In the field of learning and development, we typically refer to technical skills as hard skills and behavioral skills as soft skills. While soft skills are less tangible than hard skills, they are actually more valuable for a potential leader to acquire. Without the skills of communication, engagement, and empowerment, leaders are not able to direct and support people in the accomplishment of goals.
For this reason, I prefer to label these as core skills instead of soft skills. I’ve been using the term for 25 years, since I first heard a speaker extol their virtues. After the session, I suggested to the presenter that if these skills are so central to communication and maximizing effectiveness and contribution, they might be better regarded as core skills. To make a long story short, both the speaker and I used that term from that day on.
People are invariably the most expensive ongoing investment an organization makes—and a critical potential asset, if managed properly. Often, though, the management of this asset is treated as an afterthought until things go wrong. For example, recently in the U.K. a newly promoted manager successfully sued her company for not providing the promised training of leadership skills she needed. The result, she claimed, was stressful conflict in the office as well as sleepless nights, resulting in divorce and ill health. She won a substantial settlement.
While that may be an extreme case, many people are not adequately equipped for new management positions and subsequently leave organizations. When this occurs, it is a loss to the individual, the people they are supposed to manage, and the organization as a whole.
As a learning professional, how are you treating core skill development in your organization? Is it an afterthought or is it a strategic directive? Here are three ways to find out.
Evaluating your current situation
- Do you understand the organization’s key organizational goals, strategies, and objectives?
- Has the organization articulated a strong focus on people skills development as a critical part of its future success? How well are you positioned to affect this?
Identifying first steps
- Ensure that you have assessed the critical skills, competency needs, and current capabilities of your present and emerging leaders to meet present and future business objectives.
- Gain active support from senior leaders and line operations to ensure top priority of core skills training and the establishment of a learning culture.
- Formulate company and individual training and development plans and obtain resources and programs as needed.
- Provide a comprehensive road map to acquire and support the application of core skills in the workplace.
Don’t let the development of so-called soft skills become a second-tier priority. These core skills are essential to the company’s vitality and effectiveness—and without them, your organization will not be able to meet the needs of the future.
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