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These Soft Skills Can Go a Long Way

While they may not appear in a leader’s official job description, some soft skills can help connect them with employees at a deeper level.

April 25, 2013
Related Topics: Mentoring, Coaching, Leadership Development, Succession Planning, Learning and Development
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Consider this scenario: Joe Smith is a potential successor for the CEO position at a global financial services company. He excels at boosting sales for his company in the Asia-Pacific region, and he is good at anticipating emerging trends and translating them into actionable business strategies. He is driven by personal achievement and region performance. However, Smith is not very charismatic or personable, and he often fails to connect with and inspire others. As a result, his successes to date have been short-term, and without improving his communication skills, his promotion to CEO isn’t realistic.

According to a recent study by global engagement research firm Leadership IQ, about 90 percent of new hires fail because of attitude, not because they lack a certain skill. As a result, it’s critical that employers take into account the soft skills of prospective employees and how these can help differentiate between pre-hires with similar backgrounds and technical abilities.

A few of the soft skills most repeatedly linked to executive success are:

Listening and collaborating. Executives who can give their undivided attention to others and are fully present in their communications often maintain better working relationships with people both in and outside of their organization. Rather than jump to assumptions during conversations, good listeners focus on understanding someone’s point of view rather than crafting their own response and asking questions that drive increased understanding and clarity. In addition, by consistently engaging with their peers, these individuals understand the importance of using team collaboration to solve complex business problems or come up with new ideas. Without these skills among leaders, companies are at risk for low employee engagement levels or missing out on new ideas and perspectives that could help grow the business.

As more businesses become global, there is greater demand for talented leaders who can develop, maintain and grow relationships with colleagues and customers across multiple borders and cultures. These qualities are also important for companies that use the complex matrix structure, in which leaders must connect with people across different teams and functions.

Coaching and development. There is an art to positively and effectively coaching others, and not everyone excels at the job. Those who do are continually assessing the strategic talent needs of their organization and proactively identifying, grooming and developing diverse talent pools to fill key positions within the company. In addition, employees who demonstrate strong leadership skills can accurately identify the strengths and weaknesses of team members, provide challenging assignments that capitalize on team members’ strengths and provide candid, constructive and timely feedback to individuals to promote increased talent development.

With higher levels of expertise and knowledge in organizations than ever, leaders need to be able to pass along learning and prepare future successors. People who do not receive coaching and development experience less job satisfaction as a result.

Motivating and energizing. An important part of coaching others and developing their skill sets includes the ability to understand what motivates and drives individual team members. Effective leaders take the time to recognize individual efforts and achievements and reward employees in a way that excites and energizes them about their work. By successfully supporting and celebrating the endeavors of others, these individuals can significantly boost team spirit and morale, thereby increasing productivity in the workplace.

With more virtual teams and a generation that is apt to job hop, it’s critical for business leaders to keep talented individuals energized, engaged and committed. The reality is that it costs organizations too much to identify, recruit, hire and get new talent up to speed.

Influencing across boundaries. Having the ability to sell one’s vision to others is a powerful soft skill, particularly for those in leadership, sales or marketing roles. Individuals who can articulate the “what’s in it for you” message project confidence, credibility and enthusiasm when presenting new ideas, products or services. Rather than focusing on the facts, influencers focus on personalizing their messages to resonate with their audience.

Given that companies and consumers have multiple options today for investing and spending, it’s critical that leaders be able to give compelling messages for the products and services they offer. This can mean the difference between engaging a team to work hard and lead the way or having to compel or push the team along.

While not all soft skills are created equal, they remain vital to the success of employees on an individual and organizational level, and even more important at the executive level. By understanding which soft skills are necessary for each unique business and job role, executives can better position themselves and their companies for long-term success.

Paul H. Eccher and Dave Ross are co-founders and principals of The Vaya Group, a talent management consultancy. They can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.

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