When Climbing the Corporate Ladder,
People Skills Are Paramount
by Debra Pestrak
It’s often said that your employees get you promoted,
but your peers allow you to be promoted. Nothing could be truer
when it comes to advancing up the corporate ladder. That’s why
people skills—being able to get along with others regardless
of age, race, or gender—are so vital to your career.
Since most people achieve their greatest comfort level when surrounded
by people who are like themselves, developing people skills is sometimes
a challenge, as the goal is to connect with everyone—even those
you may not normally feel comfortable with. Because most professionals
ultimately have to associate more with people who are unlike themselves,
you need to develop great people skills in order to be an effective
leader and to advance in an organization.
The new book Playing with the Big Boys: Success Secrets of the
Most Powerful Women in Business captures the importance of getting
along with others. All the top female Fortune 500® executives
profiled in the book cite the importance of people skills to their
careers. In order to make it to the top, they quickly learned how
to relate with their co-workers, despite any negativity that resulted
from their differences.
Mary Farrell, Managing Director, Senior Investment Analyst and Member
of the Policy Committee for PaineWebber, Inc., states that interpersonal
skills—your people skills—are of utmost importance to
your success. “I remember reading a business school study of
people who were fired, and the common denominator was their not getting
along with other people,” says Farrell. “You spend a minimum
of eight hours a day at the office with your colleagues. This is in
essence your second family. In fact, many spend more time with that
second family than with their nuclear family. Getting along with people
is crucially important and very helpful in a career.”
One of the keys to developing your people skills is to value and
develop relationships. Additionally, when you place a high ethical
value on cooperation and responsibility, you’ll more often than
not win people over to your side. While many people may believe that
to succeed in business you must fight for autonomy, the truth is that
it’s better to downplay conflict and seek consensus.
Karen Garrison, President, Pitney Bowes Management Services, states,
“You have to engage, not be personal friends, not to be buddy
buddies, but to know where people are on that gauge.” Ursula
Burns, Senior Corporate Vice President and Vice President Worldwide
Manufacturing Operations, Xerox, emphasizes the ability to collaborate
rather than compete, adding, “From the beginning of time, people
have been taught to nurture and work in groups. So there is this natural
ability to include, even if there’s difference, you include
them, nurture, more than to compete.”
Empathy Is a Key to Leadership
Many of the women profiled believe that empathy is also a key people
skill. You need employees to respect you if you are going to be able
to lead them. That respect comes from your ability to understand others,
being fair and even-minded, and valuing and respecting the opinions
of others. Successful executives find they have to be tolerant of
others, understand where they are coming from, and withhold judgment
about them until they can think about the motivations involved.
Successful executives use this same empathy when making presentations.
They adjust their communications based on the audience they are speaking
to. Jean Hamilton, Chief Executive Officer, Prudential Institutional,
states, “First, you must really believe in what you’re
espousing. If you don’t, it will be very easy for someone to
punch holes in your thinking. Next, you need to clearly communicate
how your point of view is good for your organization, not just good
for yourself. If you don’t make this point clear, others may
quickly try to paint your position as self-promoting. In any business
effort, the most influential path is the one that is truly a win-win
situation. It’s very important to understand the perspective
of the person or group with whom you will be dealing. What are their
goals? What are their barriers? What are they afraid of? What’s
really essential that they accomplish? What is it that they think
about? And how do they communicate? Only then can you truly develop
a win-win scenario. If you push through your position, you may have
short-term success, but the solution or the partnership won’t
For Anne Livermore, President, Business Customer Organization at
Hewlett-Packard, her biggest learning lesson was realizing how to
get people to get things done. As she explains, “It’s
the very simple lesson of realizing how powerful it is just to recognize
someone, to thank them for what they’ve done, to motivate them
to do that much more. Reward and recognition can inspire great behavior,
great results.” By learning this interaction secret, Livermore
has been able to attain one of the top positions in her company.
Listen to Succeed
Another important people skill for business advancement is listening.
