Soft Skills More Important Than Ever

We live in exciting times, following a global pandemic, we are seeing major social upheaval and a heightened awareness of improving diversity and inclusion. There is also the shifting in the global order of leadership and a highly charged, in some cases, divisive views that seem almost impossible to bridge. Soft skills like communication, emotional intelligence, critical listening, and conflict resolution are more important now than ever before. They are not soft skills; they are essential leadership skills.

More and more business leaders are looking beyond the shareholder to a more balanced view that includes expanded stakeholders, including clients, employees, suppliers, board members, communities, and the environment.

There has been significant research done on the dangers of confirmation bias impacting leaders’ decisions. Our challenge now is to build diverse teams that listen to all voices. Different thinking is an opportunity for organizations, and studies have shown it impacts engagement of all stakeholders and improves the bottom line.

Recently LinkedIn published their fourth annual workplace learning report. You can download here It is an interesting read given the times that we are in and reinforces the need for diverse, decisive, principled leadership. When reading, you see the power and leverage created by aligning an inspired vision to an engaged, diverse workforce.

As companies evolve their leadership development strategies, it is worth summarizing some key points from the workplace performance report published by LinkedIn. Five areas stood out: 1) CEOs believe that upskilling is more critical today. 2) Investment in development programs is growing. 3) Executive engagement in leadership programs needs to increase. 4) Results achievement for continued investment in development programs. 5) Soft skills development is critical.

Today, given everything going on in the world and business, our leaders need to be highly effective at communication combined with emotional intelligence. Soft Skills!

The LinkedIn workplace learning report indicates how soft skills reign supreme as a development objective. I do not particularly like the term soft skills; essential skills are more appropriate. The top three areas highlighted in the report were leadership development, problem-solving, and communication.

From experience in working with clients, a gap in any of these three areas can lead to a poor performing culture and, ultimately, an organization that is not evolving and growing. The next level of essential leadership skills highlighted in the report is creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence.

Soft skills no, essential leadership skills, yes. They are the most critical and research on emotional intelligence; EQ has proven that it is even more important than IQ in advancing organizations. Jay Hall conducted a broad study of over 16000 executives and concluded a direct correlation between achievement and the ability to care for and connect with people. Hall’s research revealed that top executives care about people as well as shareholder results. They also seek input from those who report to them as well as truly listen and act on it.

Leaders cannot be successful today without these essential leadership skills. Especially when all leaders need to build a diverse team where different views need to be heard and celebrated while achieving alignment and executing on decisions.

How is your team?

In Ridley Scott’s epic movie, The Gladiator, the main character Maximus had the respect of the Roman Emperor and his entire army. After the opening battle between the Roman army and the Germanic tribes, Maximus worked his way through his embattled troops engaging, saying hello thanking them for their heroic efforts on the battlefield. Connecting with his people, and, most importantly, staying close to the measure of morale. The simplicity of Maximus’ efforts to engage after battle, was one of the reasons he was indeed a great leader.

Much of our working hours in the last few months, were spent remotely, virtually leading the business. Top officers now more than ever before have to engage and help heal the scars that undoubtedly have occurred over the last few months—layoffs, declining revenues, inconsistent client engagement. Your team has been through a battle.

Simplicity and focus are the mark of a great leader. Helping your team adopt these two core principles during and after the time of crisis is imperative. According to a ten-year study, the CEO Genome Project, there are four behaviors of successful top officers. They are deciding with speed and conviction, engaging for impact, adaptability, and delivery. 

Engaging for impact is a balance between connecting with your team and your team connecting with you. Your tone and body language when delivering communications, according to the genome project, will have a profound impact on emotional contagion with your people. 

The art of engagement in a time of healing is in the leader’s ability to build trust, and welcome open debate. Something went wrong; we need to do better. Now more than ever, your workplace requires innovation to be successful on the other side. Innovation and change accelerate when an open discussion is encouraged. The top officer’s ability to connect, engage, and welcome feedback, will get your team on the path to having success in the new normal.

How do you foster accessibility and engagement? In this new virtual world, which will be the new normal, how do you connect? Being accessible and available to engage and welcome feedback in our new virtual world can be a challenge. This accessibility needs to be done often and at all levels. The exciting thing about our technology today is that it is possible through several platforms. We recommended that you move your communications from just phone calls and emails to regular video meetings to establish face-to-face engagement. Your team can see how you are feeling, and you can see how they are feeling.

