Nearly any leadership class, book, or program you attend will focus on interpersonal skills. The ability to communicate, build trust, and engage employees are critical skills. However, they may not be the key to the top floor or becoming a federal executive. In fact, this TED Talk argues that there’s a missing skill that’s keeping most people from progressing.  That skill is business acumen.

“This skill set has to do with understanding where the organization is going, what its strategy is, what financial targets it has in place, and understanding your role in moving the organization forward…it’s missing in our capabilities or abilities…because it’s missing in the advice that we’re given.” – Susan Colantuono

This particular TED Talk focuses on the need for women to build business acumen skills. But, the advice is sound for men as well. The skills I frequently see missing from leaders are around strategic thinking. That is they don’t often consider how their work impacts other parts of the agency. Many do not stop to think about how or if their work aligns to the agency’s strategic plan. Or, how different parts of the agency, new policies, or even politics outside of the agency may impact their own work.

Some can maintain successful careers without thinking bigger. However, those careers are destined to remain at lower levels of the organization. Sometimes, someone without strong strategic thinking skills make it unto upper management as a federal executive. When this happens, the organization will face constant, seemingly unexpected changes.

If strategic thinking is a skill you want to build, I recommend looking into The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization or, if you are short on time the Summary: The Fifth Discipline…In 15 Minutes – The Intelligent Summary of Peter Senge’s Best Selling Book.

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