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April 15

7 Essential People Management Skills For The Rising Business Leader



7 Essential People Management Skills For The Rising Business Leader



Why People Management Skills Are Essential For The Rising Business Leader

As you rise in your career, your job function evolves from being a producer to leading producers. Think about the difference between being a graphic designer or software developer and leading a group of graphic designers or software developers. A good leader is not coding or creating images. Instead, a good leader motivates, encourages, and helps the designers and developers do their jobs.

Consequently, the skills you started with are not the skills you will need as a leader. In fact, the most crucial principle in learning leadership is that you do not “do,” you lead. As a leader, you no longer produce things. Your job is to get people to create things, and that requires people management skills.

What Are People Management Skills?

People management skills include emotional management, communication, problem-solving, decision-making, and relationship development.

Why You Were Never Taught People Management Skills

You have probably not been taught people management skills. This may seem curious as people management skills are essential for career success. However, most people in business lack people management skills, and therefore cannot teach them.

Likewise, college and business school professors do not know how to teach people management skills.

The “publish or perish” rule still exists in academia. It is much easier to write an article on quantitative analysis than on emotions. Finally, business organizations find it easier to train trackable skills that lead to measurable productivity than to teach skills that are not easily measurable in ROI.

Why Do People Management Skills Have Such A Bad Rap?

People management skills, sometimes called “soft skills,” have a bad rap in business. This is because business people believe that human beings are rational. Business people reject anything around emotions or relationships as touchy-feely. “Soft skills” are not worthy of discussion or development.

Also, because our society is so biased against emotional development, people are afraid of emotions. Most people are shut down or emotionally unavailable. They are fearful of feeling because it makes them feel anxious and vulnerable.

Business people fear being exploited by competitors, peers, reports, and superiors. They feel that learning people management skills make them appear weak and incompetent. It’s as if there is some hidden rule that says we should have strong people management skills without any training.

Obviously, this is pretty stupid. The good news is that you are reading this article about how to develop people management skills. If you follow the advice, you will have a decisive competitive advantage in your career.


The first of the 7 people management skills is communication. Communication consists of listening, the ability to use empathy to relate to others, and the ability to be clear and concise in your own speaking and writing.

Ability To Listen listen to the em0tions, not the words

The key to being a great communicator is to listen. The most effective way to communicate with someone is to stop talking and start listening. If you really want to understand someone or to get the point across to someone, then you must understand them.

Listening involves much more than hearing the words. It includes listening for an understanding of the meaning of what the speaker is attempting to convey. And, it includes listening to and reflecting the emotional experience of the speaker at the moment.

Empathy And The Ability To Relate

Emotions are the currency of human interaction. If you can understand how your audience feels, you can connect to them on a profound level. If you can help people feel more confident about a problem they’re having, then they’ll trust you and be far more likely to buy from you.Leadership With Empathy: 9 Reasons to Develop This Powerful Skill

We are incredibly social creatures. As humans, we are wired to be empathetic. We have mirror neurons that fire when we see someone else experiencing something, which helps us understand what they’re going through.

Empathy is the ability to read other people’s emotions and reflect them back accurately. The easiest way to develop empathy is to observe what other people are doing. But if you want to create genuine empathy, you have to look beyond what people are saying and observing their non-verbal cues.

Pro Tip: Learn how to listen to emotions here.

Ability To Be Clear And Concise

The best leaders are the ones who are the best communicators. They can see the big picture and communicate that vision to their team clearly and concisely. They have a knack for explaining complex topics in an easy-to-understand manner. People can’t follow you if they don’t understand where you’re trying to take them.

You must convey the vision, the strategy, the goals, the risks, the problems, and the opportunities to the people you’re leading. You must be able to express yourself in a manner that is understandable and relatable to your audience.

This requires you to have mastery over your emotions. Without emotion, you cannot persuade and motivate others to follow you.

Emotional Intelligence

emotional intelligence.

Manage Yourself First

The second of the 7 people management skills is emotional competence measured by emotional intelligence. Emotional competence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others, It’s an essential part of your personal brand. Emotional competence can help you be better at your job, more successful in your career, and improve your relationships with your friends, family, and colleagues. The more emotionally intelligent you are, the better you’ll work with clients, manage situations in the workplace, and understand and communicate with your team. 12 Powerful Benefits of Emotional Awareness

Develop Your Emotional Competency

Emotional competency consists of self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and resilience. These skills are not taught in formal education and are generally not taught at home in childhood. In fact, 96% of families are emotionally dysfunctional. You must seek out training to develop your emotional competency. Check out our Developing Emotional Competency course here.

