Here’s my premise: I believe there are a handful of readily available tools and skills which, when mastered, add tremendous value to managers of all sizes. So much value, in fact, that I’m pretty certain that mastery of these skills alone may be enough to do at least 50% of the work required of any manager working in a "knowledge worker" context. Sound compelling? Here’s my list…
Everything else has no particular order, but this goes right to the top of the list. We can’t have a context agnostic toolkit list without being able to adequately communicate what’s going on in the given context. Lemme restate that more clearly: you gotta be able to understand and be understood. Lots of paths will get you there, but a moderate amount of "active listening" will give you a huge head start. Take care to not overdo the active listening, by the way. Nobody likes hearing, "What I hear you saying is…" a million times a day.
It recently occurred to me how much I use a text editor. So much, that I believe it ought to be a standard part of any good manager’s toolkit. There are tons of excellent text editors out there, for all sorts of operating systems. I use CrimsonEditor because it’s free, it’s fast, it has tabs and I’ve finally figured out it’s secrets and I don’t want to learn something else. A good text editor will eventually become your constant companion. Just to give you an idea, most of my text editor use involves searching multiple files or directories for snippets of text, prepping chunks of data before copy/pasting into Excel, keeping lists of things, etc. Bonus points: any work you do in a text editor automatically looks more important on-screen. This is because most people don’t use text editors and when they see one open, they think you’re doing some crazy high-level thing. You might be, or you might be writing a blog post (glances over shoulder).
I’ve mentioned SQL before and it remains on my list. I’m leaving proprietary databases off of the list because when you master SQL, you’ve got a good understanding of relational databases. That understanding transfers pretty well to MS Access, JD Edwards, what-have-you. ‘Course you’ll still need to learn to pick the nits of the particular database, but SQL knowledge moves you WAY down the road. Everything mentioned above goes for serious report-writing as well, which is probably why you’re diddling around with the database in the first place.
Excel pivot tables
This is the closest thing to not being context agnostic. In my career, I’ve pretty much done all my heavy lifting with Excel, and pivot tables are indispensible to me. I know that sometimes my knowledge of pivot tables ends up being the proverbial hammer (where every problem looks like a nail), but it’s served me remarkably well over the years. I’m guessing that other spreadsheet software out there will give you similar capabilities, but I’m not certain. Maybe a Kindly Reader can enlighten us.