If you aspire to become a leader, particularly at the managerial and executive levels, soft skills are, and should be indispensable to your career growth strategy. In fact, soft skills are so essential at helping pave the road to leadership positions, that 94% of recruiters believe that “an employee with stronger soft skills has a better chance of being promoted to a leadership position than an employee with more years of experience but weaker soft skills.”
When you think of a great manager or even co-worker, what comes to mind? Aside from their knowledge and technical ability corresponding to the industry, I bet that most of the traits that characterize great managers and those who advance in their career smoothly are intangible. These are indeed, associated with strong soft skills. Managing and motivating your team, navigating interpersonal conflicts, resolving issues, having difficult conversations and fostering an environment of inclusiveness and innovation all require an understanding for, and an insight into human relationship dynamics.
According to LinkedIn, 57% of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills. But I’d say that technical skills are extremely important too because of the specialized knowledge and technical ability required in roles such as software development, UX design, sales or cloud computing. So those who can embrace both hard and soft skills will find themselves better equipped to lead and leap ahead in their careers.
If you’ve never really given soft skills much thought, need some convincing on their relevance to you, or if you think you could do with strengthening them, keep in mind the following key soft skills for 2020 that could help you advance your career in tech.
Communication skills – these are the holy grail of soft skills since they encompass several skills that together make-up a powerful force to present your ideas and for getting your vision across clearly. They are also necessary for taking a complex issue and explaining eloquently it to colleagues and clients.
Aside from speaking with clarity, communication skills include empathy, listening, open-mindedness, emotion control and non-verbal communication including attitude, eye contact, body and position, and facial expression among others.
Whether you’re presenting in a meeting, writing an email or meeting with a client, focus on communicating and explaining concepts simply, rather than using jargon because while you may know all the technical terms of data analytics, cyber security or blockchain for example, your team members or clients may have no idea what you’re talking about. And any techie who can use less jargon will stand out among others. As dear Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Creativity – creativity is not about artistry. I’d say it’s important for many who find themselves in the STEM industries, in jobs that involve high tech and innovation, and for example, for a software or web developer who solves problems all day long, or a business analyst who can look at figures and interpret them to tell the stories in plain English.
We all need creativity because it is a necessary skill for effective problem-solving and strategizing. New ideas and solutions flow easily when we allow a creative process to take place and to think outside of the box. In this sense, being creative is a force for driving competitive advantage – think of it as the raw material for innovation.
To improve your creative skills, disconnect, get out of your head, do and read something different, play games like ping-pong – strategizing and problem solving at high speed will switch your brain on allowing it to think in different ways. And make sure you’re getting a good sleep – while we’ve read about the the link between smartphones and poor sleep, did you know that quality sleep is necessary for boosting creativity?
Growth mindset – the tech industry is a fast-moving and constantly evolving one. The demand for better, faster and safer can also be overwhelming. So to thrive in it, you must be flexible, willing to be continuously learning and to maintain your skills up to date!
A sense of curiosity, thirst for learning and the belief that your talents can be developed through hard work and feedback will allow you to become more successful and agile in your career as it helps you define success on a personal level, embrace failure, explore new ways of doing things and think more long-term, which is key to achieving big goals.
To nurture a growth-mindset ask questions and be curious. Keep an open mind to all and everything – you’d be surprised what clients, interns and colleagues could teach you, even those from other departments and sectors.
So, how else can you strengthen your soft skills? Well, start attending networking events, meetups, and conferences – not only do you get to meet new people in your industry but that new interaction will have you gaining experience and putting into practice a lot of the soft skills mentioned, including communicating with different people, working in teams during workshops, and listening to influential people in keynotes.
A good place to start could be the #Wetechtogether Conference on 28 March, which aims to empower people to increase diversity in tech with plenty of workshops, panel discussions and opportunities to network and meet with amazing companies.
If you cannot take time away to attend one of these events, you can start practising your soft skills simply by being mindful and conscious about the situations you find yourself in.
Remember that the list doesn’t stop there! What other soft skills could you work on developing that are important for the success of your career, team or projects?