Do Not Get Defensive.

Becoming defensive when challenged or even verbally attacked is caused by anxiety. Your career success depends on you managing your anxiety.

Anxiety is likely to arise when you’re in a situation that you haven’t experienced before. Learning to manage your anxiety will help you be more confident in new situations and manage your expectations. Emotional Intelligence In Leadership: 10 Ways to Massively Grow Your Effectiveness

Don’t let the pressure get to you. Accept that things will go wrong. Just learn to remain calm and collected under pressure and know that whatever happens, it’s going to be OK. Develop your emotional competency so that you are self-aware and can self-regulate your stress when it arises.

Learn To Stay Calm Under Pressure

You will encounter difficult situations where you need to remain calm under pressure. The best way to do this is to develop all options available to you. Then, create an option that covers you when you are shocked. Make sure that you’re always upfront and honest, even when the news isn’t good.

To remain calm under pressure, you have to learn to self-regulate your emotions. You do this through a technique known as self-affect labeling. Essentially, you name the emotions you are experiencing in the moment. Neuroscience shows that when you do this, you will calm down almost immediately. You have to remember that the stress you feel is all in your mind. It doesn’t actually have anything to do with the situation you’re in but is simply your reaction to the problem.

Pro Tip: Learn how to self-affect label him here.

Problem-Solving Skills

The third of the 7 people management skills is knowing how to lead a group to a solution. Leadership is not about telling people what to do; it’s about getting people to do what you need them to do. The first step is to understand the problem to be solved.

The problem statement is the key to the entire problem-solving process.

The problem statement answers two questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is the problem significant?

Solving problems is a multi-step process that requires a clear definition of the problem and the outcome. Suppose you’re not clear about the problem or goal you’re trying to achieve. In that case, you’re never going to find the solution because you’ll be going in the wrong direction.

There are many formulas for problem-solving. The ADDDIE formula captures most of the steps:

A-Analyze the problem and thoroughly understand it.

  • What is the problem statement?
  • What happens if the problem is not solved?
  • What happens if the problem is solved?
  • Is the problem urgent?

D-Determine the root causes of the problem.

Use a root cause analysis tool like a fishbone diagram

Use the 5 Whys To Uncover the Root Cause of the Problem

Keep asking “why” until you’ve discovered the root cause of the issue.

To give you a better idea of how this works, here’s a more practical example found on the Toyota website (the originator of the 5 whys analysis):

  • “Why did the robot stop?”
    • The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.
  • “Why is the circuit overloaded?”
    • There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.
  • “Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?”
    • The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.
  • “Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?”
    • The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.
  • “Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?”
    • Because there is no filter on the pump.

D-Develop multiple possible solutions to the problem.

Define the solution and the constraints and boundaries. For example, answer these questions

  • Who will have to be involved?
  • What resources will be required?
  • How much will the solution cost?
  • How long will implementation take?
  • What are the possible unintended consequences of the solution?
  • How will success or failure be measured?
  • What will be the financial cost?
  • What will be the reputational cost?
  • Are there any legal implications or liabilities associated with the solution?
  • Will the solutions conflict with other priorities?
  • How will the conflicts be resolved?
  • What are the risks if a wrong decision is made?
  • Can the problem be solved with existing resources?
  • Who will oppose the proposed solutions?
  • Who will support the proposed solutions?
  • Who are the stakeholder groups affected by the problem and the solutions?
  • Have they been consulted or brought into the process?

D-Decide on a solution

Who has the authority to make a final, binding decision?

What will be the decision-making mode? (We’ll cover this in more detail below.)

  • Autocratic
  • Autocratic with input
  • Democratic
  • Consensus-based

Who has the authority to make resources available to solve the problem? Note that this question is much different that decision-making authority. A purchasing manager can frustrate a solution by slow-walking the acquisition of services and materials even though the decision was made higher. Always consider the political realities when considering alternative solutions.

I-Implement the solution

  • Set time and action plans
  • Delegate tasks
  • Hold daily 10-15 minute scrums. Scrums are fast meetings. In the morning, each scrum participant defines his or her tasks, objectives, and goals. At the end of the day, each scrum participant states whether the tasks, objectives, and plans were met. If not completed, explanation of the barriers.
  • Hold weekly review meetings for analysis of progress towards a solution.
  • Stay out of the way. Let people do their jobs.

