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Skills to use knowledge sensibly
Ramesh Venkateswaran
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February 26, 2008

B-schools tend to focus on conceptual frameworks, models, and structures that give the big picture. To be an effective manager, knowledge is important - it is the what of business.

There is, however, a second important aspect that makes knowledge more relevant and effective. One must have the necessary skills to use knowledge sensibly.

This includes both soft, personal skills as well as hard, functional skills. I think most good B-schools would think it infra dig to talk about skills. Yet industry constantly bemoans the fact that many managers do not have the necessary skills to make them effective in their jobs. So what are these skills?

Communication skills: Effective communication is the foundation on which managerial effectiveness and interpersonal relationships are built. What B-schools do is to help people talk, but not to listen. Communication courses are about presentation skills, case discussions, handling interviews and so on. But do they teach us to listen?

Managers are supposed to possess good listening skills.

Similarly, we are taught to write but not to read. There is a lot of emphasis on writing case analysis, reports, business proposals, resumes and so on. But no one teaches us to read. We are bombarded with information every minute.

A manager has to read many things and cull out the important parts. I don't think any of the Indian Institutes of Management teach this to students. The skills of speed reading, picking out important points, scanning reports and so on are very useful for managers - something need to be taught as part of a management course.

Interpersonal skills: Managers need to handle people well. Courses discuss empathy and assertiveness on the blackboard. Which, in my opinion, is like teaching cycling or swimming in a classroom. No amount of theory can substitute practice.

When you go out in the world, you realise that empathy is more than just saying "I understand how you feel". Or the standard - putting yourself in the other person's shoes. It is about feeling the other person's feeling.

It is about consciously practicing the art of feeling with another person. It is not easy, but can be acquired through practice and conscious effort. Or take assertive behaviour. Conceptually, it sounds simple - do not get aggressive or submissive. Be assertive. This again calls for skills rather than knowledge.

B-schools must give some thought to equipping students with the requisite skills needed to make them effective. Teaching skills are in no way inferior to transmitting knowledge. They go hand in hand, and a B-school product ready to roll on the first day would be the test of good management education.

Ramesh Venkateswaran graduated from IIM, Bangalore in 1978

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