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Why “Soft Skills” are Critical to Management

When we think of leadership, we typically think of motivating a  group to contribute to a business’s success.

It’s important to be sure the team has the occupational (or “hard) skills required to execute the job.  Once people with the appropriate skills are in place, we are guaranteed success, yes?

Of course not.

“Soft skills” such as collaboration, diplomacy, listening and other personal interactions are just as important.  The “how” those hard skills are executed.

As stated in the article The Skills Most Leaders Don’t Have, “Hard skills can get the job done. Soft skills make the difference between a job that gets done and a job that gets done exceedingly well. Leadership requires a sophisticated approach to both.”

What’s your default management style?  How might you shift toward a balance of “hard” and “soft” leadership skills?


Leadership as a Conversation

Are you noticing the shift in management communication style?  From the Mad Men days of Command & Tell to today’s more collaborative Ask & Listen.  Dynamic conversations rather than one-way directives.

As a leadership coach, I partner with executives facing this shift.  In short, once they begin engaging their direct-reports (and bosses) in two-way discussions, they became more effective at managing.  And they realize their team brings incredibly valuable ideas – which relieves a ton of pressure:  the leaders don’t need to know EVERYTHING and be available for each decision.

Which creates more trust, confidence and enthusiasm.

I could go on… but this Harvard Business Review article, Leadership is a Conversation, shares excellent insights about why “One-way, top-down communication between leaders and their employees is no longer useful or even realistic.”

Shifting from Autopilot to Adaptive

It is so easy to cruise into Drive mode, isn’t it?  We rather unconsciously react to traffic and weather situations, steering on auto-pilot to our destination. Sometimes we even wonder how we got there, the journey is so routine.

Same with strategic thinking. We get busy reacting to what’s in front of us, focusing straight ahead, and before we know it, we’ve lost touch of what’s happening “out there” that may be impacting us and our business.

Back to the driving analogy – there may be a better route, or even a new destination that we just haven’t taken the time to discover.

Sometimes we need to take a step back and shake our heads to rattle things around a bit. Take time to think, investigate what else going on around and beyond us, and ponder the possible implications for our business and our clients.

Check out 6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers from a recent issue of Inc. online magazine.   The article focuses on habits of adaptive strategic leaders — the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment – and provides some helpful reminders about how we can refresh our thinking and perspective.



Surprise me.

Let’s be honest, our relationship is getting a bit stale.

Bring me a fresh idea or two. 

Tell me something I don’t know about my competition.  Ask me questions.  Throw me some “Have you considered…?” nuggets.  Show your enthusiasm for my industry/product. Make working with you fun and invigorating.  Stay connected to me even when you’re not working on my projects.

Especially if our relationship is long-standing.  Please don’t become a complacent order-taker.  Gloss over careless mistakes.  Send quick, terse emails to “see attached” without explanation.  And worst of all,  count on me to do work I’m paying you to do.

Because while I really like you, and we’ve worked together for years, I’m running a business.  If I keep getting solid but mediocre thinking, our relationship gets stale.  Dull.  My business suffers, and I can’t afford that.

There are dozens of bright, shiny companies out there that would love my business.  They call me, woo me, and intrigue me with their excitement and edgy energy.  Tempting….

And yet, the thought of going through a review is daunting;  it will take so much time.  Ugh.  I’d really rather continue working with you. But this is a business decision.

It’s really your choice.  Please step it up.  Don’t take me for granted and assume I’ll always be around.  Act like I’m a glittery new client again. Listen – really listen.  Bring back the passion.  Treat me like I’m special and once again I’ll be yours.

Warm regards,

Your Client

Avoiding Paralysis by Analysis

Possible symptoms:

  • A significant decision looming
  • Too much information
  • Too little relevant information
  • Fear of failure
  • Fondness for procrastination

We’ve all been there.

We need to make a decision about something (could be anything, really), but we get caught up in the “What If’s” and “How About’s.”  We think that if we just had enough answers, we’d be good to go.  So we keep gathering data, collecting information and… tying that knot in our gut even tighter.

We say we need more data to make an “informed” decision… and then the new data leads to more questions, and on it goes.

Perhaps we have more than enough information, but don’t have the time (or inclination) to dive in and make sense of it.

OR, we’re not really sure what the question is to begin with – what ARE we trying to decide anyway?

Steps to Avoid Paralysis by Analysis:

1.  Specify the situation requiring a decision (articulate it in writing, even if it’s just a sentence or two)

2.  What is the desired outcome?

3.  What do you truly need to know to make the decision?

  • What do you already know?
  • What don’t you know?

4.  Fill in the knowledge gaps

  • Search online – hire someone to do this for you if you’re too busy
  • Conduct primary research if needed (make sure to identify and focus on your objectives here so you ask the right questions and end up with useable insights)

5.  Now  – decide away!

What Does “Excellent Quality” Mean?

A trait consistent with successful brands is “perceived high quality.”  Makes sense, right?  But –  it can be dangerous to then assume that the brands’ products, merchandising efforts, pricing, positioning and marketing support are resonating with customers’ true desires.

Say, for instance, that you and I both rate Sock Brand A as having Excellent Quality.

But what does the sock company really know based on that rating?  While on the surface this “finding” sounds like wonderful news, it may have nothing to do with the product’s sales path.

That is, while I may think the socks are top quality because they are amazingly comfortable, you may give them the same rating because the socks seem to last forever.  Someone else may give them a low quality rating because they don’t like the styles or colors.

And, even though you and I perceive Sock Brand A as high quality, we actually buy Sock Brands  X and Z more often!   So Brand A’s market share (and share of wallet) is declining but they still won’t understand Why

What does quality mean to you?

