Say you’d like to develop more “soft skills” at work and you’re bound to get a lot of negative reactions. By contrast, developing “hard skills” generally receives a lot more favorable support. While I’ll save what might be some of the underlying reasons behind this for another post (or perhaps another site), one of the primary reasons why I see organizations struggle is because of how much they downplay soft skills.
I actually prefer the terms “leadership skills” and “technical skills” instead for two reasons. First, they more accurately describe the skill sets. Second, the terms evoke less judgment. This is partly because of their implied meaning and partly because of the stigma they’ve received over the years.
Let’s look at some reasons why leadership skills are so important.
The Case for Leadership Skills
- People run organizations. Organizations don’t run organizations. People run organizations. Therefore, people need to use people skills to run organizations. Unless you use robots in your organization, people need to be effective at working with each other to be successful.
- Garbage in, garbage out (GIGO). In order to have a healthy body, we need to put healthy things in our bodies. By contrast, if we put garbage into our bodies, our bodies turn into garbage. The same goes for organizations: if we want healthy organizations, we need healthy people. Leadership skills create healthy people.
- Communication is vital to manage work. In order to produce results, we need to communicate. Giving clear instructions (and listening to that instruction), customer service, conveying important information, holding effective meetings, presenting and interpreting data, generating ideas, and strategizing are all essential to make an organization successful. You can have all the technical wheels you want, but communication greases them.
- Behind every technical skill is a leadership skill. If you can’t manage your time, you won’t be efficient. If you aren’t able to analyze and improve processes, you’ll create a lot of waste. If you can’t delegate, develop people, or leverage subject matter experts, the majority of the work will fall on a few people and lead to stress and burnout.
- Conflict is a way of life. Two humans never agree on everything. Therefore, it’s crucial to navigate these disagreements. Sometimes the disagreements are small and easy to resolve, but many times they aren’t. Personality differences, style differences, misunderstandings, and differences in wants and needs are a given. Without the skills to resolve or manage these conflicts, they are guaranteed to interfere with work.
- It’s all about teamwork. Unless you work for yourself, we need to rely on other people. In addition to some of the skills mentioned above, this also includes skills like collaboration, motivation, leveraging strengths, making decisions, and working towards common goals. Have you ever seen someone try to run everything by themselves? Not pretty.
The Alternative to Leadership Skills
If you choose to forego developing leadership skills, you will likely be in a state of perpetual struggle. In organizations that primarily focus on technical skills, people rely more on top-down authority and are less intrinsically motivated. They are less able to think for themselves, struggle to come up with creative solutions, and get easily distracted by things like gossip and petty arguments. There is a lot more waste: wasted time, wasted resources, wasted money. In these kinds of organizations, things don’t change and stay stuck in outdated models. People actively resist change, and organizations remain stagnant at best. In many cases, they fail.
Embracing Leadership Skills
Leadership skills aren’t as cut and dried as technical skills. They are harder to understand, grasp, and use effectively. This is partly why people resist putting energy into developing them. In the end, however, leadership skills will determine your level of success. As you think about how you might benefit from better leadership skills, consider:
- What are some of your biggest challenges at work, and what leadership skills could help you (or your organization) overcome those challenges?
- What would your organization look like if everyone, from CEO to field rep, was a stronger leader?
- If you were to focus on developing one leadership skill over the next month, what might change?