3 Reasons Why Soft Skills are No Longer “The Redheaded Step Child”

July 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Soft skills are those personal attributes, attitudes, and communication methods that enable people to have high quality interpersonal interactions.  Softs skills have been the “red-headed step child” of the C-Suite leaders for a long time.  They have been dismissed and/or ignored because they were thought to be unimportant or even unnecessary.

Since the middle of the 19th century, with the rise of the industrial age, leaders with knowledge and education usually rose to the top of organizations.   They organized work in their companies to make it easier to control behaviors.  The fundamental premise behind this approach was “the primary cause of problems is the dereliction of duty” by individual workers.  Individuals needed to be managed (controlled) to prevent mistakes and to maintain high productivity.  Control the individual and you can control the organization.  The purpose of the organizational chart is to sufficiently specify those duties so that management can quickly assign blame, should a mistake occur.

This approach took on a militaristic tone, which is not surprising because retired military officers had great influence on the leadership of early
businesses.  New businesses relied on the technical and managerial contributions of engineers.  One of the few and certainly the best source
of engineering education in the US was the US Military Academy at West Point.

Our economy has evolved.  Competition is global and more intense.  We need everyone to have knowledge not just a few concentrated at the top.  We can no longer control behaviors from the top and remain competitive. Soft skills are needed.  Our “redheaded step child” must be fully welcomed into the family!  There are three specific reasons why everyone, especially leaders, must develop their soft skills.

#1: Employee engagement is a competitive advantage

Employee engagement is a highly desirable measure of organization performance today.  Employee engagement is emotional response employees feel that causes them to exert extra discretionary effort into their work without bribes or threats.  Employee engagement can only exist when employees are treated with respect, listened to, and trusted.  Unless leaders know how to use soft skills, such as effective listening, expressing empathy, and treating people with respect (avoid bullying) in all communications they will unknowingly be damaging employee engagement.  Leaders without soft skills actually damage performance of their staff and their organization.

#2: Employees must feel safe to offer new ideas

New ideas are the life blood of a growing enterprise.  New ideas and innovation can only be generated by employees in a safe environment.
Leaders who understand soft skills can consistently create that safe work environment.

Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership clarifies.  Those leaders who have the ability to use soft skills to influence good moods with employees will create an environment of innovation.

Reason #3: Productivity improvement
must come from leveraging knowledge and tasks

Productivity in our country has consistently improved in the last 30 years.  This improvement has helped us grow our wealth and improve our lives.  Productivity growth is slowing because much of the gains have been with major leaps in technology that have helped us all work longer hours and/or more days per week.  We are now able to work 24-7 because technology allows us to stay connected regardless of where we are or what we are doing. I don’t know about you, but I can’t work any more hours without becoming exhausted or even psychotic.  Growth will
still come from technology but we need more growth to maintain our living standards.

To boost productivity and profitability leaders must leverage their knowledge and allow employees the ability and opportunity to self-manage.  Self-management requires high levels of trust.  Leaders who can create trust quickly and maintain it will boost productivity.  Improvements in trust require soft skills.

Our economy has evolved and so our leaders and their skills must evolve with it. Soft skills are more important today because the knowledge economy has arrived and the industrial age is waning.   Leaders need soft skills to make the adjustment.  Soft skills cannot be learned with just
training classes.  Leaders must create environments that encourage the use of soft skills.  They must receive feedback from peers and
employees and they must heed that feedback and adjust their behaviors accordingly.


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