Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lack of Interpersonal Skills is the #1 Downfall for New Leaders

The lack of interpersonal skills is the number one reason that executives in new positions don’t meet performance expectations, according to research from the Institute for Executive Development.

“Underperformance is about the lack of interpersonal and leadership skills, such as the ability to build relationships, collaborate, and influence,” states the report.

The study, undertaken in 2010, targeted how well executives performed in the first two years of a new position. Despite years of previous management experience nearly one in three externally hired executives and one in five executives transferred from within did not meet expectations. By the second year, 27% of external hires and 23% of internal hires had left the organization.

Seventy-five percent of the 320 respondents cited the lack of interpersonal skills as the primary reason for the poor performance. Other reasons given were systemic or structural problems and inconsistencies within the organization (28%), goal conflict between executives and the organization (23%), and poor selection by the organization of the executive to the new role (23%).

According to this study, it seems that at minimum, 20% of executives still need help getting along with others in order to just meet expectations. Companies may want to take a look at Google’s approach, where by applying their analytics programs to performance reviews, feedback surveys and top-manager nominations, they arrived at eight essential management behaviors ranked by importance and effectiveness.

The resulting behaviors are common enough, but by using their own “people analytics” process they reflect Google’s culture. “Be a good coach” is the number one behavior. Interestingly, the number one managerial pitfall is “Have trouble making a transition to the team”. Google recognizes what the Institute for Executive Development study revealed: many executives lack the people skills to make a successful transition to their new teams.

New leaders must build trust quickly. They should already have displayed competence in their chosen field. If not, they won’t receive respect from their employees and their attempts to lead will flounder right from the beginning. Beyond industry competence, managers must display integrity, and demonstrate support and interest in their employees. Being open, communicating often, and showing trust in their employees are essential behaviors to smooth executive on-boarding.

What happens all too often is new leaders, feeling a bit insecure in a new role-even if they are seasoned managers- think that perpetuating a “strong leader” persona is the way to go. However their interpretation of a strong leader ends up being someone who micromanages, keeps information to themselves, and doesn’t include employees in decisions or communications. This behavior is the opposite of a strong leader, because the result is poor personal and team performance.

Strong leaders know that their influence is what can make the difference between their team’s average performance and stellar performance. And positive influence only happens when trust and respect are in place. Building trust and respect, individually and at all levels, requires a complex set of people skills that need to be exercised continually. Sharpening current skills and learning new interpersonal skills is a lifelong endeavor, but one that literally pays off.

An investment in a coach to help with that lifelong pursuit will also pay off. Contact me if you’d like to try it out.


  1. I have a manager who has very low interpersonal skills - great employee and technically proficient. However, the lack of emotional IQ will be the death of her management role with our company. The biggest problem with someone who lacks these qualities is their inability to gracefully collaborate with peers. Great article and helpful information.

  2. Placing people who lack skills to deal with employee situations, showing examples of poor trust building and organizing and restructuring based on their personal goals will only cause the opposite of what team work is intended to do.
    I have a Supervisor who had a set function of sitting behind a desk doing a variety of admin support duties with very little knowledge of what other coworkers encountered on their workdays. A position came open for a Managers position that needed to be filled immediately. Not only was she given the job with no previous experience but she proceeded to revamp the structure of what had been working and had taken some time to be at a positive consistency, all based around her wanting to show she had made changes being a new person. She changes one thing at a whim, applies her own rules, takes things that happen personally and assumes things she has heard then poses it as an actual occurrence. Companies fall and fail with these types of supervisors.
    Thank you for writing such a great article.

  3. You are truly right! Nowadays a leader keep on working and letting his group do their project with less supervision. But being able to see what the accomplishment of your team is and let you become a good leader and success rate become higher. Learn more about leadership and management through this link:

  4. Interpersonal skills go by several names — they’re also called people skills, in addition to employability skills.

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