When It Comes To Leadership — Real Leadership — Reject The Currently Popular “Soft” Skills

The world is changing for business leaders. So says OfficeTeam, a business that advises other businesses on leadership. To be successful in the future, OfficeTeam predicts, you will have to listen to your employees, share your feelings with them, and keep your mind open to all kinds of ideas, even bad ones. These are today’s new “soft” leadership skills.

By 2005, the consultancy projects, they will completely replace the older, harder skills of planning, persuasion, and discipline. OfficeTeam says: “The future office environment won’t allow for command-and-control focused management style. Employees want to contribute to decisions and offer creative solutions.”

When I hear stuff like that, it makes me wonder: Are these people serious? Do the guys at OfficeTeam believe what they say? Or are they just saying whatever they think sounds good? Are they professional consultants? Academics? Or people who have business experience? I wonder, because this kind of thinking completely contradicts my own experience.

From what I’ve seen, most employees want leadership. And leadership to them means that someone else solves the problems and tells them what to do about them. People like to feel important. And being useful to a business can make them feel that way (if they are properly praised). But employees don’t have to “contribute to decisions” or “offer creative solutions” to be useful. Quite the opposite is true.

Most of your employees would probably prefer to leave the problems and decisions to you. You are earning the big bucks, so, yes, you should do the hard thinking — but not always by yourself. You can (and should) get advice from people who have knowledge you don’t. But in most cases, they will not be your employees.

Here’s something else OfficeTeam says: “Skilled employees will have many career options in 2005. They’ll choose opportunities in which their ideas are heard.” Really? My money’s on a weaker economy in 2005 than what we have today. And today’s economy sucks for employees — even most skilled ones. But that apart, the idea that skilled employees are actively looking for employers who will listen to their ideas is simply not true. Some of them are — but most of them aren’t.

My biggest client, AGP, is a company where just about any employee can do just about anything he wants. AGP’s main competitor, PP, is just the opposite. It runs a very “old-fashioned,” centralized, hierarchical type of business. Each company tends to attract different kinds of employees. But PP clearly is the better-run business, and I have no reason to believe that its employees are any less happy than those of AGP.

Finally, OfficeTeam says that, when it comes to setting goals, “allowing participation is more important than sharing your vision.” That is just silly. Utterly silly. It’s so silly, in fact, that I’m quite sure OfficeTeam must be pulling my leg. A leader can delegate a great deal of responsibility if he surrounds himself with good people, but the one thing he can never delegate — unless he wants to cease being a leader — is the job of establishing goals and creating a vision.

Dreaming about what your business can accomplish — how far it can go and how great it can be — is your most important job. If you are a leader, now or in 2005 or whenever, you must spend much of your spare time doing just that. Yes, you can ask questions. Yes, you can seek advice. But when it comes down to deciding where you want to go and what you want to achieve, you’ve got to do it yourself.