IT leadership: 5 essential soft skills

Want to enhance your leadership skills and boost your IT team's engagement and productivity during difficult times? Consider this advice on soft skills
64 readers like this.
soft skills: relationship-building

People sometimes view technical jobs as entirely different from core business roles, assuming that tech and IT employees are squarely focused on hard skills whereas other employees are more focused on soft skills. This couldn’t be further from the truth, especially in today’s changed work environment.

In addition to changes brought on by automation, the Great Resignation has left many IT leaders scrambling to change their leadership and management approach in order to retain employees and foster a more positive workplace – one that affirms employees’ desires for a different way of working and living, removed from a culture of burnout and stress. And while this emphasis on soft skills has penetrated the general workplace conversation, tech has lagged behind for too long. It’s time for IT and tech leaders to jump in and further engage with their employees and team members.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this, IT leaders must become more people-oriented and focus on increasing emotional intelligence. Here are five soft skills every IT leader should sharpen to improve communication and decision-making and enhance team productivity.

1. Communicate value through active listening

IT professionals are tasked with a critical role as companies evolve and adapt to keep up with emerging technology. As IT roles have become more demanding over the past few years, it is important to understand the challenges your employees are facing, in addition to their current needs and the areas in which they would like to grow and develop.

[ Related read: Most-wanted soft skills for IT pros: CIOs share their recruiting tips. ]

According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of employees cited “feeling disrespected in the workplace” as one of the top reasons for leaving their job in 2021. By enhancing your active listening skills and keeping a better pulse on your team’s needs, you can foster an environment of respect and open communication that helps you proactively support your team.

To enhance active listening skills, incorporate strategies like paraphrasing what your employees are saying back to them, asking thoughtful questions, and eliminating distractions during interactions. Also, open dialogues yourself, admit when you are stressed and overwhelmed, giving employees the opportunity to do the same.

Following these few simple steps will help assure employees that they are heard and that their concerns are genuinely valued.

2. Customize communication: What do your employees prefer?

In today’s hybrid environment, capturing the attention of your employees is a competitive game. Having a robust communications toolbox can help support effective, personable communications that enable you to successfully engage with your employees and meet them where they are on their preferred platform.

Consider customizing your communications approach to share messages more effectively. Video is an important component of tailoring communications approaches efficiently, providing the power to boost engagement and evoke a more personal connection than static text. Integrating video into internal communications can help you communicate more effectively with your teams in a distraction-heavy environment.

3. Make the workplace more human

IT roles have become increasingly demanding in the past couple of years, leaving teams susceptible to burnout and higher levels of stress. As employees adapt to changing roles, foster an empathetic environment constantly. Demonstrating empathy will help your employees feel valued and understood, leading to an improved employee experience.

There are many ways to relay empathy. Whether you offer to help an employee who is experiencing burnout or set aside extra time to check in on how team members are feeling about their current workload, communicating the importance of mental health and wellness is essential to fostering an empathetic environment. Lastly, taking time for non-related work events such as celebrating special occasions can greatly enhance employee relationships.

[ Read also: The new CEO: Chief Empathy Officer ]

Demonstrating empathy will help your employees feel valued and understood, leading to an improved employee experience.

We celebrate employee wins big and small, whether they’re personal or professional, and we dedicate time to getting to know new employees. Practices like these create a more human-centric atmosphere, encouraging employees to bond and build trust.

4. Roll with the punches

Adaptability is the name of the game in an IT environment. Demonstrate flexibility and be willing to try new approaches as older strategies, applications, and methods become more irrelevant and outdated. Exhibiting flexibility and resilience can set the tone to encourage learning and growth along the way.

Our recent survey found that 34 percent of employees said they have too many communications channels to reach colleagues. This suggests a perfect opportunity to survey your employees and learn what tools may be causing issues while opening the floor to new suggestions or approaches. From there, be willing to change current standards when necessary and show that you are open to feedback and change.

It’s also important that you are able to admit when a new approach isn’t working. Capitalize on failure as a learning opportunity and pivot to a new strategy when necessary.

5. Step up and empower employees

Clearly, IT teams play a critical role in leading companies through their digital transformation efforts. Accordingly, it is vital to equip your employees with the skills they need to continue leading your company through those efforts.

Empower your teams to share innovative ideas, encourage brainstorming sessions, and open up conversations for input or suggestions during meetings.

Another great way to encourage initiative and leadership among employees is to provide leadership development opportunities. Leadership training programs and other learning events empower employees to develop skills that benefit the team and the company.

Practice makes perfect

Incorporating soft skills into your daily routine is no simple task. It requires time and effort to shift a task-oriented mindset to a people-oriented mindset. However, the reward is well worth the investment. By developing people-oriented soft skills, you will equip your teams with the tools and motivation they need to thrive in the face of almost any challenge.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Matt Harney is the Chief Technology Officer of Vyond. In his role, Matt leads Vyond’s product and engineering teams and serves as the general manager for Vyond’s APAC offices.