To your customer?  Whether it’s socks, cars or a haircut – what are the underlying criteria for an Excellent Quality rating?  It’s so important not to assume we know how a customer is thinking, feeling and behaving.

Go beyond the surface questions.  By digging deeper you’ll get to the insights you need to successfully drive your brand.

Who Do You Think You Are?

How might you describe your personality?  Your characteristics and traits?  Would it be easy or difficult to do?

And then, imagine that you overhear a friend or co-worker describing you to someone.  How similar or different would that description be to yours?  What is their reflection of you?  Is there a personal brand perception gap?

Often, businesses lose sight of their brand.

Say ACME, Inc. has been in business for several years.  The Chief Poobahs proudly assume their brand is all about durable products, value pricing and friendly service.  However, their target customers view ACME as offering low-priced, outdated products and nice but out-of-touch service reps.

Ouch.  No wonder they were losing market share.

ACME needed to reconnect with two key elements:

1)  What do people think and feel about ACME, and

2)  What do their customers want and desire? What’s important to them?

So ACME decided to do some listening.

Now, rather than assume, they ask. And after they ask, they act.


How is your brand being reflected back to you?

Jazz and the Art of Business

I was at a jazz club in Seattle recently, and as I listened to the amazing musicians perform I realized how similar jazz is to business.

Jazz can be a combination of rhythm and harmony, and it can also be dissonant, wild and chaotic.

Just like business.

Jazz groups can be simply a collection of individuals doing their own thing with little regard for the core sound of the group. That is, they may be incredibly talented technically, but they don’t support or increase the overall strength of the ensemble.

Same thing happens in business.

Say a business launches a fantastic new product – but it doesn’t align with or add value to the brand. Similar to the technically brilliant musician whose solo has no direction or purpose.  Confusing and disappointing at best, damaging to the group (or business) at worst.

A successful business takes time to listen to its customers, even in the midst of market chaos and confusion.  Asking and listening drastically reduces those unfortunate Ready Fire Aim catastrophes.

What impressed me about these jazz musicians was their ability to listen and communicate with each other even during the most wild and dissonant passages – while also connecting with and engaging their audience.  The result was a great experience for everyone.

Great Jazz = Sound* Business Practice.  Who knew?

*my apologies for the pun…

One Little Text Number that will SO Simplify Your Life

If you haven’t discovered Google Texting

and you’re using a ‘dumb phone’ rather than a smarter one – then you may just love this fabulous shortcut.

Note: According to Nielsen research, the majority of cell phone users haven’t made the move to smartphones.

OK, so this has been around a while, but I just discovered it and thought I’d pass it along just in case you’d missed it, too.

With it, you can get everything from weather to phone numbers and addresses of restaurants, hotels and retail establishments in any city in the world delivered straight to your cell phone.

The magic number is “46645.”


I tried this – and it works.

It’s so simple. First, enter 46645 into your cell phone Contacts under the name “Google Text” (for the sake of simplicity).  Once you’ve stored it, you can text Google Text anytime to request information.

If you want to know the weather, simply type in “weather new york” (or the desired city). If you want the phone number or address of a client’s office location, simply type in the name (or what you think the name is) along with the city and state it is located in. Almost instantaneously, you should receive a response from Google with the desired information.

Check it out.

Oh, and I’m curious – did you already know about this?

Does your Name say Stop or Go?

Have you ever made a decision about something based on only its name? A new restaurant?  Product?  Hotel?  Often we make snap judgments without even realizing it.

Let’s say you’re planning to travel somewhere, so you go online and type in your destination and the word “lodging.”  Up pops a list of names of accommodations. All you see are the typewritten names, in some nondescript font.

Do you go with the familiar (Sheraton, Hyatt)?  Or something unfamiliar, yet possibly wonderful?

What makes a name intriguing enough to click on and investigate, versus boring/confusing/scary enough to avoid?

First Impressions Still Count

Recently, a client had just such a conundrum.  They had heard mumblings and wonderings about the name of their business.  Was the name a turn-off to potential customers?

Before they launched a new marketing campaign, they decided to check it out.

Now, imagine you’re planning a trip to Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands.  In the list of possible accommodations you see:


Would you click on the link to find out more?

If you’re on the youngish side of 45 – your thoughts are probably along the lines of: “Hmm – sounds quirky, fun, interesting, natural, environment-conscious, unusual – let’s check it out!”

If you’ve been around a tad bit longer (which means you’re likely to have more free time and disposable income = great target customer), you’re likely to think:  “Eww… a box made of earth?  Must be a dirty or ve-e-e-ry rustic motel… can’t even imagine what the spa is like at a place like this – I’ll pass.”

Check it out:

Here’s the link:  Earthbox Motel and Spa It’s totally charming, right?  It’s on the ‘up’ side of scale, and past guests rave about how wonderful and welcoming it is.

So how to get more people past the name and onto the website? Throwing out the entire name and starting over loses the brand equity built over the past six years. And it would mean spending some really big bucks.

Simply put, research among past and potential guests found that while the term “Earthbox” is intriguing to some and unsettling to others, it’s the word combined with ‘motel’ that puts a negative spin on it.

Past guests compare the feeling and essence of the place to a warm, inviting Inn – rather than the stereotypic on-the-way-to-somewhere-else Motel.  Once potential guests saw the website, they were totally onboard with the Inn not Motel concept.

So.  Earthbox Inn and Spa.

It would have been a shame to start over with an entirely new name – when the best solution is a simple, subtle (and much less expensive) shift to the positive.

Smart client.