I have had the privilege of doing a number of different functional roles in my career (for companies ranging from Intel to Planar to a software start-up) and throughout all of them, I have have found the following five skills critical:
1. Gather Requirements
Of course, you’d expect those in product management or market research would need to know this skill, but frankly, it is critical across all functions and in all organizations. Being able to understand the needs of the customers (internal or external) and identify success metrics is absolutely critical to every role, even those in executive leadership where resources are allocated and capital is obtained to fund the work. This requires the ability to ask good question, perceive needs and broker ideas from one part of the business to another.
2. Identify Decision Makers
Professional sales people make their living by understanding what, but more critically who, stands between them and a sale. They understand how to work with champions, financial buyers, and other profiles to achieve results and make certain that the customer is getting full value for their purchases. But in my experience it is not just account managers who need to have this skill. Knowing this avoids wasted time and effort convincing people with no purchase power or decision making authority on the merits of your offer. Whether you are advocating for an internal proposal or influencing key suppliers, everyone should know how to determine who the real decision makers are. Often this is achieved through a combination of observations and questions. The best sales people are ones who can tactfully ask who needs to be involved in the decision and process by which decisions of this type are made. Those are good questions for everyone to be ready to ask.
3. Tell the Truth (in love)
I consider the truth a gift and regularly remind my staff that I rely on them for their candor. I sincerely hope they take me up on the offer to listen to their complaints or suggestions with an open mind and a willingness to change, if necessary. Being able to receive the truth is a made a lot easier when the truth teller is gifted in this area. The effective truth teller strikes a balance between frankness and concern for the individual. They speak the truth in love, as the writer of Ephesians penned.
And it is easy to lose that balance. Taylor Swift’s song “All Too Well” poetically describes the person who emphasized truth over love:
Hey, you call me up again just to break me like a promise.
So casually cruel in the name of being honest.
Being able to deliver a tough message in a tender way is a very useful skill for any professional and absolutely critical for managers and mentors.
4. Advocate for Yourself Resourcefully
We often employ our full range of resourcefulness on tasks at worth, without taking stock on how we might marshal the same energy to advocate for ourselves. No one else will do it for you (no, really, it is true). It’s up to you.
5. Identify Opportunities for Personal Growth
And part of advocating is knowing what to advocate for. This is why it is critical that people continue to grow and be on the look-out for professional opportunities. They don’t have to cost money or take a lot of time. They can be as simple as asking the advice of people you admire or reading a blog or book on a topic of interest. Being intellectually curious is one of the things that sets the the high performers and high potentials apart from the crowd.