Tuesday 25 August 2015

Communication – a soft skill?

Bettina Hausmann

Bettina Hausmann helps professionals optimize their business communication and leadership skills for improved results. Bettina has longstanding experience consulting blue chip companies, international organizations, EU officials and associations in their positioning, campaigning, media relations, stakeholder outreach and issues communications. She has also trained hundreds of senior managers including C-level in message development, media and stakeholder relations, and presenting and handling issues. In addition to her communication and leadership expertise, Bettina is also an accredited executive coach and Senior Associate at MCE. Here, she talks about communication skills. 

Often times when I mention I give communication training, I hear: ‘Aha, so you are doing soft skills?’ Indeed, some organisations and trainers put communication training into the category of ‘soft skills’.

We are in communications indeed, and it bothers me when communication is linked to a term that is synonymous of fluffy, blurry and mushy. When you google images for ‘soft’, you’ll get flowers, feathers and marshmallows. For some, ‘soft skills’ seem to stand for easy, secondary and difficult-to-grasp abilities. Hard skills, on the contrary, evoke knowledge, occupational skills and must-haves for your job.
The term ‘soft skills’ and its underlying perceptions undervalue the role and importance of communication. The Holmes report has quantified the cost of miscommunication in companies to dozens of billions of dollars every year. And one does not need to think as far back as the BP oil spill to realize that poor crisis communication can cause huge reputational and financial damage.

Mastering their communications will help professionals achieve tangible business impact and shape their careers. 

Take, for instance, the five areas below:

  1. Presentation: You can learn how to package and deliver your message in a way that your audiences will act on it. Wanting, and even liking to be on stage is possible, and it does marvels.
  2. Media: When running a media interview, you’d better know how to develop, tailor and deliver your messages. And how to move from a victim to an effective spokesperson.
  3. Crisis: We are all prone to crisis, and business leaders better prepare for different crisis scenarios, developing skills and materials to tap into, in case their reputation is at stake one day … and everything goes really, really fast.
  4. Negotiation: Knowing the rules of the game helps mastering it. It enables you to make informed choices, depending on your goals, the situation and the negotiators at the table.
  5. Conflict: When conflict emerges, you will appreciate mastering difficult conversations.

There is so much to learn and enhance. Some of my most interesting clients are already great communicators. They understand the value and power of communication and carve time out of their busy agendas - sometimes in the late evening - to lift their stakeholder outreach skills to another level.
Soft is the contrary of hard, maybe even the contrary of real. Rather than shifting communication to another secondary category of skills, I’d advice putting it centre stage. Communication is business-critical.

Wednesday 12 August 2015

What makes now a great and successful leaders is not anymore the most important question.

Johan Beeckmans
Johan Beeckmans’s extensive international expertise in leadership, strategy and management development has been built over a 25 year career in key Human Resources roles and senior positions with international companies in the US and Europe. He is also Senior Associate at MCE and he talks about Leadership development. 

How to change the mindset?

What makes now a great and successful leaders is not anymore the most important question. It is about how to change the mindset? This can be done following the four step approach.
  • Self-awareness
It is the basis of our knowledge about ourselves. With self-awareness we have a reasonable chance not only to develop good and solid social skills, but to start to change our mindset. Without it, there is unfortunately little chance to change the mindset. It is a journey that requires continuously building and refining a set of skills that allows people to guide, inspire, and work with others as well as making their plan for the “stages” they need to go through. It considers both horizontal and vertical development. 
Great managers have a wide range of competencies to draw on. They understand their strengths and weaknesses, their preferences, what makes them tick, what they avoid and how they learn. They know themselves well. Successful leaders learn from listening to others and from feedback. They are open to listen to feedback and make the necessary changes in their behaviors in order to plan their own stages of development.  And becoming a more complex thinker, they focus on vertical development i.e, the steps to become a more complex thinker.
  •  Inspiring the Team 
Great managers and leaders know exactly what their role is in the team. They read the situation and understand what is needed from them. Great managers create a great atmosphere to work in. The manager – and their behaviors – has the biggest impact on team climate.  Team climate affects performance. It affects the amount of effort people in the team will contribute. The more they contribute, the more successful the team will be.  Positive climates encourage extra effort – negative climates inhibit it. High performance climates are characterized by individuals, who routinely do whatever it takes – who exceed expectations. Extended periods of poor climate may cause people to lose faith in the idea that things can improve, leading people to disengage from their jobs and the organization.  
  •  Leading in a complex world
One of the things that matter, of course, is our capacity to hold and understand complexity. Leaders need to have the ability for each of us to hold the shades of grey complexity brings with it. Leadership is filled with so many shades of grey, so it matters that we can see those different shades. The complexity does not only comes fro the outside environment, but more so from the internal environment. Successful leader lead with mindfulness in their teams, organizations. This is the only way we can change happen in the organization. The reason that managers at higher levels of development are able to perform more effectively is that they can think in more complex ways.
  •   Create your Personal Leadership Brand
Effective managers ask themselves: “What are the demands of my managerial situation?” Then they select the right leadership styles in response to the demands of the situation, considering:
ƒ. the experience and capability of team members
ƒ. the complexity of the task
ƒ. time pressures and resource availability
ƒ. the risks that result from under-performance
ƒ. the organization’s culture or norms.

Finally, they keep an open mind and observe their impact, watch out for changes in the situation that demand a different approach, and assess changes in the climate they are creating for their team.
Managing your personal brand requires leaders to be a great role model, mentor, and / or a voice that others can depend upon.

A major part of leadership development is helping people develop how they think.
How they get to an answer matters more than ever. The focus is on the individual’s responsibility for own development. And it starts with the self-awareness and the ability to change the mindset.  When people are confronted with increased complexity and challenge that can’t be reconciled with what they know and can do at their current level, people have to take the next step. Development accelerates when people are able to identify the assumptions that are holding them at their current level of development and find a way to do something about it.

Where to start? A starting point can come from redefining what is meant by the term leadership. It is not anymore the heroic leader with the 5, 7, 10 traits that makes them successful. Leadership is a process of mobilizing people to face difficult challenges, process of inspiring teams to high performance; process of leading in a complex world and above all to create a leadership brand. Who is the leader becomes less important than what is needed in the system and how we can produce it.

Have a comment or a question? Please comment below. 

More information about the author, please click here.