Soft Skills Training for Leaders

Soft skills provide a competitive edge in this cutthroat, competitive world.

“The softest things in the world overcome the hardest things in the world.”—Lao Tzu

There is a growing significance attached to soft skills globally. As the war for talent is rising, the corporate world realizes the significance of leadership development training and soft skills training programs to emphasize interpersonal skills and build leaders. With the exit of Baby Boomers from the workplace, there is a shortage of leadership talent ready in the leadership pipeline as Gen Yers are not always prepared to take up the organizational challenges. Therefore, there is an urgent need to provide leadership development training and soft skills training for leaders, including those at the C-suite level.

The significance of soft skills increases as leaders grow from the operational to strategic level of management. Leaders at the senior and C-suite level focus on leading people. In fact, there are three skills essential for leaders at all levels:

  • Technical skills
  • Human skills
  • Conceptual skills

As leaders enter into senior and C-suite levels, there is a need to have more conceptual skills and less technical skills, while the need for human skills remains constant at each level of management. Human skills can be compared with soft skills and technical skills with hard skills. In this regard, let us briefly explore what are soft and hard skills.

Soft and Hard Skills

Soft skills are people skills and behavioral skills. They are the skills, abilities, and traits related to personality, attitude, and behavior. They are the ability to communicate with others in polite, pleasing, and polished language. They help execute tasks effectively without any conflict. Since the days of command-and-control don’t work any more, there is growing emphasis on soft skills training for leaders at all levels to execute tasks effectively. Today’s employees prefer to work in a collegial environment than a command-and-control one. They appreciate being treated as partners for progress rather than being relegated to the so-called traditional leader-follower hierarchy. Hence, there is a growing need for soft skills.

On the other hand, hard skills are about technical competence and expertise. Precisely, it is about domain expertise. Many professionals are experts in their hard skills, but they find it tough to get along with others. Hence, leaders must be equipped with soft skills to handle others. In effect, soft skills are the effective presentation of hard skills.

Significance of Soft Skills

Soft skills can be cultivated by various means, including observation, reading, training, experience, and practice. They mostly can be acquired through training programs. There are several advantages to acquiring soft skills. They equip leaders with empathy and communication skills, which decreases attrition and engages employees effectively. They promote fraternity and camaraderie, leading to improved organizational performance. Overall, they improve organizational bottom lines to achieve organizational excellence and effectiveness.

Most C-level leaders don’t have knowledge of all domains. They utilize others’ expertise and align it with organizational goals. They make decisions by consulting their team members. Therefore, soft skills help leaders to make decisions successfully.

List of Soft Skills for Leaders

Here are some of the soft skills needed for C-level leaders:

  • Human skills
  • Conceptual skills
  • Communication skills
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Time management skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Decision-making skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • Teambuilding skills
  • Troubleshooting skills
  • Conflict management skills
  • Change management skills
  • Cross-cultural skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Listening skills
  • Entrepreneurial skills
  • Risk management skills
  • Empathy
  • Flexibility
  • Adaptability to organizational politics

Importance of Soft Skills Training for Leaders

During my leadership development training programs, some senior leaders have opined that there is no need to provide soft skills training to leaders. They think they already have acquired soft skills from their experience. Also, I found some of the senior leaders mistaking soft skills for communication skills and emotional intelligence. In fact, there is an urgent need for leaders at all levels to understand the actual definition of soft skills and acquire them to grow as successful leaders.

I earned my Ph.D. in soft skills and authored five books on it. As such, I love to share my knowledge on soft skills as follows:

Some leaders think hard skills alone matter a lot for professional advancement. In fact, there must be a judicious blend of hard and soft skills to survive and succeed in the workplace. As one achieves higher positions, there is more need for soft skills and less need for hard skills.

The services sector presently dominates the world. The knowledge workers are mostly associated with services sectors. As mentioned above, they appreciate working in partnership rather than in a traditional command-and-control leadership ambience. Hence, to lead knowledge workers, leaders must be equipped with soft skills. There are a number of leadership styles, and leaders adopt these styles as per the situation—this is known as situational leadership style.

There is an urgent need to recruit the right talent and train and retain them in the leadership pipeline to avert organizational eventuality. Above all, the expectations and aspirations of all stakeholders are rising rapidly. To meet them effectively, there is need for soft skills training for leaders.

Training for Leaders

While imparting soft skills training to leaders, it is essential to emphasize behavioral training. Case study discussion alone doesn’t help as soft skills are behavioral skills. There is need to change leaders’ behavior. To bring about behavioral improvement in leaders, it is essential to emphasize role-plays, business games, debates, group discussions, and outward-bound training followed by constructive feedback. Such type of behavioral training helps convert knowledge into skills and abilities effectively. It helps leaders identify their blind spots and overcome them effectively. Additionally, it builds confidence in leaders.

Soft skills provide a competitive edge in this cutthroat, competitive world. They are always an asset to employees. They are required from janitorial staff to CEOs. Hence, it is essential to provide soft skills training to all people at all levels to achieve organizational goals and objectives—particularly in view of the rapid changes in technology and the rising expectations of all stakeholders.

Professor M.S.Rao, Ph.D., is an international leadership guru and leadership educator, executive coach, speaker, and consultant. He has 34 years of experience and is the author of 30 books including 21 Success Sutras for Leaders (http://www.amazon.com/21-Success-Sutras-Leaders-ebook/dp/B00AK98ELI) that was ranked as one of the Top 10 Leadership Books of the Year – 2013 by San Diego University. His award-winning bookSuccess Tools for CEO Coaches: Be a Learner, Leader, and Ladder,” is the Community Award Winner for 2014 by Small Business Trends (http://bookawards.smallbiztrends.com/management-2014/success-tools-for-ceo-coaches-8/). His award-winning book, “Smart Leadership: Lessons for Leaders”  (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D9S8SCW) has been published as a Spanish language e-book. His vision is to build 1 million students as global leaders by 2030 (http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.in). He has been honored as an upcoming International Leadership Guru by Leadership Gurus International (http://www.globalgurus.org/leadership/upcoming.php) and listed as one of the leading achievers around the world in Marquis Who’s Who in the World in 2013. He serves as an advisor and judge for several international organizations, including Global Leadership Awards, Malaysia. He received the International Coach of the Year 2013 Award from Comprehensive Coaching U, Inc. http://www.terrilevine.com/coachoftheyear/winners.html Professor Rao coined an innovative teaching tool called Meka’s Method; a leadership teaching tool, 11E Leadership Grid; and a new leadership tool called Soft Leadership Grid, based on his new leadership style, “Soft Leadership” copyrighted with Jossey Bass. He led a Webinar on Soft leadership organized by International Leadership Association (http://www.ila-net.org/Webinars/Archive/Rao082012.html). A No.1 ranked speaker in India, reviews can be found at: http://speakerpedia.com/speakers/professor-msrao. Books can be found at: www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A16SKI0396UBRP. Most of his work is available free of charge in his three blogs http://profmsr.blogspot.com http://professormsrao.blogspot.com and http://professormsraoguru.blogspot.com Contact him via e-mail at msrlctrg@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @professormsrao.

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