Yes, Interpersonal Skills are Important for Entrepreneurs (and everyone else)


Earlier in the week Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily wrote a snarky and thoughtless response to an article by the Harvard Business Review, that reported on five important traits for entrepreneurs. These characteristics from HBR included (in order of importance):

  1.  Persuasion
  2. Leadership
  3. Personal Accountability
  4. Goal Orientation
  5. Interpersonal Skills

It was #5, that Sarah attacked, feeling interpersonal skills are not (yes, not) important for entrepreneurs. Really??

(Background, in case you care: I typically enjoy Sarah’s posts and have been loosely following her since her TechCrunch days.)

Three Gripes

One, it was a bit pretentious to assume HBR was specifically eyeing Silicon Valley here. You can’t even find the words “silicon” or “valley” in the article, let alone a focus on founders based in the Valley. It might come as a shock to some, but there are actually entrepreneurs outside of northern California and the US building real, successful companies. It’s a big world out there.

Second, sensationalist motivation aside, why would anyone in their right mind make a claim that interpersonal skills are unimportant, especially when aimed at business leaders. Her pudding proof examples were Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, and Musk, claiming that they’re successful, yet introverted, rude or both. And this makes them better leaders? Imagine what they could have additionally accomplished had they notched the ability to naturally connect with people. Yes, they’re all smart, driven leaders. Given. But why would it have been a bad thing if they were also “those guys” that people easily get along with?

And the final seal of ignorance was the closing remark, “Well, get to charm school, techies. Or as usual, just ignore what an East Coast business school says.” Right, Sarah… Harvard is a just another school you brush off because they’re stupid and have no claim to purporting sound business advice.

A Tip for Sarah Lacy (with love, from your readers)

If you read through the gnashing comments that followed, you’ll quickly get the picture. She took a beating that was justifiably deserved. The message from her readers was clear: Sarah needs some worldly, interpersonal skills training, herself.

Update from 12/13/12:

The perfect compliment to this posting and the important of interpersonal skills comes via an article on, where they praise the social adeptness of Tim Cook and the strides he’s making to unite their workforce. Given the tremendous foundation Jobs laid, imagine what Apple will achieve when their 73k staff connects with their new leader.