The Skills CEOs Wish More Employees Had (And How to Learn Them)
September 13, 2017
There’s often a disconnect between the skills employees prioritize and the skills CEOs wish their people had.
Yes, smart business leaders today want their people to be creative, to rethink how processes are done, to push back when they disagree. And those are skills that employees tend to gravitate to.
But there are also skills essential to running a successful business that many employees overlook. And while these skills aren’t as sexy, if you as an employee embody them, you are going to gain the trust and admiration of leadership – which is essential to advancing your career.
So what are the skills CEOs wish more employees had? To find out, we looked to Quora, where several business leaders weighed in on this question. Their answers were:
Yes, most employees want to have creative ideas, want to push back, want to use their unique talents to improve the organization they work for. But you need to earn the right to do those things, and you earn that right by being consistent and coming through on your commitments.
“If you consistently do what you say you will do, you will almost certainly be someone people desire to have on their teams,” Hoffman wrote. “It is so rare that when you work with someone who is reliable, you never ever want to work with anyone else. You will do anything to keep that person on your team.”
This is two-fold – part of it is consistently doing your work. But it’s also knowing when to say no, and setting expectations with others so can deliever what you promise.
2. Knowing what to do without being told
It’s not your boss’s job to tell you everything you should be doing, to be directing every step you take. The best employees understand their role and the needs of the organization well enough to figure out what they should be working on.
“Hard problems, by their definition, are both large and nebulous,” Scott said. “There are a lot of potential next steps. Superstar employees figure out what comes next.”
An employee has a different attitude than an owner. An employee leaves when the boss goes home – an owner sticks around and finishes the product. An employee books the most expensive room allowed when they travel for business – an owner is cogitative of the cost and books a reasonable room instead.
The employees business leaders are looking for don’t have an employee’s mindset; they have an owner’s mindset.
“This isn't the same as ‘taking the initiative’, it's a superset of that,” Lemkin wrote. “It's delivering. And it's very, very easy to do in a start-up actually, versus almost impossible in a big company. Just over-deliver on everything you're given to do. And not just your part – the whole project you are working on. See where others are falling behind, and help them. Folks around you will naturally gravitate toward that. You'll become a natural leader, over time. That is the greatest gift to a start-up CEO any employee, at any level, can provide. And one way or another, over time, your career will skyrocket.”
4. Being succinct
Leaders are busy. The last thing they want when asking you a question is for an overly long answer that obfuscates the real point.
Instead, the best way to communicate with business leaders – and anybody, really – is to understand what they care about and telling them as efficiently as possible.
“Writing well is one very important part of expressing thoughts precisely,” Yao wrote. “It takes the time to train someone expressing thoughts really well via email or instant messages, but it's worth doing since it will ridiculously reduce the communication cost of your company.”
5. Self-directed learning
Just like a boss shouldn’t have to tell you what to do all the time, a boss shouldn’t have to tell you where to improve all the time. If you identify your weaknesses and are brave enough to work on them, you’ll stand out from the majority of employees who don’t do that.
“The commitment to learning whatever the mission requires is rare, but that is not due to a moral failing on the part of individuals,” Eden said. “On the contrary, it's rare because once we become expert in one domain, our fear of failure in a new domain is very difficult to confront and manage.”
6. Owning up to mistakes
This trait, more than any of the others on this list, is one where leadership needs to take ownership of first. If they want their employees to be accountable and own up to mistakes, they themselves should be accountable and own up to their mistakes.
Still, as an employee, by adopting this mantra you'll truly stand out from the pack. Mostly, leaders hear nothing but successes all day long, with all the negatives filtered out. Failures are either swept under the rug or blamed onto someone or something else, which often causes the problem to persist.
Meanwhile, the only way to improve is to accept your failures and learn from them.
“If you want to get somewhere with a business, you’re going to have to make everything work,” Bes wrote. “That means problem solving. If someone is unable to own up to their mistakes, you’ll end up looking at the wrong place to fix a problem. It’s a waste of time and money. I usually say, what happened, happened, now let’s fix it. Don’t linger in the past, that has no use at all. Have an issue, solve it, tell others about it and solve it together.”
There’s a caveat here.
It’s easy for business leaders to demand these skills from their employees. But the best leaders do more than just demand; they themselves lead by example and create a culture that promotes the characteristics they are looking for.
In other words, yes, as an employee, you should build these skills if you want to advance. But, if you as a business leader are seeing deficits in these areas, perhaps it isn’t the fault of your employees. Perhaps it is the fault of yourself and the culture you’ve built – and time for some reflection on what to change.
*Image from John Liu, Flickr
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