Core Incompetencies

Remember the Peter Principle—the theory that everyone rises to the level of his or her incompetence? Well, it's still alive and well in business today, as these examples show.

Example 1: Recently, a well-respected technician was rewarded for his stellar lab work by being promoted to head up a new project team. Within six months he was back at the bench after his "team" fell apart. His take on the reason: Being promoted into management is a waste of a good scientist.

Example 2: A hard-driving salesperson who would do anything to close a deal was made director of sales, with seven reps reporting to her. Two months later, two of her people left for positions at competing companies. They both complained that the pressure she created was just too much. Of those who remain, two more are looking.

Example 3: At a midsize software company, the VP of marketing was known as a hard-driving, Type-A personality who always got the job done. In large part because of his record-setting performance, he was chosen to be the company's next CEO. The majority of his executive team now admits this was a mistake. Their assessment: He cares much more about potential customers than he does about his leadership team. Profits have slipped for the second straight year.

All three of these people (and countless others) are victims of the Peter Principle. The skills that got them to their next career step are not the ones they need to be successful at the leadership level. Without a new set of skills, through no fault of their own, they are certain to fail.

What are the skills you need to be an effective leader? To answer this, I'd like to turn to Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, leadership guru and speaker extraordinaire. In an article in Fast Company magazine, Goldsmith lists a series of skills that are key to effective leadership. Everyone trying to make the transition into leadership should possess them to a high degree, or at least be working hard on developing them. Here they are:

Are you able to listen? To give proper recognition? To share—whether it's information or credit for success? To stay calm when others panic? To make midcourse corrections? To accept responsibility? To admit mistakes? To defer to others even (especially) those of lesser rank? To let someone else be right some of the time? To say thank you? To resist playing favorites?

Why are these skills essential to effective leadership? Because the job of a leader is to get the work of the business done through other people. It's all about relationships and influencing people. Technical knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient. Something more is needed. And that something is just these people smarts that Goldsmith describes.

If you want to succeed in business as a leader, whether you're a CEO, manager, or supervisor, stamp these skills into your passport, and you'll be well on your journey.

Don't know if you ate steak or chicken last night? A poor memory can hinder you on the job, says Frank Felberbaum, author of The Business of Memory (Rodale, 2005). Fortunately, boosting memory is easier than you think. Here are three simple steps:

Pay attention: During important events, concentrate. Keep your eyes open and your mind alert.

Visualize: Convert new information into a picture or visual image.

Associate: Connect new information to what you already know. If you meet someone with the same name as a childhood pal, link the two in your mind.