about that for a minute. Which skills are you developing as you seek that next promotion? Chances are you are honing your technical expertise — and that’s important, for sure. But it’s not enough.

As you move up your responsibilities shift from being effective at managing yourself to being effective at managing and leading others. Soft skills become mission-critical. Mastering them often makes the difference between great bosses, and those who … show their “nasty monkey bits.”

So, which “soft skills” are most predictive of your success as a leader? I’ll talk about that in my next post. In the meantime, what qualities do you think have made your bosses stand out, for the good and the bad?

(This is the second post in a three-part series on personal career development. Part 1 can be read here. Please click “Follow” to be notified of the next installment.)

George Corbin is the Senior Vice President of Digital at Marriott International, a global lodging company with more than 4,300 properties in 81 countries and territories. You can follow him on Twitter @GeorgeCorbin1.

You can also follow Overheard@Marriott to hear more from him and other industry insiders.
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