Making the transition from individual contributor to manager is difficult on many levels. It’s a shift from managing tasks and projects to managing people. This requires new skills, new behaviors and a new mindset. Training is crucial to setting new leaders up for success as they embark on their leadership journey. Unfortunately, new leaders rarely get the guidance and tools they need to successfully delegate work, provide feedback and address poor performance – among many other responsibilities.
Leadership requires a multitude of soft skills, from communication to decision-making to critical thinking. However, Training Industry research shows that gaps in soft skills exist across all roles and nearly all functions. These “basic” skills will only grow in importance as organizations are required to innovate and remain competitive in the market. We are living in an era of technological disruption where technical skills are critical as automation and artificial intelligence impact business practices. However, soft skills are still in high demand (and arguably always will).
Organizations need effective leaders to navigate this change. Leaders who embody strong people skills. Leaders who can inspire and boost morale in challenging situations. Leaders who can creatively solve problems, and leaders who can authentically connect with others.
The most successful leaders never stop learning. In 2019, communication appeared as the number one topic on LinkedIn Learning across the globe, based on the 93 million people the platform reached. This finding indicates a fundamental agreement on the importance of effective communication in business, regardless of geographic location. Additionally, the data shows that managers devoted 32% more time honing soft skills – with an emphasis on people management – compared with other colleagues. While this is not exactly surprising since managers manage people, and managing people requires interpersonal skills, it does highlight the need for training and development in this core area.
Soft skills are arguably more difficult to learn than technical skills. While you can teach the best practices for soft skills like communication in a one-time training program, the skill is actually developed through repeated practice and experience over an extended period of time. This requires learning and development (L&D) to create a wide array of learning opportunities for leaders to practice and reinforce the strategies learned in formalized training.
Here are a few simple ways soft skills can be developed in the workplace:
- Practice weak skills: Learners must deliberately practice new skills if they want them to become engrained behaviors. Depending on the skill in need of strengthening, learners can practice independently or with a colleague or manager. For example, a sales rep can role-play with peers to enhance their sales pitch, or they can independently rehearse their pitch in front of a mirror or on a recording.
- Seek out feedback: Let’s be honest; feedback is scary. Having a peer or manager review your performance and issue their opinion on your weaknesses and strengths is nerve-wracking. But feedback is important. It’s what makes us better. Find a trusted colleague who will provide constructive feedback that can improve your performance.
- Self-reflection: The average workday is busy enough. Finding time for quiet self-reflection may be a challenge, but it’s worth the time and effort. Reflection is an integral part of the learning process and allows you to uncover insights and pinpoint areas for improvement. This process can provide leaders with the self-awareness that leads to better performance.
Skills for the Future
Developing new leaders is a blind spot for many organizations. With soft skills emerging as critical to the future of work, L&D must ensure that all leaders – including new leaders – have effective people skills to successfully navigate and lead their organizations through rapid change.