Mirror, Mirror

What kind of image do you project to your staff?

Would you work for an arrogant and cold boss who aloofly keeps his or her distance? Of course not--and neither will your employees, at least not for long, and never at top effectiveness.

Are you that boss? Don't be too quick to scoff. "Most entrepreneurs dramatically overestimate their people skills," says Frank Shipper, a business professor at Salisbury State University in Salisbury, Maryland. That overconfidence can be a fatal business flaw. "The entrepreneurs who get ahead are those with good people skills. But many falter due to simple, people-related issues," warns Shipper, whose research pinpoints arrogance and coldness as common problems. "People skills are much more important than most of us realize."

"Lack of people skills is a real problem faced by many entrepreneurs," agrees David Goldsmith, an Orlando, Florida, management coach. The problem often sneaks up on you, Goldsmith adds: "The difficulties often don't show up at first. With a staff of two or three--people the entrepreneur may have known for a long time--his or her skills may be adequate. But as the business grows, difficulties arise. By the time the tenth employee is hired, the business may be heading for trouble, precisely because many entrepreneurs lack the basic people skills good managers need."

What's the problem? Few entrepreneurs get where they are by virtue of smooth interpersonal skills. Many go into business because of strong technical abilities, others because of sales talents, and still others because they cannot tolerate working for others. You'll look long and hard before finding an entrepreneur who started a business because he or she gets along so well with people.

Worse, many of the same personality traits that help entrepreneurs launch a business work against them as managers. "Single-mindedness is a case in point," says Goldsmith. It takes real goal-orientation to get a business afloat, but this same single-mindedness can make an entrepreneur defensive about legitimate input on how to do things better.

Then, too, most entrepreneurs are exceptionally hard-working and smart--but that can lead them to judge employees too harshly, warns Anthony Mulkern, a Glendale, California, management consultant. "The entrepreneur needs to remember that he or she is exceptional," he says. "But be humble about that, and don't always judge your people against your personal standards. Your employees aren't entrepreneurs--that's why they're employees."

You may think you're too busy keeping the business afloat to ponder these points. But don't you want your people pulling with you? The bottom line is, they won't--not if they don't like and respect you. And that means getting your people skills in order.

"Once you accept that the company won't continue to grow based solely on your efforts and that you need the help of others to get where you want to go," says Roger Herman, a Greensboro, North Carolina, management consultant, "you are on your way to seeing why you need to improve your people skills."

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This article was originally published in the November 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Mirror, Mirror.

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