Soft Skills or Weak Skills?

maxresdefaultSoft Skills or Weak Skills?

The term soft skill is now used to refer to those skills required by managers and employees to deal with issues related to people. This is considered, for example, the ability to work in a team, to manage conflicts, to listen to others, to be assertive, to give empowerment, etc. Some even include in this concept other types of qualities such as empathy and trust. In this context, it is important to ask if only with skills it is possible to conduct with consistency the issues about the relationships among employees, and in any case, what issues require skills and in what situations they are not enough. Therefore, it is necessary to amplify the term consistency, with which we refer to a person who acts with integrity and coherence in accordance with their commitments, convictions and values. Thus, the questions that arise are: is it enough that managers develop soft skills? And, if managers only develop these skills, they will not become perhaps weak skills?, that is, skills that in some cases are not enough resource to effectively handle a situation.

First of all, it is convenient to focus on the concept of skill, which is mainly related to the organizational task that is to say when carrying out tasks, undertakings or projects. In other words, whoever develops skills required by the company has the capacity to do what the organization asks for in a specific assignment or responsibility. The ways of doing, without doubt, become a priority requirement for the functioning of the company. But the ways of doing are not enough for the company it needs also the ways of being of managers and employees. Moreover, ways of being properly conduct the ways of doing. In this case, we are referring the skills to connect, communicate, share, and in short, work effectively with people and/or lead them in each area of the organization. The capacities to attend this organizational reality have been called soft-skills. There is also no doubt about the importance of these skills and the need for all employees and especially managers to develop them and thus improve their ways for working with superiors, colleagues and subordinates, and even to deal with customers and suppliers, or others.

The skill previously requires the knowledge about the capacity in question. For example, the skill to work in a team first needs the person to understand the concept of what it means to work as a team. And once this is understood, begin to apply the manners that facilitate the realization of that work with others. This means that it is necessary to exercise specific behaviors characteristic of teamwork. Both prior knowledge and the ability to carry out and manage, in this case, effective or high-performance teamwork are two pillars that should be included in the development of managers. However, many times it is believed that only with knowledge and soft-skills managers will be prepared to face the complex human reality of the company. It is then necessary to consider the concept of competence presented by Cardona and Garcia-Lombardía, in which they refer to observable and habitual behaviors that lead to success in a function or task, in this case to the task of guiding people. Behavior means that it is not about personality or temperament, nor about knowledge, it is about action. Observable means that it can be measured at a given time, as well as its progress and learning. Habitual, implies the acquisition of some behavior habits[1].  This issue related to habits is for many as something unknown, little understood, and in any case something rare to include in the task of guiding people in an organization. Probably, for this reason the acquisition of positive habits in employees is little included in the processes of development for managers and employees. We believe that it would be better to assume it as the great challenge for those who manage at different levels of the organization. Of course, for this, it will be necessary to have the resources and facilities that really contribute to this special process of personal development.

Take the example of teamwork, for this we analyze the main argument of Katzenbach and Smith, expert researchers in team performance. They argue that truly united teams show their commitment to behave in certain way, as well as apply skills and mutual support to achieve a certain performance and goals[2]. It should be emphasized that teamwork requires, in essence, the cooperation and mutual support among its members that is the opposite of selfishness and individualism, the main barrier to the effective functioning of work teams[3]. Also Llano argues that teamwork is not so necessary to achieve valuable goals, but to achieve the most valuable of all: that people do their best for others as much as they can. He adds, that it is not only valid for the leader, who obviously must do their best effort to support others, but for the team itself: get employees to support each other[4]. Here we can realize that skills are not enough, because the commitment, cooperation, mutual support and the effort of each one to give the best to the other and to the team as a whole, are basically related to the ways of being of people and not precisely with the ways of doing of them. Specifically, they are related to the habits that someone has or has not acquired, and not specifically with the skills that he has developed. Both, skills and habits are necessary, because if a manager only has the skills for guiding his team but has not developed the right ways of being and concretely the habits to face some complex situations or challenges, he will have problems to exert a consistent leadership. But also if a manager only develop some positive habits but not develop skills it will be difficult for him to effectively guide their subordinates.  In other words, selfishness is not solved through skills, nor a lack of patience, or a lack of solidarity and interest to support others. Empathy for example that many include as a soft-skill, is based on the understanding of the other, on recognizing him or her as me. Although empathy is exerted through the ability to actively listen, it is not enough.  Listening techniques learned and exerted are useful, but not enough. And who has developed the habit of being understanding and supportive, should develop the capacity of active listening. It could be said that it is easier to develop skills than to acquire habits, but it is not necessarily the case, it will depend on each person and the resources and aids available. What must be highlighted is that in many organizations the orientation for acquiring and maintaining some positive habits is rare. Maybe it is though that it is an individual matter or that it is a complicated process. Although it may be the case, the fact is that keeping people with negative habits, such as aforementioned selfishness affects the performance of the work teams and the organization as a whole. Therefore, ignoring it or not giving it the importance it has in the human reality within the organization is not the best way to face it either. And trying to handle selfishness with extrinsic and intrinsic motivations surely will not be the best way for that purpose. The focus on trascendent motivation that can contribute to change behaviors will be needed. This trascendet motivation will imply the acquisition of positive habits that improve the person in his ways of being and doing.

