Soft skills have never been so important

By 2020 creativity will be a fundamental skill for our future leaders. Storytellers will be the heroes and ideas will be a major currency in the future of work, writes Jane McCarroll. 

The number one priority for talent development in 2018 is training for soft skills. Command and control manager-led teams are out, and collaborative, self-organised teams are in. We cannot rely on the robots because they do not have soft skills.  

Without soft skills we’re literally up the proverbial. So here are some of the soft skills we must cultivate. They are my favourites but there are heaps more. 

Self-awareness: This helps you to identify thinking, beliefs and behaviours you need to change to improve your leadership. Most good managers have sound product knowledge or technical skills, the ability to manage relationships and the motivation to succeed. But it is only the exceptional managers who are self-aware.

Empathy: At its simplest, empathy is the awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. It not only helps to build and maintain strong and healthy relationships, it enables us to work more effectively with others and achieve greater success. This may sound idealistic, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Curiosity:  Curiosity makes your mind active, rather than passive, as well as observant and open to new ideas. This feels very exciting.

Creativity: Today’s world calls for creative leaders. Creativity is not solely for artistic pursuits, it is for everyone. It is not just something you are born with; it is also something that you can cultivate. Being creative stimulates lateral thinking and drives innovation. By 2020 creativity will be a fundamental skill for our future leaders. I like to think of creativity as helping build the imagination economy. Storytellers will be the heroes and ideas will be a major currency in the future of work. 

Inclusion: This fosters belonging, connection and diversity of thought. Better outcomes always come from everyone having an opportunity to contribute. Just be good to people and lead by example.

Communication: Without effective communication there can be misunderstanding, frustration or even disaster and nobody wants that. As leaders, it is our job to adapt to accommodate the communication
styles of those around us.

Connectors: People who are the connectors are the glue. They are the influencers and early adopters and when their passion aligns with your purpose they will help create trends, insights and build awesome relationships. I cannot stress enough the importance of nurturing healthy relationships. Whatever we do, we are people dealing with people. Connectors are powerful career drivers for the Future of Work.

Courage: Having the confidence to manage tough conversations and conflict is an essential leadership skill. Your approach can make or break relationships and determine decisions and their outcomes.

Resilience: We can’t change the fact that highly stressful events will occur, but we can choose how we interpret and respond to them. Focusing on the little things and being right-here, right-now helps manage difficult situations. You are not alone.

Appreciation: This builds our self-confidence, self-esteem and bolsters our self-image. It also gives us energy and fosters opportunities to thrive.


What do soft skills at work look like?

McKinsey & Company says: “Workers of the future will spend more time on activities that machines are less capable of doing, such as managing people, applying expertise, and communicating with others. The skills and capabilities required will also shift, requiring more social and emotional skills and more advanced cognitive capabilities, such as logical reasoning and creativity.”

To me, we can sum up soft skills with our attitude, and our relationships with those around us. It is how we make people feel that counts. It is the soft skills that we learn and develop which help us have more empowering relationships. And there’s a lot to learn. But the good news is it starts with knowing ourselves and putting one foot in front of the other. 

The workforce is poised to look very different in 2020. And that is less than 20 months away. Actually make that 80 Mondays. Relax, robots; we humans are working on it. We’ll have it sorted.  M


Jane McCarroll is the head of marketing and membership at IMNZ. The Institute of Management New Zealand, helping leaders step up and lead since 1946.

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