Carnegie’s spirit lives on in Franklin C. Ashby, who spent 20 years at Dale Carnegie & Associates, rising to become its top instructor among 20,000 and serving as a senior executive. Today he runs a consulting firm. He’s also co-author of Embracing Excellence (Prentice Hall, 2001).
WS: You’ve studied what it takes to get ahead, and you’ve done it yourself. What’s the secret?
Ashby: While it’s important for managers to develop technical skills—such as planning and managing budgets—our research shows that personal qualities are equally important. You must focus on the soft skills, like showing confidence and .
WS: How can someone learn to show confidence?
Ashby: I see too many people take an unnecessarily skeptical attitude, especially midlevel managers who show misguided mistrust toward senior executives. These managers tend to assume the worst instead of gathering facts and giving executives the benefit of the doubt. Assuming the worst fosters negative thinking that eats away at your confidence.
WS: How can a manager become a stronger communicator?
Ashby: Participate in group discussions. Don’t be a wallflower! Say you’re in a meeting with the CEO. You can sit and say nothing. Or you can pick the right moment to make a smart observation. It’s a golden opportunity to stand out. Seize it!
WS: What’s the best way to relate to employees?
Ashby: I see managers focusing on what’s wrong or the mistakes people make instead of showing honest appreciation. Recognize the contributions of your team—and not just in speeches. Think of the signals you send out.
WS: What signals?
Ashby: Give a thumbs-up when someone does something right. Smile when you greet someone. Nod when an employee makes a good point. Write a note to say “Thanks” and “Well done.” These little gestures register with people.
WS: Do you manage this way?
Ashby: I try to. When I was at Dale Carnegie, we had a manager at a field office who was the subject of a serious complaint by an employee. We had the manager fly to the home office to discuss it. He was sitting in the lobby waiting for me—full of fear and apprehension—when I opened the door, smiled and said, “Hi, Joe, thanks for coming. How are you doing?” Years later, he said the way I greeted him told him he’d be treated fairly, that he felt from that moment like a ton of bricks had fallen off his shoulders.
WS: What did you do that was so special?
Ashby: I empathized with him. I didn’t act overly solemn or serious. I was happy to see him and let it show in my body language. You can’t fake this stuff.
WS: What happened to him?
Ashby: We got everything straightened out, and he has gone on to have a great career. Joe has probably told that story dozens of times over the years. And that helped my reputation, too.
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