In the world of business one of the most frequent questions people ask is, “What is the one factor that contributes most to having a successful career?” I am sure if you asked all the experts in the top business schools you would in all likelihood get a multitude of answers. However, I have recently stumbled upon an insight that is worth considering.
Several years ago there was an article in The Wall Street Journal exploring the reasons executives fail. One of the top reasons given was a person’s inability to effectively relate to others.
In their wonderful book, When Smart People Fail, authors Carole Hyatt and Linda Gottlieb made this interesting observation:
Most careers involve other people. You can have great academic intelligence and still lack social intelligence – the ability to be a good listener, to be sensitive toward others, to give and take criticism well.
If people don’t like you, they may help you fail . . . On the other hand, you can get away with serious mistakes if you are socially intelligent . . . A mistake may actually further [your] career if the boss thinks [you] handled the situation in a mature and responsible way.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching discovered a significant fact in their research. In a person’s career, 15% of one’s financial success is due to one’s technical knowledge and the other 85% is due to skills in human interaction and the ability to lead others.
Probably the most popular book ever written on human relations and human interaction is Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People. It has sold millions of copies and remains today a very popular book. In the book Carnegie says:
For many years, I conducted courses each season at the Engineers’ Club of Philadelphia, and also courses for the New York Chapter of the American Institute Of Electrical Engineers. A total of probably more than fifteen hundred engineers have passed through my classes. They came to me because they had finally realized, after years of observation and experience, that the highest-paid personnel in engineering are frequently not those who know the most about engineering. One can for example, hire mere technical ability in engineering, accountancy, architecture or any other profession at nominal salaries. But the person who has technical knowledge plus the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people – that person is headed for higher earning power.
John D. Rockefeller is widely considered the wealthiest American of all time; the richest person in modern history. He founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870, which later became Exxon. Rockefeller recognized the significance of having good people skills. He said, “The ability to deal with people is as purchasable as a commodity of sugar or coffee. And I will pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun.”
Think about how you interact with people and how well you work with them. Are you a good listener or do you talk too much? Do you encourage others? Do you take an interest in their lives? Are you humble or are you always seeking to exalt yourself? Are you reliable and do you always do what you say you are going to do? Are you a team player?
It strikes me that good human relation skills are in harmony with the teaching of Jesus. This is not surprising because Jesus’ great desire was that we would have relationships that flourish, including our relationships in the workplace.
I think author John Maxwell said it best:
If you haven’t learned how to get along with people, you will always be fighting a battle to succeed. However, making people skills a strength will take you farther than any other skill you develop. People like to do business with people they like. Or to put it the way President Theodore Roosevelt did:
“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.