The Strange Rejection of Career Competencies

Rejection may be
too strong, perhaps rebuff. But it is weird how little, with the exception of
the Harvard Business Review and Wharton folk, is blogged about the
fundamental competencies of career success. Could it be ignorance? Or just
needed insight on how to succeed in business? Or even that business people have
got their basic competencies down pat?To read most human resource blogs, you’d think that the
key to personal success is somehow found inside the billion dollar works of the
Mark Zuckerbergs, Sheryl Sandbergs, Sergey Brins and Steve Jobs of the world. Although
those folk and their ilk represent great media successes, they are, in fact, highly
unrepresentative of more than 98% of the successful business population.. . . . Where is
US economic dynamism?
In a significant
nod to reality, David Brooks has surfaced research from the Manhattan Institute
in which Joel Kotkin identified the actual epicenters of America’s economic
dynamism. Not Wall Street and not Silicon Valley. It is the boring Upper
Midwest straight down the center of the country to Texas.
Indeed, the big winners in the current economy are the “Material Boys”—the
people who grow and sell grain, drill for fuel and lay pipeline. Who are the
people leading this shift? Or as Brooks asks, who is the Steve Jobs of shale?
You won’t find the answer on magazine covers. Take agriculture as an example. Agriculture
exported $135 billion worth of goods in 2011. Obviously, that doesn’t include
goods sold in the US. Yet, I seriously doubt that 5% of readers outside of
corporate locals would know who–the anonymous drudges—manages and runs agricultural
companies like General Mills, Cargill, Kraft, ConAgra or Ralston Purina. No celebrities there!
. . . . Bemused,
bothered and bewilderedSimilarly, I am occasionally amused and sometimes appalled
by those writers and bloggers who constantly focus on the career tools for media
and algorithm technology as though it was the career be-all, end-all. You’d
think being able to “code,” “do” big data or manage the “cloud” was the key to success
and greatness. But in fact, there’s a phenomenal misunderstanding of the role
of technology in long-term personal success. Which professionals bring home the
bacon? If you sort the income and responsibilities in the traditional categories,
it’s not the folk who “do” the technology. It’s the managers who mind the
techies and the leaders who guide the business. Most of them, including the IT
directors and executives, couldn’t code a single line if their life depended on
it. If they once could “do” the stuff, it’s all forgotten now. So they can’t
“do” technology, but boy do they “understand” technology—far, far more than the
techies. I haven’t asked, but as a spectator of CIO evolution, I’ll bet Yahoo’s
Marissa Mayer is already among those who’s long since forgotten much of her
techie stuff.. . . . The bottom
lineExcept for the few exceptions the techie folk work for
less than $60K a year. It’s the managers and leaders who routinely bring home
the $6, $7 and $8 figure incomes. So knowing who butters their bread, HBR and
Wharton bloggers ignore the techies and focus on the big boys and girls.  The point of all this is that the technology
skill set does little for them. Managers and leaders understand technology, but
they don’t “do” technology: their success is all about the soft skills.
(Anybody can do hard skills, but the soft skills will inevitably sabotage you.)  . . . . Gartner
Technology’s focus on soft skills.Gartner’s research reveals that there
are two competing perspectives on CIO, one school viewing the role as chief
technologist well-versed in IT solutions, their application and operations. The
other is that of business executive responsible for technology who has techies
on their team. The survey research, however, points to the CIO as an executive
responsible for technology. What’s true of the IT function is true of all
business functions.. . . . Core
success traits.So what are the core traits needed for success? The answer
is all soft skills: business knowledge (thinking), communications and
personal demeanor(???). In order of priority, the first eleven skills are: business
knowledge and smarts (thinking skills), communications and influence, personal
and professional demeanor, coalition and relationship building, establishing
vision, execution skills, innovation, executive skills, organizational skills,
attracting talent and strategic thinking. And the 12th in terms of
priority, technology skills. And though these apply directly to the senior
exec, they also apply to other leaders and managers.. . . . The
downside.Don’t think the above conclusions are anything new. They’ve been
in place for more than 25 years. It’s just that no one had pulled out the key
core competencies in Gartner form. Why do I say this? The list of above
competencies is the flip side of research completed in 1983 by the Center for
Leadership which focused not on what are the success-oriented competencies, but
instead on the fatal flaws. The fatal flaws which lead to dismissal and
managerial failure are ten in number, and are in negative symmetry to the above.
They are conceptualized as follows: insensitive to others (abrasive,
intimidating, bullying style); cold, aloof and arrogant; betrayal of trust;
overly ambitious (thinking of next job, playing politics); specific performance
problems with the business; over-managing (unable to delegate or build a team);
unable to staff effectively; unable to think strategically; unable to adapt to
boss with different style; and over-dependent on advocate or mentor.. . . . Yet, the
media and bloggers to a surprising degree ignore the fundamentals of career
success. The key issues from Gartner use terms with which most of us are
familiar. But in the 21st century, these competencies have evolved
far beyond their usual understanding into very complex, well-researched tools.Take for example thinking (outside the box). Unless you
can analyze and create winning frames, avoid distortion and bias, have a
tool-kit for aiding decisions and use the metacognitive competencies, you’re
liable to be eaten alive by cutting-edge thinkers.Or, unless you’ve developed a toolkit of strategies for
reinventing your career, you’re liable find yourself in deep career shit within
five or six years.Or, if you think effective listening is just about
listening harder, you’ll get socked with misunderstanding. Technical listening,
of course, implies not only the obvious ability to avoid distraction, but also
the ability to paraphrase your way into new information, ask thoughtful
questions from an in-depth taxonomy and explore other’s listening mistakes
without alienating them.In short, the Gartner list of managerial attributes is
just the tip of the iceberg. My clients in the know make in-depth career
development a major piece of their business development. That’s true all the way up
the ladder to the CEO. And, it’s usually a spin-off from the Gartner stuff.So why are the basic, yet evolving career attributes so
often ignored by bloggers and writers? If you’ve got some answers to that
question, I’d love to hear them.Flickr photo: by JETfri 
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