As the use of artificial intelligence (AI) grows, so will the need for leaders who are highly competent in soft skills, who can bring people together to collaborate and win them over to new ways of working.
This is what will make humans stand apart from machines as collaboration rather than competition within organizations is going to be key during an era where many tasks will be automated.
Being able to deal with people effectively, as well as solve problems and develop a growth mindset where you can rise to challenges and learn from mistakes, will also continue to be valued by employees.
“In the years to come, companies in which people collaborate best will have a competitive edge, and to that extent emotional intelligence will be more vital,” according to a summary of Daniel Goleman’s book Working with Emotional Intelligence.
Emotional over artificial
If the human ingredient is ignored, Goleman warned, nothing else will work as well as it might.
Meri Williams, former chief technology officer at Monzo, agrees. “The emotional journey matters more than the rational side of things. Change is an emotional process and forgetting about the human side is the fastest way to guarantee failure,” she says.
Williams has overseen many digital transformation projects in her career in the technology sector, ranging from the UK government and retailer Marks and Spencer to challenger bank Monzo and online print and design company Moo.
“A relatively small set of people are convinced by logic and explanation or data, for everybody else, you need something aspirational – a picture of the future that is inspiring,” she says.
Whether you are asked to put together a team for a transformation project, or you inherit a department, it is important to understand what skill sets you need or have. Talent management and the way we work is transforming rapidly.
At top business schools much attention is paid to how to lead diverse groups to optimum performance.
You should start by assessing the strengths and gaps in skills in the team and also be open to redefining roles to recruit wider, more varied perspectives.
Once you have understood your team, you can look at what motivates them to perform, become highly driven and innovate. Here, the soft skills are as essential as the ‘hard’ or technical abilities.
The human factor is that ‘extra’ ingredient, which is needed in a difficult and challenging environment.
Daniel Pink, author of best-selling books about business, work and behavior, has identified when people give you that bit more – that “discretionary effort”. In his book Drive, he calls this the intrinsic motivation. If you can get people to work because they want to do it, or they feel proud about it, they will give more “for free”.
Pink identifies the following to make people go the extra mile:
- Purpose – Understand the meaning of the project for each team member. An aspect of this might be where employees can pursue personal goals at work.
- Autonomy – Give people autonomy to tackle tasks as they see fit to validate their experience and expertise. If you give them a sense of value and ask them how they would like to carry out a job, you are more likely to get a long-term positive response.
- Mastery – Let them learn while they are working. If you are being trained, you are likely to feel more satisfied and be able to deal with innovation, which is becoming more unpredictable because the cycles are shorter and changing rapidly.
If we can create this context, it is more likely that team members will make an additional ‘discretionary’ extra effort because the context is positive and supportive.
A little trust goes a long way
Trust is also one of the most transversal themes in innovation. It is about believing that something is good, honest, safe and reliable. This is a key skill that managers need to deliver successful projects.
Once you have established that people can trust you, you should be able to influence and persuade colleagues and inspire them to drive change.
Today, it is important to have these skills in your leadership toolkit and you can develop them by doing a mix of the following:
- Use facts to support your arguments for transformation.
- Involve people, asking for their views and respecting their opinion.
- Listen, summarize their feelings and share a common vision.
Leading transformation can be exhausting and change agents can be particularly at risk of burnout so building up your resilience to manage change is key.
As the pace of change only accelerates, employees generally will need to be aware of any signs of stress, such as sleep problems, anxiety and consuming too much alcohol, to look after their wellbeing.
How resilient you are as a manager may affect how well you cope when faced with the challenges of change, but you can learn how to adapt well and recover quickly and drive successful digital transformation projects.
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