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Career advice: Gain credibility with better communication skills

By Bradley P. Wright
September 28, 2010 11:23 AM ET
Brad Wright
Bradley P. Wright

Computerworld -

Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader: Bradley P. Wright


Title: Vice president for global communications technology

Company: Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., Fort Worth, Texas

Wright is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about communicating more clearly, dealing with a poorly performing peer, and the elements of career success. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com.

I'm one of many IT directors in my company. We've been talking a lot about the future direction of IT. We all chip in with thoughts and ideas at meetings, but I feel I don't get my points across well, and so what I have to say is usually ignored. (Sometimes, someone else will say the same thing, only better, at a later meeting, and their ideas are adopted.) How can I become less tongue-tied? Verbal communication is foundational to success in leadership. Speaking workshops and practice can go a long way toward improving your ability to clearly and succinctly express your thoughts. But here's another idea that might get your thoughts acknowledged now, while you work on your verbal delivery skills. Before each discussion, invest a bit of time researching what other leaders and companies are doing in your topic areas. Use your Computerworld resources! Find a couple of cases where results have been achieved by others using your approach or one similar. When you chip in, lead with your idea, and immediately follow with the examples and results you discovered. Be prepared to lead your group in discussing how the idea may fit in your environment if the group seems interested. You've now made your contribution far more compelling and hard to ignore. Furthermore, you've come to really contribute, and others will notice and follow suit.

My boss made a recent hire (I'm in network security), and he was very enthusiastic in announcing it. Having worked closely with the new guy, I'm not so enthusiastic. My boss doesn't seek our feedback on things like this, so how can I help him realize that he bought a lemon? Clearly this situation is challenging on many levels, but it would be a mistake for you to work toward undermining a peer's credibility. Instead, I would suggest an approach that focuses on organizational success and individual improvement. First, in meetings and communications, help make it very clear what you, your organization and your customers need from your team (and your peer) to be successful. If you don't presently have a way to collect actionable input and feedback from customers, offer your boss your help in establishing a program. Second, identify areas where as a team you failed to meet expectations. It is important that you address failures only at a team level. As a team, create action plans to address those opportunities. Finally, take a look at how your team performs against those action plans, and observe any changes in customer feedback. Executed well, these steps and the visibility they create will either help your peer become a productive member of your team or highlight for your boss the need for further action.

In your career, has experience, education or knowing the right people been most beneficial? It's not a question of either/or. All have been important for success. I would say ultimately that experience (results and impact) have been the most beneficial in terms of career advancement. But relevant experience, I've found, depends on leveraging my own knowledge and that of others through strong working relationships. By investing your own time and energy in studying industry and leadership trends, you make yourself relevant. By reaching out to others and leveraging their talents and experience, you amplify the impact of your contributions and create lasting professional connections. So while experience rules, the best experience is that of driving results through relationships.

Read more about Management in Computerworld's Management Topic Center.



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