- Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: A Virtual Disconnect
- 3 High Impact Soft Skills Every Remote Manager Needs
- How Do You Test for Important Soft Skills as a Remote Leader?
- Prioritizing Soft Skills: The EQ Revolution
Remote leadership soft skills are way undervalued. I’m going to unpack why that is, why it’s horribly wrong, and which of them you can build to become a highly successful remote manager.
I remember early in my remote career hearing about something called ‘The Einstein Test’ which employers used to test a candidate’s problem-solving skills in an interview.
The test was straightforward enough – your hiring manager took you out for a bite to eat. When your food arrived, they’d watch to see if you added salt before tasting it. If you did, you were out.
Legend goes, for Einstein who was interviewing faculty for spots at Princeton – making thoughtless assumptions about your food was enough to gauge whether you had an open mind. Basing decisions on fact, not biased assumption, was the key to strong leadership.
- People who taste first naturally seek out evidence before making decisions
Now, I always notice who puts salt on their food before tasting it.
Variations of this soft skills test have popped up all over the place. Most recently a Managing Director in Australia hit the papers for his ‘coffee cup’ test. In that story, if you didn’t wash your cup after the interview, you didn’t get hired. Crazy!
But it speaks to the need to better understand soft leadership skills in ourselves and in our teams.
- How do we measure the unmeasurable?
- What kind of management soft skills make the most impact in remote work?
- And, how do we as remote workers find and improve them?
Let’s dig into this tasty dish.
Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: A Virtual Disconnect
Hard skills make you good on paper, soft skills make you good in person. But what happens when you work remotely?
So far, the default has been to lean heavily on hard skills, because they’re easier to measure – especially if you live across the world from your team.
The image of the highly competent IT guy with zero soft skills for leadership is enshrined in pop culture. Think of Richard Ayoade’s character Moss from the IT Crowd, or Thomas Middleditch’s programmer character Richard from the show, Silicon Valley.
While these stereotypes are fun on screen, they have led to hiring managers over-focusing on paper qualifications instead of the soft skills managers in the remote space truly need to thrive.
Now get this – there’s solid evidence that this is ALL WRONG.
- According to The National Soft Skills Association, research by Harvard University, The Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research found that 85% of job success…is from soft skills. Only 15% of job success comes from technical skill and knowledge.
When you consider that most modern hiring is based on a resume full of hard skills – it leaves a lot of room for bad hiring decisions. The best coder in the world is practically useless in a remote environment if they can’t communicate with their team.
Soft skills matter!
And remote managers need stronger soft skills than in-person managers, because communicating in virtual environments is harder.
Some 86% of employees and executives say that effective collaboration and communication is the main cause of workplace failure. We can assume that number is even higher in remote teams.
It’s time you took a pragmatic look at the soft skills you need to level up your management game.
3 High Impact Soft Skills Every Remote Manager Needs
Every remote manager needs a set of specific skills in their arsenal to do great work.
- Hard skills are learned through experience or education (practical)
- Soft skills are character traits and personal attributes that aid engagement (social)
Here are some of the most useful soft skills remote leaders use daily to excel at work.
1) Emotional Agility
A subset of emotional intelligence, one of the primary intelligences – emotional agility refers to a leader’s ability to use their feelings as a guide or input, instead of being emotionally reactive.
A leader who has high emotional agility can experience their emotions, step back from them and understand where they come from.
It’s a level deeper than simply having solid EQ and being able to manage your emotions well.
- Remote leaders who can experience emotions and act on them in a more self-aware way have a much greater chance of success in an often-ambiguous virtual workplace.
Leaders with high emotional agility tend to inquire before making snap judgements, they acknowledge valid emotions around them, and are great at creating psychological safety. In intercultural and complex work environments this is an essential soft skill.
Plus, leaders who excel in this soft skill are outstanding in a crisis…like COVID-19. Instead of focusing on people management as a hard skill, finding or developing emotional agility has more value.
Check out psychologist Susan David’s TEDTalk on the power of emotional courage here.
2) Team Support
An offshoot of the more common ‘teamwork’ soft skill is team support. As a remote manager, team dynamics are the trickiest thing about the job.
Managing different people across time zones, with different ways of working, connecting and sharing is an ongoing challenge.
While the hard skill you would see on a resume is ‘coaching’ – which would mean helping teams conform to a specific way of working that the company has designed, this is different.
What matters more for remote teams is a leader’s ability to support them.
It becomes an autonomous act of checking in with team members to see how you can help them deliver their best work.
Instead of shaping a workers process to suit the company, you support their own best process – aligning these to your company’s mission and values.
