Why Leadership Training Should Include Both ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ Skills
Good leadership can make or break a company. It can make all the difference in efforts to retain the best talent, reassure a skittish client, and level up products and services. So, how do you develop great leadership within your organization?
Although the behaviors that drive leaders have often been thought of as intangible qualities or personality traits, decades of research have broken down leadership into a combination of interpersonal soft skills, technical hard skills, motivating factors, and thought processes. For that reason, it is possible to design a leadership development training plan that targets both the technical and interpersonal types of leadership skills crucial to organizational success. There are many impactful learning strategies to train leaders in both “soft” interpersonal skills and the “hard” technical skills needed to perform daily responsibilities.
Learning Theories on Shaping Behavior
Operant Conditioning offers a theory and methodology around shaping motivation that has made its way into most learning strategies. It describes the relationship between consequences of a behavior, and the increase or decrease of subsequent occurrences of the behavior.
For example, if a teacher calls on a student and gives them a positive affirmation for answering a question correctly, that student will be more likely to participate in class discussions moving forward. Simple interpretations of this theory have led to the use of common eLearning methods like gamification, but positive reinforcement has historically driven traditional instructor-led training (ILT) methods in education.
Different Types of Leadership Training: Soft Skills vs. Technical Skills
Soft skills are a type of leadership skill commonly defined as the behaviors that enable people to work well with one another. Emotional intelligence, problem-solving, communication, and flexibility are just some of the interpersonal skills that fit within this term. Though these behaviors are often thought of as individual characteristics – some unteachable component of a personality, or an inborn set of traits – they are, in fact, a set of learned responses that can be taught and developed.
Technical skills (or hard skills) generally involve specific knowledge. This may include expertise and training to perform practical tasks around mathematics, science, and technology. For example, data analysis, computer programming, or training to practice medicine would all be considered technical skills.
To compare the two types of leadership skills, soft skills are more often overlooked during professional development in favor of more technical skills. However, soft skills are the ones that usually take a leader and business from being just okay to above average, because they deal with how to work with other people and within a team. Communication, teamwork, decision-making, problem-solving and empathy go a long way to building a solid foundation for your business to excel.
Leadership Development Training Strategies
Training Soft Skills: First and foremost, it is easier to achieve desired results by being intentional about the types of leadership skills developed among your employees. Determining what skills are vital to the maintenance and growth of the organization should be your first step, and that will most likely require a thorough needs analysis to uncover skills, knowledge, and performance gaps.
That information will create a blueprint or map to create a long-term leadership development training plan around an ideal leader archetype and will simplify efforts to evaluate the success of your leadership model over time. Moreover, deploying this kind of intentional training will help build up a common foundation between your leaders, gearing everyone toward the same, focused effort and goal.
Training Technical Skills: Not all technical skills are necessary for every leader. To some degree, the required technical skills will vary based on their role. For instance, a creative director likely wouldn’t need as much knowledge around statistics as a marketing manager. However, that is not to say that those skills couldn’t help a creative director in their role. Arguably, some technical skills may be universally beneficial. This is where role-based learning paths can be effective for developing the more technical aspects of a leadership role.
Consider creating a foundation of technical skills for all leaders, then providing subsequent personalized training tailored by role or to a department. This will also keep leadership training learners from feeling overwhelmed with unnecessary information.
Leading with Knowledge and Skills
Generally, experienced leaders would have developed different types of leadership skills on their own throughout their careers. Those individual differences should be embraced. However, there should still be some consistency between those skills and the goal set for your organization. If leaders have a strong foundation of both soft skills and technical skills, then your organization will be much more efficient.