The #1 Skill Warren Buffett Says You Need

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I just finished watching a town meeting with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett that was taped at Columbia Business School last month. The entire meeting was immensely illuminating, but I was fascinated by one thing Warren Buffett said. Before I get to that, let me say that both Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates were exceedingly optimistic about the future of our country and our economy. [You, at your cynical best: “Yeah, I’d be optimistic too if I were worth $50 billion!” Me: “Well, smartypants…um…uh…okay, you know what? You’re right.”] Buffett, in particular, said he’d be willing to invest $100,000 on the future of any of the students in the room. But, he added, there was one thing—one thing—the students could to to massively increase their future value, and it was this:

Improve their communication skills.

Isn’t that amazing? Here he is, arguably the most successful business investor in history, talking to MBA students in one of the most prestigious business schools in the world, and what does he say is the best business move they could make?

Improve their communication skills.

I couldn’t agree more. Think about it. What is the one trait that really sets leaders apart from the rest of the herd? Their business smarts? Lots of great leaders couldn’t read a balance sheet if their lives depended on it. Their vision? Well, that’s a big one, but it’s only part of the equation. No, what really sets leaders apart is their ability to communicate effectively with the people they lead.

A great vision is worthless if you can’t communicate it. The best product in the world is useless if you can’t sell it (and what is selling, really, other than effective communication?). It’s the ability to communicate your ideas effectively that makes you stand out, because the simple—and, quite frankly, inexcusable—truth is that most people can’t.

When the Beatles first came to America in 1964, what was it that endeared them to the press? Was it their music? Their hair? Their cute Liverpudlian accents? Nope. What did the job was their now legendary press conferences. Here are a few excerpts from their first such conference at New York’s JFK airport on February 7th, 1964:

FEMALE FAN: Would you please sing something?



RINGO: Sorry.

M.C: Next question.

Q: There’s some doubt that you CAN sing.

JOHN: No, we need money first.

* * * * *

Q: How many of you are bald, that you have to wear those wigs?

RINGO: All of us.

PAUL: I’m bald.

Q: You’re bald?

JOHN: Oh, we’re all bald, yeah.

PAUL: Don’t tell anyone, please.

JOHN: And deaf and dumb, too.

* * * * *

Q: Was your family in show business?

JOHN: Well, me dad used to say me mother was a great performer.

* * * * *

Q: What do you think of the campaign in Detroit to stamp out the Beatles?

PAUL: We’ve got a campaign of our own to stamp out Detroit.

* * * * *

Q: What do you think of Beethoven?

RINGO: Great. Especially his poems

Yes, there are many reasons for the Beatles’ success (in fact, I wrote a book about it!). [You: “What a blatant plug!” Me: “Oh, lighten up. It is my blog!”] But their unique communication skills was certainly a huge factor.

So what does this mean to you, as a leader? If you want to increase your effectiveness, invest in your communication skills. There’s no shortage of great coaches. (Two of the best, for example, are Patricia Fripp and Vanna Novak. I’d be happy to work with you as well. [You: “There you go again.” Me: “Shut up.”]) But no matter how you do it, make an investment in improving your own communication skills.

Don’t just take my word for it. Take Warren’s.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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