One road that can help to identify habits is the processes of recruitment and selection. Obviously companies must have the tools and techniques that facilitate that identification. But beyond this, and assuming that it is possible to incorporate people with certain habits according to the organizational culture, the influence of each boss in each level and the type of environment he promotes will always be a key way both to developing certain habits and to sustaining them.  Thus, we would say that it is not enough to hire people with certain positive habits, it is also necessary to take care of them on a daily basis in order to consolidate them according to the characteristics of the organizational culture. For this middle managers become the key factor for this challenge, since their position of guiding employees, they are called to create environments where certain habits are cultivated. These habits can favor an efficiently work, but above all they facilitate to perform according to the style and identity of the organization. Undoubtedly, it is required that middle managers develop their capacity for a transcendent leadership, that is, the leadership that shows consistency in their behavior, and therefore is continuously trying to contribute to the creation of not only economical value, but also a social value and ethical value. It is the leadership that seeks unity in its team, in other words, the commitment of its members to a mission. If a manager wants to forge this commitment and the unity only through skills, he will not achieve them, because he will first need his own commitment and other moral values such as loyalty, integrity and honesty. If the manager practices these values in a sincere and opportune manner they become solid habits that build trust and sustain his leadership. If the leader only has soft-skills as a resource, he will be limited to get the commitment and best effort of his collaborators, especially in difficult situations when sacrifice is needed. Therefore, one must be careful that soft-skills can be become weak skills and so, no serving so much to foster the best of each subordinate. Soft-skills become weak skills when they do not have the base of positive habits. It is not useful a knowledge that one does not have the capacity to apply it here and now. Equally, it does not serve the skill to efficiently perform a task if it is not based on a character formed by solid habits that give credibility and sustainability. Not only it is not enough, it can generate inconsistencies in leaders’ behaviors that produce contradictory references for subordinates. This is a common situation in many organizations, and that is the reason why commitment, mutual support and the extra-mile among the members of work teams may not be achieved.

We can conclude by emphasizing that the soft concept, that is, those matters related to the treatment and relationship with people implies more than knowledge and skills. In order to achieve economical results and generate an attractive professional environment, the promotion of certain skills with an intrinsic motivation may be sufficient. But if it is about forging solid commitments and learning for facing difficult situations that imply sacrifices or hard efforts in favor of others, as the company, customers or the society, the soft-skills will not be sufficient resource. Therefore, beware that only developing soft-skills managers are ready to achieve commitment, cooperation and mutual support among his collaborators for a higher performance.  Not because it is more viable or simple the development of skills is all that must be done in an organization. And if a company only does that, it will have skilled but not competent managers. Skills do not give continuity, habits do. The process of developing an organizational culture should include both skills and habits, and for this purpose the guidance and support of leaders at all levels must be crucial. In that sense, the preparation of transcendent leaders is essential, however, we must know how to prepare them and have the support of top managers to sustain the process, which is not very common. The orientation of the functioning of the organization would have a solid pillar if certain positive habits are included in the development process of managers and employees. This would mean that they really want to work there and do what they are doing, and according to the situation, they would freely do more than they thought they could do for some valuable cause.

 [1] Cardona, P., Garcia-Lombardia, P. (2005)

[2] Katzenbach, J., Smith, D. (2006)

[3] Lescano Duncan, L. (2012)

[4] Llano, C. (2004)



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