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Whether you’re a supervisor, team leader, vice president or CEO, success isn’t just about the numbers. You need soft skills to succeed, too.
Sure, business schools focus on must-have skills like finance, accounting, marketing and strategy. But when it comes to motivating and engaging workers, it’s the human-side of managing people that sets the great business leaders apart.
Nothing, of course, can derail a business plan or sales goal more than employees who don’t feel their managers appreciate them. Buy-in is a lot tougher when the rank-and-file is buzzing behind the scenes about managers who treat them poorly, only care about the bottom-line and misuse their power as boss.
That’s why mastering so-called soft skills — which cultivate the emotional and human side of business — is essential for managers who want to move up the corporate ladder and thrive in their careers, says Scott Monty, a leadership and communications advisor at Chameleon Collective.
“Soft skills are harder to measure because there aren’t quantifiable metrics behind them, so they tend to get short shrift,” said Monty.
The High Cost Of Weak ‘Soft Skills’
Don’t underestimate the squishy nature of making team members feel good about themselves.
“Yes, you can motivate people by giving them their quarterly numbers that they need to hit,” said Monty. “But at the same time, there’s a certain way you make them feel, there’s a certain way that you help them become engaged as part of a broader team. That’s where soft skills come in.”
No doubt, whiffing on the people skills aspect of your job can result in conflict, distrust, and less employee buy-in. If you’re a boss that leads by fear, for example, it’s time to rethink your approach, says Monty.
“There are certain leaders who try to get people to act based on fear,” Monty said. “Obviously that makes people feel a certain way. It’s a top-down almost authoritarian approach. And it’s more about being a boss than a leader.”
A better approach, Monty says, is to motivate people with encouragement, enthusiasm, trust, and kindness. “They’re actually more likely to engage,” said Monty.
Soft skills are all about empathy, compassion, authenticity and courage. Monty says there are four classical virtues, or traits, that philosophers have been studying for millennia that explain the power of soft skills: generosity, self-restraint, courage and wisdom.
Soft Skills: Start With Generosity
In business, when we’re generous with others, we give them the ability to fail, says Monty. And that’s powerful. “We give them the ability to find their own way and to discover what works for them and what doesn’t,” said Monty.
As a manager, there are many ways to be generous. You can be generous with your time. Or you can simply listen. “All too often, we see leaders who are self-absorbed,” said Monty. “They tend to talk a lot.”
Sure, leaders are used to being listened to. But great leaders are the ones who are generous with their time and listen to others, he says.
“Think about it, if somebody whom you respected and that had a lot of subject-matter expertise sat down with you and really wanted to hear what you have to say about something, how would that make you feel?” said Monty. “We all have this ultimate desire to be appreciated.”
Sometimes, sitting back and waiting to speak can go a long way toward getting employees to buy in. There’s a benefit to not overreacting or lashing out or cutting people off before they have their say. Having patience with people can be a manager’s best friend.
“That takes a great deal of self-restraint and self-awareness,” said Monty. “Soft skills are about having emotional intelligence as a leader.
Show Courage As One Of Your Soft Skills
Courage is defined as having the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.”
In business, courage can be expressed in a few different ways. It can be as simple as having the courage of your convictions by having integrity. “Saying what you’ll do and doing what you say,” is what it takes, said Monty. “There are a lot of people who will simply go along to get along.” We’ve all seen “yes” people who don’t speak up when they disagree with a business decision or course of action.
Often, sticking to your values sends the right message to subordinates. “When it comes to your values being put on the line, sometimes people won’t speak up,” said Monty. “But having the courage to stand your ground, having the courage to know what you stand for, and the purpose of what that you’re trying to reach, I think that’s really important.”
Focus On Wisdom For Soft Skills
Wisdom is kind of rolling all these soft skills up and tapping your vast, past experiences to take the best path forward. “You put it all together and you’re able to make wiser decisions,” said Monty.
So, how can you improve your soft skills? Think back to the people in your life who made you feel good about yourself and the work you do, says Monty. “Reflect on the people who have inspired you and think about the aspects of their personality that have stayed with you. Take those good attributes to build a sense of who you want to be rather than what the external world thinks you should be.”
Your goal as a manager is not to make clones of yourself. But rather to help your employees become the best version of themselves. The bottom line is if you master soft skills, you’ll get repaid.
“If we exhibit soft skills consistently throughout our careers, we will see them being returned many times over,” said Monty. “We’re all people, we’re not automatons. And soft skills at its very core is all about relationships.”
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