By: Ron Thomas, Chief Executive Officer of Great Place to Work Gulf

“We had two very distinct corporate headquarters and now we just have one. At our corporate office in Boston, doors were locked on the executive floor, and you couldn’t get in with your badge unless you worked on that floor.

Now everyone’s badge works on the floor.  I also moved the coffee machine outside my door so people had to walk by my office to get to it. Now I can tell people to stop in and say hi.”

That statement was from CEO, Linda K. Zecher  of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  She was recently profiled by Adam Bryant in his weekly interview series, The Corner Office in the New York Times.  By the way, this weekly article allows you to peep through the crack of the C-Suite.  It is a must read for HR professionals who are looking for insight from senior leadership and their thought process.

A different scenario indeed

However, as I read this I thought of my experience with this scenario and it was diametrically opposed to her version.  In my version the new CEO comes in and immediately re-launches what was a normal floor for everyone into an “executive floor”.

New furniture, paintings and the unwritten rule that you should stay away unless you had business on that floor.

Different vision, different result.  In the latter case it was the beginning of the cultural downfall.

Wear but do not despair

I have often wondered how all the thinking gets warped whenever someone is anointed an acronym as their title.  Some take that as a seal of superpower, so much so that when the shirt is ripped off it unveils not the seal of a superman but of a CXO or the *VP*.

As I write this, I thought of a buddy of mine that made the grade and he would not finish a conversation unless he threw out his title.  Never would listen to his team because he was as he said “the one with the initials behind his name.”

I supposed he wanted the world to know.  My thought is that if you have to continually tell someone your title, there must be disbelief from your side or maybe that you feel more empowered by saying it.

It is the soft things that matter

I caution everyone that will listen to me. While we want to make sure that job skills are met, with senior level leaders it is paramount that we also look for soft skills.  Collaboration with team member is becoming a big part of everyday job.  While you can be a technical wizard, if you can’t get along and motivate your people, those technical skill sets mean nothing unless you are an individual contributor.  But then even being an independent contributor will still mean that you have to sell and convince people of your ideas.

Social is not soft

I worry sometime that, with social media, people are losing the personal touch.  Preference is to text than to have a conversation.  Preference is to hide behind emails as opposed to picking up the phone to discuss matters in person.

Someone pitched me the other day about a new software app that “increases employee engagement” by allowing users to send thanks or Kudos to their fellow workers.  So my thought was, you are working with this person or team and you need an app to remind you to say thank you or job well done.

Sometimes I just don’t get it.  If I need technology to nudge me to do the most basic of human interactions then I am in trouble.

Technical skills can get the job done but soft skills make the difference between a job that gets done and a job that gets done exceedingly well.

Stop meddling in folks business

On the soft skills side, it requires an exceedingly high degree of skill in working with and for others.  You are the troop leader marshaling others to work together and having people wanting to follow you into the future.

However some leaders get side-tracked with the “I will just do it myself syndrome”.  That is the death knell of leadership.  People must develop on their own and your role is to guide them through that process.  It does not matter whether you are the CEO or project leader. The role today of a leader is not to hover: you hired them so let them do what you felt confident enough to hire them to do.

The 3 legged stool of today’s leader

Leadership today increasingly involves the technical, occupational and the interpersonal.  This 3 legged stool has to be mastered.  If you cannot achieve this internal balance, your team, department, division and the organisation will suffer a similar lack of equilibrium.

This balance can be exceedingly difficult, because many people define themselves by their ability to be experts in their occupational skills while viewing soft skills as secondary or incidental.

This balancing act is tough but connecting to your direct reports is paramount for your career as well as your organisational success.  It is like a CEO told me a while back that I in his company they have over 40 nationalities.

People want to feel appreciated and respected regardless of who they are or where they come from. 

Soft skills is the key to this scalable solution !!

* Ron Thomas is the Chief Executive Officer of Great Place to Work Gulf

Do you like this article? Sign up to receive our newsletter  for HR insights delivered to your mailbox.