Soft skills make good managers

Soft skills make good managers

Popular and effective training modules address articulation, presentation, effective listening, personal grooming, corporate etiquette, time management and adaptability to cross cultural environments.

However, additional attempts are also underway to address amorphous topics like creative thinking, problem solving, and development of initiative / assertiveness and work ethics. Ambitious trainers have begun to advertise training for ‘street smartness’, ‘common sense’, and ‘presence of mind’! Imported definitions and novel games are offered to trainees and this aspect alone makes it attractive, but the purported effectiveness or sustainability of such programmes is dependant entirely on the participants.

Whatever the skill, most trainees are open to these exercises prompted by competition and the strong need of being employed well. The desire for upward mobility ensures the continuous incorporation and practice of useful skills.

Let us examine a few facts about some middle level managers who are neither amenable to polite behaviour nor skills that enhance tolerance. Reasonable managers are enlightened about their responsibilities and are also aware of the negative effects of outdated/ brutish behavior.

The ones who are ‘abusive’ engage in tyrannical actions that demean those around them. University of Minnesota’s John Newstrom,  lists such actions: publicly ridiculing colleagues, throwing tantrums, extending insults, displaying little or no consideration, blaming unfairly, denying credit, invading privacy and practicing the silent treatment.

‘No other vertebrate habitually destroys members of his own species. No other animal takes positive pleasure in the exercise of cruelty upon another of his own kind’, observed Anthony Storr.  Any attempt to understand aberrations in human behavior would mean looking for motives.

It would then be fair to infer that managers exhibit violent actions that probably reflect powerful, internal frustrations. It could be care of aging parents, marital/domestic conflicts, unsurmountable emotions associated with envy or jealousy, repercussions of bad financial moves or ill-health. Additional reactions to frustration could include apathy, withdrawal, physical disorders and regression [expressed through self-pity and sulking]. The loudest and the most visible behaviour is the high pitched ranting.

Charles Lamb, in his essay (1905) ‘The Convalescent’, comments; ‘The perceptual field changes when one is ill. Sickness enlarges the dimensions of a man’s self to himself. He is his own exclusive object. Supreme selfishness is inculcated upon him as his only duty’. Ill- health seems very often to be the culprit promoting ill manners. Whatever the causes, managers have no reason to engage in bullying behaviors and Organisations have a moral obligation to monitor, prevent and stop abusive actions.

An ill-mannered manager challenges the pervasive need of his colleagues to handle their world competently. They could develop mental and emotional disturbances which is bound to, eventually, lead to psychological distress, feelings of inefficacy, depression, lower job and life satisfaction, higher turnover and loss of productivity.

Yet, a workers’ indestructible quest for harmony and equilibrium compel him never to cease his search for conditions better adjusted to his intrinsic needs. With a bully for a manager his thwarted efforts will only result in a deadlock. The need to alleviate such situations for the common good of the workforce, involves a deep understanding of the mal-adjusted manager, who, usually lack warm interpersonal relationships.

Individuals with a driving ambition and a strong need for independence may fail to develop close attachments to friends and colleagues. To achieve their success, they often sacrifice fulfillment of their social needs. Lack of social attachments usually results in anxiety, anger and loneliness- all causing stress.

Newstrom suggests a powerful antidote, which is, establishing ‘social support’ at work. Social support is the network of helpful activities, interactions and relationships that provide a disturbed employee with the satisfaction of important needs. Research suggests that when employees receive social/ emotional support from even one person, they will experience lower stress.

Addressing the causes directly and incorporating other stress reducing techniques would lead to ‘Personal Wellness Programmes’. Research in behavioral medicine, disease screening, health education, fitness centres, meditation, nutrition management and sabbatical leave aid in personal education of the errant manager.

An untended corporate bully either suffers himself from his internal conflicts or else makes society suffer. He may have learnt to enjoy the feeling of absolute righteousness even while committing atrocities. 

Valuable energy

This saps the valuable energy of the contemporary ‘cultured’ employee. Organisations should necessarily correct the maladjusted manager in order to ensure that the workplace does not result in depreciation of productivity and peace amongst the employees. In the event that the employers fail to address this concern, all the attempts made to impart ‘soft skills’ would be rendered void ab initio.

As Edward de Bono rightly pointed out, “It is the manners of people that matter, not the excellence of their soul or their personal credit balance with God.” Joyful existence, devoid of angst contributes to the general health of the community.

Faculty member in the department of Psychology, NMKRV college for women, Jayanagar, Bangalore.

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