Soft Skills for Leadership
Soft Skills: What’s This All About, Anyway?
If you were asked what your skills are, how would you respond? Some might say something like, “analyzing market trends”, “accounting”, or “project management”. Others might say, “relationship building”, “team collaboration”, or “contract negotiation”.
What’s the difference?
Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills
Hard skills are tangible, measurable skills. They have a method to their madness. They frequently have a procedure or an “answer” associated with the outcome of performing a task using hard skills. Examples include doing someone’s taxes, inventing the light bulb, or diagnosing a heart condition. There is a correct way to do taxes. Thomas Edison will tell you there are a million wrong ways to invent a lightbulb… and finally one right way! And you better hope your doctor can properly diagnose a heart condition!
Soft skills are intangible and are typically difficult to measure. They can have varying degrees of “correctness” and varying levels of impact. Examples include how to be empathetic to a coworker, the ability to adapt when faced with sudden change, or how you respectfully disagree with your manager when they ask for your feedback. You can be moderately empathetic as a person or extremely empathetic as a person. Both are fine and can have high reward. Two people can even go about addressing the same challenge in completely different ways and still, both have the same positive outcome when soft skills are being used.
Why Should We Care?
Soft skills in the workplace are necessary for everyone in all fields, in all industries, and in all walks of life. If you’re an engineer that has just invented the next cutting edge piece of technology but doesn’t have the soft skills to communicate its value, what is it worth? Or, if you’re managing a sales team and have all the best strategies on how to close a deal but don’t have the soft skills to lead and inspire your team to be go-getters, what will the result be? HR departments and managers that highlight the importance of soft skills for managers and teams will go far.
Soft skills can be challenging for a lot of people to learn and develop. This is first and foremost because they aren’t really taught in school. The formal education system as we know it is mostly focused on core subjects: math, science, history, English, music, physical education, etc. You typically don’t see classes on how to delegate, how to resolve conflict, or how to motivate a sales team. Soft skills can also be challenging because there is no one right answer as there are in our core subjects. However, this gives space for creative, innovative solutions, and feeds critical thinking.
Soft skills in the workplace are necessary for everyone in all fields, in all industries, and in all walks of life.
So, If I Didn’t Learn Soft Skills in School, How Can I Develop them?
Lucky for us, humans are capable of learning, growing, and developing almost any subject matter, including soft skills, and we should. Why should we give this attention? Many HR and recruiting departments prioritize both hard and soft skills. You see, this is because hard skills might get you the job. Hard skills alone likely won’t get you promoted. Soft skills will get you promoted. Soft skills will help you become an agreeable, understanding, and respected person. Soft skills will allow you to succeed at an exponential rate that hard skills alone could never allow you to.
Think about the best leader you’ve ever had. Think about why you thought they were a great leader and what they did that made you think that way about them. Your answer probably doesn’t sound something like, “because they had the most efficient processes, they were always right, and they have been with the company 20+ years.” Your answer probably sounds more like, “because they were caring, compassionate, and understanding when I faced an obstacle. They also supported me when I wanted to challenge myself by learning new skills and taking on new projects.”
Which of these two sounds like the better leader to you?
The first might be a great manager, but the second is a great leader.
The difference? Proficiency in demonstrating soft skills.
Besides the scenarios illustrated above, a few other key soft skills that HR should work towards cultivating in every leader, to some degree, include:
Don’t just hear what your people are saying, listen to what they are saying. And don’t just listen to what they are saying, acknowledge what they are saying. Respond to what they are saying. Act accordingly to what they are saying. This is the difference between active and passive listening.
Teamwork skills are great, but take teamwork to the next level to invite collaboration to the table. Team members need to do more than just work as a unit with separately defined tasks. Collaboration, aka the sharing of ideas, opinions, creative goals, processes, etc., is where innovation and true progress lives.
Organizations are moving towards not just diversity, but diversity coupled with equity and inclusion. Getting everyone a seat at the table is only the first step. Ensuring psychological safety and comfort to share and open up is a necessary step to make abundant strides.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
EQ is multi-faceted and can seem like an overwhelmingly complex topic that is too complex to digest and break down. While EQ is not simple to “master”, it can be broken down into 5 parts, according to psychologist Daniel Goleman: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Take the time to focus on each of these individual components to increase competence in overall emotional intelligence levels.
Knowing the steps you need to take is great and all… but now what?
How to Develop Soft Skills
1. Determine Where you Stand
Like most things in life, you need to know your baseline understanding of something before you determine how much you need to improve. Since soft skills are difficult to measure and quantify, it can be even more challenging to know where you stand. Spect is a great software tool that allows users to take an assessment to see their baseline competency on different soft skills. You can then seamlessly track activities and participate in growth plans to develop your soft skills and also compare aggregate proficiency data among groups and teams. If you don’t have a tool to use, an alternative would be to employ self-reflection strategies and recount experiences when you were tasked with utilizing a specific soft skill. Assess how you think you did and ruminate on how you can improve.
2. Get Feedback From Coworkers and Team Members
Whether you’re a manager or a member of a team, take advantage of feedback sessions to get constructive feedback on how you’re performing in key soft skill areas. Anonymous surveys or other venues of informal feedback can also be used depending on what’s a good fit for you and your organization. Regardless of the avenue you choose, make sure the venue in which feedback is relayed is optimal for constructive feedback which also abstains from simply contracting or accusing.
3. Engage in Learning and Development Opportunities
Find reputable resources to learn more about the soft skill(s) you want to develop. Explore what learning and development opportunities your company has available to you and seek what others have found helpful. However, growing shouldn’t be limited to internal resources. Do a simple Google search to find reputable sources that specialize in what you want to learn. Or, you can also find YouTube videos, podcasts, books, etc. to guarantee you find an optimal medium for consumption regarding your skill(s) of interest.
Determine tangible, tactical takeaways that will help you form habits and ways to act upon enhancing your newfound knowledge of skills. Rinse and repeat.
Cultivating soft skills in the workplace will propel you into long-term success, regardless of industry changes or career pivots. In a world that is transforming towards a people-orientation, we must transform with it by investing in people, whether it’s in ourselves, our teams, or future generations. The importance of soft skills for managers and teams is at an all-time high, what is your organization doing about it?
If you or your organization is ready to upskill your soft skills and would like more information on Churchill’s programs, please contact us.
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