Mirror, Mirror

Essential Elements

Which people skills are essential in sustaining the growth of a business? According to Goldsmith, the key skills are communication (do you get your vision across in an understandable way?) and listening (do you hear the feedback your employees provide?). Compassion is also crucial: Do you understand how your employees feel?

But scoring high on compassion, listening and communication isn't enough, says Herman. "You may have the skills, but if you lack the attitude, you're out of luck," he says. "You can take all the listening improvement courses there are, but if you don't respect your people and want to listen to them, you still won't hear them." Ditto for communication and compassion.

That's why Herman pinpoints what may be the most critical people skill needed by every entrepreneur: "You need an attitude where you are sensitive to the needs of your people and want to build a partnership with them based upon mutual needs," he says. "The attitude you need is that of seeking collaboration with your people."

The surest way to get that result is to begin with brutal honesty about how you presently rate. Tim Fulton, a consultant with the Small Business Development Center at Clayton State College in Morrow, Georgia, recommends listing the people skills needed in your business. "Then honestly rate yourself," he says. "This will pinpoint where you need further development." An even better alternative: Turn to a trusted friend or a consultant to do this appraisal. The unvarnished results may sting, but that puts you on the path to getting better.

The next step, says Fulton, is polishing the skills that need buffing. Local colleges offer plenty of training classes at affordable prices; instructional tapes and books provide more tips. No matter the medium, the key to getting better is to keep practicing. "Actually improving people skills is the easy part," says Fulton. "The harder part, for most entrepreneurs, is accepting that there is a problem in the first place."

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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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