As an undergraduate student, most of your time was probably spent on earning the easily measurable cues to knowledge acquisition – marks. More often than not, this focus on marks was to the exclusion of focus on any other facet of learning or knowledge.
A much needed but equally neglected area of skilling of prospective managers has been in the area of Soft Skills. Soft skills, so called because they are distinct from the technical skills where one’s skill can be seen and measured by the quality of the product they result in, are those skills of the mind, invisible in terms of action but visible only by the impact they have on other people. Soft skills are all about dealing with people.
While there are training manuals and face to face sessions to learn the technical skills and put them to use in the same manner in any and every situation that demands them, the same cannot be said of the soft skills. Each situation is unique, even when dealing with the same set of people; the context could be different, the mental framework of the people involved could be different, thus making the output different for the same set of inputs. Your ability to read every situation correctly helps you make an informed effort at dealing with people. Your ability to influence people depends a lot on the readiness of the others to be open to you, which in turn is influenced by the way you behave with others.
Thus, soft skills boil down to your behaviors – the way you communicate, the way you value and respect others’ opinion, the way you deal with dissent and the dissenter, the way you take a stand and convince others, the way you arrive at decisions, whether you collaborate or keep aloof …. Your behaviors identify whether you see yourself as first among equals, or see others are equal partners in any deal.
Well, you must be wondering the use of such behaviors in this competitive world. It is immense! People join organizations but leave them because of managers. This signals the importance of soft skills in dealing with people. A good manager understands her team members well and shows genuine care and respect for them. This translates into the focus on identifying their needs and developing them on that front. Not only would she be the most sought after manager, the team is willing to do anything for her. The team performance is also boosted in such situations. All this happens, because she has been able to connect well with others and treat them with respect and understand them and enable them to perform.
Ask successful managers the reason for their progress thus far. They attribute a large part of their success to their ability to deal well with people, be it their team members, peers, bosses or customers. They might not have been that way right from the beginning; they might have learnt it the hard way – after a failure. But they realized its importance and have made a conscious effort to internalize these skills.
You might be in the right place, at the right time, with the right set of technical qualifications and land that dream job. But if you do not have the right soft skills within, then there was no point in being so right, because your career progression is limited by your attitude!
Many of these aspects are learnt on the job, often by the trial and error method. While the learning is immense from failures, one need not necessarily experience everything to learn it. As a management student, you need to be aware of the difference between success and failure in people interactions, steering your way away from misunderstanding to effective solutions. Often times, this awareness never dawns on the student since many faculty are not equipped and experienced to deal with it.
In your quest for value added management education, look out for schools that actually deliver insights into these soft skills – verbal and written communication, team work, decision making process, influencing others and handling conflict. Learn not from theoretical models taught by faculty who have never seen the insides of a corporate, but learn from experiential models from faculty who have actually dealt with such situations on a regular basis in the industry. Such faculty draw upon their own or vicarious experiences of success and failure in dealing with people and what it takes to remedy a situation. Your faculty’s corporate experience does have a bearing on your success at work.
You must be wondering how it is so. This is how it works. Students with good soft skills get to work more efficiently with team members in group assignments and able to interact better within the classroom, contributing to the overall learning process. Not only are there chances of better grades, their own development is fast forwarded from the inputs they get from experienced faculty. Such students leave a positive impression on their faculty who are able to identify the superior people skills that go for making a good manager. Faculty are willing to extend access to their own extensive professional networks to such students and this enhances the students’ opportunities at professional success. What more does an MBA aspirant look out for?
Change the context from a professional one to a social one. Do you require a different set of soft skills? Not necessarily! Being a good listener, showing genuine respect and concern, convincing other cordially, involving others in decision making – they go in any context.
Choose your B-school wisely! Your success, professional and personal, depends on it.
Prof. Madhavi Srinivas is a Faculty at Accend School of Management and Entrepreneurship (ASoME) and is an alumna of XLRI Jamshedpur. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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