So, schedule as many Google hangouts, Zoom sessions, Microsoft team calls that are required for you to establish complete and total two-way communication (audio and video). Remember, this is the new normal, so set your rhythm. Keep your pulse on morale and ask for ideas, views, and opinions. Engage, engage, engage. Innovate your path to the other side.

The simplicity of great leadership often starts with a walk among the troops. Maximus’s path brought him on an unpredictable journey from general to slave with his legions remaining loyal. In 2020, our current journey also has many twists and turns. Keep it simple, engage with your people and success and innovation will be your new follower.

What Big Brothers Can Learn From Their Little Brother

Written by Steve Leslie

My big brother used to beat me up from the time I was eight until fifteen. He claimed then, and still claims now, that he was trying to toughen me up, and prepare me for the world. But one day, the weekly beat ups changed, physics had caught up for me. My big brother learned a lesson that day; he learned that little brothers could get big!

We see the same thing in the business world. In this world of start-ups and scale-ups, the “small guys” often dominate markets by changing the rules of businesses. They are starting to have a significant impact on the innovation that is taking place in the robotics, artificial intelligence, and software automation industry. These once small companies are now getting big and beating the big guys at their own game. 

During my coaching and leadership career, I’ve taken the lessons learned from the insides of both large multinational companies and scale-up businesses and helped combine that knowledge to bring it to my clients. My career has been dedicated to helping shape company culture, align leaders, and develop people in this most effective ways possible. 

Because of my unique position, I have seen the difference between the big company and the scale-up. As industry disruption and innovation runs rampant, I’ve taken note of what those organizations should apply to their culture and approach to business. Here are the lessons I’ve learned. 

Don’t Be So Functionally Aligned

Functional alignment and expertise drive efficiency, but often it leads to silo thinking. By this, it means that you are splitting up the work and arranging by the function of the process. A silo mentality is when people are reluctant to share information with employees within their own company. As silo thinking begins to take over a company, it can lead to increased efficiency; however, it hurts innovation. And can even damage culture. 

Most businesses would all agree that they want to have a more collaborative vision and be able to communicate better. You don’t need to have an MBA to realize that with better communication and collaboration, the more financial returns your company will see. However, stepping away from those historical structures can be hard because the loss of control and departure from the familiar is painful for some. 

Start-ups and scale-ups can reach across the functions to generate and solutions. Instead of sitting on the ideas, waiting for approval, or pieces of the puzzle from other divisions, they can act quickly. If you are a large organization, you should do everything you can to remove functional silos. Try to encourage cross-functional teams and state a clear understanding of the ultimate goal of the company, to drive innovation.

The Best Idea Can Come From Anywhere 

Unfortunately, large organizations will rely solely on the vacuum of communication within a specific group of leaders and levels in the company. Ideas might be coming from just a few people instead of the whole organization. When a lower-level employee does have an idea, it might not even make it up to the decision-makers or is not encouraged. 

Small companies are different from these giants because they are often not biased towards ideas. They will encourage any employee to come up with ideas that drive innovation and lead to success. Start-ups that do find success will often have tried and failed many times. They use that failure to build something better than they had before. Big organizations are usually the exact opposite and reward their employees for taking the limited risk, rather than take a chance on something that has the potential to fail, but a higher reward if it doesn’t. Instead, they should start listening to every voice, regardless of level. 

Be Agile With Your Culture & Values

No matter how many new people you hire, it can’t change the culture of the workplace if the company doesn’t focus on keeping them long-term. Large organizations find it very tough to evolve their work environment or modify values in the face of market changes. 

Businesses that encourage an open exchange of ideas are in the best situation to attract new and talented individuals. Large companies should focus on creating educational opportunities for their employees to help them learn and foster a positive workplace environment. Showing that they care about their employees and are willing to invest in them, can go a long way. 

Being able to talk about values, and in some cases, changing values, to reflect the current realities of the business is a healthy way always to ensure you have a culture that is young, fresh, evolving, and performing at a high level.

Innovate At All Costs

Small companies excel at having a can-do attitude. They tend to be inspired by new ideas, markets, and opportunities. However, too often, big companies get into this mode of killing ideas, playing devil’s advocate, and never letting any different type of thinking get momentum. Instead, they should embrace new ideas by creating an environment that welcomes them. 

Large companies should have parts of their businesses that work like start-ups and allow their employees to fail. Try new things, and in team meetings, these employees can then share what worked and didn’t work for them. Creating agile parts of the business can start to fuel innovation. 

