Soft Skills are Hard

Tuesday, September 6 2022

A discussion with clients about soft skills commonly begins, “He’s great except (undesirable behaviour).” These employees are skilled but display negative behaviour, perhaps a bad attitude, difficulties dealing with others, or chronic tardiness.

The conversation typically continues:

  • “Nothing is technically wrong.”
  • “How do I critique a personality trait?”
  • “They might not work as hard if I correct them.”

Good News and Bad News

These situations are examples of “soft skills.” The bad news is that leadership soft skills are hard: the good news is that they’re not impossible. And, if they’re dealt with properly they can dramatically improve your results, so let’s dig into each of these statements to find out what’s really going on.

Nothing is Technically Wrong

Deep down the leader knows something is wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t have brought it up for discussion, but they’re having a difficult time clarifying the unmet expectation. Often our job descriptions and development discussions include only the technical requirements needed to perform the work, while cultural and behavioural expectations may be unwritten.

If you haven’t yet:

  • Write down the behaviours that you expect in your organization.
  • Share them with your team.
  • Start talking about them…a lot.

As a leader you have the right and responsibility to set the vision for the organization’s culture.

How Do I Critique a Personality Trait?

Personality is defined by the American Psychological Association as individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. What we want to focus on is “patterns of behaving.” Our behaviours determine our results, so to implement changes or improve results, we must modify our patterns of behaviour. Keep this in mind: you’re not critiquing personality, you are helping someone improve their results, which is one of a leader’s key roles.

They Might Not Work as Hard if I Correct Them

This is the worst! Nothing is more demotivating than watching a leader tolerate poor behaviour, and such acceptance, even from “good” employees, will usually go one of two ways:

  1. Everyone else observes that it is okay to act this way.
  2. People become angry and unmotivated.

Either way, productivity decreases, therefore address issues in a timely fashion using clear, non-accusatory language; it can improve trust and productivity for everyone.

While leadership soft skills may be hard, they’re critical to your organization’s success. Undertake training, practice the skills that you’ve learned, and watch your results improve.