Categories: Success

What Are Soft Business Skills And How Can You Develop Them?

Hard businesses skills are the ones you use to perform your specific job, such as coding, creating a cash flow statement, editing an article or creating a PowerPoint presentation. However, many young people are unfamiliar with the importance of soft business skills, which are essential for climbing the ladder into management. These skills include things like leadership, communications skills, people skills, team-building, time management and others.

Fear not, though, because, if you want to get that next promotion quicker or move into the C-suite before you have grey hair, we’re here to help you make a plan to learn these soft business skills for career advancement. Class is officially in session.

Time Management

Some people never seem to miss deadlines, always delivering early or routinely producing great results under pressure. How do they do it? They’ve developed time-management skills. Although there are different techniques to how to achieve this, the successful people usually have two things in common: they have a time-management system or routine, and they get started early.

Time management isn’t just about getting your work done on time. It’s about making sure you have extra free time to give to subordinates. If the people you supervise can’t get a meeting with you or have to wait for long periods to get an answer from you, you won’t be a good leader.

If you want to learn time-management skills, start by understanding the phrase, “Work fills time.”

What this means is, the more time you have available to finish a task, the longer it often takes to finish it. For example, if your boss asks you deliver something tomorrow by noon, you’ll have it to him at 11:30 or 11:45. If your boss asks you to deliver the exact same deliverable by 5:00 pm, you’ll probably turn it in at 4:30 or 4:45. The same goes if you’re given until the end of the week to deliver.

One of the main reasons for this is because the more time you have for work, the more time you also have for other distractions — like visiting with co-workers, surfing the Internet, working on more enjoyable projects or taking several breaks. When you’re given a deliverable, plan on getting it done sooner than later. Get it done and out of the way. Set your deadline as early as realistically possible.

You should also develop time-management tools to help you focus.

The most common is the to-do list. Start using to-do lists that don’t just list things that need to get done. Make sure your lists break projects down into individual tasks. Also, give each task a time deadline, which will put more pressure on you and motivate you to start early.

Another way to better manage your time is to use technology to set reminders, such as a computer calendar that gives you messages at specific times during the day, or reminders when you get in each morning and after you return from lunch.

Here are 17 time-management apps you should review to see which can help you become more organized and capable of leading others.

Finally, build breaks into your day. You’ll get the stress-relief and energy boost you need if you schedule a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon break to chat with co-workers, hit the stairs for some exercise or get a snack. Planned breaks are less likely than random breaks to wander into long, unproductive time wasters.

Communications

Whether it’s a one-on-one lunch, a small team meeting in the conference room or a larger group presentation, you’ll need excellent communications skills to become a manager and, eventually, an executive.

How’s your eye contact? During a confrontation, do you cross your arms over your chest? Do you modulate your voice or speak in a monotone? Do your emails have a beginning, middle and end, or do they wander? Does everyone understand what you just wrote when you send a memo?

Improve your communications skills by starting with your closest allies. Ask them what they think of your written and verbal communications skills and if they have any suggestions.

Review past work memos, proposals, reports and even informational emails you’ve written. Look at them as if you were the person who was receiving the document for the first time.

If you haven’t learned PowerPoint, do so. It’s a dinosaur, but it’s still a common presentation tool that’s easy to use and is effective. You’ll also probably be asked to create PowerPoint presentations as you rise through the ranks, so get to know it well.

Lastly, it never hurts to take a business-writing seminar. Your company might even reimburse the fee if you tell them it’s to improve your management skills.

Leadership

One way to become an effective leader is to create a leadership style that’s easy for you. Take an online Meyers Briggs personality type to see if you’re more introverted, more inquisitive, a Type A personality or a control freak. Here’s a review of 16 different personality types you probably didn’t know existed.

Once you know your personality traits, you can develop a leadership style. You might use the Command style, which consists of giving orders. You might use the Cooperative style, sharing goals and soliciting ideas from subordinates.

To become an effective leader, you’ll have to get people to want to follow you. You’ll need to know when to motivate with a carrot and when to use a stick.

It’s important that you make your subordinates feel like team members, not robots or drones who are treated as busy bees. That means learning the Socratic method of teaching, where you ask questions rather than simply give answers.

You’ll also need to check your ego and learn how to publicly recognize team members who do great work. Being a leader doesn’t mean you always have to be the smartest person in the department. Sometimes, giving a little shout-out is all it takes to turn a subordinate into a fan.

Finally, as a leader, you can no longer be a buddy with co-workers, going out to lunch, meeting for a drink after work and going to personal parties. You don’t have to be totally aloof, but you’ll have to learn to separate yourself a bit from former friends and colleagues. For example, you might need to end casual individual lunches with subordinates, but a team lunch you organize for a purpose, such as celebrating the finish of a project, is a great way to create a team atmosphere.

Professionalism

How often are you late for a meeting? Do you respond to emails and phone calls promptly? Ever gossip or even listen to gossip?

A leader sets an example for his/her subordinates, so don’t complain about the company, even if you’re currently still a staff-level employee. Read the company handbook to learn more about its diversity, harassment, sensitivity and legal policies.

If your field has a professional society or trade association, join! Attend their meetings, get certified, serve on a committee or speak at an event. This shows your commitment to your profession, which is different than just your commitment to your job.

Utilize Your HR Department

Part of developing your soft business skills is utilizing the resources you have around you. This includes your company’s HR Department, which you should regularly be networking with on the job.

Take someone from HR to lunch and ask them what they look for in management candidates. Ask specifically about soft business skills. Find out where HR is frustrated and what they recommend for building the soft skills they mention. This not only helps you learn what the people who hire management talent want, it lets them know that there’s someone currently at the company who wants to move into management and take on more responsibility.

All images via Getty

Steve Milano

Steve Milano is a journalist and business executive/consultant. He has helped dozens of for-profit companies and nonprofits with their marketing and operations. Steve has written more than 8,000 articles during his career, focusing on small business, careers, personal finance and health and fitness. Steve also turned his tennis hobby into a career, coaching, writing, running nonprofits and conducting workshops around the globe.

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