Pandemic highlights lack of soft skills among business leaders, poll finds

Experts warn relationships between employees and managers are never more important that during a crisis, as survey reveals need for better people management

The coronavirus outbreak has highlighted the lack of soft skills among many business leaders, a report has found, as experts warn employees’ relationships with their managers have never been more important. 

A poll of 3,500 UK professionals, conducted by City & Guilds, found nearly two-thirds (73 per cent) felt their organisation’s leadership had been lacking during the pandemic.

More than a third (36 per cent) of survey respondents said the leadership failed to empower teams, while a similar percentage (31 per cent) said a lack of empathy could impact on motivation and performance.

Problem-solving and organisational skills were also qualities identified as lacking in management by 34 and 29 per cent of respondents respectively.

David Phillips, managing director of City & Guilds, said strong leadership was “business critical” in times of crisis. “This year, firms have faced unprecedented circumstances and have had to make some very difficult decisions – putting their leadership and management skills to the test.

“With further uncertainty and change on the horizon thanks to tough economic conditions and a messy Brexit, the businesses that succeed will be the ones that have leaders and managers who can guide their teams to respond, adapt and change to whatever the future throws at them.” 

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The research found the vast majority of respondents (81 per cent) expected their business to be negatively affected by the coronavirus and ongoing uncertainty in 2021.

More than two-thirds of those polled (68 per cent) said people management was a key skill managers or business leaders needed; however, 45 per cent said their own managers needed to improve on this.

Similarly, 48 per cent said communication was an important skill, with the same percentage citing relationship building. However, 39 per cent and 38 per cent said their managers needed to work on these skills respectively.

Employers were also failing to invest in management skills: 31 per cent of those polled said their organisation didn’t have any measures in place to identify leadership or management potential, while around one in six (16 per cent) said their companies didn’t invest in career development for leaders. A similar proportion (17 per cent) said their companies did not invest in potential leaders or managers effectively.

Peter Coats, group protection academy manager at Legal and General, said the outbreak had highlighted the importance of managers in businesses. “If there’s one thing that we’ve realised this year it’s that the quality of relationship that you have with your line manager is the key to how you feel at work and the biggest driver of engagement [and is] never more important than when a crisis hits,” he said.

“Equipping all of our managers to have the right conversations and build respectful, trusting, two-way relationships is more important now than ever.”