Most of our work involves helping leaders and teams develop the soft skills that are critical to great leadership. Sometimes though, poor soft-skill behaviors stem from hard skill weaknesses. Here’s a case in point:
Lack of strategic selling experience
- ● Background — A while ago, a company we work with regularly had a major opportunity to transform its business, leveraging existing capabilities to expand into a new product area. Doing this required acquiring a flagship client as a “beachhead” in a new market. Discussions with this potential client had been progressing for several months, but started to stall. The company’s leadership team, starting with the CEO, was very frustrated by this. This frustration negatively impacted their interactions with each other. Poor exhibition of soft skills, right? Not so fast!
- ● Hard skills need — In listening to the noise around the leadership frustration, I realized that these leaders had never been trained in the strategic aspects of managing a complex sale — not a surprise since the existing business didn’t require it. As the cliché goes: “They didn’t know what they didn’t know.”
- ● Similar experience — I recalled another situation in which I had been involved. About a decade ago, IBM successfully entered the HR outsourcing business by acquiring existing global HR services centers from Proctor & Gamble, a company that serviced its own HR needs. IBM was able to do this, successfully winning the P&G account in a competitive bid process, because of IBM’s deep experience at managing complex sales to a successful close.
- ● The Solution — The company’s leadership team needed strong development in strategic selling. As future opportunities arose, this new hard skill enabled its leaders to build and manage potential client relationships to successful sales outcomes.
The lesson is clear. Don’t assume that a soft skill deficit is at the root of poor leadership behaviors. Lack of key hard skills may be the real problem. The good news is: most of these problems, once identified, have clear, attainable solutions.