Hard skills enable an individual to complete a task. Soft skills enable an individual to complete a task through others.
Most foremen, supervisors, and front-line managers are promoted to leadership positions within their organization. Most bring with them a demonstrated proficiency in hard skills. Strong technical skills and above-average performance open doors and opportunities across all sectors. Promotion, however, is seldom supported with adequate preparation. The truth is, the skills responsible for success as an individual contributor share little in common with those required for success as a manager. Soft skills for supervisors and managers are seldom provided and are what matters most.
Circumstances throughout life generally fall into one of three categories. First, there are those things that are exclusively within our control. What time you get up each morning is an example of something you can control. Second, there are those things over which we have no control. Rain on the day of a long-planned birthday party is something you must accept. Finally, there are things over which we don’t have control, but we can impact. It’s this third category that’s often problematic for mid and front-line managers. It’s also where soft skills are most fitting and valuable.
Humility. Be humble, admit mistakes, seek input, involve others, and give your undivided attention to employees when interacting with them.
Consistency. Be dependable, predictable, unwavering, and fair. Employees should know where they stand and what to expect.
Honesty. Be trustworthy, credible, and have integrity. Actions speak louder than words, and what takes years to gain can be lost in a moment.
Encouraging. Routinely recognize behaviors that are above and beyond. Show appreciation for those things you value most. Provide opportunities to take on more responsibilities (for those capable of doing so).
Supportive. Provide clear direction, verify understanding, and offer ongoing feedback. Make available personal and professional development opportunities.
Approachable. Be warm, inviting, and open to new ideas. Respect those with differing views and look for common ground where it may not readily be apparent.
Engaging. Show genuine interest, care, and concern to establish rapport. Get to know what matters most to each employee and open up to others about yourself.
Narrow your focus on one or two things you would like to do. Chances are, you have some idea already of areas where improvement opportunities exist. If not, don’t be afraid to ask for input from others.
Commit to making improvements – not achieving perfection. The biggest hurdle to progress is perfection. Don’t shoot for the stars. Just try to get better.
Schedule reminders. What gets measured, gets done. Whatever you commit to doing, build it into your daily schedule and hold yourself accountable for doing it.
Seek support. Change is hard. Most of our behaviors occur automatically. Developing new habits to replace old ones can take up to two months or more. Get an accountability partner to help see you through this period.
Ask for feedback. Few things are more motivating than encouraging words along the way. Ask for feedback on areas you are trying to improve. If you receive input that adjustments are needed, be open to making them. While your actions may be obvious, opinions take time to change. Be patient and see it through.
Celebrate victories / progress. Progress is the ultimate goal, and gains should be both held and celebrated. The process of developing soft skills, however, is never done. Once you develop and consistently demonstrate one soft skill, move on to another.