“The most important investment is the investment in yourself”
– Warren Buffet, Investor
Buffet is calling what you and I put into learning (and growing ourselves) “investing”, a term only an astute investor like him can coin. He is also assuring the learners that there is a return on that investment – the best one, in fact. Business managers like you and I will do well to heed his advice.
Imagine a workplace where you are given the training money to invest in yourself. The HR department does not control the training budget, your boss does not control it. You do. You get to decide which training classes you go to, which seminars you attend, and which books you read. Let’s also assume that you get to choose between two broad sets of skills to invest in – 1. leadership skills, sometimes referred to as soft skills, and 2. technical skills, also called hard skills.
As a business management professional, who believes in developing yourself, you should first invest in improving your leadership skills. Investing in growing your leadership skills will help you to do more with less, advance in your career, and earn more money.
Do More With Less
Let’s say you get better at your work and increase your individual productivity. Yes, go ahead and deploy all those productivity boosting methods, e.g. GTD (getting things done), Pomodoro Technique etc. How much can you increase it? I would argue that you can increase it significantly, say, by 50%. That means, you can write 1.5 times the code you write now, or you can create 1.5 times the ledger entries you create now. A 50% increase in your personal productivity is good; some of you can exceed that. There is a limit to how much you can get done though.
When you grow your leadership skills and become an effective leader, there is virtually no limit to what you can accomplish. As a leader, you can motivate your team to get a lot of work done. Let’s say, you become an excellent leader and direct a team of 20 persons to achieve a goal. If these 20 persons are 10% more productive because they are more motivated, you could get at least 200% more done, i. e., literally 4 times the outcome of your most productive self above.
Not only it’s a matter of simple math like I demonstrated above, it’s visible in front of us every day at work: leaders practicing leadership skills to organize, inspire and direct a team to accomplish more tasks than one person doing it alone. There is a reason this practice is so ubiquitous in organizations – it works. I am grateful to have led diverse team members, implementing more complex projects than what I did working alone.
Leadership skills can “accelerate” the effectiveness of your technical skills. Do you cook for a living? You can build a team, teach and lead them, and produce a lot more cooked food.
Increase Your Potential for Advancement
Are you interested in self-growth? I am. If I am better than my last year’s version, I am happy.
Year ago, I was a technical professional interested in a people leader role. I was becoming better at my technical programming and analysis career, but was not getting close to a leadership role. Fortunately, multiple mentors helped me “see” the value of investing in leadership skills. After developing my ability to build relationship skills and influence stakeholders, a.k.a. leadership skills, I attracted an opportunity to serve as a people leader. Since that first leadership role, I have had many more leadership assignments. If I can do it, any business professional can do it. I increased my self-worth and value to the marketplace by developing and practicing leadership skills.
If you work for an employer, i.e. you sell your services to just one client, you can increase your options for advancement by investing in yourself and growing as a leader. Even if you sell your services to many prospects and work on a contract basis with multiple clients, developing leadership skills will allow you to sell your services to more prospects. Author and Consultant David Maister argues in his acclaimed book The Trusted Advisor that for a consultant, the key to professional success is the ability to earn the trust and confidence of clients not just the technical mastery of one’s discipline.
Leadership skills matter even for growing into a senior role without a formal leadership title. If we are going to advance you from a junior scientist to a senior expert scientist at a drug company, we would rather have the you who can collaborate with the review board, the grant owners, the product developers and the quality managers, not the you who can only work alone.
Earn higher rewards
Early in my managerial career, I started looking at senior business leaders and noticed that they earned a lot more than I did. According to salary.com data, a senior level manager can earn 2.5 times more than a junior manager. When I looked at the senior leaders I knew and interacted with, I could not find one with more technical skills than a junior manager like me. But when I observed their leadership skills in action, something became quite obvious to me: they were operating at a very proficient level in those skills and behaviors. To become eligible for those senior level roles, you will need leadership skills – even in highly technical fields like Accounting .
Some might argue that you should not invest your resources in developing your leadership skills. If you take that advice though, you will be putting a limit on what you can get done in your career (and life, I would argue) and the value you can create for yourself, your clients, and the marketplace. Our collective work life is much fulfilling when you can inspire others to work as a team and achieve great things together. It might make sense for someone starting in a new career to devote time to learning technical hard skills; they need a job to start their career. For most of us who want to grow their career, the leadership skills are the first set of skills to invest in.
 In the least improvement scenario, the productivity boost will be 20×10 = 200 times. The boost can be higher if the increase in one person is scalable and directly impacts the productivity of others on the team.
 Being a technician is not enough: Develop leadership and communication skills by David Maturo. The Pennsylvania CPA Journal, Jan 2007.