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Workers want their managers to have leadership skills

New research by LMS provider Digits into skills in the workplace has revealed a list of the most important skills that workers expect a manager to possess, with leadership right at the top of what they want.

Around half (51% of men and 45% of women) of the 2,048 working-age adults polled thought leadership skills were the most essential.

Verbal communication and teamwork skills ranked joint second for over a third (35%) of people, closely followed by empathy and problem-solving skills (30% and 29% respectively).

Surprisingly, written communication skills came last on the list (8%) – proving to be less popular than a strong work ethic (21%), good time management (18%), and conflict resolution (15%).

Just one in 10 of those surveyed reported having no specific skill requirements of a manager, suggesting that most people do have pre-existing ideas around what makes a good or competent manager to them. Whether their actual managers meet their expectations, on the other hand, is a matter for another survey.

The most important skills needed by managers, ranked by popularity, are:

  • Leadership skills (48%)
  • Verbal communication skills (35%)
  • Teamwork skills (35%)
  • Empathy (30%)
  • Problem-solving skills (29%)
  • A strong work ethic (21%)
  • Good time management (18%)
  • Conflict resolution (15%)
  • Written communication skills (8%)

Of course, ‘leadership skills’ is an umbrella term that can mean different things to many people. And it can encompass a range of hard skills (job-related knowledge) and soft skills – transferable skills that help individuals work and interact with others – such as adaptability, flexibility, communication, teamwork, time management and problem-solving.

There is no one-size-fits-all, explains Bradley Burgoyne, head of talent at Digits: “We’ve got more generations in the workforce today than we’ve ever had. And, each group of workers prefers slightly different managerial styles and leadership qualities.

“Every individual has their own expectations about how they want their managers to lead them, coach them, support them, relate to them, and empower them. Those skills don’t just happen, even the best managers need to receive regular training and development from their employers.”

He adds: “The challenge for HR and L&D teams is to ensure that their training strategy is broad enough to cater to all levels of employees in the organisation because, I think, everyone benefits from leadership or management development.

“It’s important that employers actively listen to their workforce and find out where the skills gaps are – what training do employees think they need? What training do employees think their managers need and what leadership qualities do they respond best to? They can then utilise the data to create training courses or a series of engaging development activities in their learning management system, that are really relevant to the people within the organisation rather than something that could, potentially, be seen as just a tick-box exercise.”

According to Burgoyne, some of the core leadership skills of a modern manager include:

  • Vision setting – having clear business goals for the team and being able to influence and gain buy-in from team members to work towards that vision. This also includes some change management skills, as setting a vision and taking a team on a journey to reach it, inevitably involves helping people work through change.
  • Empathy and listening – builds trust and connection between individuals and their managers. Managers need to be mindful and show their team that they understand and relate to them as human beings, that they recognise that each person has different needs, different skills, and a different perspective on how they approach different situations at work.
  • Inclusive leadership – managers that want to create a high performing team need to be able to provide high levels of psychological safety within their teams, where feedback is welcome and encouraged. An environment where everyone feels included and safe enough to provide feedback, feels that the feedback that they provide is valid, and that action will happen as a result, helps to build a team with a sense of purpose in what they’re doing and a growth mindset.
  • Coaching skills – rather than always telling people what to do, good managers trust and empower their teams to use their skills and knowledge to find the answers and achieve an outcome. A quality coaching conversation will help someone to realise that they knew the answer all along or feel empowered to go and find the answer. This can support an employee’s sense of purpose and self-validation and create a far more autonomous team.
  • Self-awareness – to lead others successfully requires managers to reflect inwards and understand their management style and learn how to adapt it for different situations. There are multiple challenges facing managers today, many that they may not have experienced before, so it’s important to be really agile, adaptable, and constantly thinking about the wider world and how that might need to change your approach.
  • Collaboration skills – managers don’t need to have the answers to every question. The world of work is too complex and fast-moving for one person to be able to come up with all the solutions all the time. Encouraging collaboration – with other individuals, other teams and other departments – to find answers by working together or reaching a shared goal through a collaborative process, will help improve the performance of the entire organisation.

Generational divides

Further analysis of Digits’ survey results showed clear generational divides between what people at the start of their career considered to be important managerial attributes compared to those who have been in the workforce for a decade (or two). Almost twice as many people over-55 (who’ve probably experienced a few different managers during their working life) than those aged 16-to-24-years-old think leadership skills are a must-have for managers (56% vs 28%).

Although leadership skills are ranked the highest across all age groups, what comes next varies. A strong work ethic is popular with a quarter (25%) of 16 to 24 year-olds, verbal communication skills are preferred by 24 to 34 year-olds and the over-55s (36% and 44% respectively), while teamwork skills are highly rated by over a third (36%) of those aged 35 to 54 years old.

Digits’ soft skills report, including the latest soft skills training statistics for 2022, is available to view at https://www.digits.co.uk/soft-skills-statistics. The results include a survey of 2,048 people in the UK, conducted by Censuswide for Digits, in March 2022.

Five tips for leading teams remotely

If you’ve always managed a team based in the same location as you, moving from an office-based team to having some or all of your team working remotely can be a significant transition.

As so many businesses in the UK are now offering their employees remote and home working options, UK IT managed services company, TSG, are here to share some practical advice for leading remote teams and protecting productivity.

  1. Keep in touch regularly

This sounds kind of obvious, right? It’s easy to forget, though, and it’s so important.

Make sure you contact your team every day, whether you have a stand-up-type call at the start of the day or more informal chats through the day. If we go an entire day without seeing or talking to our team, we can begin to feel disconnected and isolated. You could even introduce ‘watercooler’ calls – encouraging your team to join you on video conferences with their cuppas and chat for 15 mins about anything and everything. The likes of Microsoft Teams channels can be ideal for sharing non-work related topics that might interest everyone.

  1. Turn your video on!

And encourage your team to do the same. This might not work for everyone all of the time, but as you’re likely looking at your workforce operating remotely for a significant period of time, this helps you mimic face-to-face meetings. It’s easier to read colleagues’ reactions and convey your sentiment if you’re able to see each other. If you’re worried about the messy bookshelf/sofa/room behind you, use the magic background blur button on Teams so that your colleagues will only see you.

  1. Pick up the phone

If you have an important question or need to delegate something urgent to a member of your team, call your colleague rather than emailing or instant messaging. If they’re busy and you need to get on, set a pop-up reminder to tell you when they are back online or are available – this is standard functionality within Microsoft Teams.

That’s not to say instant messaging doesn’t have a place; messaging your team throughout the day with less critical items or if you’re unable to make a call is another essential way to ensure you’re regularly touching base with your team.

  1. Be focused and available

Even remotely, it’s noticeable to your team when you’re not focused or if you’re distracted. Even if you think you look available and online, your colleagues will be able to tell if you’re not as focused or productive as usual. That said, we’re all more productive when we take regular breaks, and this is even more important when working from home. If you’re taking a break, let your team know by setting a message in your status to let them know when you’ll be back online.

  1. Make sure your team members have everything they need

Many companies are now using Microsoft Teams for conference calls, instant messaging, collaborating and sharing documents, as well as using Microsoft Planner for organising and managing our productivity. Whatever solution you choose to use, make sure your team is familiar with using it and that your people have everything they need to access your business solutions from home. This could come in the form of cloud-based solutions like Office 365 and Microsoft Teams, or using a VPN to access your on-premises business-critical systems.

Article produced by Natasha Bougourd from TSG, a managed IT services company with locations around the UK, specialising in IT support and solutions, security and applications including Office 365 and Sage.