Leadership Coaching Can Change The Way You Look at Soft Skills

If you ask CEOs, COOs, and HR leaders what is their top priority regarding staff, their answer probably won’t surprise you. According to Gartner’s 2021 HR Priorities Survey, “building critical skills and competencies” was the top priority for HR professionals in 2021. Whether you call them soft skills or critical skills and competencies doesn’t matter, building these particular skills is something every HR leader was thinking about prior to the pandemic, and that’s likely become more true and more difficult amid the disruption and change that has followed.

Why are soft skills so important?

Some 92% of executives surveyed for the Wall Street Journal in 2015 said that soft skills are just as, if not more, important than technical skills, and that’s probably because soft skills impact the ways in which people interact with one another. In this age of hybrid and remote work, employee interactions can create significant organizational impacts. 

Soft skills touch everything from how people write emails to how they work together in teams to how they portray themselves in the office or on Zoom. They come naturally to some and need to be taught to others, but everyone can develop them. It’s all about how you see yourself — and how others see you — in the workplace, and then building the interpersonal skills needed to have positive, productive interactions with the people around you.

Recruiting software company Workable has 15 soft skills that they deem essential, including communication, time management, conflict management, and decision-making. Many of these include the leadership capabilities that leadership coaching works exceedingly well to develop. Soft skills like these might feel tough to measure — after all, how one person shows their creativity or communication skills may be quite different from how another person shows them. That’s why it’s important to not only know what soft skills you want to develop, but what outcomes you hope those skills will deliver. For instance, “we’re looking for someone who can deliver new and exciting ideas and challenge our team to think about our projects differently” is much easier to measure than, “We’d like you to be a creative person.” Once you can articulate the desired soft skill or behavior, you can identify a suitable learning intervention to develop it.

How to find the right leadership development solution for your team

In a 2021 webinar, “Accelerating Leadership Development,”  Chime’s Senior People Partner, Jill Kelly, discussed the impact of hypergrowth on talent development and what organizations like Chime are doing about it.

Kelly broke down the company’s three pillars of performance: 

  1. What, which focuses on delivery, execution, and what you accomplish; 
  2. How, where team members prioritize embodying Chime’s core values and leadership behaviors; and 
  3. When, where a team member’s ability to scale and grow is measured 

Kelly said that these pillars also guide how the company looks at leadership development. Chime chose to support its existing leadership development work with personalized coaching from Sounding Board to ensure that employees get the right development to accelerate their individual growth. “Leadership development can’t be one size fits all,” she explained, because it’s important to offer leadership development at all levels. That way strengths and weaknesses highlighted by the three pillars of performance can be supported or corrected early. 

Communication, adaptability, and problem-solving are among the top three skills HR leaders want employees to develop, according to the webinar. Kelly confirmed that the need to develop those skills contributed to Chime ultimately choosing Sounding Board as a leadership coaching partner. The company started offering engagements for its director-level folks, and has since branched out to provide leadership coaching to other cohorts in the workforce. “The foundation of coaching is really about helping others find their own solution,” she said. 

Leadership coaching can accelerate soft skill development

Traditionally, leadership development programs for soft skills have been packaged as training designed to fit everyone. The problem with that approach is the people who need the most support developing their soft skills aren’t going to thrive in a one-size-fits-all environment. Indeed, they may actually move further away from the skills you want them to develop.

According to SHRM’s 2019 State of the Workplace, 3 out of 4 employers said they have a hard time finding graduates with the soft skills their companies need, and 51% of employers said that education has done little or nothing to address this skills shortage. In a perfect world, every person would leave school or training with both the technical and soft skills they need to excel. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, but that’s why leadership coaching works so well.

During 1:1 coaching people who may be struggling to develop certain soft skills, like communication, problem solving, or stress management, can work with someone they trust to gain those skills in ways that connect directly to the strengths they already possess, and to the work they’re currently doing. Leaders who learn how to improve their soft skills in this kind of context-rich environment are often better able to teach others how to do so as well. Essentially, moving away from a one-size-fits-all soft skills development approach will not only strengthen your team, it can extend the learning as its passed on from leader to direct report and to their team.

At Chime, using leadership coaching allows the team to determine employee drivers and motivators early, and then make sure that each employee who participates can develop the necessary skills to meet the company’s three pillars of performance. “As a culture, you’re only as good as the worst behavior you tolerate,” Kelly said, during the webinar, which is an excellent reminder that using leadership coaching to set a standard and develop soft skills sets the bar for your team’s behavior much higher.

Sounding Board’s leadership coaching is driven by behavioral science, adult learning theory, and led by a global, managed network of certified leadership coaches who can help you personalize, measure, and scale leadership development programs. We can help get your team the soft skills they need to lead themselves, lead others, and lead for business impact.

To learn more about what Sounding Board can offer your organization, request a demo.

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Lori Mazan is the Co-Founder and Chief Coaching Officer of Sounding Board, the preeminent global leadership development enterprise platform changing the face of leadership development through innovative technology for leaders at all levels of an organization. Lori is a seasoned executive coach who has guided hundreds of corporate executives through 1:1 coaching focused on business outcomes and developing critical leadership skills. Client companies advanced by Lori’s expertise include Fortune titans such as Chevron and Sprint as well as high growth and public companies like Intellikine, and Tapjoy, plus 10XGenomics, which became a public company in 2019 while top executives worked with Lori and the Sounding Board team.
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