Let’s talk about soft skills

“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good.”

Niccolò Machiavelli

Current leadership theory agrees that it is impossible to be a good manager without soft skills. Numerous studies have shown that skills such as team focus, motivation, self-criticism, openness and empathy increase and support employee satisfaction. This is why modern leadership programmes and communication courses provide training on how to perceive verbal and non-verbal subtleties, and teach skills such as meta-communication, active listening and paraphrasing. In addition, at the moment, the most important characteristic of an exemplary manager is authenticity.

There is nothing wrong with this. The problem is that a large group of managers – young people, and women in particular –  are being let down when they attend further training courses of this kind: They find out that they are already aware of the majority of the content and material covered in the training course; they already know how to listen actively, make the appropriate sounds (uh-huh, uh-huh, ah, uh-huh, …), and draw quiet colleagues into a discussion; they know that they are not supposed to fold their arms in a stand-offish manner during a conversation, that they need to smile encouragingly from time to time, and express appreciation of their interlocutor in the form of praise and detailed feedback. They are aware of this because, fortunately, these skills are taught at school, e.g. in class discussions, feedback sessions, or anti-violence workshops. Such participants complete their training course feeling positive (e.g. “This has proved me right, I already knew that!”) or maybe even bored (“I didn’t learn that many new things.”), and remain unaware of the fact that they have mastered only half the skills required for a successful managerial career and that the course did not even touch on the remaining fifty per cent of these skills. If the world of work was a completely friendly place that enabled appropriately trained individuals to deal with each other in a supportive manner at all times and communicate without violence, the skills acquired on the course would be more than enough to ensure success. Unfortunately, however, reality is often very different, especially in contexts where decisions are made, negotiations carried out, or where people compete against each other as they try to advance to the top. In such situations, complementary, or even converse skills are required, for example: asserting oneself; making oneself heard; lobbying; networking; self-marketing. However, advanced training courses covering these aspects are few and far between. Power games are rarely covered in leadership courses, and communication courses never offer modules demonstrating how to interrupt somebody skilfully and defend oneself non-verbally.

This is why it is essential for both women and men who have not mastered competition and power games, to acquire this set of necessary skills. They need to become “bilingual” and know how to adapt their communicative abilities for use in various contexts. This is the only way to achieve advancement in hierarchical organisations. Successful power players have long been aware of this and, having mastered hard skills, they can then move on to the acquisition of soft skills in modern leadership – they are on their way with their bilingual skills. You should do the same!