Most importantly, big companies must put a process in place to ensure that new ideas are allowed to be heard by the right people. Create chances for your workers to fail without penalty so that the learnings transition to the new business opportunity.

By remembering these four tips, maybe you can stop your little brother from one day teaching you a lesson to toughen you up. 

Embracing Those Dreaded Tough Conversations

By Steve Leslie

All leaders have to have a tough conversation at least once (but likely more!) in their career. Regardless of whether it is disciplining poor performance, firing someone, or telling an employee that they won’t be getting a raise, it is never easy to have these conversations. It might be more comfortable to put off these talks, or avoid the person, hoping that the issue will resolve itself.

Why do we run from conflict? In one word, safety.

As a leadership development coach, I’ve had the opportunity to help my clients overcome their areas of frustration. Two of the biggest areas they tend to struggle with is building a culture of accountability and having tough conversations. Both of these issues have to do with the same thing: conflict! Having those tough talks and then establishing responsibility all are necessary for a productive and healthy workplace. One cannot exist without the other.

While very few of us enjoy conflict in the workplace, we seem to avoid having them as often as possible. Unfortunately, we often convince ourselves that the pain of not having that hard conversation will be less than the pain of actually having it. But what exactly is holding us back? It’s the fear of the unexpected. We don’t know how others will react when we do bring up something unpleasant but necessary. Will people dislike me? Will things escalate to a terrifying degree? Will it create an unbearable work environment? The fear of the unknown is what stops us from venturing into that uncertain environment of hard conversations.

Personally, managing conflict was nerve-wracking. Any sign of it, my heart would begin to race. I would stress the entire day about a discussion I would have to have later, and I would become nervous and vulnerable. That feeling of fight or flight mentality took over my primitive brain.

However, instead of just continuing to stutter through a hard meeting, I looked at my motivations for trying to avoid conflict and the effect that it was having on my team. I realized that accountability, or the willingness to accept full responsibility, was driven by three key things 1) alignment in values to build trust 2) my own personal leadership 3) embracing coaching and having tough conversations.

The good news is that with practice, you can master this skill. Embrace that fear of conflict! You should view it as a challenge or an opportunity for growth, instead of an obligation or something to dread. Here is how to prepare to engage in conflict in a way that keeps both parties accountable and the work environment positive.

1. Change Your Mindset

To truly turn conflict from an obligation to an opportunity, you need to switch up your mindset. Try to reframe the discussion into a more positive one. For instance, if you need to give negative feedback to an employee, redefine it as a constructive conversation about growth and development. If you have to turn down a promotion or project, instead, think of it as offering an alternative solution to your boss. Instead of labeling it as a difficult dialogue, think of it as a normal conversation to make it easier for you.

2. Plan What You Want To Say

Prepare questions in advance of what you want to say. Jot down a few notes, but don’t worry about writing down what you want to say word for word. Keep the key points that you want to mention, but be prepared if the conversation doesn’t go exactly as you plan. You should be flexible in the discussion, and be open to creating a dialogue. Creating a few questions beforehand can be a great way to do this. This can lead the way to a productive two-way dialogue that helps to move along the discussion. Having a loose plan of what you want to say can keep you from becoming flustered, while keeping your temper and helping you to deliver harsh feedback.

3. Remember The Power Of WE And US

During the discussion, avoid the word “YOU.” Instead, create a more collaborative and engaging environment with the words “WE” and “US.” For example, asking, “how can we improve performance in this area?”

Throughout the dialogue, you might gain insight into why something has occurred. Perhaps there is a technical issue that is holding an employee back, or extra training is needed. Or, perhaps there is a personal issue that is affecting their work. By building this environment of opening and accountability, it helps to fit the needs of the employees better.

4. Summarize And Agree On The Next Steps

Make sure that you and the employee are on the same page regarding expectations and consequences. That way, it is much easier for you to have tough conversations in the future because employees already know what it is expected of them to perform well and stay motivated. Take notes either during or after the meeting so things are clear and fresh in your mind.

If you are finding an employee struggling with a consistent lack of accountability at work, it might be time to create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) goals. It provides transparent communication between the two parties and leaves little to the imagination.

5. Follow Up

Once you’ve had that tough talk, it is important to keep the environment of accountability going. It can help solve any small issues before they become full-blown problems. Once the employee has had time to digest the conversation and incorporate any feedback you might have had, it can be helpful to see if they are performing as expected. Make sure to praise them as they are doing things right and focus on the positives. If appropriate put it in writing!