I like to think of it as the height of autonomous interdependence in a distributed team environment.
- The ability to nurture links between team members
- To share team accountability and vision
- To encourage valuable feedback between team members
- To bridge gaps and assist a wide variety of individuals in doing their best work
- To move individuals from a group mindset to a team dynamic
- To establish collaborative action among dispersed members
- To adjust the levels of support depending on the projects / tasks at hand
At its core this soft skill helps remote leaders decentralize management and achieve comprehensive interdependence in their team design.
It’s the loftiest goal of teamwork, moving beyond pooled, sequential, and reciprocal interdependence until every member works in harmony to achieve team goals.
When a remote leader nails team support, everyone functions to improve the company – and healthy interdependence results.
3) Asynchronous Work Ethic
A little different from ‘work ethic’ in its traditional form, async work ethic is even more autonomous.
For remote leaders, it’s a delicate and highly adaptable blend of global time management, high internal motivation and rock-solid reliability.
- Global time management: Capable of setting, preparing and attending multiple global meetings at any given time. These are often moved, so high adaptability without losing motivation is key.
- Internal and external motivation: Remote managers must have an innate ability to hold themselves to high standards (internal) and a powerful drive to perform for their team (external).
- Rock-solid reliability: Being dependable as a manager is an underrated soft skill that is critical to work ethic. Without it, leaders can’t foster trust, so they’ll never be able to achieve the highest levels of team interdependence.
Effective remote managers must always be the linchpins of their team – models that everyone else can use to better understand the expectations of the job.
While your average in-person manager could get away with being late for a meeting or having a lazy day around the office – the same isn’t true for remote managers. Because of the digital nature of virtual work, everything is amplified.
- What they say and do is the same thing
- They take responsibility when things go wrong
- They make mistakes and they fix them
- They’re honest with the people around them
- They’re flexible and open to challenges
Among the most pressing challenges of async work is the ability to manage your schedule, your time and to do it all with admirable integrity and work ethic.
Beyond qualifications, and strategy and setting procedures – this set of soft skills will make you an admirable remote leader.
How Do You Test for Important Soft Skills as a Remote Leader?
The Einstein Test isn’t going to work when you’re interviewing a candidate on Zoom.
So how do you inspire a human interaction that gives you the opportunity to gauge a candidate’s soft skills?
Use these tests instead.
The Desktop Background Test (CQ)
This is a great in-person virtual interview test to assess a candidate’s curiosity quotient (CQ).
CQ helps you better understand the learning habits of your potential hire.
Strategically place interesting objects within your Zoom window, to see whether the candidate will engage you in conversation over one or more of the items.
If they don’t, you can point to items in their frame to strike up a non-work-related conversation. These virtual elements create a unique opportunity for you to have a sneak-peek inside the life, mind and conversational ability of your candidate.
The Cognitive Aptitude Test (G)
The CCAT is the most reliable predictor of high performance that exists today.
It tests your general intelligence, which can be broken down into your fluid and crystallized intelligence levels.
These are helpful when trying to understand a candidate’s thinking, perception, reasoning, memory, verbal, mathematical and problem-solving abilities.
- Fluid Intelligence (Gf): Your ability to process brand new information, learn fast and solve problems.
- Crystallized Intelligence (Gc): Your ability to use knowledge and facts that you’ve picked up over time.
It’s only after they’ve passed this critical G test, that they advance to other types of skills-based testing and structured interviews.
Prioritizing Soft Skills: The EQ Revolution
The essence of remote leadership reaches far beyond technical know-how, to building a robust set of soft skills. It’s clear that we’re on the brink of an EQ revolution.
If you’ve been heavily relying on your own hard skills this is your moment to reconsider that approach. It might be the mindset keeping you from leaping to transformational leadership.
The remote world is full of genius-level entrepreneurs and coders who can’t connect with their teams in any kind of meaningful way.
But you, as a remote leader, can change that.
It’s time to embrace emotional agility, nurture team support and master your asynchronous work ethic. It’s not enough to manage people anymore – you have to inspire them!
That’s how you design and connect an unstoppable team of remote workers.
Anyone can be a remote leader, but it takes these unusual soft skills to become a remarkable one.
So, as you close this chapter take a moment to reflect. Are your soft skills shaping you into the transformative remote leader of tomorrow? If not, this is your sign to get moving.
You’re not just leading a remote team – you’re pioneering a new way to work that places as much value on the heart as on the mind. In the end, the future of work isn’t just remote – it’s emotionally intelligent, deeply supportive and autonomously driven.
You can be a part of that.