/ 31 May 2024

In our tech-dominated world, soft skills are needed more than ever

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Success and sustainability is increasingly determined by managers who can communicate effectively with their teams

Over the past three to four years, there has been a world-wide boom of remote workers across the planet. While some workers have gone back to the office full-time, many are adopting hybrid models of working from home some days, while travelling to work on others. Technology may be providing innovative tools to do work effectively from home, but there are drawbacks involved.

According to research published recently by Colorado State University, remote working conditions carry with them a risk of isolation. Many employees feel less engaged and depleted at work, which could lead to burnout. The study showed that these negative consequences could be addressed and prevented by managers who apply soft skills: the ability to communicate with employees and talk about potential problems and building better relationships with employees by offering support and flexible working schedules.

Soft skills are understood to be people skills that incorporate effective communication and the ability to collaborate, adapt and problem solve. It is relationship building with all kinds of different personalities, as well as conflict resolution in various scenarios. It involves talking — but most importantly, listening to others. 

Dr Jane Usher2
Dr Jane Usher is the Head of Business School: Academics at Milpark Education

As our workplaces change and the nature of work evolves, it’s becoming essential for business leaders to check in with their teams, to find out not only how they are doing when it comes to completing a project, but how they are feeling, what the hold-ups are, and why? 

Being able to talk to people in a way that is not patronising but encourages them to speak up and be honest is not easy. It involves trust and being vulnerable, and this is why MBA programmes nowadays also focus on communication skills, personal mastery and elements of self-awareness when it comes to the academic curriculum. Business schools recognise that the world needs business leaders who don’t only understand a business plan and strategic thinking, but also how to inspire and motivate people, and build teams who can collaborate, overcome personality conflicts and co-operate productively.

In 2023, the Graduate Management Admission Council’s annual Corporate Recruiters Survey asked over 900 global corporate recruiters which skills are the most important for business school graduates to have. A total of 61% said interpersonal skills.  

A Harvard Business Review article explains: “When companies today search for top leaders, especially new CEOs, they attribute less importance to those (traditional business) capabilities than they used to and instead prioritise one qualification above all others: strong social skills.”

The article examines how workplaces have changed over the past two decades, requiring business leaders to not only perform routine operational duties but also interact with others at a higher level. The article goes on to state: “Social skills are particularly important in settings where productivity hinges on effective communication, as it invariably does in large, complex and skill-intensive enterprises.”  

At Milpark Education, we often encounter professionals enrolling for an MBA with a particular view towards gaining the soft skills required for their new position as CEO or COO. At C-suite level, they find they are less involved in the technical decision-making and are needed more in the sensitive management of relationships with partners, suppliers, multi-cultural teams and other stakeholders. 

Our belief is that the professional journey of doing an MBA programme is also a personal transformation, in which students examine themselves and learn how to maximise their own potential, while recognising and addressing weaknesses. It is about making individuals understand on a deep, psychological and spiritual level that while ambition and hard work may have landed them a top spot, to succeed there they will need other skills.

As business leadership expert Simon Sinek says: “Leadership is a team sport. I think the most important thing is co-operation, and that none of this stuff is doable alone.”