I am very involved with the tech community in California, and as such host, organize, and attend numerous industry events, dinners, and functions. Such events provide an opportunity to meet new people, spot trends, and gain insights into the markets. They are also a fascinating venue to observe the different styles and skill sets of the attendees, which generally consist of successful entrepreneurs, super angels, VCs, and industry executives.
There is no question that most attendees are quite intelligent, educated, successful, and articulate. What is immediately and clearly obvious is the distinction between self promoters, operators, bean counters, and of course, the leaders, and it is all in their communication and interpersonal skills. As John Powell said, “Communication works for those who work at it.” This is what differentiates everyone.
Self promoters are all about building their brand. Their egos supersede their skills, they only take meetings that have a direct benefit to them, and treat people according to what the direct impact they can offer. These are people who value fame and name recognition, and know how to monetize it. Their communication skills are very situation dependent.
Operators are skilled in running companies, and are always looking to find better ways to accomplish what they need to. They like other operators, smart people, and often think more tactically than strategically. Their interpersonal skills are often strong, but limited.
Bean counters are more interested in analytics than people. They are not engaging, good conversationalists, and are often shy and timid.
Leaders, and there are few of them, have the ability to listen actively and engage in meaningful dialogue. For this small group of people, the difference is in their approach to dealing with other people, and their ability to communicate and connect with others. They have superior interpersonal skills. They believe, as Tom Peters said, “Communication is everyone's panacea for everything.”
Leaders will try to help, guide, advise, mentor, and make introductions if and when they can. They are more interested in building relationships, a communities, echo systems, and creating a better environment for everyone. Their interpersonal and communication skills are their differentiation, and are not dependent on the “who”s and “what”s. As Rollo May said, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”
Developing such skills, and level of confidence is no easy task, and requires both talent and effort. As Jim Rohn said, “Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.” I remember taking a communication class in business school, but it focused on writing skills, not relationship building, active listening, or being inquisitive.
I know far too many successful, bright executives with poor interpersonal skills who are disliked, and are only tolerated only because of their positions. Out of ignorance, or lack of interest, they do not see any value in showing any interest in others, except for when it is profitable for them to do so. The ability to connect, face to face, is exceedingly important. I usually prefer in person meetings if possible, because as Charles Dickens said, “Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.
So as you build your careers and networks, remember what Rowan D. Williams famously said, "Bad human communication leaves us less room to grow.