It’s a shame that “soft skills” are called just that. In the driven and goal-oriented world of business, soft skills might give the impression that they rank secondary to more measurable “hard” or technical skills — from marketing and project management to analytics and web design.
Yes, hard skills get the job done. But soft skills get the job done well. Despite their name, soft skills can be hard to implement if not done thoughtfully and consciously. Yet when a manager dedicates themselves to prioritizing them, these less quantifiable, but essential skills make all the difference in creating a humane, highly functional, and healthy workplace. Good people leaders know that soft skills are the secret sauce for empowering successful teams.
Teams that have managers with high emotional intelligence — the trait under which many important soft skills fall — are more likely to feel a personal and strong positive connection to their organization. They feel genuinely motivated to be part of a company’s mission because they feel they are essential contributors.
As a people leader in an organization that offers thousands of courses in soft skills, I believe in the power of defining and refining the ones most needed at any given moment, depending on the changing times. As we are moving out of crisis mode and into creating something unfamiliar and new — a hybrid model that blends virtual and in-person work — I have identified five essential soft skills for every manager to have in their toolkit.
1. Coaching Employees are looking for mentorship and coaching today more than ever. On a monthly basis, our Udemy Business team analyzes and releases the skills that employees are learning across our enterprise customers, and last month we witnessed a 288% increase in consumption of coaching skills. Similarly, career coaching and executive coaching courses were surging over 50% in consumption.
In response to why Coaching is currently the most in-demand soft skill, Udemy coaching and leadership instructor Marie Deveaux, says “The workplace today requires emotionally intelligent people managers who can effectively coach and develop their staff. Coaching is one of the few skills that focuses on self-awareness as its anchor and prioritizes active listening, non-judgmental reflection, and psychological safety in order to be most effective — all things that workers have been craving after 18 months in a global pandemic.”
For managers and individuals alike who are refining their coaching skills, Marie recommends taking a course on the topic or getting a coach themselves. She explains that the best coaches are those who have been coached by others and have had the chance to experience their own self-awareness journey.
2. Empathy Personal empathy builds trust between managers and employees. Team members who feel seen and supported by business leaders who genuinely care about their well-being and individual needs, respond in kind by caring about, and trusting their organization. Fostering this kind of work environment is invaluable.
Creating a culture of empathy in an organization is always important. But empathy from managers is needed now more than ever as we emerge from a year when everyone’s lives were turned upside down. It’s essential for managers to understand that every employee has unique challenges and circumstances that need to be addressed on an individual basis. I always stress to managers that empathy isn’t just a “nice to have” bonus.
As hybrid work is shifting into various iterations, managers must do their best to be more compassionate than ever. After all, the new work landscape will demand that each employee makes dramatic and, for some, difficult changes in how they arrange their lives to accommodate work. Being willing to listen to and genuinely consider your team members’ concerns, worries, and insights won’t lead to solving all their problems. But in being empathetic to what they’re experiencing, you’re laying the groundwork for a more positive and open work environment.
3. Growth Mindset As opposed to a “fixed” mindset, a growth mindset, whether in an individual or an organization, sets the foundation for fearless change and evolution. Part of the “fail faster” culture is deeply rooted in embracing a growth mindset, now accepted as one of the crown jewels of today’s most important soft skills.
For a manager overseeing a team during this era known as “the Great Re-Entry,” a growth mindset allows for mistakes to be made, all in the spirit of figuring out how to work in a new and better way. If there has ever been a time to be comfortable with sometimes uncomfortable change, it is now. There’s no better recipe for creating long-term failure than being set in a “we always did it this way” mentality. Be willing to let go of once successful ways of managing a team and embrace a mindset that spurs continuous growth and innovation.
4. Communication The shift to virtual and remote working in the past year and a half has created a critical need for clear communication. Workplace misunderstandings typically arise from a lack of face-to-face contact and listening is now a core skill needed when other situational clues, like body language or eye contact, have been removed. Good communication that allows for and invites transparency, vulnerability, and honesty unites a team and organization together in a powerful way.
Managers shouldn’t assume they are good communicators or that it’s not a skill to be learned. It absolutely is. Managers need to communicate clearly and constructively so employees are clear about team and company goals. But stellar communication isn’t only about speaking clearly. It’s about actively listening to your team members.
Although we’re focusing on communication challenges in connection with the current crisis, developing remote communication skills and setting up systems now will also help managers and employees in the future, as more teams go remote and more companies increase their global footprint. In fact, 70% of leaders believe that at least a quarter of their staff will shift to full-time remote work after COVID-19.
5. Inclusion There has never been a brighter and much-needed spotlight on inclusion in the workplace than now. At long last, more and more people are feeling empowered to speak up about ways they feel sidelined at work. Discussion about inequities because of race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, and more are coming out in the open. There are also other ways employees might feel excluded: people who have to work remotely for whatever reason might feel they are being left out of important discussions that happen only in person. Or caretakers who have young children or elderly relatives might feel that they can’t participate in the company culture that happens at team-building events outside of working hours.
Managers committed to inclusion, as every manager should be, must always be working to create space for every member of their team to belong. They should be intentional about creating a culture of allyship that is a physically and psychologically safe place to work. Ideally, their organization is thinking far beyond filling quotas and genuinely working to create a broad and diverse workplace founded on a culture of belonging.
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