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Brush up on your ‘voodoo knowledge’

You'll never learn these leadership skills in a book

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in Dealing with Bosses,Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Office Communication,Office Management,Workplace Communication

I knew a guy with a great résumé. He had technical expertise, a nice mix of job experiences and a steady work history. He interviewed well, too.

But he never got beyond midlevel management, and I know why. He lacked “voodoo knowledge.” This is a mastery of stuff that you don’t learn in school. And it’s not in any employee manual or corporate training program. You only pick it up if you’re willing to dig for it.

When you have voodoo knowledge, you appreciate the quirks both in things and people. You understand what excites your bosses and employees. You come up with shortcuts to use certain equipment. You know how to ride organizational changes without getting flustered.

So, you know what you need to know to do your job—and more. That little extra consists of intangibles, the insights you get from paying attention.

See the invisible

On your first day in a job, no one’s going to come up to you and say, “Bob loves flattery. Lisa respects people who curse like she does. The CEO hates small talk but listens if you talk numbers.”

You have to pick this up on your own by studying how people think and act. The more you understand how to appeal to others, the faster you’ll impress them and advance.

I gained a bit of voodoo knowledge when I noticed how my first boss handled adversity. He would get incredibly calm, almost catatonic. So I copied him. When I had bad news to deliver, I’d speak in a slow monotone and choose my words precisely.

He seemed to like this because he would then tell me things the rest of the staff didn’t know. Copying his strange communication style helped me access even more voodoo knowledge.

Show me the intuition

Some people don’t need detailed instructions to get things done. They have a knack for taking passing comments like “I wish that system worked better” and— presto!—making it work better.

It’s almost like some people can read my mind. I don’t need to say “You’re not giving me enough effort here” or “That’s a cop-out and you know it.” They anticipate my thoughts and respond. They’ll start trying harder or taking more responsibility without my ever having to say a word. And they do the job right.

It’s like a sixth sense.

Crack the code

All of my programmers know the same computer languages and read code well. But only a few of them understand the quirks of different programs. They’ve developed unwritten rules that help them get more done in less time.

One day I watched a technician create a new kind of spreadsheet by integrating different software programs. I loved it, and I asked him to show me how he did it. It was a long process that I couldn’t follow.

Finally, I asked him to write it down step by step. He did. Now I’m benefiting from his voodoo knowledge. And he’s getting a big promotion.

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