Are you skilled or effective?


Skilled craftsman do a certain thing exceptionally well. Their efforts are precise and excellent. Someone who is “skilled” is a highly specialized expert. We can be highly skilled at nearly anything worth doing. But most of the time, we don’t need to be highly skilled at something. We need to be effective, and that means something different. To be effective means to produce a desired effect. To do so, we usually need to be able to do a variety of things reasonably well, not just one thing extremely well. We need to be a jack-of-all-traders of sorts, with a multitude of tools at our disposal and, just as importantly, the ability to know when to use which one. From a leadership and management perspective, this means learning how to balance various orientations and behaviors. For example:

  • Task vs. people. Yes, we have a job to do – but no matter what our job is, it is virtually guaranteed that we will need to work with and through other people in the process of accomplishing it. Failing to appreciate the need to attend to people issues will ultimately result in poorer results. We need to learn to balance our focus between the task at hand and the people we are executing it with. Maybe I need to be a highly skilled engineer, but I also need to know when to have a genuine interaction with my colleagues and how to effectively work with my boss. I need both technical and people skills.
  • Talking vs. listening. You don’t need to be a naturally empathetic listener or a highly skilled orator to be an effective communicator. You need to know when to sit down and listen attentively and when to be speak clearly, confidently, and concisely. To be effective at engaging or persuading others, we need to tune into when people need to be heard versus when they need you to share information or a powerful story to energize them.
  • My goals vs. your goals. To be able to keep both your own aims and those of others in your line of sight simultaneously is the backbone of effective collaboration. Most people have a natural tendency to be “expert” about their own needs and concerns, but to be able to balance this tendency with the appreciation for others’ needs and concerns is what allows us to be effective when negotiating or managing conflict.
  • Internal vs. external focus. While it is natural to focus on “your own backyard” first (your team, your department, your organization), we also need to be able to look without and understand the context in which we are embedded (the organization as a whole, the industry, the broader business environment) in order to understand how internal actions will be received and have impact, as well as to predict what actions from the external environment might impact us.
  • Short-term vs. long-term perspective. The most effective leaders and managers can run interference between the nitty-gritty details of tactics and the broad-brush strokes of long-term plans and goals. Appreciation for how the two perspectives are linked is fundamental to effective risk management and change management.

While the professional world is becoming highly specialized in terms of technical skills, having too narrow a focus or skillset can decrease our adaptability and effectiveness, especially when it comes to key management and leadership competencies. While our company has the expertise to provide training and development around these concepts, our real value to our clients isn’t just providing skill-building opportunities and offering tools for various problems, but in helping people cultivate a diverse skill set and the insight to apply it flexibly and thoughtfully.

“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” –Abraham Maslow