Do Leaders Really Promote on People Skills?

Research and articles report that people skills, also known as soft skills, are critical skills for today’s business success. They claim that the hard skills, (occupational skills), are not enough. Interpersonal skills, communication excellence, ability to inspire diverse people and build high performance teams are where it’s at!

It then begs the question: Leaders, do you really promote people based on their excellent people skills? Or are you still tempted to promote someone to a leadership position based on their occupational prowess?

People Skills - Not Soft Image by:Isbye

Leaders often find themselves in this dilemma partly because they think of people skills as soft skills.  Is this thinking a legacy of the industrial revolution?  Leaders’ definitions of success were very closely tied to technological progress (even before the computer).

This thinking can be dangerous in an era where innovation, creativity, and capturing diverse talents are the pathway to business success. People skills are not soft People skills prowess is a complex and refined ability to inspire people to produce hard tangible results. It materializes in communication, team dynamics, and leadership that taps and blends global talents for an innovative competitive edge.

Most everyone agrees that the ideal leader would have: outstanding people skills, great vision, critical thinking prowess, as well as the ability to inspire innovation/change, assess and take risks, market, and easily understand the financials.  If this ideal candidate is not available, which skills would you primarily seek?  Whom would you select?  Why?

I advise many leaders to look for the following tangible people-skills when promoting staff:

  1. How does the staff interact with leaders, colleagues, other team members, and outsiders?
  2. What evidence do you have of that staff inspiring teamwork, innovation, and collaboration?
  3. When the staff communicates, does s/he use open ended questions to invite discussion, listen reflectively, and also clearly state his/her own opinions?
  4. What have you witnessed in the staff that tells you this person thrives in diversity and change?
  5. How well have they led global virtual teams? What were the results?

I welcome a lively and civil discussion on this topic and invite you to leave your thoughts in the comments section below. What advice would you share with leaders on how to find the best staff to promote?

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach delivers workshops, keynotes, consults and coaching on the people-skills for teamwork, customer service, and sales.  20 years of experience feeds her new sessions and your success.  For more information and what others say about her work, see this site.

14 Responses to “Do Leaders Really Promote on People Skills?”

  1. Evaluating soft skills are important are a factor in promotion and succession planning. And they should be a part of the overall process. The major area is that of temperament. If the behavior is within a standard that is NOT excessively abnormal then temperament is acceptable for moving on.

  2. Kate, you ask some pretty challenging questions. Since I spent a number of years as a bad (but improving) manager, I must admit I have been on both sides of this mistake. We must remember that the job of leadership is a support position. The minute we make someone the manager, their skill as a performer becomes less valuable. The best coaches were seldom the best performers because the skills are different. Like most good leadership advice, it’s an expensive lesson to learn the hard way.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      So true Mike … we need more than “performance” skills to be a leader. Yet if we look at Jane’s reply below, leaders still don’t believe it!

  3. Jane Perdue says:

    Kate —

    In an ideal world, leaders wouldn’t need your five thoughtful questions as that criteria would be a given for promotion. Leaders would be expected to excel at both hard and skills softs. However, in a business world so focused on shareholder returns, the opinions of Wall Street analysts and other short-term gains, what’s valued most are the hard skills. While sad-but-true, some workplace cultures don’t value or reward two-way dialogue, collaboration and/or facilitating change management.

    I recently shared some statistics showing the link between employee engagement and increased productivity – only to be told “that information is from another industry. It couldn’t possibly work here.” Since nothing succeeds like success, individual leaders have to take personal responsibility to improve their soft skills, use them on the job and then deliver topnotch results. “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Powerful reply Jane. Quite something to hear the denial dance “that’s from another industry” even as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century! I think you have it right — slaves to short term demands of the shareholders. Many a large corporation traveled that road only to come close to collapse later (e.g. IBM).

      So here’s to a new year of self-initiation to improve people skills since as you say … “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”

      Thanks much for your “adds” on this post.

  4. Bhanu says:

    Kate, I totally agree with you on what you have written about the people skills. Thanks for sharing some good questions too. However I would also like to add here that the person should have a positive attitude, willing to share his knowledge with other team members and develop them.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Now I must agree with you Bhanu. Positive attitude inspires all to achieve more. It doesn’t mean shutting your eyes to the truth and denying trouble. It does mean using a positive attitude to overcome obstacles and lead to success.

      Many thanks for visiting Smart SenseAbilities blog and I hope you will share your insights on any post that catches your eye.

      Best wishes,

  5. Thx for initiating the conversation Kate ! Based on my own experience, I would say the best managers I have had were very good teachers and mentors. It is often a very lonely place to be in a formal leading position, and people will rarely make themselves vulnerable in a culture where there’s so much emphasis placed on excellence and success. In this context, failure will often be considered as failure, rather than a learning opportunity. Great managers hence teachers and mentors will recognize that leading comes from within, and is experiential = drawn from work and life experiences, and an ability to experiment and learn from failures.

    I’m tempted to turn your question around and ask: what advice would you give to managers to attract, nurture and develop talent and shining stars? Rather than look to the best staff to promote, managers should look within and ask whether they foster a path and an environment of excellence and innovation.

    You want people to lead by example and be your best brand ambassadors. If you’re not leading by example, people can decide to go elsewhere. On your question, I would say “humility” is what matters most for me. Helping others, communicating and sharing. Being humbled by the task and opportunity to change and transform something.

  6. Hello Kate –

    As a starting business owner, I realize how important it is to use the my soft skills. I know this, because I learned that “everything rises and falls on leadership” (a famous John Maxwell quote). As of right now, I’m learning how to connect with people online, with people who are interested in being my partner, and future potential vendors. Maybe in corporate America the dog-eat-dog mentality exist, but in small business, soft skills are an essential asset to the organization. Without it, business wouldn’t start, churches wouldn’t get off the ground, and I would not have a wife.

    Excellent Post, Kate! And, a Happy New Year.


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Dear Elmer,
      So pleased to read your reply to “Do Leaders Really Promote on People Skills?” I must echo your thoughts that people skills are essential in small business.

      My favorite line in your reply: “Without it businesses wouldn’t start, churches wouldn’t get off the ground, and I would never have a wife.”

      You summed it up beautifully. It’s the beginning, the middle and it takes you to many end goals.

      Happy New Year Elmer and best of luck in your business. I post many people skills posts on teamwork and customer service. Hope you will stop back and share, learn, and comment!

      All the best and let me know what value I can contribute to your business.

      • I look forward to your future post! I really like your insights and opinions. It’s very engaging and places me in the right frame of reference with my customers.


  7. Matt Reiter says:

    Leaders can’t lead without people following them. “Soft skills” is a misnomer. Being able to provide motivation, inspiration and focus to team members is essential for effective leadership.

    Who wants to follow a person just because they know their job but grate on everyone day in and day out. The adage goes, people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Matt,
      I too dislike the term “soft skills”. There is nothing soft about it. Essential people skills make or break results of an organization. As you say, people quite bosses. Thanks for your insight. I hope you will comment on any post of interest and suggest hot topics for future posts.

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