Taking the Hard Line on Soft Skills

Published  4 MIN READ

There could be an instinctive leader within your team, but they may never reach their true potential if they lack soft skills. Here, Samantha Caine, Managing Director, Business Linked Teams, reveals the best way to help rising stars acquire them.

We have all come across such people – brilliant engineers, target-busting sales wizards, awe-inspiring CFOs and CEOs. They leave many of us struggling in their slipstream – yet it is often apparent that, for all their abilities and accolades, there is ‘something’ missing

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a leadership position – this is certainly true in the world of corporate treasury. Yet having an aptitude for these technical skills, or hard skills as they are often called, cannot alone signify great leadership potential. That ‘something’ these exceptional people very often lack is a well-developed set of soft skills.

In fact, there are millions of leaders globally who know what they want to achieve yet can’t communicate properly with their staff. They have an idea as to what they want to say, but never quite manage to get their message across. It is left to their departmental managers to figure it out – often with expensive consequences.

It is vital that leaders are able to interact with other people effectively using soft skills such as:

  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Adaptability

Fortunately, this need to identify future leaders in all fields of commerce is being recognised. A 2018 study by Business Linked Teams (BLT) focusing on internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As increasing numbers of companies begin to invest in leadership development within their staff, more effort must be made to ensure the right soft skills are in place.

A balanced learning journey

Some people are born with a good set of soft skills and others either need help to develop theirs, or would benefit from some training. One of the best ways to do this is through training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses will create their own talent pools of people who will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. But this process requires honesty – staff will have to acknowledge the gaps in their skill sets and work towards filling them.

And there are no short cuts, unfortunately! Self-study through e-learning will go only go so far. Although some activities can be completed by people working alone online, this one-size-fits-all solution is a mistake. Blended learning with self-study and group activities, where people can share experiences and support each other, is far more valuable and effective.

How much can people really learn about empathy and adaptability while sitting on their own, ticking boxes on a screen? Blended learning includes virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations.

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self.

Companies combining this varied input with training groups, where staff interact with each other and swap experiences, will see how a workforce with strong soft skills can improve an enterprise’s all-round resilience.

Future-proofing treasury talent

Moreover, once those soft skills are embedded throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing right under its roof. Nurturing and encouraging ‘home-grown’ leaders will pay dividends in terms of having a pool of suitable candidates within the company from which to recruit.

The BLT leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision-makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Obviously, today’s leaders at the helm of businesses ranging from SMEs to multinational empires will not be in post forever.

HR departments have to be realistic: people die, people retire, people leave companies for personal reasons. It is imperative that businesses prepare for all scenarios and have properly trained and experienced personnel ready to step up into new roles without output suffering.

The same goes for corporate treasury departments – treasurers can be tough to replace. And even though interim treasurers often do a sterling job, it isn’t the same as having a home-grown second in command who can step into the breach at a moment’s notice.

An organisation which has offered soft-skills training courses – or invested in people who are naturally armed with soft skills – will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions, and improved transparency. Opportunities for miscommunication will be reduced and this has the potential to transform the culture of a department. This, in turn, should help improve employee satisfaction and reduce staff turnover.

So, in a business world that has never been more competitive, investing in soft skills can provide a strategic edge for leaders and employees alike – and have a concrete impact on the bottom line.