Leadership skills more important than technical skills for President

Dear Joan:

How does one handle the situation where the President of the company is a very good technical and sales person, but needs help with people issues? 

Issues such as dealing directly with an employee when there's a problem; recognizing the value of employee contributions; passing along positive comments to improve morale; listening to and considering another opinion when it conflicts with his own; the importance of asking employees how things are going in their area.  Also, how losing employees with many years of experience and good customer service skills is hurting the company.  

Do you think even an employee-owned company should still have an outside Board of Advisors? 


Your list tells the story. His technical and sales skills are a bonus for a person in his position but they are less important than leadership skills. If his nose is buried deeply in the sales and the technical aspects of the business, and he doesn’t look up and see that people around him are either dissatisfied or leaving, the company is going to hit a wall. 

Technical and sales responsibilities are usually carried out by people who report to the president. When your company was small, the president probably had to do it all. But when a company grows beyond a start-up operation, it needs a leader of people—not a technical manager at the helm. 

One of my clients told me his philosophy the other day, and it rings true here: “If a leader turns around and no one is following him, he is just out for a walk.” Your president is going to be out for a walk, soon, if he doesn’t change his behavior so people feel more engaged.  

I agree that he would benefit from an outside board of advisors, or from joining an organization such as TEC (The Executive Committee, an organization where business owners attend small group sessions with other owners to discuss issues.)  

Family operated firms and small to mid-sized companies often don’t use a board. They hold the business so close to their chests that they aren’t open to fresh ideas. It’s a big mistake. The inbreeding of ideas and styles that occurs often causes dysfunction.  

An outsider can often spot a weakness soon enough to provide guidance, or point to other resources that will steer a company in a healthier direction. For example, an outside board might suggest that it’s time to hire a seasoned person to run some of the administrative and operational parts of the business. Or, perhaps it is time to let go and pass on some of the president’s responsibilities to capable managers, freeing the president up to lead the business.  

Your president would also benefit from the aid of an outside consultant. Although it may sound self-serving, I have seen the benefits this outside perspective can bring. A consultant could do an organizational assessment and provide him and/or the executive team with an objective picture of the strengths and trouble spots and help him and/or his executive team, develop action steps to resolve them. In addition, having an outside person involved keeps the momentum going and keeps people focused on improvements. It’s too easy to get in a room and brainstorm, and then two weeks later forget all of those ideas in the midst of the day-to-day responsibilities.  

And if the president is part of the problem, the rest of the executives and managers are going to be hesitant to confront him. A good consultant will develop a solid relationship with the president and earn the trust that will enable the president to accept his or her honest feedback. 

It also sounds as if your president would benefit from an executive coach. It’s becoming quite common for executives to have a coach who will work with them on areas they need to develop. Since people management seems to be what your president lacks, a coach would be a good fit for that development need. 

Of course all of this is useless unless the president recognizes the need and does something about it.  If you or someone else has influence with him, you will have to consider how to tell him.  

With his history of not listening to things he doesn’t want to hear, he is likely to resent and resist the feedback. So, have facts to back up your comments. For example, “I know you have put your heart and soul into this company and you’d want to know if there was anything threatening its success…I need to tell you what I’m observing and I have a few ideas you might want to consider.”  

It takes guts to do something like this. If no one will tell him and nothing changes, you will need to watch for the tell-tale signs of a company in trouble…key people leaving…deepening morale problems…employee disengagement…losing customers…sliding service…. If that happens, do what all the smart critters do—abandon ship.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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