Your job as a leader is to provide vision, focus, direction, clarity, and psychological safety. This is called macro-management in contrast with micro-management.

E-Evaluate progress and results

Determine how often to measure progress. Measuring progress is really a time measurement, so you’ll decide what the appropriate time will be. You have to be careful that it’s not too short so that you miss important data or too long so that you miss opportunities to adapt to the data.

How will progress be measured against desired outcomes? Before you decide on a solution. Make sure that you have results that are clearly measurable. The only way you know your decision was successful is if you have predetermined outcomes against measuring progress.

Be willing to change direction if the solution is not working out. Avoid the sunk cost bias.

Decision-Making decision-makng is a people management skill

The fourth of the 7 people management skills is decision-making. As a leader, you must understand and master three decision-making processes.

Autocratic decision-making occurs when you make the decision yourself, either with or without input from others. Autocratic decision-making is practical when decisions have to be made quickly and when the risk of making an error is not significant.

The authority to make autocratic decisions is both implicit and explicit. Oftentimes, autocratic decision-making is delegated down the hierarchy. Your best practice is to empower as much decision-making beneath you as you possibly can.

Democratic decision-making is a way for groups to make a decision. Typically, group decision-making by democratic processes through a majority vote, but sometimes the decision can be by a super-majority vote.

Democratic decision-making permits more engagement and buy-in. However, if not committed to the decision regardless of whether they won or not, the losers can sabotage the process. In business organizations, democratic decision-making is formally institutionalized at the level of the Board of Directors.

Democratic decision-making is rarely utilized below the Board of Directors. This is because organizations are hierarchical with authority and responsibility defined by the hierarchal structure. Thus, a CEO will have high decision-making authority and will not engage in the democratic process.

Consensus decision-making is the third decision-making process and is not well understood. In consensus decision-making, a decision is reached when two criteria are achieved. First, every person in the group has spoken on the question and offered an opinion. Second, no person in the group has a principled objection to the decision.

This is where most people get consensus decision-making wrong. They do not understand the idea of principled objection.

Principled objection means that somebody in the group can articulate why the decision will violate a fundamental personal or institutional. Objecting to the majority’s decision to paint a conference room wall purple is not a principled objection.

Most people think that consensus decision-making requires unanimity. It does not. In fact, if you try to run a group decision-making process and get accord, you are really running a democratic process, requiring no dissenters.

As a rising business leader, this people management skill is essential. You must know what decision-making process is appropriate and how to lead a group through the process.

In addition to choosing the correct decision-making process, you have to develop decisiveness. Many people freeze in the face of tough decisions because they are afraid of making a mistake. The reality is that you will never have enough information; the information will never be timely, and there will always be an unavoidable risk. You, as a leader, are charged with making the best decision you can, so learn to live with the anxiety of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Recognize that all decision-making is emotional. In light of that fact, the best way to manage decision-making is to make decisions based on data rather than hopes, expectations, or beliefs. Data-driven decision-making clarifies the issues, allows everyone to argue the meaning of the data, and provides a more objective foundation for the decision. Even incomplete or partial data is better than no data at all.

As a rising leader, you must develop good judgment and avoid decisional errors caused by cognitive biases. Good judgment comes from experience and making mistakes. Learn from them. You can learn about decisional errors by finding articles online about cognitive biases.

Four Axes of Leadership

The fifth of the 7 people management skills concerns the four axes of leadership.

The first axis of leadership is leading up. Believe it or not, you must learn how to lead your leaders. This means anticipating what they need, responding to requests, and providing your judgment, guidance, and opinions. Sometimes, you will be required to deliver moral advice against what your boss wants to hear. You will face your own moral dilemma that will define who you are and what you stand for.

The second axis of leadership is leading down. Obviously, you will lead the people that report to you using all of the people management skills described in this article.

The third axis of leadership is leading your peers. Although your peers are generally your equals in an organizational hierarchy, they often need leadership not provided by superiors. You must learn to fill that leadership gap. Again, the people management skills you acquire and master will permit you to lead with grace and authority.

The fourth axis of leadership is learning how to lead yourself. You must walk your talk and model attitudes, behaviors, and values that you want others in your organization to adopt. If you cannot lead yourself, you cannot lead anyone else.

