Beyond the MBA: Three Interpersonal Skills Every Manager Should Master


A very experienced mentor once said to me, “You are hired for your technical skills and fired for your lack of interpersonal skills.” Over the years, I’ve seen the truth of this play out time and again.

With that in mind, an article in Chief Learning Officer magazine[1] recently caught my eye. It posed the question: Are MBAs still a valuable development tool? A senior research associate with Development Dimensions International was quoted: “When you have an MBA, you earn more money and are more likely to be hired and promoted.” However, his research also suggested that while MBAs have better business and analytics skills, they’re often weaker in interpersonal and emotional intelligence.

The obvious conclusion here is not to dismiss valuable technical training and education programs, but to realize that they’re not the be-all and end-all for ultimate success (at least my definition of success). People need the right skills to be proficient at their jobs. But they need something more if they want to be the kind of leader who forms lasting meaningful relationships and makes a difference in other people’s lives. To this end, there are three key things that every manager can cultivate:

1. Invest in the success and well-being of those around you.

Being absorbed by only our own issues holds us back from achieving our full potential. When we act in the best interests of our colleagues, we act in our own eventual best interest. Make it a practice to ask regularly, “How’s the job going for you? What’s standing in the way of your success?”

2. Foster self-awareness through feedback.

We all have blind spots, and they’re dangerous. As a manager, the things I say and the way I act have consequences, but not always the way I intend. Throughout the day I leave an emotional wake behind my words and actions. The only way I can fully comprehend its impact is to seek specific feedback. After talking at a team meeting, I might ask someone, “How did I do?”

This usually elicits a very general response. But I gain entirely new insight if I ask questions like, “When I mentioned our poor business results in the meeting, what did you think? What concerns did it raise for you? Did it come across in some way as blaming the team?” When you receive honest answers to these questions, it’s critical that you listen without argument or reproach.

3. Communicate clearly, honestly, and transparently.

My preference has always been to “wing it” in meetings. However, I’ve learned that this is a recipe for disaster when discussing important things. Plan what you’re going to say. Test it out on a trusted peer, and remain open to what should be added or left out. Good communication is one of your strongest tools for building your team’s trust and loyalty.

There are several robust leadership development programs that can help you develop these skills in a safe environment, where you can practice and learn from others. Your investment in such a program will pay dividends for years to come.

Learn how Gillespie's New Manager Series can help your team develop these skills.


[1] Chief Learning Officer October 2017