Today I’d like to share with you something I learned about people leadership skills early on in my career, long before I became a Learning & Organisation Development Director or Talent Development Consultant.
My first job after university was with Procter & Gamble (P&G) who pride themselves on giving graduates management responsibility from their very first day. Looking back I have some sympathy for the young woman I was then. After years of doing pretty well at school and university, it was a rude awakening to suddenly discover I didn’t have a clue.
But I have a whole lot more sympathy for the two poor people who were given to me to manage – a lovely lady in her sixties who had been working for more years than I’d been alive and a great guy in his thirties who was going through a difficult time in his marriage. They were both extremely experienced and very capable individuals and, as I gradually learnt, needed very different things from me as their manager.
People leadership skills and why they’re vital
Luckily for me, P&G is recognised as a top company for leaders for good reason. The company takes its leadership development very seriously and provides a wealth of training as well as coaching and on-the-job experience.
Early on in my career, I attended my first training course on people leadership and management and I learnt something then that has stuck with me ever since. One of the first (and most basic) skills I learnt during those two days was this, “If your immediate impulse is to reject, ignore, or disagree with what you are hearing… STOP. Before anything else, check your understanding of what the other person said.”
Yes, I know. I said it was basic.
But the fact is that when you read about the skills of leading and managing people it’s not rocket science. Most of it is pretty simple really.
The problem is that, while it may be simple, it’s not always easy. Knowing it is one thing. Putting it into practice is the real challenge and that’s why I find myself reminding leaders to this day of that first basic skill I learned all those years ago.
Understanding is all
A few weeks later I found myself putting this basic skill into practice when the guy who reported to me came to tell me he hadn’t carried out the tests that were scheduled for that day. Under a fair amount of pressure from my own manager, the impulse in my head was to angrily remind him of our looming deadline but instead I asked him to tell me more. It turned out that the product we were due to test wasn’t the right specification so testing it would have been a waste of time. Instead of getting into a battle we were able to get straight into a discussion around how we could solve the problem and still hit the deadline.
That leadership course made a massive difference to me early on in my career. Not only did it give me practical tools and techniques to help me manage and lead my team (much to their relief I’m sure), it also ignited a passion for leadership development that has driven me ever since.