Revenge of the English Major

“What are the two things that keep people in your organization from advancing?”

That’s the question Brian McCarthy posed to a manager he met this summer from one of the “Big Four” accounting firms.  Brian, who’s on the faculty in the School of Business at Portland State University, was one of several dads attending camp with their sons.  So was the Big Four manager, and Brian took the opportunity to ask him this one question:  What is it that that keeps people from being promoted where you work?

The dad from the Big Four didn’t hesitate:  “Presentation skills and writing ability.” 

Brian was somewhat surprised, in part because he expected something more like “global team management” or “advanced negotiation skills” to top the list, and in part because the answer came back lightning fast.  Not a moment’s hesitation.  In a word, communication—or lack of it—holds people back.

But it makes perfect sense:  Business leaders who can’t express brilliant, business-saving, even life-saving ideas might as well not have them, since they can’t execute on those ideas in a vacuum. 

“It’s the revenge of the English major, isn’t it?” Brian announced.  “We advertise for all these technical skills, but what we really want is people who can communicate!”

I knew that.

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