Upskilling Leaders Is Essential In The New World Of Work

According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report, 49% of learning and development programs in 2022 focused on leadership and management training. And no wonder. With the widespread shift to remote or hybrid work, leaders need a new set of skills to guide, inspire and mentor employees.

Many of the new essential leadership skills are rooted in emotional intelligence: vulnerability, empathy and humility. Among other soft skills, modern leaders must know how to foster inclusion and belonging and help their teams feel connected to and inspired by their organization’s mission.

While upskilling leaders is essential to remain effective in today’s workplace, organizations must approach the task strategically. Done incorrectly, and leaders will feel like it’s just an inconvenience added to their already-heavy workload.

My company, Centric Consulting, helps companies with workplace transformation. Often, part of the process includes training leaders on how to be more effective in remote or hybrid environments. Below, I dive into my biggest takeaways on designing a program to teach leaders the critical skills for the new world of work.

Soft Skills, Difficult To Learn: Helping Leaders Master Interpersonal Skills

One theme that’s emerged from my company’s work is that the soft, interpersonal skills needed for effective remote leadership are often sorely lacking. At many organizations, leaders rise through the ranks because of their technical expertise, not because of their ability to manage others.

To help leaders master the soft skills required for effective leadership, organizations need a learning program thoughtfully designed to help leaders feel excited about improving and willing to acknowledge and tackle their weaknesses and blind spots. Here’s how to get started:

1. Cultivate a culture of learning. Fostering an organizational culture of learning will help people feel motivated to learn and continue developing. A culture of learning also encourages everyone—including leaders—to strive toward continual improvement. It sends the message that there’s always more to learn and ways to improve, and it’s OK to admit knowledge gaps or areas you’re struggling in.

A few methods for fostering a culture of learning include:

  • Create collaborative learning environments where people share new capabilities in real-world practice environments.
  • Make learning an engaging and social experience such as through friendly competitions.
  • Tie learning objectives for each individual to business objectives and career goals.
  • Think broadly about learning. Beyond traditional courses, employees can learn through communities of practice, conferences, stretch opportunities or even company book clubs on relevant topics.

A culture of learning benefits everyone, not just those at the top—according to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, employees say opportunities to learn and grow are the top factor of a great culture. When leaders participate fully in the culture of learning, they set an example for employees at all levels that it is okay to prioritize self-improvement training.

Yet many companies neglect this: More than half (55%) of employees feel they must change companies to develop their skillset and three quarters of people managers and leaders would stay longer at their organization if it were easier to change jobs internally.

Hand Changing with smile emoticon icons face on Wooden Cube, hand flipping unhappy turning to happy symbol
A mere 43% of employees say their organization solicits annual feedback.  GETTY

2. Gather and share employee feedback. Regular employee feedback, such as anonymous 360-performance reviews, pulse surveys and end-of-project perspectives, is essential to improving leadership interpersonal skills. It can be difficult for leaders to hear where they may be failing, but this is the only way to truly know areas that need improving and how leaders can better guide their teams. Employee feedback is another task many organizations neglect—a mere 43% of employees say their organization solicits annual feedback.

3. Design training sessions to tap into leaders’ emotional brains. The term “soft skills” is misleading – how we interact with others can be some of the most difficult behavior changes to carry from the classroom into real life.

In my company’s experience training leaders for effective hybrid workplace management, learning interpersonal skills is best accomplished through case studies illustrating specific examples or experiential learning that activates leaders’ emotional brains. Building in time for candid group discussions where leaders share their experiences and perspectives can reinforce the concepts and help participants apply the lessons to their unique situations.

4. Take a hybrid approach to training. Fully remote training can absolutely be effective, but a thoughtfully designed hybrid model can enhance the learning experience and offer opportunities for interaction and connection that are often hard to recreate in a virtual environment. Specifically, in-person sessions can be more experiential and tactile, especially useful for trickier or more vulnerable topics, which often applies to interpersonal skills.

In a tight labor market, organizations can’t afford to neglect upskilling their leaders, empowering them to expertly guide remote and hybrid workers and ensure everyone has a great work experience. Soft skills can be the most difficult to master, but deploying the strategic tactics listed above can be a great first step in helping your people expertly navigate leadership in 2023 and beyond.

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