The term ‘hard skills’ is generally used to describe technical skills such as programming, design, strategic planning and analysis. Hard skills are considered to be readily teachable. ‘Soft skills’, on the other hand, often relate to interpersonal skills, such as communication, empathy, collaboration, humility and team-building – skills any effective leader must possess.
Unlike hard skills, soft skills are cultivated and developed over a longer period. While there is an ongoing debate about which skills are more important, hard and soft skills complement one another and are vital to any successful leader.
Well-honed soft skills enable a leader to communicate with, and motivate, their employees fruitfully, ultimately enabling a team to achieve company objectives.
So what are the most important soft skills every tech leader should aim to refine? DIGIT has compiled a list of five.
Without a doubt, communication is considered to be the most important soft skill any leader can foster. Effective communication is the foundation on which other soft skills are built. Clear and efficient communication is needed in order to convey information about the company’s direction and mission with stakeholders, customers and employees.
Without clear communication staff may find it challenging to comprehend what is expected of them, leading to a demotivated or disengaged workforce. Leaders with strong communication skills are more equipped to reinforce and maintain relationships, avoid misunderstandings, retain staff and improve overall company productivity.
Award-winning game designer Martin Wallace emphasises the importance of communication skills, saying: “Effective communication is an important leadership soft skill to ensure you articulate your organisation’s vision and key objectives clearly from the outset. This will help tackle arising challenges head on and help progress your agenda.”
A leader who lacks listening skills risks missing important information about the needs of their employees, customers and industry. Subsequently, a leader without this skill will not be equipped to make an informed decision, or may fail to see the warning signs that could spell disaster for their company.
By actively listening and taking on-board the opinions of others, leaders open themselves up to the opportunity to learn. As well as inviting innovation and improving company morale, this empowers employees who will be more likely to contribute in future discussions.
Leaders who take the time to nurture this skill, will also decrease the likelihood of becoming blind-sided by recognising problems before they become disasters.
Sharon Moore MBE, industry technical leader for Travel & Transportation at IBM UK, says: “We often attach much value to those who have a voice and are shaping our futures with that voice (on stage, in media, etc.) but without listening first their messages might not hit the mark.”
3. Emotional Intelligence
Empathy and kindness are two soft skills that come under the umbrella of emotional intelligence. A leader who neglects these skills and treats their employees like robots will negatively impact their company’s productivity, as well as talent attraction and retention.
As well as de-motivating staff, unempathetic leaders can create an unpleasant atmosphere of fear and suspicion. Appointedd founder and CEO, Leah Hutcheon, emphasises that leaders should “think of the old adage, do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
User research specialist at Border Crossing Media, Esther Stringer, explains that empathy can provide you with “a deeper understanding of what each of your stakeholder challenges and needs are”. By identifying these needs, she highlights that a leader can help them to achieve their full potential and fulfil their goals.
She also adds that developing emotional intelligence skills can help an employer to recognise when a member of staff needs extra support by ensuring the well-being of their team member and allocating work appropriately to ensure productivity does not slip.
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4. Problem solving
Problem solving is another paramount skill for any efficacious leader. Often considered one of the most complex intellectual functions, problem-solving – like any other soft skill – is a skill that can be developed.
Employees look to their leader for guidance and a leader’s ability to remain calm under pressure and assess a situation from every angle is key. As well as getting employees’ input on a decision, leaders must assess past mistakes and failures in order to make better informed decisions.
Former US Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, said: “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
A team is defined as a group of individuals generally dedicated to a shared goal. Each member of a team has skills, talents, experience and education crucial to achieving this objective.
However, a team can quickly fall apart with no clear focus or direction from an effective leader. Equally, a leader is nothing without the support of a productive, dedicated team. Co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, emphasises the importance of team dynamics, commenting: “No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.”
Although team leaders must keep team members accountable, enforce clear deadlines, keep projects moving forward and delegate and assign various tasks, leaders must also empower teams by enabling them to make their own decisions.
User Research Specialist at Border Crossing Media, Esther Stringer stresses the importance of recognising team members’ potential even if they don’t quite believe in their own abilities.
“Give someone a break. Give them the chance to do something really amazing although they may not yet have all the skills and it might all look a bit scary. Look at the people around you differently and go out of your way to show you believe in them by giving them a chance to do things that might in theory be really stretching”.