engaging leadership, employee engagement, occupational psychologist, occupational psychology consultancy, leadership development

Nigel McPolin
Organisational Psychologist, etimes2 ltd

Having recently established my on-line Engaging Leadership Academy committed to removing time, budget and logistical barriers to soft skills development for all leaders, LinkedIn’s publication of the 2018 Workplace Learning Report is both timely and reaffirming.  Soft skills in leadership is a growing need in the workplace.


I was aware from my work with clients that it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to find the time to learn.  Just earlier this week, I had written a LinkedIn Pulse article on “The Most Common Barriers to Effective Leadership Development”.  I had focused on the time, budget and logistical barriers with a plan to consider the importance of soft skills in Leadership in today’s blog post along with some attitudinal barriers.  So, it is nice to be able to lean on the LinkedIn report for support.


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Soft Skills in Leadership:  Attitudinal Barriers

Two key attitudinal barriers to effective soft skills development in modern organisations are:


  1. Priority on technical skills

A recent participant on my 5 Day Engaging Leadership Challenge (free email challenges), contacted me to say how much he enjoyed the opportunity to develop his soft skills and to be able to apply these in his team.  He spoke about noticing the impact after only 5 days of developing soft skills.  This guy is a senior figure in a multinational and very modern organisation.


He explained that his company is much more focused on the development of technical skills, not the soft skills that keep people productive and customers happy.  Business owners are more focused on ensuring that their employees and managers keep up to speed with rapidly development techniques and technology to do their jobs.  It is easy to see why this focus exists.


  1. Time for learning

This is one of my common barriers but it is also an attitudinal barrier that permeates whole organisations.  It is not solely about businesses not wanting people spending time on training courses when they could be productively working in the business.


It is also a problem with most employees.  A fact backed up by LinkedIn’s report.  94% of employees report that they would stay longer with their company if it invested in their career development.  However, getting employees to make time for learning is the “#1 challenge facing talent development in 2018”.


People want developed.  But they are not making time for it in their jobs.  It appears that they (56% of respondents) are waiting to be directed to undertake specific courses by their managers.


This is a huge problem.  Managers are busy and can’t specify exact learning for employees.  As part of the employee engagement process, managers need to encourage each employee to share this responsibility and identify training they need.  Especially soft skills training.


So, why are soft skills so important?  And, why should businesses seek to overcome the barriers preventing the development of soft skills in their organisations?

Soft Skills in Leadership: 6 Reasons Why They Are Crucial

Businesses are coming to realise that the best leaders have a mix of the much lauded traditional business skills of objectivity and toughness with soft skills such as communication, critical thinking and empathy.  Great leaders will be able to balance the skills required to ‘close the deal’ with looking after and caring for the people that make it all happen.


  1. Leaders need to be aware of their own strengths

Leaders need to be aware of their own strengths, so they can leverage these to engage their team members.  Self-awareness is a wonderful thing.  When leaders are self-aware and confident, they can also leverage their weaknesses for the development and recognition of team members who possess the skills the leader lacks.


  1. Work is all about relationships

The workplace is one big network where relationship building is crucial to both the success of the business and the long term career of the leader.  Nurturing relationships will often require leaders to set aside the business need for objectivity and replace it with empathy.


  1. The march of technology

Technology and automation is on the march.  As we come to rely more on technology those soft skills including communication, critical thinking, problem solving and relationship building are the skills needed most by businesses.


  1. Dynamism and flexibility are key

Companies need to be more dynamic, flexible and interconnected than ever before.  It is very difficult to achieve this with leaders who lack well-developed soft skills.  Leaders need to lead rapid change as companies push to keep up with technology and markets.  Soft skills makes this much more achievable.


  1. Talent retention

94% of employees want their careers developed by their current employer, according to the LinkedIn report.  Leaders with good soft skills will know their team members better and get to know the development they need.  Leaders with good soft skills will encourage their team members to undertake development – remember 56% are waiting to be directed by their manager.


  1. Learn at the point of need

There is a growing preference in today’s workplace to learn at the point of need.  This is a risky practice for soft skills.  Learning at the point of need may be fine for a lot of technical issues e.g. watch a YouTube video to learn how to carry out a particular task or find the instructions on-line.  Soft-skills, on the other hand, need time and practice to develop, evolve and perfect.

Soft Skills in Leadership: Conclusions

One thing is clear.  Leaders who take the time and effort to develop and hone their soft skills over time are going to be in demand in the workplace.  Soft skills in leadership are becoming rare and are sought after.  Soft skill development is best done in small amounts over a prolonged period.  Leaders who do this will reap the reward.

Do you want to run the risk of only possessing the technical skills but less people leading abilities?

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