Soft skills and practices for tech leaders (and future leaders)


Out with the old, in with the new

The tech industry is a dynamic environment with high competition, rapid growth, and abundant global talent. Resulting, companies don’t have the same luxury as in the past; months to roll out projects and the choice between innovation or security. In this new business climate, leaders are under pressure to innovate new products and services in a quick and compliant way. This requires a new set of leadership skills, different from IT leadership skills of the past. Since hard skills are role-specific, we are going to focus on soft skills that all leaders (and future leaders) can benefit from.

Leadership skills are a hot topic in today’s conscientious business environment. However, it seems as if the content is split in half; half on universal leadership skills and the other half on industry-specific leadership skills. So, the question is: are leadership skills specific to each industry? Do industry differences drastically change the competencies managers need for their companies to thrive?

Under pressure

A Harvard Business Review survey of tech leaders and their employees concluded that the majority believe the tech industry has unique challenges and pressures. The following phenomenons were reported as the four highest pressures for organizational performance:

  1. The “cool factor”: The pressure is on for companies to be forward-thinking and alternative in their company cultures; not only to attract top talent but to appeal to their market and the press. The unfortunate result of this is that many innovative companies are overlooked for their lack of perceived “coolness”.
  2. Relentless pressure: Innovation never sleeps. Tech employees work long days to deliver top quality products on tight schedules. While every company’s project cycles are different, quick turnarounds have become crucial to stay competitive.
  3. Ambiguity: Employee respondents reported that they consistently have to navigate unclear roles and overlapping accountabilities. Also, priorities, projects and assigned roles are constantly shifting.
  4. Conections>everything else: Fast turnaround means employees are frequently changing roles, companies and moving up in the ranks. Resulting, people value their network of connections over addressing personal weaknesses, accountability gaps or strategic disagreements.

Soft skills all leaders and future leaders should have

In the face of these challenges, leaders and future leaders require skillsets for personal growth, as well as the prosperity of their company.

  • Business focus
    • In addition to innovation for consumers, tech leaders should focus on how technology can be used to solve real business problems within their organization.
  • Ability to give context
    • As said by the Forbes Technology Council: “ People are inherently good. They try to contribute, bring value, and make the right decisions based on their understanding of the situation. When things go wrong the first thing a good tech leader should do is to check whether her team understands the context, which typically means understanding the business drivers of the project.”
  • Proactive communication skills
    • An obvious one. Communication skills are the foundation of good leadership. Yet many employees still feel misguided in their roles and tasks.
    • The ability to translate technical terms into tangible business terms is essential for employees to understand their impact on the organization.
  • Influence to evoke change
    • Leading isn’t just about staying on the right path, it’s about discovering new opportunities for individuals and the company at whole.
  • Understand your weaknesses
    • Whether you’re not a “people person”, are bad with numbers, or lack a visual eye, understanding your weaknesses will help you find people with complementary strengths. Additionally, having this emotional intelligence will help recognize other complementary pairings in your employees that will best suit each project.

Techniques and practices for leaders

A study found that companies like Netflix, Dell, and Apple are 40% more productive than the average company. Additionally, they have profit margins 30-50% higher than the industry average. Here are a couple of practices and techniques these companies do differently, according to the study by Brain & Company.

  • Instead of focusing on attracting a mass amount of top talent to fill every department, successful companies identify critical roles and filled those with the top talent. Research proves that when surrounded by people we can count on for any help we may need, we are more committed to the quality of work, as well as happier and more productive.
  • Organizational drag is a cumulative effect of needless interactions such as unproductive meetings, unnecessarily communications that waste time and energy. The average company loses more than 25% of its productivity due to organizational drag. Marcus Tan, Co-founder of Carousell (one of the top 10 companies to work for in Signalman) said his strategy was to attack this problem at the point of hiring. Several culture screening and interview rounds ensure that candidates align with the companies values. Tan finds that if employees can get into the organizational culture from the get-go, everyday decision making has fewer layers of approval and checks.
  • An engaged worker is 44% more productive than a satisfied one, and if they have an inspiring boss, they are almost 125% more productive. Former Intel CEO Andy Grove wrote that the output of a manager is the collective output of the team. “The best tech leaders believe that and make a special effort to cascade their vision for company culture, strong leadership, and high performance to all other leaders in their companies – in ways that inspire and motivate.”

Under the pressure of a rapidly transforming industry, tech leaders may feel overwhelmed at times. If you ever feel stuck, no matter what your role is, the basis of good leadership is always mindful communication.