NZIM MANAGING: Hard Facts Of Soft Skills Managementร


In today’s turbulent economic times we read so much about downsizing, re-engineering, reorganisation, deployments and the numerous variations of organisational structures that directors and managers turn to in their search to rationalise, stabilise or create solid foundation for future success and growth.
But, I believe the greatest and most constructive impact will be felt when leaders and managers better recognise the importance of what has become known as soft skills leadership in management.
The more turmoil and stress company faces, the more important the soft skills capability of its leadership and management team becomes.
Typical issues that many companies face include:
• Motivating colleagues as they face uncertain futures.
• Attempting to communicate clearly and provide rationale for organisational change.
• Developing and retaining staff at appropriate levels to achieve more with less.
• Meeting ever-increasing customer demands.
To deal with these transitional issues leaders and managers need to:
• Be honest and proactive with their communication.
• Listen well and demonstrate empathy and sensitivity with employees.
• Be prepared to explain the rationale behind decisions that impact on others (tough love).
One of the most significant lessons of the many I have learned in my career, is the need to continually practise soft skills management. The need to re-read emails before hitting the send button; to think about how others receive or might perceive what I am saying; and, the need to always demonstrate good values and ethical behaviours.
As our business environments become increasing volatile, leaders need to demonstrate soft skills attributes to successfully lead the company through the chaotic times. Sadly, few business schools bother to teach techniques to cultivate appropriate soft skills. We live in society that measures intelligence through quantitative psychological measures, such as Myers Briggs. Management students might also get good grade for answering specific question correctly, but how do we measure being able to deal with the varied and different situations that require compassion, empathy, trusting and the capacity to deal with the unexpected everyday problems that crop up.
Effective leaders must develop cultures of unified commitment whilst being simultaneously aware of the many cultural differences that exist in our work places. By doing this, effective managers and leaders build trust and establish credibility with their colleagues.
History tells us that at the turn of the last century there was much written about the ‘scientific management theory’ of Frederick Taylor, time and motion advocate who espoused the careful specification measurement of all organisational tasks. Then Max Weber embellished the “scientific management” theory with his “bureaucratic” theory that focused on having organisations with hierarchies and strong lines of authority of control with operating procedures for recognised tasks.
Today we inhabit the era of the human resource movement. My friend and well-respected management guru Wilf Jarvis may call this the ‘people’ period. Stakeholders in all organisations are less inclined to incorporate the dehumanising effects of those previous periods with more attention now given to employees as colleagues. The engagement of our colleagues is key fundamental to achieving business success through unified cultures.
Today’s business world is undeniably complex. The plethora of matrix structures in business, seemingly open and free market access, an aging workforce, cultural diversity and equal employment opportunities for all, presents mosaic of particular and often stressful challenges.
The good news is that by adopting and practising soft skills management and leadership techniques organisations can and will succeed.
Soft skills are both intra- and inter-personal skills that determine an individual’s ability to excel, or at least fit in to social situation. These situations could be at work or in any social setting.
In this knowledge age it is not necessarily the knowledge itself that sets individuals or organisations apart from their competition but rather their ability to engage. The question aspiring managers need to ask is: has your professional training got you up to date with the skills you need to progress through your career? This is the challenge.
Many of us undertake specific training (such as technical) and are at the forefront of our industries, issues and development. But highly successful professionals are not just technically aware. They also possess the soft skills and, these abilities are becoming increasingly sought after.
Soft skills refer to personal qualities, habits and attitudes that are reflected in individual personality, attitude and behaviours. They are mostly intangible and difficult to measure skills that nevertheless impact significantly on personal professional development and organisational cultures.
Soft skills can include the following:
• Interpersonal skills – the ability to lead with empathy and vision.
• Team working – the ability to be cohesive, unified, cooperative and supportive. No matter what position you hold currently you are always leading others through your influence. We influence others with our thoughts and actions even when we are not aware we are doing so.
• Negotiation skills – the ability to get to win-win situation through openness, trust, understanding and mutual respect.
• Communication skills – the ability to communicate through clear articulation in both written and verbal forms. Practise the ALC rule of ask, listen and clarify.
• Time management – the ability to use your time wisely, working effectively, even when under pressure.
Other key soft skills are always having positive attitude, setting high personal values, sticking to your principles, having strong work ethics, being transparent, being honest and acting with integrity and also having that ability to accept and learn from criticism.
Soft skills are here to stay and should be accepted as necessary for achieving effective leadership.
The challenge for managers is to accept the current situation, to strive to change things in positive way, to become leaders with vision, to be highly focused in committing to the organisational vision and to understand where they want it to be in the future.
Don’t be afraid to take risks. Have genuine compassion for colleagues and understand their needs. Motivate them to give input, to take responsibility and ownership and, to do their utmost to make success of everything they do.
For an organisation to succeed it must be more than just efficient. It must empathise with both its employees and its customers. By adding aspects of emotional value to dealings with employees, customers and suppliers alike, managers reap rewards.
Comprehending and developing improved soft skills opens corridors of understanding and discussion, displays particular strengths and helps individuals to be successful in their business and social interactions.
Managers that develop their soft skills inspire colleagues to greatness. It has never been more important for leaders and managers to look after their people. If they do their people will look after the organisation.
The ancient Egyptians wrote: “Be skilled in speech so that you will succeed. The tongue of man is sword and effective speech is stronger than all fighting.”
All this fuss over soft skills is appropriate.

Kevin Vincent is CEO of NZIM Southern.

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