soft skillsI gave a presentation at a conference a little while ago about the changes we’ve seen in management and where leaders are heading – to a place where innovation, teamwork and collaboration are king and great results are delivered through developing a high performance culture and people. It was accepted that this was a good vision, but a few comments were made about the fact that there is still a time and a place for ‘old school’ management – tough, dictatorial types who get results through control rather than influence. When I questioned this, it was stated that ‘when the going gets tough, we need people capable of making decisions and getting things done’. It made it clear to me that there is a misconception that people who value and are adept at the ‘soft skills’ are not as capable at making hard decisions or acting quickly, and that they are more of a ‘nice to have’ when things are going well.

So, today I challenge that misconception. I firmly believe that people who are highly adept in the ‘soft skills’ are not only capable of making decisions, but they will make better decisions. Even more, I believe that the odds of their decisions resulting in long term sustainable and balanced success are much higher. 

I’ll use a couple of personal examples to demonstrate my point:

  1. My first example relates to my time working for a very traditional, tough, dictatorial type manager. People didn’t generally like this person, but they tolerated his lack of personal skills because he ‘got things done’. They would often put him in charge of difficult projects, because they associated his demeanour with confidence. He said he would deliver and they believed him. What wasn’t evaluated was the price paid for that delivery. High staff turnover, low morale, backlash on decisions made, a culture of fear; of ‘us and them’ where people played the blame game to avoid being chastised… Moreover, everything being done relied on him personally – every decision sat with him and he would work ridiculous hours because of his required involvement.
  2. My next example relates to someone who I would consider the complete opposite. An inclusive, collaborative, influential leader. This particular person believed in creating a high performance culture where employees were empowered to make decisions and everyone was a leader in their own right.  This person also delivered. But he delivered through his team. Our team was aware of what needed to be done and we took personal responsibility to ensure it was achieved. Our culture was great; a trusting, collaborative workplace where we all worked together to achieve common goals. Our turnover was nearly non-existent, morale high, we were innovative and able to deliver outstanding results because we were empowered to do so without fear of repercussion, should we make a mistake. Our manager didn’t need to work ridiculous amounts of overtime because he had a team he knew he could count on to make decisions without him having to oversee every minute detail. What’s more is that we were far more efficient at the work we carried out because of the way we worked together.

It seems people think that people with these ‘soft skills’ take longer to make decisions because they take their time talking with people and making decisions through consensus. This is not the case. People great in this area have their team on board before crisis hits. They trust their team, and with the help of their team they are able to respond to these situations more quickly and efficiently.   The team don’t need somebody dictating to them what to do, because they are all on the same page, know where they’re heading, and are capable and empowered to make decisions and act.

It frustrates me that many still think we need to have these tough, controlling and fear driven people around when times get tough; that there is a time and a place for them. That we can forgive the way they treat people because we need them to get things done. I challenge that philosophy. I’ve seen better ways; I’ve seen the better results they achieve. We need to challenge ourselves to think differently; to do things differently in order to see these better long term & sustainable results.