CXO

Soft Skills in a Hard World

For anyone working in technology with dreams of becoming

senior management, you might be surprised to find that while your hard

technical skills will get you so far, it will be your softer skills that will

take you the rest of the way.

By soft skills, I mean those skills that are part of day to

day life as a senior manager: Writing a

clear and concise memorandum, listening, communicating, public speaking,

running a meeting, conducting interviews, and managing people and resources to

accomplish objectives.

These skills are not found in your study guide for your MCSE

or your Oracle Database handbook. They

are acquired by some if they are lucky through formal education, while others

have had to pick them up over time by modeling others. Often times, it is a combination of both.

I was most fortunate to have a class while pursuing my

MBA at the University of Louisville that was called “Leadership”. It was taught by the Executive in Residence

at the time, T. Ballard Morton. It was

and remains the most important class I ever had in a university setting and the

one class whose content I use every single day of my work life. I want to publicly thank Mr. Morton for

coming up with such a class in the first place and for making such an impact in

my life. You can read his thoughts here

on the class and how he came up with it as well as what he stressed to us

budding managers.

For those of you who do not have a T. Ballard Morton in your

life, I wanted to share a few of the golden nuggets with you that he provided

to me during that wonderful semester under his tutelage.

The first nugget is this book: The Elements of Style. If you

don’t have it, go get it. If you do, reacquaint yourself with

it. What is this book? I quote Wikipedia “The Elements of Style ("the

little book" – 1918,

"Strunk & White") is an American

English writing

style

guide originally detailing eight elementary rules of usage, ten elementary

principles of composition, "a few matters of form" and a list of

words or expressions described by its prescriptivist

authors as being commonly misused. Updated editions of the

paperback book are often required reading for American high school and college

composition classes.” It is

invaluable. I had lost my copy after a

few moves and just recently reacquired it.

It is not just must reading,

you need to try to commit as much of it to memory as possible.

The second gem is public speaking. You don’t need a book here per se (although there are some good

ones out there) – you need practice.

How to get it? I had the luxury

of doing a great deal of it in class before having to do it in a work setting,

but if you can’t find a class, Toastmasters International is a great way to get it.

The third gem: “How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less” by Milo Frank. It is an oldie but a goody. I also recommend his “How to Run a Successful Meeting in Half the

Time”. Both books will aid in your

effective communication with those around you.

The fourth gem

unfortunately is out of print but I have found a very effective replacement in

“Listening: The Forgotten Skill: A Self-Teaching Guide” by Madelyn Burley-Allen.

The fifth gem is MANAGEMENT & MACHIAVELLI : A Prescription for Success in Your Business (Paperback) by Antony

Jay

. This book will give you some insight into

corporate politics and is a great book for reflection on your own organization.

The sixth gem didn’t come from his class but I

have found it very valuable when having to run meetings using parliamentary

procedure. “Roberts Rules in Plain

English” by Doris P. Zimmerman.

Lastly, try and find a mentor. If you are fortunate, you have one working

with you everyday; you just haven’t taken advantage of it yet. They don’t have to be in the same department

as you or even organization. Here is an

excellent article on finding mentors.

I hope that by pointing out some of the tools that were

placed in my toolbox early on in my career you too can benefit as you climb

your way up your career ladder.

Good luck!



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