Dear Dr. Graham:

Your last post hit me hard. When “Agitated in Atlanta” described his suspicions that his boss was planning to make undesirable staffing changes, it was like I was hearing myself talk. Based on my latest performance review, I suspect I have been telling myself some stories that aren’t true. Like you said, maybe my assumptions about others’ intentions have become self-fulfilling prophecies that have hurt my career.

At the end of your answer you mentioned how important it is for leaders to develop “human skills” for professional success. I think I need to know more about such skills if I’m going to move up in my organization. Will you explain?

Stuck at Mid-level

Dear Stuck,

I think almost everyone feels they haven’t yet learned everything about how to “do life” – what I call “human skills” — that form the foundation for personal and professional success. Unless you were part of the lucky minority with parents who had all these skills and taught them well, you have to intentionally build these skills on your own.

One of the crises I see in the leadership world is that we are so focused on training leaders to strategize, or to inspire, or to manage performance, or to do some other nuts-and-bolts task – that we forget to help them develop the ability to manage themselves psychologically.  We fail to provide them with the tools they need to assess and develop their human skills. Self-management requires healthy self-reflection, which demands deep inner work. That’s the reason I do what I do in the context of the workplace. Most people aren’t as perceptive as you. They don’t know they have human-skill gaps they must fill before they can do life and work well.

Here are five fill-the-gap suggestions:

  • Invest in professional coaching (or, if appropriate, therapy). The insights you gain from solid counsel will pay dividends in your career and personal life.
  • Take time for reflection. Experiment with various paths to reflection until you find the one that works for you.  Designate a private spot on your calendar to set your intentions at the beginning of each day. Or subscribe to the Calm or Headspace app and meditate for 10 minutes each day.  Or start a journal and capture your reflections on paper before you go to bed.  You get the picture.  Busy people who neglect reflection do not grow!
  • Learn from every direction. You can learn something from everyone you encounter, from the grocery store sales clerk to the president of your firm. Observe the strengths of others and learn from them, regardless of their roles or social positions.
  • Seek insightful friendsPeople who are psychologically evolved have friends who can self-reflect. Such friends see the world differently. They challenge us to reconsider unhealthy assumptions or behaviors.
  • Be curious. The best leaders see all situations as learning opportunities. They gain new perspectives from subjects outside their areas of expertise – exploring everything from quantum physics to art. They enjoy books, podcasts and courses that broaden their personal and professional perspectives.

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