Bearing risk

We’ve gone too soft on soft skills

Over the last couple of decades we have been training our management in developing so called soft skills. There is an entire industry that provides managers with new ‘skills’ like ‘emotional leadership’, ‘coaching from your personal life’s mission’, ‘inspiring productivity through storytelling’ or ‘emotional hopping towards your annual plan’. I am just making these up but I can imagine you have attend a training like this. While there might be some value in such courses. What is lacking in day-to-day practice is actual leadership. That means you don’t have to nice all the time. Or have to create a fluffy world filled with unicorns for your employees. I believe we have gone soft on the soft skills. 

Don’t be nice, be clear!

Being a good leader doesn’t mean you have to be nice all the time or need to be liked! At home I lead when I take the horses outside or when I walk the dogs. They all have learned the few rules they need to obey. A set of clear boundaries they need to stay within. For example, always walk behind me or no pulling the leash. If they break one of these rules, I will let them know this is not accepted. Sometimes I only need to make a sound and raise my voice a little and that’s is enough. We move back to the required state and continue. That is how I am able to walk with 5 horses holding them in one hand. Leading them! 

A true leader is fair, is clear about what’s expected and takes decisions when needed. Take a look at a clip from a well known Dutch basketball coach, Ton Boot.

What do you think, did this player make it to the team? No, he didn’t! Not because he was a bad player, on the contrary, he would have been the best player on the team. But he did not meet the rules laid out at the beginning of the training. These rules apply to all team members. These were clear and if not met, there are consequences to it. That’s leadership! Even if it means you have to let the best player go.

A positive spin to something bad

When I show this clip during a training, many people feel uncomfortable. They are not used to this. They feel bad for the player and don’t like the coach very much. And that is what is wrong with today’s leadership from my point of view.

We are so focussed on the people, on developing our soft skills that we have gone soft! 

One day I received a question if it would be possible to spin a bad outcome in a positive action for a leader? If someone broke the rules, if we could frame that in a positive way?


Why would you? There has to be a consequence to a bad outcome. We don’t do it when it’s the other way around, do we? Downplaying a huge success, we never do that!

So, why should we spin a bad thing into something positive? It’s not fun, and you should not like to do that as a leader. But you are obligated to do it, your role is to have your employees improve. Not to harm them or just to make them feel bad. But to provide them with the ability to learn from what happened. We have all fallen down many times before we learned to walk. There is no other way or slide deck with a 5-step-approach to teach you that! So toughen up a little, will you?

Bearing risk Business Decision Making

Are you an entrepreneur or just minding the shop?

Recently, I was listening to an item on the Dutch radio on research about employment and management. It stated that companies fear a lot of people will leave their company and look for a new challenge. With the economy back on track this is nothing new. However, politicians and unions are screaming for raises! Research states that this is not the primary reason why people leave a company. According to the research done by Berenschot and ADP; It is management. Here are some contemplations based on my personal experience.

Mind the Shop

After years of little or no raise, a better outlook of the economy, raising salaries seems like a no-brainer. Politicians and unions are screaming for this to happen to prevent people from leaving companies/industries. It seems that management is ruining the engagement of employees. Is it on purpose? Probably not, it’s never the intent of management to scare people off. If it is, then something is seriously wrong with that company. So let’s assume this is not the case.

It is my personal experience that most company cultures and management behaviour have nothing to do with being an entrepreneur, with running a business. All the mechanisms like multi year strategic plans, proper micromanagement, annuals departmental budgets etc, are all  in place to mind the shop. Look after the place until the next person comes to mind the shop. As long as at the end of the year we didn’t exceed our budget, we’ll be just fine. It has nothing to do with entrepreneurship, by employing innovation, taking risk and most of all taking initiative.

It is the responsibility of leadership and management to give opportunities and put demands on people which enable them to grow as human beings in their work environment.

 Sir John Harvey-Jones

Training already sold

One of the reasons for me to become an independent professional was lack of entrepreneurship from management. I wasn’t allowed to do a training course that exceeded my personal development budget. I just received a plain and simple ‘no’ as a reply to my request. The rules stated it was not allowed. And there’s no use arguing with the rules that help ‘minding the shop’, right? Well no, wrong! Because there was a very plausible reason to break the rules: paying customers. The course would certify me to provide courses myself and before I attended the training I had three potential clients willing to pay for such a course. It still was a ‘no’.

To me, that is a simple sign of minding the shop and lack of entrepreneurability. This internal rule was created to prevent employees from attending courses that do not bring any value to the company. However, this course would almost immediately earn a profit to the company. So, deviating from the internal rules were valued over servicing clients, investing in employees’ knowledge and earn a profit. Explaining this to the management team a couple of times from various angles couldn’t make them to change their mind. They said: “We understand the situation, however, these are the rules of our company.”

The Monitor

Another example, a few years back, I ran a proof of concept with an international team. One of the team members was a designer and requested an IPS monitor (or something like that) to be able to deliver quality in her work. After a request and even an escalation to upper management, I received a ‘no’. The designer would have to settle for a regular monitor just like everyone else. Budget wasn’t the problem, some IT hardware configuration restraining jacket was. Again, I was held back by management that did not want to deviate from internal policies and see the benefits of the request. This is not where the story ends.

The Entrepreneurial Manager

Ultimately, I found one entrepreneurial manager who said, you just get the monitor, I have some part of my budget which covers special expenses which still has some room left. Just hand me the receipt and I will take care of it! So, I went to the local electronics store to buy this monitor and have the designer deliver quality! That is the kind of behaviour I am looking for in management. Them using the internal rules and procedures as guidelines but keeping in mind the reason the organisation is in business. And when people, proactively, offer solutions to increase the impact of the organisation. Not only for their own gain but for a greater good and then supporting them.

That’s what we need. Servant leaders! The last manager is one I want to work for, a person who sees past current boundaries and restrictions and sees the potential value in new or different ideas. They have the guts to get it done and get it done!

The only companies that innovate are those who believe that innovation is vital for their future.

 Sir John Harvey-Jones

So ask yourself, are you an entrepreneur or are you just minding the shop? If you are an entrepreneur I bet you employees love to work for you! If you mind the shop, then you need help! Your employees might already be looking for a different job, it’s not the money you offer them. It’s how you facilitate them to be a professional, to let them contribute to your success. Leave a comment with your thoughts!