Why People Skills Beat Technical Skills

Usually, doing big things requires you to work well with others.

Why is it the C students in college are often so successful?

Go check with your university and you’ll find the biggest alumni donors aren’t necessarily those who were A students. The biggest donors are often C students. The reason is they’ve had more success after getting their degree.

In the interest of full disclosure let me go on record as saying I was a C student.

Technical skills are great if you work by yourself.

If you’re stuck in front of a computer all day long or in a lab with the test tubes by yourself, technical skill is mostly what you need. Creative geniuses in art and music often work alone. But after the great new program, discovery or work of art is produced it must be taken to the market. Now you’re in a different arena. You have those inconvenient things called people to deal with.

People skills allow you to work well with others.

The more successful you are in life the more you’re going to be involved with more people. You can’t be dysfunctional here. You have to be able to get along with people to get things done. You have to enjoy being around them and appreciating them for what they can do.

No two people are the same, even in the same family or even marriage. If you can’t compromise and make allowances for others opinions, quirks and personalities you will have a lot of problems. On the other hand, if you work well with others and can cause them to work well with each other, the sky is the limit in how far you can go.

Too much technical skill can derail your growth. If you spend all of your time alone with your head down working, whatever people skills you might have had will shrivel up. You’ll become so valuable that those in charge would never let you do anything else. You can become so well known as a geek that people can’t imagine you doing anything else. You can find yourself doing an excellent job but being stuck doing it the rest of your life.

The guidance office at Georgia Tech told me most students with engineering degrees who had been successful at their companies would eventually return to school for a master’s degree in management. They had used their success in the technical side to quickly propel them to a promotion into management. For this they needed more people skills.

Now of course the geniuses can stay in the lab and eventually find fame and fortune. But how many people are actually smart enough to do Nobel Prize level work in the lab anyway? Not many. The rest will remain as drones doing the same grunt work their entire career while the bright ones will move into interesting new endeavors that require working well with other people.

By now you know whether or not you are or have the potential to be a world class scientist, inventor, musician or artist. If that’s you, stay on your track. For everyone else, here’s a suggestion:

  1. Choose the arena you can see yourself working in for a long time.
  2. As fast as possible become technically proficient. Become rock solid on the fundamentals. Make them second nature.
  3. Go to work and be a buzz saw of activity. You’ll probably start on the bottom but you won’t stay there long if you work hard because most people are lazy.
  4. Build your people skills and relationships every day!

As you distinguish yourself you’ll get opportunities to start working with others. From here on up you’ll continue to be learning things and developing more technical skills, but your real success will hinge on how well you get along with others. Your people skills will bring you your biggest rewards.

Unless you’re a genius, focus on people skills if you want to achieve big goals.

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