Characteristics of Strong Leaders

The sixth of the 7 people management skills essential to rising business managers is cultivating strong leadership characteristics. These characteristics are:

  • Patience
  • Ability to delegate and distribute work
  • Creating strategic alignments
  • Organized
  • Adaptable and flexible
  • Understanding that knowledge is power
  • Effectively gathering feedback
  • Keeping an open mind
  • Ability to manage interpersonal conflict
  • Ability to create psychological safety

You can assess yourself on these characteristics by honestly answering these questions:

  1. Do you become impatient when things don’t go your way?
  2. Do you have to control everything around you?
  3. Are you a lone wolf?
  4. Do you use lists and reminders, or do you wing it?
  5. Do radical new ideas intrigue you or turn you off?
  6. Are you curious?
  7. Can you accept suggestions and ideas on how to improve?
  8. Are you a listener rather than a talker?
  9. Do you know how to mediate conflicts in your organization?
  10. Do you know how to create psychological safety?


The last of the 7 people management skills essential to your career success is your relationship management expertise. Influential leaders understand the importance of relationships. The best leaders use the following relationship skills:

  • Empowering others
  • Rewarding and recognizing superior performance
  • Engaging in professional development
  • Connecting authentically with others
  • Building honest relationships
  • Building trust
  • Developing nterest in others.
  • Honesty
  • Supportiveness
  • Accountability
  • Positivity
  • Approachability
  • Leading by example
  • Giving compassionate and honest feedback
  • Motivating others
  • Giving credit
  • Leading from a distance
  • Staying connected to the day-to-day challenges of the team

How to Learn and Hone These Skills

If you’ve read this far, you are interested in developing your people management skills to the next level. So, how to do you do that?

There are five ways to learn these essential people management skills. You should employ all five, although you will emphasize one or two at a time.


The first tool is education. You can find hundreds of books and dozens of online courses that will help you hone the 7 critical people management skills. However, you have to be discerning as there is a lot of poor advice and worthless “training” offered.

Here’s how to know whether a book or course is worth investigating:

First, does the author focus on the “how,” not the “what?” As a great example of a business best-seller that is, in my opinion, worthless, consider Jim Collins’ Good to Great. He spends 26 pages talking about the importance of listening, but not one page on how to listen or what to listen for. This is a classic example of an expert telling you what to do but not how to do it. You will find that most books and courses on emotional intelligence suffer the same flaw.

You want to learn how to master a people management skill. Therefore, only consider books and courses that give you step-by-step instructions on the “how.”

Second, look for courses and teachers that deliver actionable skills, not broad bromides. You will be amazed at what a small fraction of the thousands of books and courses meet this simple standard.

Finally, look for empirical data to support the claims of the teachers or courses. Is the teaching based on research? Are the testimonials from credible students? Can you differentiate between charismatic teachers (Tony Robbins comes to mind) versus knowledgeable teachers who can impart serious people management skills to you?

Find A Mentor To Grow Your People Management Skills

The second tool is to find a mentor in your organization or in your industry. Great mentors have been where you are and will show you the path. Don’t be afraid to ask someone you respect and admire to be your mentor. Most executives feel honored when a younger leader asks to be a student.


Invest in a good business coach to help you develop and master your people management skills. You may have to find specific coaches for the skills you need to build. No one coach can be everything to you. Again, find coaches who can teach you the “how.”

Peer Coaching

The fourth tool is to engage in peer-to-peer coaching. Find groups in your organization or industry who are devoted to growth and self-development. Learn from each other.

Reflection Through Journalling

The fifth tool is to reflect and journal. Reflect on what has worked, what has not worked, and on what challenges you face. And how your people management skills are developing is the most critical method of integrating your learning. Journaling does not have to be a big deal. Simply write out one success, one challenge, and one goal for the next day. Do this at the end of your day and make it a daily practice. You will be amazed at what you learn.,


The sixth and final tool is practice. No amount of reading, attending courses, coaching, or journaling will work unless you practice your people management skills every day. Pick one skill and emphasize it for a week. For example, you might pick recognizing others. For a week, you will make a point of honest recognition of good work. The trick is to consciously select a people management skill and work it. Then move to another one. Conscious practice over several years will pay off in massive results.

Don’t Eat The Monster Whole

You made it to the end of one of the most extended articles on people management skills. Don’t try to do everything at once. Print out this article or copy-paste it. Break it down into parts so that you can go back over it in detail. Re-read the portions a little at a time. Develop an action plan for strengthening people management skills that need some development. You are engaging on a life-long journey of leading people. Don’t eat the monster whole; just take bite-sized chunks. And, most importantly, have fun.

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About the Author

Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA left a successful career as a trial lawyer to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, speaker, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts.


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