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The Perils Of Going Hard On Soft Skills

Author : Dilip Saraf
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A large percentage of my client pool comes from technical backgrounds. By "technical" I do not merely mean technology (software, semiconductors, storage, etc.) but those, who are engaged in technical fields such as ad-copy writing, law, medicine, etc. They often come to me when they are entering management ranks or are being considered for executive roles by their current employer. One of the key points of coaching for them is how to work well with others demonstrating their "soft skills."

Soft skills emerged as an unfortunate phrase that first popped in the "80s when technically savvy individual contributors were being promoted to management ranks and were failing at their roles, despite being stellar individual contributors. Some OD (organization development) expert then decided to make a business out of this opportunity and coined this mysterious phrase. Since then the term soft skills has become a buzz phrase, and coaching/training in that space a billion-dollar industry.

There is nothing wrong in being aware of the skills required to work well with others and to get them to perform well. As a human being it is your duty to be able to work well with your brethren in any capacity. However, when your job, as a manager, relies on being able to get the best out of others to deliver what you are expected to produce, it becomes even more critical for your success and for the success of your organization. Here, hard skills are your stock-in-trade""the things that got you promoted""and the soft skills are their complement, your ability to get work done through others.

Too much emphasis on soft skills at the cost of someone"s performance and hard skills""technical competencies""can create a team morale problem and can bring down the overall effectiveness of the team and the organization. Examples abound of many leaders and managers, who suffered because they were too "soft" on those who did not perform, for the fear of being viewed as a manager that was too hard on their people. A good way to strike a balance between being too hard and too soft is to focus on what is expected of an individual and being able to communicate that clearly and then holding them accountable.

This is a manager"s true job!

The reason most managers fail at their basic job function is that they do not take the time to first understand what their team is expected to do, developing a critical task-assignment roster, and then holding each team member accountable to delivering what was expected of them. Of course, the manager"s role is also to know when a team member needs help and providing the resources to support them with their needs. This is hard work and most managers shun it because that requires knowing what the true functions of a manager are (Leading, Planning, Organizing, and setting up Controls). I have written extensively about these in my previous blogs. My experience has been that if a manager does her role well and understands her leadership expectations, having the right mix of hard and soft skill actually makes them a very effective manager and promotes/sustains team harmony.

So, to keep the balance between exercising one"s hard and soft skills here is my recipe:

  1. As a professional""individual contributor or a senior executive""be aware of your interpersonal skills and develop your ability to work well with others.
  2. Understand what Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is and learn its five elements (Self awareness, Self control, Motivation, Communication, and Empathy). EQ is a learned skill (unlike IQ), so find ways to improve your EQ, especially if you want to succeed as a manager and executive.
  3. As a manager understand that your MAIN role is to get work through others. So, you must show leadership that inspires others to work with you and to achieve things that they felt were out of their realm. This requires challenging others and providing inspiration so that they can succeed. Barking orders at them is the worst way to drive others, let alone inspire them.
  4. Learn how to hold people accountable for their commitments. This requires for you to set up clear expectations, communicating them without ambiguity, and then enforcing them for delivering results. Each step requires vigilance, management skills, and leadership.
  5. Do not hesitate to discipline those who do not deliver. Find ways to communicate your disappointment and ratchet up your expectations. If they do not come through then fire them. Reward rock stars and openly communicate to others their contributions.

Being a manager is hard work. Being a great manager is rare, but if you follow these guidelines it should not be that difficult!

Good luck!

About Author
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.

After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.

During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.

Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.

Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.

Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.

Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.



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