Soft Skills Are Hard Work

photoWhat’s wrong with hard work? Really. By that, I don’t mean we should always work harder than we have to. I simply mean that there is value in hard work. It not only gets things done, it also builds a well-earned sense of pride. Let’s face it, hard work, working hard, is flat out necessary if you want to be successful.

Think about where you are in your career and your life right now. For most of us, and in most cases, our achievements were due to plenty of hard work. Finishing school, getting promoted, owning a home, mastering a skill—most times come through working hard towards those goals. Those examples are of tangible things, things we can literally see and touch and measure. If you are in a leadership role right now, your hard work up to this point put you there. You were able to achieve tangible results, working on tangible things.

What we see when coaching leaders is that there is often a carry-over effect from the habit of working on tangible things. I call them the tasks. The tasks are the work itself. If you are in hard manufacturing, the tasks are dealing with the products or the components themselves. It’s things like keeping the parts moving through the plant, answering questions about tolerances, and approving modifications. In accounting, for example, the tasks may be the reports, the actual doing of the numbers and calculations. The tasks are dealing with the work itself, and not the people we are leading.

The carry-over effect is natural . Most often, we get promoted in the first place because we are an excellent do-er of the tasks. In addition, we were probably good at doing the tasks because we liked them. So, it is only natural to hold on to that same thinking as a leader. We feel like we need a task mentality because we get a sense of accomplishment from completing them. We often feel that our job as a leader is to key in on only those things that are truly task oriented.

But there is another part of being a good leader. It’s not just about the work. It is also about your people. This is where it gets messy for many of us. People can be illogical, they can be stubborn, and they can disappoint us. We get promoted because of our ability to do the tasks, but how do we handle these non-tangible things like emotions and attitude? Too many leaders revert to managing the tasks only because they are unable or unwilling to learn to lead people well.

The good news is that leadership principles are skills that can be learned. Just as I wrote previously, it takes a change in both our thinking and our behaviors to bring about improvement. We need to realize that when we take some time to listen to one of our people, we are doing the very thing that good leaders do. When we take time to explain the why behind what we are asking someone to do, we are doing the work of a good leader. When you interrupt your own agenda to go do what you told one of your people you would do, you are doing the number one thing that builds credibility as a leader. When you give your people feedback on performance, both good and re-directing, you are giving them the very thing they most need from you as their leader.

What is required is a change from just a task -only approach to one that puts your people at the forefront. We need to show them that we care about them as least as much as we care about the work- the tasks.

What am I trying to say? It is this. Start small. Yes, people are messy. So-called “soft” skills required to be a good leader are not soft and they are not easy. But they are do-able. Start small, with this simple realization. When you are spending time with your people, talking with them, listening to them, helping them– you ARE doing the work of a leader. The work of a leader is not just about the tasks, it’s about the people. So if you find yourself pushing people away or fretting about the tasks you aren’t finishing because the people are in your way, it’s time for a reminder that you are in task-based mode. Spending time with and on your people is doing work- just as dealing with production is.

Good leaders get great things done through people. Guess what? They still work very hard. The hard work is just different than a task-based approach for themselves. Leadership work is harder to measure, takes longer to see the results, and usually is not tangible. The truth is that it is hard to do well.

But, hey, what’s wrong with hard work? Really.

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One Response to Soft Skills Are Hard Work

  1. Pingback: Let Go of Some Good Habits |

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