In addition to STEM talent, Britain faces leadership skills shortage

Half of all management level candidates in the UK lack leadership skills like open and empathetic communication, and strategic planning. Here are three ways to get around this.

Every second candidate applying for a management level position across the UK lacks leadership skills, according to a survey of 200 HR directors.

New research by Robert Half UK suggests that nearly one in five management candidates fall short on planning skills, with 15 per cent lacking functional, job-related skills and 14 per cent lacking communication skills–all traits associated with strong leadership.

Candidates applying for staff level roles are equally lacking one of their core competencies, with nearly half not holding the desired functional, job-related skills.

Additionally, anyone applying for a management level position should also bear in mind that their interview performance is as crucial as ever, with 39 per cent of HR directors stating this was the most important factor when making a hiring decision. The study suggests that the number one leadership skill is communication, and that seems to be lacking in most candidates.

Communication: one of the most important leadership skills

According to business legend, Richard Branson, communication is an art. Business psychologists often study the science behind communication and methods and techniques that are more effective than others, but communicating effectively comes with practice. Being able to communicate effectively with your team and partners means that any issues are solved quickly, projects are run efficiently and that everyone is on the same page when it comes to your vision.

Beware of cloaking words

A recent poll by the Academy of Executive Coaching (AEC) revealed that eight in ten people are more likely to trust someone who uses simple language and get to the point clearly. The use of “cloaking words” and phrases that are meant to blanket a blow, like “honestly”, “believe me”, “trust me” and “let me be clear” counterintuitively sound insincere.

As AEC chief executive, Gina Lodge explains, communication is a core competency for leaders, and over the past decade most have pushed the concept of “emotional intelligence” as a necessary trait for managers across all levels to empathise with their team. Yet communication requires more than empty words that suggest sincerity. “Many companies pride themselves for understanding ‘soft skills’ and talking about the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EQ). But this is not enough. The word ‘intelligence’ makes it sound like a head skill when what is required is to speak openly from the heart, embracing benevolence, kindness, evangelism and love,” she says.

When spoken by politicians and business leaders, cloaking words and complicated language cause instant distrust, leading to the exact opposite of their intended effect.

Promote emotional openness and rationality: the Trump example

The AEC study also found that the three qualities that are most important to how trustworthy a business leader appears are emotional openness, calm rationality and benevolence. Displays of aggression, competitiveness and outspokenness were likely to cause people to question the trustworthiness of public figures.

“This may come as a surprise given recent events in the US,” adds Lodge. “During the election campaign, we saw how Trump deliberately used provocative language in his speeches. But he also used openly emotional language. He talked about his opponents being ‘mean’ to him or making ‘rude’ comments. He avoids speaking in managerial clichés and uses simple, direct language. This, more than the meaning of what he says, is why he was able to connect with people in such a powerful way.”

Leave the aggression at the gym

The AoEC recently partnered with John Blakey, author of The Trusted Executive, to identify what leadership qualities help inspire trust. “The boardroom has traditionally been a very aggressive, competitive space – illustrated by candidates on the Apprentice talking about how they’re ‘not here to make friends’ but as we move to a more open and transparent business landscape, this no longer works. Ideas of benevolence are becoming more and more important,” Blakely says.

“I speak to lots of companies about the importance of evangelising about your business in order to win over new customers. One company asked if I could use a different word instead of ‘evangelise’ to make the message more in line with business talk, even though my whole point was that organisations need to move away from the cold language of the boardroom and adopt the same tone that we use among friends and family – the people we trust most of all. If we use honest, transparent language at home and connect with each other there through recognising positive emotions, then it also makes sense to use this approach in business.”

The ten most commonly used phrases which arouse suspicion

“If someone repeatedly has to reassure you that what they are saying is true, that is an instant red flag that they are trying to mislead you. Similarly, a long, complicated answer is likely to be seen as evasiveness – trying to find a way to avoid telling the truth without actually lying,” Lodge explains.​

  1. If I’m honest…
  2. Let me be clear…
  3. Believe me…
  4. The honest truth is…
  5. The fact is…
  6. To be fair…
  7. In terms of…
  8. The real issue is…
  9. I understand what you are saying but…
  10. In all honesty…

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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