Why leaders need EQ and people skills in today's digital world

28 January 2019 Consultancy.uk

Automation is altering the way organisations operate and leadership won't be exempt from change, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director at human capital consultancy and training firm Business Linked Teams. 

Despite the scaremongering headlines, automation and digitalisation are already having an impact in the workplace. From manufacturing to administration functions and beyond, the so-called 'rise of the robots' has already begun. 

From IT to manufacturing and more, automation is driving business efficiency. For employees, it's not all doom and gloom. Countless studies have shown that people won't be put out to pasture once the robots have completed their enrolment. Research from Gartner for instance suggests that while 1.8 million jobs might be lost by 2020, another 2.3 million jobs will be created.  

Analysis of readily available salary data for various industries reveals a significant drop in new workers prepared to enter low-paying jobs. Those same menial, unsatisfactory jobs are exactly where automation is being applied, as demonstrated by recent research by McKinsey & Company, which shows that robots are chiefly expected to eat into the job market for predictable and routine work.

Leaders need EQ and people skills in today's digital world

Graduates emerge from their studies having picked up technical skills that are required in the industries they have chosen to pursue a career in, so automation needn't be feared. Yet those working in the industries where automation is taking hold will require a new style of leadership – the use of automation has a significant impact on the way an organisation operates. 

Leaders therefore need to be able to understand technology and its impact on business at the same time as being able to recognise what this means for the people they lead and the customers they interact with. Being just a technical expert is no longer enough to perform. 

The changing role of leadership

With automation increasingly holistic – cutting through business functions – and complex, traditional command-and-control leadership doesn't fit in today's organisational structures. To help organisations understand the internal and structural disruption posed by technologies like automation, its arrival has been likened to the role of social media during the Arab Spring.

Twitter, Facebook and other social networks were essential tools in the mobilising of masses of people more efficiently that governments were able to mobilise their own military forces. The point isn't that traditional business leadership operates like a dictatorship, but that similar to social networks, these new technologies are flattening organisation structures and decentralising authority in traditionally hierarchal organisations.

As such, leadership has to be transparent with those in leadership positions accessible to those they are working with. They cannot be seen to be working above their staff but alongside them. They must still be seen as an authority, but one that is there to guide, not govern. 

“In this new automated world, leaders will need to have high levels of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and people leadership skills.”
– Samantha Caine, Business Linked Teams

In this new automated world, leaders will need to have high levels of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and people leadership skills. They will need to be able to embrace technology and to encourage others to see both its value and its limitations. They will also need to be able to operate effectively within a constantly changing environment, going as far as to embrace the change and inspiring others to operate in the same way.

Transitioning to the new style of leadership

There are various steps organisations must take to successfully approach the transition from traditional leadership to leadership fir for the age of automation and this begins with ensuring the right talent pool is in place. As organisations become increasingly reliant on technology, they must identify young, experienced people who are passionate about technology and have a proven record.

Where organisations have already placed individuals on leadership programmes, they must assess their current skill levels against the skills required to lead in the new world. Then appropriate training and development pathways can be established. Where gaps in competence are identified, expertise needs to be tapped to facilitate change. 

Most importantly, organisations must ask themselves whether they have a deliberate and documented strategy in place for making sure their leadership pool is fit for the future. This is where a sustained learning journey should come into play, enabling the development of desired skills and behaviours in bitesize chunks over a sustained period. 

As automation continues to alter the way businesses and entire industries operate, the shapes of hierarchal structures will continue to shift. The need for leaders who can adapt and accommodate for such significant changes will continue to grow, therefore organisations must assess and then address their options for nurturing effective leadership sooner rather than later. 

Related: Technology dominates the top ten trends of UK executives.

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Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.