"Soft Skills" – how can those be of significant importance to my career? I need to be technically competent. I need to have confidence to stand my ground and the communication skills to let people know what I know – I get that, but other soft skills – really? Isn't that what people fall back on and use when they aren't strong technically? Or when they are leading people who have different skill sets from their own? Leaders need to be strong and forceful, right? Leaders get more out of people when they boss them around, don't you think? Leaders shouldn't show their soft side – that would make them vulnerable.
Are you nodding your head in agreement just about now? Well, then, I hope to change your mind. I emphatically disagree with my tongue-in-cheek assertions in the paragraph above. I know from experience the incredible force multiplier it is when you are well skilled in the "soft skills", or the ability to work the people side of the equation.
This might be surprising, given my position as a 2-star major general and the national commander of the Civil Air Patrol
, the all-civilian United States Air Force Auxiliary. In this position, I led 61,000 civilians on serious missions across the nation and Puerto Rico for four years. The team carried out our congressionally-chartered missions of emergency services, cadet programs, and aerospace education. In my "Command and Control" environment, I had over 500 aircraft and 1,000 vehicles under my command. At its core, though, my work was to align the needs of the nation with the motivators that would incite my team to get the job done. My people skills were never more important!
I recently read the book CIO Edge
by Waller, Hollenbeck and Rubenstruck. In it, many CIOs of Fortune 500 companies share their insights and their stories of their success in their technical fields – their success in leading by putting people first.
The best way to lead is to serve your team. Being a servant leader means to invert the organizational triangle – flipping over the normally "pointy top" of the triangular organization chart to instead depict the leader at the very bottom of the triangle. The leader "holds up" their followers – providing them with the resources that they need to be successful – while also holding them accountable.
Both organizationally as well as personally, my teams have thrived because I put people first. It is important to not only use and model the best skills, but also to expect it from others.