“Doctors save lives, but they can sometimes be insufferable know-it-alls who bully nurses and do not listen to patients. Medical schools have traditionally done little to screen out such flawed applicants or to train them to behave better, but that is changing.”
Thus begins an article in The New York Times that addresses what I espouse in my new book, “Real People, Real Change.” Have you ever known somebody who really knows her stuff but can’t seem to build healthy internal relationships?
I remember, years ago, working with a company that had a person on the executive team who had horrible social skills. While he was an expert in his financial field, he also demeaned those who worked for him, provided sarcastic responses to colleague questions, and berated anyone who got in his way. This is the guy you tried not to make eye contact with in the cafeteria, lest he scream at you about something.
The CEO took more than two years to move him out because of his “expertise.” What he didn’t take into account was the cost to the rest of the team. This leader killed other initiatives with his unwillingness to help others succeed. He killed productivity because people spent months trying to avoid interacting with him on key decisions. Ultimately, he cost the company a lot more than he brought to the table.
At Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, administrators have decided to use more than the typical grades and test scores to determine who is accepted to their medical programs. Now applicants will have nine brief interviews that force candidates to exhibit their social skills and ability to communicate effectively .
According to the New York Times article, candidates stand with their backs to the doors of 26 small rooms. When a bell sounds, the applicants spin around a read a sheet of paper that describes an ethical conundrum. The candidates are given eight minutes to discuss that rooms situation, and then move on to the next room. The intent is to see how well an applicant thinks on his/her feet and how well they can work in teams. Candidates who exhibit poor listening skills or are over-opinionated score poorly.
I spend a lot of time with leaders who are considering hiring someone with amazing knowledge but little relationship skill. I encourage them to find someone with both. If you have inherited somebody who is socially challenged, ask yourself:
• Does he/she make your team better or worse?
• Do colleagues trust him or her?
• Does his/her team produce out of fear or commtiment?
• Does he/she retain people or lose them?
Expertise is no longer enough. If a leader can’t deal with real people, then they will not effectively drive real change.