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  • Writer's pictureRob Buckingham

Soft Skill Measurement. The Achilles heel of leadership development?

Updated: May 9, 2023

As an avid reader of business literature, I was recently clobbered by this recent Forbes article, “Why Evidence-Based Management Never Took Off.”

It helps me understand how hard it can be for those trying to improve their organizations through upskilling. What if, for example, you were a chemist? You'd use the periodic table frequently. But you had no knowledge of atomic mass, electron configuration, or standard states? It would be tough to learn that water is H20. I’d bet innovation would slow to a crawl.

The above article referenced this 2006 HBR article by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton. Imagine if the practice of management was like that of medicine… evidence-based.

“Why not perform for management the miracles that evidence-based practices had done for medicine? Yet evidence-based management has not had the same success. In both academia and practice, reliable knowledge is still hard to come by.”

What do you mean by reliable knowledge is hard to come by? There are tons of experts out there. Here are a few examples:

  • There are over 50,000 titles available on Amazon tagged “leadership books.”

  • LinkedIn has over 10,000 leadership groups, with the largest having 128,000 members. There are also over 3 million followers of #leadership as well.

  • LinkedIn Learning has 3,900 courses on management, 765 on leadership development, 1,600 on strategy, and 228 on diversity, to name a few.

  • There are over 35,000 ICF-certified coaches worldwide.

  • There are various leadership styles, all promoted as the “best.” Inclusive, servant, compassionate, authentic, transformational, visionary, resilient styles. How much overlap and difference is there?

So we operate like the chemist, without the ability to measure, effectively combine and test. The HBR article identifies the critical deficiencies of not having an evidenced-based approach. First, there are competing versions of the end goal – is it for the employees, the customers, etc. Second, it is rare that we can do with-and-without testing. Finally, those responsible for gathering evidence of success are not independent and have many biases.

qChange innovation: I often think of soft skills as the atoms of leadership and management. Objective soft skill measurement helps those driving development craft the recipes for improving our various company cultures.

Next up: Are learning programs stuck in the status quo? The idea for scalable, effective soft skill development goes beyond building awareness.

qChange Innovation Stories shares the learnings of building a next-generation experiential learning company in a sea of entrenched capabilities and status quo thinking.

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