BY CHRISTINA DAVISYour lead chauffeur has been with you since late 2015. He began as a part-time chauffeur right out of college to help earn money to pay back his college loan. He was excellent: consistently on time, always willing to take on rides that were assigned to him at the last minute, and constantly showing a team mentality and desire to learn more. Within a year’s time, he shifted to full-time employment and continued to perform at an above-average level. Naturally, you offered him the lead chauffeur position, believing he would embrace it and take your chauffeur team to the next level. But something odd happened: Chauffeurs started arguing, scheduling issues kept cropping up, and performance across the board was down, but when your lead chauffeur drove, his client feedback remained top notch.
Do all high performers need to follow the career path to management? The easy answer is no. The more in-depth, complicated answer is they can—with the right training.
Many of us have been thrown into management roles because the exceptional work we did as individual contributors made us the obvious choice; however, this seemingly natural career progression doesn’t fit everyone’s true personality. Consultant Robert Denker describes individual contributors as “competent at managing their time and the time of others. In addition, they effectively handle multiple demands and competing deadlines. They excel at identifying goals, developing plans, estimating time frames, and monitoring their progress without much oversight by management.” Sounds like an individual contributor would transition nicely into management, but without the right training, this transition may not be a smooth one. When you find an employee you’d like to promote to a leadership position, they’ll need to learn the soft skills, or interpersonal skills, that will position them to be good managers.
First, pay attention to non-verbal communication. Sometimes the way a manager presents themself demonstrates confidence in the managerial role. Body language can speak volumes without uttering a single word. Although the words you speak are important, your tone may negate the message. Studies have shown that people listen to soft tones more intently than sharp ones. Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself stressed about a situation. You’ll gain more assistance with making it right if you can get yourself on the same wavelength as your team. Facial expressions go together with vocal tone and body language. We’ve all experienced it: You ask a co-worker how her day is going, and although her words say it’s going fine, her furrowed brow and frown tells you something different. Remember this the next time you speak to your team about an issue that must be resolved quickly. Smiling when needed goes a long way in calming your team and allowing them to see the confidence you have in them and their ability to right what was wrong.
“Do all high performers need to follow the career path to management? The easy answer is no. The more in-depth, complicated answer is they can—with the right training.”
Another soft skill that parents start teaching their children from a young age is a firm handshake. I’ll go even further to say solid posture along with deliberate motions and gestures all work together to present a confident, trustworthy, and reliable manager. Imagine if every time you went into your manager’s office, he was always slumped over, his voice was quiet, and when he didn’t know the answer to a question, he threw his hands up in the air in an “I don’t know” motion. It wouldn’t take many experiences like this for you to lose trust in your manager and start finding answers elsewhere. This is not to say that “I don’t know” is not an appropriate answer. Sometimes you just don’t know. But saying it with confidence, standing up to meet your employee eye to eye, and walking side by side with him to find the answer conveys the confidence your employee needs to see.
Finally, eye contact. I think we’ve all heard the saying, “the eyes are the windows of the soul.” In her 2011 article “The Impact of Eye Contact,” Carol Kinsely Goman says, “Greater eye contact, especially in intervals lasting four to five seconds, almost always leads to greater liking. As long as people look at us, we believe we have their interest.” I know this holds true in my experience! If you are constantly looking away from the person you are talking to, that person could feel unlikable, or worse, that you don’t have time because you have other, more important things to do. Or, worst of all, that you are untrustworthy: The inability to hold someone’s gaze often suggests you are lying. Another non-verbal cue is blinking. Some blinking and raising of the eyebrows can mean that the person you are talking to is losing interest, and while tired, constant blinking represents stress.
Some people seem to have been born with these soft skills. If you weren’t, don’t lose heart: Everyone can learn to use body language, posture, and eye contact to their advantage. If you are a newly appointed manager, stand tall, smile, and have the confidence in yourself that your team needs you to have. [CD0717]
Christina Davis is the HR Director for The LMC Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.