Having those tough conversations is just one element to building a highly accountable environment. We will discuss alignment in values and personal leadership in a future post.

Next time, when you face conflict in the workplace, you will be ready to embrace it. Plan for it to help build a safe and trusting environment for your team.

Want That Next Big Job? Get Really Good at These 6 Things

By Steve Leslie

In today’s fast-paced business world, professional development is about pushing your professional growth to the point of uncomfortableness. Creating growing pains as you push your mental capacity, and sometimes even your physical ability is the ultimate catalyst of growth.

Often, success is dependent on your personal growth and your ability to create your own development program. Too often, young leaders become frustrated at not advancing in the job at the rate and speed that keeps them challenged. However, if you want that next big job, you have to do more than just ask for it.

Ultimately, it is up to you to conduct yourself in a way that shows you are ready to take on the challenges of a new job position if it should open up. By demonstrating those abilities and work ethic to the right people, you can move up the career ladder more quickly. Here are six things you should do to position yourself for the next steps in your career.

1.Do a Great Job and Expand Your Strategic Thinking
I know this goes without saying, but your performance in your current role has a lot to do with how others will view you for that next promotion. Specifically, your ability to execute and think strategically. Demonstrate your ability to see the big picture while achieving targets. Ensure you understand your objectives, and you are getting feedback on your progress. Be open to new challenges and new projects. This is often a great sign that the organization has faith in you and sees the significant runway in your potential.

2. Be A Team Player
Employers tend not to like the workers who have an “I” mentality over a “we” mentality. Future leaders need to bring people together and create intellectual leverage through high emotional intelligence skills. To position yourself for a promotion, you should be the one who volunteers yourself before being asked because it shows you will put in the extra effort. Meanwhile, your ability to get along with others and work together as a team builds invaluable skills and helps you and others to innovate at a higher level.

3. Ask for Feedback and Communicate
First, you should figure out what you want from your future career. Is there a specific position you want, or do you want to create your own role? Do you want more managerial responsibility? Once you decide what you want, ask for a specific meeting with your boss to talk about career development. Tell your boss what your long-term career goals are and ask for advice on how to best reach them. Keeping your plans to yourself helps no one. By communicating your goals, your boss can help prepare you for new roles in the future.

As you speak with your manager, don’t be shy about telling her that you are eager to take on any unique opportunities that allow you to grow professionally. If you are willing to move or ready to take on a new project, communicate this as well. If leadership knows this, they will keep it in mind in their people planning sessions as well as considering you for that next promotion.

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to solicit advice and feedback from your manager. Figure out what your strengths and weakness are and then work that information to your advantage. Your boss will appreciate that you are taking the feedback and constructively growing as an employee.

4. Be Authentic and Execute
Researchers at Oregon State University’s College of Business found that brown nosing might improve your relationship with management, but it can also lead to detrimental behavior and decreased relationships with colleagues. Because of the increased time you might spend getting on your bosses’ good side, you might end up slacking off at your job. When you spend too much energy kissing up to your boss, you tend to lose your authenticity and it harms your productivity.

5. Don’t Play Politics
This tip goes hand in hand with don’t be a suck-up, but it should be a strategy that you use very carefully. However, backbiting, currying favor, misstating other’s positions, and making accusations based on faulty information is not the type of office politics you should engage in at the workplace. Almost every office has some form of politics in play, and it is nearly impossible to avoid them.

Instead, you should practice workplace diplomacy. This type of strategy can help you to navigate tricky situations at work and stay true to your morals and values. To position yourself for the next big job, you should establish yourself as a team player and try to support your coworkers.

6. Be Patient And Have Fun
The cycles of business can sometimes have intense peaks and valleys. However, your ability to demonstrate that you can survive and thrive during tough times shows everyone you have the resilience and fortitude to handle more responsibilities. After all, it is often said that when things are going well, you don’t learn as much, but when things are going poorly, sometimes you learned more than you ever anticipated. When the times are good, have fun, enjoy it, and remember that the next bump, or learning experience, is just down the road.

Until that day comes, enjoy the ride! Focus on the long-term and build strong, productive relationships with your colleagues. Remember, your career is a marathon, not a sprint. By asking for feedback, being a team player, and thinking strategically, you can position yourself well for future success.