The higher you climb up the ladder, the more important listening becomes.
In fact, the top female executives rate listening a “10”
on a scale of 1-to-10 of the skills most needed for success.
Anne Sweeney, President, Disney/ABC Cable Networks and President,
Disney Channel, believes her listening ability is what made her success
attainable. She says, “I had to become a better listener. I
had to listen more carefully to everything from people’s advice
to how they did their jobs. I found out that the more carefully I
listened, the better idea I had about the path I wanted to take. That’s
really what made all the difference.”
When asked which behaviors have been integral to her success, Ellen
Hancock, Chairman and CEO, Exodus Communications®, cited listening
as one of her top three. “You have to listen and sometimes there
are better days for listening than others,” she explains. “Other
people have to be sensitive, too, as to whether you’re ready
for all the input. But listening helps.”
Not Who You Know, But What You Know
Similarly, the top female executives have learned to show trust in
their subordinates. They acquired the ability to delegate and then
to trust the subordinates to do the job. For many, though, this wasn’t
an easy task. Fortunately, they learned to surround themselves not
necessarily with people who are like them, but who are the right
people—those with an attitude for success, team players who
understand the vision and bring different perspectives to the team.
They learned that without a variety of perspectives, issues can be
viewed in a tunnel and opportunities missed.
When Karen Garrison first started her career, she wanted to do it
all and get noticed for her accomplishments. But as she advanced she
realized she could be more successful with the help of others. “As
you start managing people, you have to accept that you can’t
personally do it all, even though you might know you could do it better.
You have to trust that other people can do it better. You have to
give it up. You have to really, truly delegate, and for those of us
who really want to do a lot and do it well, that’s very hard
to do normally,” she says.
Reach the Top Today
If you want to be successful in an organization, you have to believe
in yourself and realize that your goal is attainable. However, before
you can reach the top-tier of corporate success, you also need to
develop the people skills that will get you there. By working on your
teamwork, empathy, listening, and delegation skills, you can
achieve your career aspirations.
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QUALITY OF LIFE BEGINS IN YOUR
Riches come from within you, not in material
Your true riches are riches of the head and heart.
Satisfaction comes from truly appreciating what you have.
Wealth without enjoyment gives little satisfaction.
There are two ways of being happy:
either diminish your wants or
reach out for new ways to augment your means.
It’s always better to appreciate things you cannot have
than to have the things you cannot appreciate.
It’s not what you have, but what
that constitutes your abundance and happiness.
Great Quotations from Great Women
“You cannot hope to build a better
world without improving the individuals. To that
end each of us must work for his
own improvement, and at the same time
share a general responsibility for
our particular duty being to aid
those to whom we think we can be most useful.”
— Marie Curie
The book Playing with the
Big Boys: Success Secrets of the Most Powerful Women in Business
is available at local bookstores
and Web sites:
or it can be ordered from the
Products page or by calling toll free
The full candid audio
and videos interviews with the Most Powerful Women are also available
either at the telephone numbers above or the Products
Debra Pestrak has developed a two-day program focused
on what it takes to be successful in your career. Contact her at
888- SUN-3777 for more information on this dynamic program.
the Most Powerful Women Success Traits
If you want
to learn which success traits you need to master to become a Most
Powerful Women, contact Success Unleashed® at 888-786-3777 for
the assessment and free consultation.
Debra Pestrak is a peak performance
expert, an award-winning motivational speaker, and author of Playing
with the Big Boys: Success Secrets of the Most Powerful Women in Business
and Playing with the Big Boys & Girls in Real Estate.
Debra is founder and CEO of Success Unleashed, Inc.®, a company
dedicated to developing powerful programs that impact the way people
think and work. Pestrak was a player in corporate America for 26 years,
working her way up the ranks from a telephone operator to managing
a $20 million budget. She also has instituted and led sales organizations,
and is the past president of the National Speakers Association –
San Diego. To discover more performance advice, contact the author
at 888 SUN-3777.
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