Visionary leaders embrace change: Soft Skills

Most businesses are over-managed and under-led, says business coach and ‘change agent’ Jennifer Elliot of Soft Skills Australia.

“What we’re interested in is hu-man behaviour and the development of the role of the leader,” she said.

“A leader is a communicator. A leader has the ability to confront issues. A leader is a good delegator and has the ability to be visionary.

“If you’re going to inspire people, or, in the case of the CEO, if you’re going to inspire others to lead, you’ve got to come to the table with all of these qualities.

“Leaders make decisions — managers pontificate.

“One of the most important lessons we teach upper management is how to ‘fight clean’. I won’t say ‘communicate’ because in business you have to fight to get your own way.

“Some people are passive-aggressive rather than assertive — but it’s important to separate the behaviour from the people. People like to instantly blame others in order to deflect their own insecurities.

“We teach staff to deal with the issue at hand, not the internal politics...everyone comes with their own baggage, after all,” Ms Elliot said.

Assertiveness training, understanding group dynamics and “learning to tell the truth with compassion” are the main thrusts of Soft Skills coaching.

Soft Skills partner Jeff Muir said while managers were the most under-trained individuals in the corporate structure, many had not met a trainer that could challenge them effectively.

“Many know that they don’t know enough but they won’t respond to training if you describe it as ‘executive therapy’. This industry is rife with throwaway buzzwords,” Mr Muir said.

“Short courses or seminars are ineffective because the new skills are quickly forgotten and not applied. The enthusiasm of a great two-day workshop soon fades off with the reality of implementation.”

Ms Elliot describes effective communication as manipulation.

“If your motive is positive and for the good of the team, you’re OK. Manipulative merely means ‘skillfully handled’.

“We emphasise the fact that emotional fortitude is a learnt skill. A healthy culture deals with conflict, rather than unrealistically trying to eradicate it.

“But if it’s a simple as a boorish boss with non-existent listening skills, we’ll tell them that. I’m paid to be honest, not piss in their pocket,” Ms Elliot said.

While not always popular with her clients, the profitable results speak for themselves.

“Being hated half-way through is a good sign for me that I’m doing my job. They’re being challenged,” Ms Elliot said.

Sanitarium national manager Greg Gates said Soft Skills working with the national sales team increased its bottom line profits by $1.1 million over one year.

“In the beginning, she really knocked me off my feet. She held up a mirror to my behaviour and made me realise I was making my staff feel like little kids,” Mr Gates said.

“The coaching had a marked affect on our business operations by encouraging an atmosphere of open debate and accountability. There are no more sacred cows here,” he said.

“It’s put rigour into our processes and smoothed the way for change. People who have been working at Sanitarium for 30 years say the current work environment is the best they’ve ever worked in.

“We’re the machine, but Soft Skills is the oil that helps it run,” Mr Gates said.

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