What does a third-grade science project have to do with being a successful manager? More than you think. One of the most life-changing leadership lessons I ever learned was when I was eight years old.

Remember the “dinosaur project?” A team of kids spends time creating shoebox dioramas with plastic dinosaurs and palm trees. I was the hyperactive ginger kid who was more of a distraction than a help (belated apologies to the kids who did the real work.). When it came time to tell the class about our project, nobody wanted to talk. Let’s face it, fear of public speaking starts early for most of us.

Except for hyperactive ginger kids who recognize an opportunity when they see one. A chance to be the center of attention and talk without getting in trouble? Sign me up!

From the moment I got up to speak, everyone paid attention. By the time I was done, the teacher referred to our group as “Wayne’s Team.”  This wasn’t because of all the work I’d done. It was because I was the visible, memorable face of our project. I was the presumed leader and given far more credit than I deserved.

Work isn’t that different from school

This same dynamic applies to our daily work. People judge us based on what they see and hear. Someone who communicates well is much more likely than a person with great subject matter expertise to be promoted to a leadership position. 

Study after study shows that the number one factor in “promotability” is the candidate’s communication skills.  Think about that. It’s not how good your work is (although that matters); it’s not how long you’ve been with the company (that actually matters less and less); or test scores (a fact most of us hide from our children until it’s too late). The ability to transfer your knowledge or ideas from your own brain to others is the biggest part of how employers, employees and total strangers judge you.

Is this fair? Not really. Far too many smart, competent people don’t get the credit they deserve because they aren’t able to persuade others to see their point of view. Many aren’t seen as credible because of poor presentation skills or sloppy writing.  In the worst case, unqualified people get by on polish and style, rather than substance or quality and seem to get more than they deserve. 

It’s not all bad news

In a perfect world, talented people are able to inform, persuade and motivate others. Their audience views them as confident and credible. The good news? These skills can be developed.

Yes, there are people with a natural “gift of gab,” or who lack the stage-fright gene. There are also people blessed with good looks or nice penmanship.  The good news is we can develop communication skills.

If you’re going to flourish and grow in your career as a remote leader, you need to be able to do the following:

  • Create a sense of credibility when you speak
  • Take complex ideas and make them relatable to an audience
  • Write clear, easily understood emails and documents
  • Communicate both in person and using technology like web meetings, phone or email.

The same skills that help an 8 year-old get an A on his dinosaur project will help you develop as a leader. Oh, and you don’t have to be able to pronounce Brachiosaurus.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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