Developing Soft Skills as a Leader

A blog reflecting on a person\’s development beyond academic and technical brilliance…


I recall hearing a story of an academically and technically brilliant young man, who was offered to take a positional leadership position in a firm in the American aerospace industry. He relied on his knowledge and expertise, and, in the end, was fired because he was unable to relate to his team-mates, did not appear to have the skills to inspire them to action, and was not displaying confidence in managing interpersonal conflicts.

I wonder whether his story had been different, had he connected to individuals who encouraged him along the way, supported him, and were by his side as he developed his leadership skills.

The above story, coupled with observations made by me and my colleagues, have made me consider, what will be different in our organizations when, in the recruitment process:

–          we pay just as much attention to the candidate’s management and leadership skills, as her/his expertise and academic background?

–          we chart a plan to further develop the  candidate’s leadership, talent and soft skills?

–          we set out the intention to support the new colleague through providing her/him access to individuals and resources within and outside of the organization, thus giving her/him the space to grow?

The above practices seem to be even more critical for middle-level managers who have the potential of moving to a senior-level management position in their organization. Indeed, such middle-level managers are leverage points in their systems: investing in them has the promise of maximum strategic impact for the whole organization. In other words, line managers who are mandated to advance and protect a system can be developed to generate policies, spur innovation and provide direction to an organization.

Research however, shows that many companies in the world don’t focus on these needs enough. A McKinsey Report entitled ‘The War of Talent: the Top 7 Obstacles of Good Talent Management’, shares a study carried out on firms globally, and reveals that:

–          in 59% of the organizations the senior managers do not spend enough high quality time on talent management of others, and

–          a total of 37% of the companies have senior leaders who do not align talent strategy with the business strategy.

I would say that there is a similar felt need to develop one’s soft skills as Managers in Ethiopia, and individuals and organizations are seeking networks that serve the development of such skills.

Indeed, as members of AWiB, a networking association aiming to be relevant and to make a difference for its members, we have noticed an increasing number of such middle-level, senior-level female managers of organizations and to-be entrepreneurs showing up at our monthly meetings, taking our e-courses, contributing to our online fora, and attending our workshops. We are discovering that AWiB is meeting its members’ needs for the development of soft skills, for personal and professional growth, for sharing one’s dream and translating it into action, in a setting where the member can expand contacts and seek and give support needed.

An emerging focus and intention of AWiB is therefore, to develop management level professionals to strengthen the pool of women in leadership positions, and to encourage them as they grow as leaders.

Personally, watching other network members flourish in their capacity to bring positive impact in their own lives, workplace and, ultimately, to a country’s economy, fills me with immense satisfaction.

And so, my question to you is:

–          What needs of yours have you found met in a networking association such as AWiB, or similar?

–          When that need is met, where will your dream take you?