The importance of developing soft skills as a manager

Management as we know it has undergone a significant shift in recent years. Previously seen as a technical and linear way of doing/thinking, management today centers on people skills. As a result, disciplines such as talent management and coaching have emerged to support high potentials in developing managerial skills.

What are the key managerial skills which ultimately lead businesses to success?

In recent literature about factors that make a good leader, the following points appear to be agreed upon:

  • Adept and versatile
  • Responds to the needs and wants of followers
  • Gives followers a sense of security
  • Encourages career development or focused targets

Learning and training leaders focus less on producing programs for hard/technical skills because they can often be taught using a textbook or a simple e-learning module. The challenge for today’s learning and training leaders is developing people skills or "soft skills."

I want to give an example of how the importance of soft skills has extrapolated over the recent years. Management development organization ORMIT came about as an initiative from a group of large corporations in Belgium and the Netherlands that realized that the employees who were promoted to managerial positions largely lacked soft skills. Although employees were excellent on a technical level, they lacked that critical ‘human touch’ element when it came to communication, delegation and motivating their teams. This realization led to the creation of an independent body – ORMIT – that today enables young graduates to develop their soft skills and managerial potential. The two-year program takes graduates through 3 different placements where they are exposed to various scenarios and each trainee is further supported by a personal executive coach.

Mimicking this rigorous program, learning and training leaders can develop an introduction to management training as a foundation for developing an understanding of skills such as communication, delegation, conflict management, motivational, flexibility and self-awareness, which make up the essential toolkit of the manager. The rest of the learning happens socially and on the job.

So you may be asking yourself, what’s next? How can I start improving my soft skills? Here are a few practical suggestions:

Develop interpersonal skills and build relationships. These are the ‘glue’ that hold teams together.

  • Befriend your colleague and give them your time and attention, develop trust.
  • Be mindful. Take a step back from each situation and gauge the effect you have on the other person. This will help you develop better self-awareness.
  • Deal with conflicts in a sensitive and respectful manner – try and get the full picture and collaborate with others to find a solution.

Work on communication skills – verbal, non-verbal and written.

  • Practice speaking and writing clearly. Do not be afraid to ask for constructive feedback and in return practice giving feedback too.
  • Listen actively –retaining information and empathy shows your interest is real.
  • Read other’s body language – what are they saying/showing.

Practice leading by example. It may be helpful to observe the positive aspects of your role model and attempt to do the same.

  • Take initiative and step outside your comfort zone.
  • Practice what you preach – consistency is key to gain influence and respect.
  • Ask for the opinion of others and include shy members of the team into the conversation.
  • Display plenty of positive attitude and calmness in critical situations.

The realities of the changed expectations for managers is perhaps best summarized in a quote from Steve Denning’s recent Forbes article "The Meaning of Management: The Great Awakening." Basically, managers today are capacity building instigators:

"Management is not simply a menial set of technical directives. At its best, it clarifies and magnifies human capacity. By opening those pathways by which human beings become productive, it brings an increase in existence for those doing work and those for whom the work is done. Through creating the space where we can live mindfully and wholeheartedly, it enlarges what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done."