More news watching this week got me to thinking about “soft skills.” You know what I mean—those “people” skills such as an ability to listen, to communicate, and be friendly, among other things. It seems no matter where I look, whether locally, nationally, or even the world stage, these soft skills are in short supply with our leaders. I find this ironic, really, since training and coaching, which typically deal with improving people skills, are more available than ever.

Of course, really improving one’s soft skills has to start with a sincere desire to do so and a willingness to face certain “truths” about who you are, how others perceive you, and your strengths and shortcomings.

About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a blog about the kind of management style needed by today’s business leaders. It’s sound advice that anyone in any kind of leadership position can benefit from. Enjoy!

Managing in the Round

(Originally posted on February 6, 2013)

The workplace is ever evolving. From the integration of computers, smart phones, and tablets in the office, to high-speed connectivity, virtual meetings, telecommuting, and more, it’s a brave new world of work out there.

As technology advances and worker education and training levels climb, though, I wonder if management and people “soft” skills are keeping pace with every hardware, software, and firmware update?

Used to be, managers had a very top-down mentality. They got their marching orders from on high (a VP, the CEO, or the Board), and they in turn gave marching orders to their direct reports. It made for a very dictatorial style, which was not necessarily conducive to innovation, effective communication, or overall competitiveness. People knew their roles, did what they were told, and never groused—at least not publicly. It was just how things had always been done.

While to some that might sound like the good old days—the way things ought to be—a word of caution. Long-term top-down management leads to workplace dissatisfaction, career stagnation, lower productivity, and employee burnout. No one likes to come to work and be dictated to with no hope of advancement and no hope of recognition or appreciation for a job well done. That’s not how American workers got to be the most productive in the world.

Study after study shows that productivity and employee satisfaction, regardless of employment level (whether you are a worker-bee, supervisor, or CEO) go hand-in-hand. While people like to be paid for the work they do, what they crave most is recognition from peers and their bosses and the opportunity to make of their jobs what they want to make of them.

The World of Work - According to BOM

The world of work has gotten incredibly competitive in the last two decades or so, especially on a global scale. Competition is no longer limited to your own backyard, not with the Internet, overnight delivery, and the advent of digital products (and let’s not even get into how 3D printers, which convert digital information into physical objects, are poised to impact manufacturing in a big way). To foster the kind of workplace environment necessary to compete successfully these days, managers must take an all-encompassing view of their companies—everything from relationships with their direct reports, their peers, and their bosses, to the vendors and suppliers their companies rely on and, of course, their customers.

I call this “Managing in the Round” and it takes a manager with awesome people and communication skills to be able to manage up, manage down, manage sideways, manage internally (to the company), manage externally (to the outside world), and, perhaps most importantly, manage “self.”

Where are your people skills at? Are you as effective as you want to be, as you could be? How do others—your boss, your peers, your direct reports—view you and your competencies?

More and more companies, from the small to the large, are using what are called “360-Degree Assessments” to give their managers a better sense of how they are perceived by those around them. By getting a more complete worldview of how others perceive them, in turn these managers can be more effective managing up, down, and all around.

The 360 process is not designed to be punitive. Typically, feedback is collected anonymously (to encourage candid observations) and results are shared only with the manager being assessed to help guide his or her personal and professional development (though, for example, managers may choose to share their results as necessary to reinforce a desire for training).

Feedback from 360s is used to point out areas of deficiency and competence (at least as perceived by those around the person being assessed), such as the person’s . . .

  • ability to communicate
  • ability to listen
  • leadership style
  • friendliness
  • willingness to be a team player
  • attitude
  • reliability
  • perceived knowledge

Now, some of you may be afraid to hear the uncensored truth, while others will likely welcome such feedback, eager to identify strengths and weaknesses and take corrective action as/if needed. This is normal.

Accepting the possibility that not everyone is a raving fan can be daunting. But what’s critical with 360s is that the person being assessed maintain an open mind, realizing that no one is ever as “good” or as “bad” as their feedback might suggest, and that there will always be that one person (or two) who says something overly positive or negative. The most important thing is to look for overall themes from the feedback—are you an effective leader, do you listen well, are you viewed as a team player?—and be willing to take direction from what the results tell you.

How might you go about doing a 360?

Like most things, you can make 360s as simple or as complex as you want. There are numerous coaches and consultants out there who offer 360s as part of their tool kits, and there are some do-it-yourself options as well, through services like Constant Contact ( and Survey Monkey ( where you can put together a simple survey of your own, usually asking respondents to rate the manager in areas of leadership, management, and organizational competence on a scale of 1 to 5 (or 1 to 10), with options for verbatim comments.

Just keep in mind, shorter surveys usually result in better response rates…so take care not to ask too much!

Once you’ve gone through your own 360 process, consider doing the same for key members of your team (or your whole team) as a way for them to learn more about themselves and how their behaviors, attitudes, and skillsets affect others.

Do you already use 360s at your company? If so, what has your experience been? If not, why not?

Share your thoughts here.