At the beginning of your career, it’s likely that you’ll be hired primarily for your technical skills – the subject matter expertise that’s relevant to your job. These hard skills, such as computer programming, web design, engineering, accounting, and data analysis are the skills that get you in the door. But once you’ve been in your career for a few years, there will be a point where you reach a ceiling. Those hard skills you were initially hired for begin to matter less.
Change has become much more constant in contemporary business than it used to be. Over the last 10 years, the hierarchy of organizations has become much flatter. Employees are empowered; there is more voice at every level of the organization. To operate in such an environment where you can’t rely on direction and telling people what to do, you need a reset of the skills needed to be successful.
To keep moving forward in your career, you’ll need to focus less on your subject matter expertise and begin to think more broadly. You’ll need a big-picture perspective on how things fit together within an organization – not just your own particular functional area. This isn’t to say that improving your hard skills isn’t important – far from it – but the hard skills that got you hired won’t be the same skills you are evaluated on when seeking a promotion.
What soft skills are employers looking for?
If someone were to ask you which leader had the most impact on you over the course of your career, what are the things you would remember? It almost always comes down to the “social stuff” – soft skills and interpersonal leadership. We remember those leaders who are emotionally intelligent communicators, team-builders, influencers - these are the skills that differentiate the memorable and effective leaders from the rest.
Not only do these skills make for a memorable leader, they're also projected to be in high demand in the new world of work. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report concluded that soft skills like initiative, creativity, persuasion, adaptability, leadership, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration are likely to increase in value as technology and automation advances. Research conducted for the book Scaling Leadership concluded that the number one differentiating quality of effective leaders is strong soft skills, and that 60 per cent of their strengths were related to people skills such as listening, empowering their team members, and developing others.
Making the shift from focusing on technical expertise to improving your soft skills begins with knowing your strengths and weaknesses. A great way to get started is to self-assess. Take stock of your ability to get things done, your likability among your colleagues, and prioritize the most important things you need to work on. Keep in mind that our perceptions of ourselves can be subject to unconscious bias and are not necessarily reliable. Assessment tools are a great way to cut through bias to discover who you really are as a leader and what things you need to work on.
It’s important to get as many perspectives on your work performance as possible. Have a frank discussion with your immediate supervisor to determine what is most important for you to work on now and in the future. You’ll gain an important viewpoint on what your manager deems to be most important and what you can expect to happen when you show growth in these areas. You may also be able to explore additional opportunities to work on your leadership skills. Then you’ll know exactly the things you need to work on to move up with your current employer.
Can soft skills be learned?
Rising leaders need to shift their perspective to a wider lens – one that encompasses the entire organization. To really make an impact, you’ll need to amplify your interpersonal leadership skills – the soft skills that will differentiate you from the rest of the pack.
The Ivey Academy offers a one-week executive education program designed for managers who want to break out of their functional area to become an impactful, memorable leader. The Ivey Leadership Program has a strong focus on interpersonal leadership – some of the softer skills critical for effective leadership. These are the success factors people need to operate in structurally flat environments where there are more empowered people than ever before.
Through case studies, experiential learning exercises, a 360° assessment, and post-program coaching, you will journey to a deeper self-awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Building on your experience and analysis of your personal leadership style, the Ivey Leadership Program will help you develop your leadership potential. Armed with enhanced influence, persuasion, and negotiation skills – and the ability to think big picture – you will confidently make the shift from managing to leading.
About The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School
The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School is the home for executive Learning and Development (L&D) in Canada. It is Canada’s only full-service L&D house, blending Financial Times top-ranked university-based executive education with talent assessment, instructional design and strategy, and behaviour change sustainment.
Rooted in Ivey Business School’s real-world leadership approach, The Ivey Academy is a place where professionals come to get better, to break old habits and establish new ones, to practice, to change, to obtain coaching and support, and to join a powerful peer network.