The Hard Work Of Soft Skills
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At a claim office of about 125 employees,
the head of Human Resources spent the day observing the local manager. Not
only had the office ranked high on productivity, but this particular manager
had received fantastic feedback on her company's Leadership Measurement
survey. So the HR executive was curious to watch her interact with employees
to figure out what generated this great response.
As they walked through the office, conversing about the normal work
conditions, the manager would often stop and refer to specific individuals:
"Steve over there has been in our area for 15 years. Steve also coaches Little
League. They won their game last Thursday."
Then they'd move on to someone else, and as they left that person's area,
quietly the manager would say, "Sally had some problems with her daughter this
year. You know how difficult teenagers can be. We've had many sessions behind
closed doors where Sally's trying to sort through these problems."
Months later, when I interviewed the HR executive, that day at the claim
office was still etched in her mind. "It became apparent to me," she
explained, "that this manager knew all of her people. And I don't mean just
knew their jobs. She knew each individual - their backgrounds and hobbies,
what their concerns were, what got them excited. She knew when they were
upbeat because things were going well, and she knew when they were struggling
and needed her time and attention. I asked her how on earth she could do this
for 125 people. Her response: 'That's my job.'"
Great leaders understand that you can't pay people to excel. You can only
pay them to show up. But once you've got them there, the leader's job is to
encourage people to excel by creating an atmosphere of caring, trust and
inclusion. Sun Tzu, author of the Chinese "The Art of War" put it this way:
"Regard your soldiers as your own children, and they will follow you into the
deepest valleys. Treat them as your own beloved sons, and they will be with
you even unto death."
As an expert on the "human side" of organizational change, I have been a
guest on hundreds of radio call-in programs over the past several years, but I
especially remember one in the Northwest, when an unusual number of
disgruntled employees were phoning in with corporate "horror stories."
People complained about being unappreciated and overlooked. They spoke of
callous treatment from uncaring bosses, and reported that they worked for
organizations "just interested in making a buck." For the entire hour, calls
followed the same line. Finally, in genuine disgust, the interviewer said to
me: "The principles you're giving us sound so simple, why aren't more managers
I didn't have to think twice about my reply: "With all the diet books on
the market, why aren't we all thin and trim? What could be simpler than
reducing calories and increasing exercise?"
The answer to my question and his is the same. Things that are simple are
not necessarily easy.
My work has enabled me to deal with business leaders around the world, and
not once have I encountered a boss who despised all his or her employees. On
the contrary, the leaders I've met were genuinely concerned about the
well-being of people who reported to them. (Even the occasional leader whose
only focus was on the bottom line understood that the best way to increase
profits was to build the commitment of talented employees.)
When you think of the qualities that leaders need to encourage in their
employees -- responsibility, creativity, caring, commitment -- you can see why
coercion or manipulation just doesn't work. The leaders who influence us the
most are those who understand that engagement and productivity are not about
rules, regulations, and rewards -- or the struggle to keep people "in line."
In general, it's the soft skills of leadership that are paramount. Leaders
(and their organizations) won't succeed without a genuine caring about people
and the ability to develop and nurture interpersonal relationships.
This is something that the MBA industry is grappling with today. Many
business schools are revisiting their offerings to see if they still have
relevance in the 21st century. Consider Harvard Business School, the blue-chip
brand of all MBA programs, which used 2008 (its centennial year) to convene
worldwide experts on business education and plot its directions for the next
The results: Deans and recruiters said that MBAs in general needed better
communication skills, increased self-awareness and an enhanced capacity for
introspection and empathy. HBS is now looking at several change proposals,
among them a program to develop various soft skills in its students.
Isn't that simple?
Not easy, mind you, But simple.
About the Author
Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.is an international
Keynote speaker on collaborative leadership and the impact of
language in the workplace.
coach to executives to improve their leadership presence and
Leadership blogger for Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of
Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.”
Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com Authors Google+
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2009-11-25 13:36:40 in Employee Articles