Hiring for a managerial role is not easy.
Whether you’re looking externally or promoting from within, you’re probably looking at quantifiable achievements and experience. Track records of previous teams they managed to hit their goals, level of expertise, years of experience, and the like
This is, of course, a reasonable strategy—but it doesn’t allow you to see the whole picture.
How about their soft skills? For example, their ability to empathize, to coach and mentor, to resolve conflicts? Soft skills are becoming more and more crucial in the workplace, and a successful and inspiring manager must be proficient in them.
In this article, we’ll dive into the specific soft skills you should be helping your managers to ace—and why it’s important to invest in this specific type of management training.
Why soft skills matter
Soft skills can make the difference between a manager and a great manager.
A Wall Street Journal survey found that for 92% of companies, soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills. It makes sense: technological advancements happen faster than ever. And while hard skills will always be needed, being proficient in soft skills means you can navigate change easier. And, as a manager, you’ll be able to guide others through changing times as well. In fact, based on a recent LinkedIn Global Talent Trends report, when a hire doesn’t work out, it usually comes down to a lack of soft skills, 89% of recruiters say.
With remote and hybrid workplaces becoming more and more the norm, managers need to be more people savvy than ever—or risk alienating and disengaging half their team. Soft skills training can help them, and your company, to prevent that.
Can soft skills be trained?
The problem with soft skills is that they’re a bit invisible. In contrast to hard, technical skills which can easily be measured or observed, soft skills assessment is more tricky.
That’s one of the reasons why some people argue that soft skills can’t be trained. The other is rooted in the belief that soft skills are more like personality traits: either you got them, or you don’t.
But that’s simply not true.
Soft skills are skills, and as such, they can be taught. The only thing that can get in the way of learning new soft skills, or expanding and leveling up one’s existing ones, is an unwillingness to learn. Soft skills training requires the learner to let go of any preconceived notions and be open and motivated to receive said training.
And it’s not true that you can’t assess soft skills either. You just need to tweak your assessment strategy. For example, instead of formal assessments at the end of the full course, you can offer your learners the opportunity to self-reflect, evaluate their own performance or do end-of-module online quizzes that will allow them to use their newfound soft skills.
6 soft skills to train your managers on
So now that it’s clear that soft skills matter—and that are teachable—what are the specific skills you should be looking at when building your management training strategy?
1. Agility and change management
Agility is a very valuable soft skill to have nowadays—for all employees, but even more so for managers. LinkedIn calls it “the essential soft skill for teams,” and for good reason: being able to move quickly and decisively in the face of change can make all the difference. Especially now, post-COVID, when the world has changed so much, and keeps changing.
Offering your managers agility and change management training, will ensure that they benefit from opportunities as these present themselves, without panicking and leading their teams toward the wrong path.
2. Coaching and mentoring
Coaching and mentoring are integral skills for any team leader—but the rise of hybrid work has brought forth new complications when it comes to mastering them.
From being able to establish trust with mentees even without IRL interaction to successfully steering team members towards the right decisions for their career advancement, a great manager and leader should also be a good mentor.
Teachable moments exist in the day-to-day, and with coaching and mentoring training, a manager can identify them and use them.
3. Conflict resolution
Another skill that’s becoming even more pertinent now with the rise of hybrid work.
Being able to resolve conflicts and diffuse tension successfully is crucial for a manager, particularly when all or half of their team works remotely. With more tension and misunderstandings arising due to asynchronous communication and lack of context, being able to navigate stressful situations and ensure everyone is satisfied, can make the difference between a team hitting its goals or falling apart at the seams.
4. Empathy and cultural intelligence
On the flip side of conflict resolution (or rather, expanding on it), empathy is one of the most valuable skills for managers and leaders to have. Connecting with their team on an emotional level is how they solve conflicts, but also how they inspire employees and make them feel seen and understood.
This becomes especially important the more culturally diverse a team (and a business) is. With remote work eliminating entrance barriers to foreign talent and a commitment to DEI becoming more inherent to the mission of more companies, many managers will have to lead multi-cultural teams, perhaps for the first time.
Being able to read emotions across a varied group of people, each of whom may have different ways of expressing themselves based on their background, is crucial for every good manager. And a must-have for your management training program.
A higher cultural intelligence also means managers can help team members overcome unconscious biases and work better together.
5. Giving constructive feedback
Giving feedback is something every manager has to do often—but not necessarily something every manager does well.
Frequent, constructive feedback seems to be key to establishing trust in the workplace. Gallup research shows that employees who receive feedback from their manager daily are 2.1 times as likely to strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organization.
Yet there’s helpful feedback and less helpful feedback—and teaching them how to provide the former and avoid the latter should definitely be a part of management training. If the feedback is not balanced and actionable, it can affect employee performance, trust, and engagement.
Thankfully, like every other soft skill, the art of appropriate feedback can be taught.
6. Team building and collaboration
It may sound like getting all the previous soft skills training should be enough for a manager to steer their team towards a better, more fruitful collaboration. But team building is not just about work: it’s about relationships between employees, strengthening company culture, and creating an environment where people feel included.
It’s not surprising to consider that this may be even more timely now. A recent Glassdoor survey showed that 48% of employees have felt isolated from coworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic and that lack of in-person connection made 42% of them feel like their career stalled. The same survey showed that over half (56%) of employees wish for a community where they could get career advice.
Offering training for managers that hones soft skills such as team building, means you have people in charge who know how to make others feel welcome; how to create a community of like-minded peers.
Management training isn’t a one-off session
There is no magic button to push to make hiring for managerial positions easier. Even if you manage to bring onboard someone who demonstrates the desired soft skills, or decide to provide them with one soft skills training session, it won’t be enough.
You still need to evaluate your managers, gather feedback from their team members, identify areas for improvement, and have follow-up training sessions with them—so that they can better lead their teams.
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