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Zenger Folkman on Business Leaders: People Skills More Important Than Technical Skills

As business leaders look for ways to motivate their employees during the recession, many are choosing to develop their interpersonal skills, rather than improving their technical abilities, a new Zenger Folkman study reveals.

Leadership development and training organization Zenger Folkman analyzed the personal development plans of nearly 11,000 leaders from a variety of industries in North America. They discovered that more than half of leaders chose to improve their interpersonal skills after reviewing their 360-degree feedback.

Skills selected as most important for development include:

  • Inspiring and motivating others
  • Building better relationships
  • Developing direct reports
  • Communicating more effectively

“This clearly signals the importance of improving personal relationships on the job,” said Jack Zenger, CEO and co-founder of Zenger Folkman. “After being put into leadership positions, people come to realize that relationships are more important to day-to-day success than anything else.”

Another 13 percent set the goal of being an example of practicing self-development, believing that regardless of your position in the organization, you can always get better. The only other target for development that came close to these was the 9 percent who elected to place a greater emphasis on obtaining results. Together, these accounted for roughly three-quarters of all the plans for development.

Although most leaders have received technical training and many have been educated in business theory courses about accounting, marketing, manufacturing and finance, few business schools offer enough practical courses on how to more effectively work with colleagues. And with the explosion of social media, e-mail and instant messaging, interpersonal skills are often difficult to develop in today’s fast-paced environment.

“Given how much a boss can influence the success or failure of an employee, it’s important that leaders develop the skills necessary to get the most out of their direct reports,” Zenger said. “Without strong interpersonal skills, leaders may find that they will fail to achieve organizational aspirations and may even be out of a job.”


As one of the nation’s top leadership development firms as ranked by Leadership Excellence and, Zenger Folkman employs evidence-based methods that improve organizations and the people within them.

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Snapp Conner PR
Cheryl Snapp Conner, 801-994-9625
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