Many business leaders dedicate years to pursuing advanced skills that will prepare them for careers in management and beyond. Executives have relied on hard skills like accounting, finance and logistics for generations, and additional skills like information technology and data analysis are becoming more essential for executives, who are becoming increasingly reliant on digital tools for strategic decision-making.
Managers need hard skills to thrive in their leadership roles — but they also need a number of soft skills to excel as business leaders. Soft skills tend to include the attitude and behaviors one exhibits in one’s interaction with others; communication and listening, time management, empathy and other elements affect a leader’s ability to find success in the workplace environment. While formal education is effective at imparting hard skills in students, soft skills can be more difficult for aspiring business leaders to acquire. For those business leaders looking to sharpen their soft skills, the following tips and tricks might be of use:
Engage in Realistic Self-reflection
The first step toward gaining beneficial soft skills is honestly and accurately identifying which soft skills one needs to work on. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses; some struggle with technical skills like coding or statistics, and others do not find open communication to be easy. Both types of skills are necessary for effective functioning in the workplace, and both warrant practice to improve.
Business leaders need to spend some time reflecting on the soft skills they struggle the most with — and which could have a positive impact on their career trajectory. It is important to avoid moral self-judgment related to soft skill strengths and weaknesses and instead focus on the facts. If leaders are finding it challenging to identify soft skills to practice and improve, they might discuss the issue with people they trust, like work colleagues and family members. Ultimately, the goal is for a leader to determine which soft skills are wanting more practice to improve professional performance.
Find Courses Dedicated to Soft Skills
While soft skills tend to feel intangible and subjective, it is possible to learn and improve soft skills through formal education. There are plenty of short courses, like product management, that business professionals and leaders can take to practice their soft skills under the guidance of an experienced instructor. These courses explain why specific soft skills matter and how to continue practicing them once the course concludes. Business leaders might gain the most benefit from leadership courses taught by world-renowned professors.
Observe Interactions in the Workplace
Watching and listening are some of the best ways to gain information and skill. Those eager to improve their soft skills should pay attention to various types of interactions in their workplace, which can provide valuable insight into people’s differences. For example, through observation a leader might learn how certain employees prefer to be recognized for their contributions to team successes, which will help a leader improve soft skills like teamwork and communication. For another example, a leader might see fellow leaders making a variety of mistakes in how they motivate their team, which will help the leader develop their conflict management and emotional intelligence skills. Practice does not have to be active, especially when it comes to soft skills, which benefit so greatly from observation and reflection.
Ask for Feedback on Certain Skills
With soft skills, it can be difficult to determine whether or not one is making any improvement. Thus, leaders need to find ways to ask for feedback on their performance from colleagues and friends. Leaders who benefit from a mentor-mentee relationship can rely heavily on feedback from their coach, who should provide constructive criticism on the soft skills a leader is striving to improve. A leader might also turn to peers, like fellow managers whose opinions they trust, to ask about how they perceive the leader’s soft skills and whether they can recommend a plan for improvement. Perhaps most importantly, leaders need to be grateful for the feedback they receive and use that feedback to alter their practice and gain the soft skills they desire.
Gaining soft skills is not a comfortable endeavor. Leaders will likely feel awkward as they attempt to apply new knowledge and skill into their workplace routines. However, with practice comes mastery, and before long, leaders will be able to add powerful soft skills to their career qualifications.