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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Lack of social skills can derail career, May 4, 2008, 2D.

One of the best Christmas presents that I ever bought for my son was one that I happened to stumble upon several days after Christmas.  My son was intrigued with trains and had repeatedly hinted at his wish for a toy train set for Christmas.  The train set that we found and had waiting for him on Christmas morning turned out to be too small and complicated for his five year old fingers to operate and we ended up returning it to the store for a refund.  We took the refunded money with us to the toy section of a department store where we found a section of deeply discounted post-Christmas toys.  Among the leftovers was another train set.  It was much bigger and easier for a small child to operate.  The engine gave off smoke and had a light on the front, the train cars were easy to connect, and the pieces of track snapped together very easily. 

This train set works great on the hard and level floors in our house.  Sometimes when the track is set up on a carpeted floor, the wheels of the running train will catch on a joint between the pieces of track and one or more cars will derail.  Derailments occur quickly and many times without warning.  They throw the train from its fast and steady course into a sudden and awkward collapse.  After a derailment, the train is no longer able to continue its journey without the operator investing considerable time and effort to stop the engine, fix the track, reset the cars on the track, reconnect the cars to each other, and restart the engine.  Derailments are very disruptive.

Researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina conducted a study that compared twenty-one derailed executives with twenty executives who successfully advanced to the tops of their organizations.  The derailed executives were intelligent, hard working, successful in the technical aspects of their jobs, and seemed poised for great things in their organizations.  However, as opposed to the successful executives, the derailed executives reached plateaus in their careers, were fired, or were forced to retire early.  Something serious happened to the derailed group to throw them off of their tracks to success.

As cited by Professor Richard Daft, the derailed managers were “insensitive to others, abrasive, cold, arrogant, untrustworthy, overly ambitious and selfish, unable to delegate or build teams, and unable to acquire appropriate staff to work for them.”  The unsuccessful managers, despite their intelligence, hard work, and success in their technical fields, had their careers derailed by their lack of people skills.  The inability to effectively work with and develop the trust and respect of coworkers is like a bump in a track joint and can throw managers off track in their careers.

Many people take good people skills for granted, but they are extremely important for managerial success.  A failure to develop people skills can derail a career—and a career is much more difficult to put back on track than a toy train.    

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