Rocking Training Leadership: Personal Skills

leadership skills

Last month began this series on Rocking Training Leadership. When organizations hire a person into a training leadership role, they are looking for that person to have a solid foundation of leadership competencies. We identified 6 core competencies last month and we are going to kick off this month with “personal skills.” Now, as you probably know – personal skills are classified as “soft skills.” Meaning they are intangible qualities or attributes that determine how people interact with life, or in this case – the workplace.

Personally, I dislike the term “soft skills” to me they mean, the skills are “fluffy” or not as critical as “hard skills”. The workplace would immeasurably improve if “soft skills” were classified as “core skills”. Meaning, we cannot get the job done, and build business relationships without having certain skills present. We know this to be true. You put a good person in a bad management situation and the situation will win every time. People leave their boss, not their job. “The Office” was funny because it was true.

People want to work with a team leader who has solid leadership skills and the training department is not exempt. In this writer’s opinion, there is a lot of room for growth in this area. Because we are in training (or Learning and Development) it does not automatically mean we rock the area of having personal skills. I’m sure we all know a few L&D people who need to practice their personal skills a bit more often. For starters, those who say “Yeah, but…” a lot…

That being said, there are MANY personal skills qualities – for this blog I’m going to focus on six that directly relate to the training field:

  1. Critical Thinking
  2. Dependable
  3. Flexible
  4. Adaptable
  5. Motivational
  6. Model Personal Development

You might have noticed that I have not made mention of interpersonal skills. This is because interpersonal skills are all about people or social skills. We will be talking about those skills next month.

So, let’s get this party started. 

What are personal skills and how do they apply to what we do in Training or L&D? In some cases, one might have personal skills that are natural talents. Some people are just hard wired to be upbeat and passionate about what they do.

In other cases, they are skills we have developed through our experiences. Our experiences have enhanced our critical thinking skills, we look at problems as challenges just waiting to be solved, and we have learned how to approach those problems with a creative mindset.

Yet, in other instances, they are achieved through deliberate practice. We have taught ourselves to how to learn. We then model that behavior to our teams and those around us through careful practice and “working out loud”. Now, let’s dig in a little deeper.

Critical Thinking:  People in L&D leadership need to be able to solve problems on their own, using creative thinking and thoughtful analysis. This means being unafraid to ask “why”, being bold when presented with a “training issue” to determine if training will solve our problem. Critical thinkers are not order takers. They determine the exact problem and understand there is more than one path to a solution. How can you enhance your critical thinking approach? For starters, read more! Join a book club! (yes, you have time). Do your own research, don’t depend on twitter to do your thinking for you – regardless of the source. Curate, review and share information that is critical to your position and your business. The more you read, synthesize and evaluate – the more you learn.

Dependable: If you are going to lead your organizations training function, then being reliable and responsible are no brainers.  This goes beyond completing tasks on time. Your team and organization need to know you can be trusted to help move the learning culture forward in the business. Can the organization depend on you to advocate for the end-users? Can the end-users depend on you to provide them with training that matters? Are you helping people be the best they can be? Are you helping them to do their jobs better, faster, and smarter?

Flexible: Flexible is not only about yoga. Flexible thinking understands training is not always the solution. It takes a flexible mindset to see the forest through the trees. To be able to bend but not break. Are you willing to hear opinions? Are you willing to test options? Are you willing to change paths when it is clear the path you are on will not provide the organization with the solution they need. Build flexibility into your career by trying new things with different people. Try that pilot. Go under the radar and give a new method a shot, no harm, no foul. Know that if you succeed everyone wins.

Adaptable: Do you thrive on change? Do you think of yourself as Raven in the Xmen. At the drop of hat adapting to your situation? Not into the Xmen? Okay – do you think of yourself at a chameleon, adapting to your surroundings? In the business sense of the word, adaptability is all about being open to new ideas and concepts, being able to work on an independent basis or with a team as the situation demands, and juggling multiple projects without getting all frantic when conditions abruptly change. How can you test your level of adaptability?  Are abandoning innovation when there is high risk, or the pressure is high? I have news for you, this is the time to embrace the swirling waters!  This is the time to maintain a positive mindset and to come up with new ways of seeing and doing things.

Motivational: In a leadership role, being positive and passionate about your job is at the top of the list. Helping others be passionate about theirs is part of your job too. No, you cannot motivate those who do not wish to be motivated. However, you can help provide people with a working environment that makes job passion a priority. Are you a negative Nelly or Norman in the workplace? People sense negativity and pessimism, and it begins to permeate the walls and leaks out to others. Motivated employees tend to put the most passion into their work. What are you doing to build an environment of passion? This is beyond fun games at work. This is about feeling excited to be at work. Excited about what you do, and for whom you do it. If you are not excited about your profession or workplace…might I suggest Careerbuilder?

Model Personal/Professional Development: Your organization is looking to you to lead by example. To model the behaviors that make professional development part of the business culture, not an exercise or event. Right or wrong, just like the gazing eye of Mordor, people are watching how you and your team are acting and reacting to learning opportunities. If you don’t participate in your own development, why should they? If you don’t display a learning curiosity, why should they? If the last book you read was five years ago…what’s up with that?? One cannot get away with saying there isn’t enough time for professional development. If you say this, you do not have the right to look shocked and amazed when your business doesn’t take learning seriously. While you do not have the sole responsibility for developing and nurturing a culture of learning – you certainly have a responsibility to be active in it.

The big question…where are you on the personal skills continuum? Are you stuck in sludge? Is your development something you haven’t thought a lot about recently? If you are looking to move into an L&D leadership role, or if you are hiring someone for an L&D leadership position, understanding the requirements behind personal skills are critical. Not only as they pertain to the business, but as a whole, how they pertain to the learning function. In order to move either your business, or your career forward, one must start with the self. Behind every successful leader is a strong sense of self and the ability to recognize that forward progress never stops.

Next month we will be talking about interpersonal skills. Come back and visit!

What other personal skills do think are of critical need for a person in a training leadership role? Dig into your well of experience and share your thoughts. @stipton. Until next time!