• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

‘Soft skills pivotal to effective corporate leadership development’

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As organisations search for and develop strategic competitive advantages, the ‘soft skills’ of their human capital base is proving to be a vital resource. Soft skills comprise skills which characterise relationships with other people, attitudes towards life and work and above all leadership skills.

Soft skills also known as non-technical skills or people skill is a relatively new idea, one that some managers might find hard to accept because it is not readily amenable to measurement.

Experts say the trajectory of a career path goes through doing the nitty-gritty work most MBAs are focused on in the first few years of their career. Then as the career progresses towards leadership roles, the key performance skills that will determine success will be ability to interact with others in a highly effective fashion. This skill set is labelled soft skills in contrast to the more technical ones like analysing the income statement or balance sheet of a company.

Anthony Anomah, a social psychologist at the Spiritan University College, Ghana avers a person’s soft skill Emotional Quotient (EQ) is an important part of their individual contribution to the success of an organisation. Organisations which deal with customers face-to-face are generally more successful if they train their staff to use these skills.

Anomah suggested that screening or training for personal habits or traits such as dependability and conscientiousness can yield significant return on investment for an organisation. For this reason, soft skills are increasingly sought out by employers in addition to standard qualifications.

“Most corporate performance management systems don’t work today, because they are rooted in overly ‘rational’, ‘mechanistic’ models for specialising and continually optimising discrete work tasks. These models date back more than a century, to Frederick W. Taylor” Timothy Anchvor, a management sociologist contends.

He added that optimising discrete work tasks lays emphasis on technical skills. Yet skills are often divided into two types: transferable or generic skills which can be used across large numbers of different occupations, and vocational skills which are specific occupational or technical skills needed to work within an occupation or occupational group. Soft skills or emotional intelligence are transferable or generic skills, which means they can be used across large numbers of different occupations.

These skills could include social graces, communication abilities, language skills, personal habits, cognitive or emotional empathy, and leadership traits. Soft skills contrast with hard skills, which are generally easily quantifiable and measurable (such as software knowledge or basic plumbing skills).

The 2016 human capital trends report, published by Deloitte, a management consulting firm, revealed that fully 89 percent of executives in this year’s survey rated the need to strengthen, reengineer, and improve organisational leadership as an important priority. The traditional pyramid shaped leadership development model is simply not producing leaders fast enough to keep up with the demands of business and the pace of change.

More than half of surveyed executives (56 percent) report their companies are not ready to meet soft skills or leadership needs. Only seven percent state that their companies have accelerated leadership and soft skills development programmes for Millennials, although 44 percent report making progress – a jump from 33 percent last year. While investment in leadership development has grown by 10 percent since 2015, progress has been uneven.

The report pointed out that more than one in five companies (21 percent) have no leadership or soft skills programmes at all. These findings suggest that organisations need to raise the bar in terms of rigour, evidence, and more structured and scientific approaches to identifying, assessing, and developing leaders, and that this process needs to start earlier in leaders’ careers. This is likely to also involve teaching senior leaders to take on new roles to make way for younger leaders.

STEPHEN ONYEKWELU