Paul Walters

Paul Walters

Senior Manager

A few years ago, I had the privilege of coaching a sales leader from the tech industry in California. She was stepping into a daunting new role amidst challenging circumstances: over half of her sales team had been laid off. As her executive coach, my goal was to guide her through this transition successfully.

During our first conversation, I asked about her main challenges. She shared her urgent task: stabilizing and inspiring the remaining sales team to achieve high performance despite recent layoffs. She planned a meeting in San Francisco to rally her team, emphasizing the need to accept change and focus on sales targets. While well-intentioned, this approach missed a crucial element: the soft skills of leadership.

At CFAR, we spend a lot of time talking with our clients about living at the intersection of the hard (finance, operations, etc.) and the soft (interpersonal dynamics, culture, etc.). Both have a place and are needed in organizations and leadership, particularly during a moment of disruption (such as during layoffs, restructuring, tragedy, and COVID-19). This tech leader was leaning too heavily on hard skills, overlooking the power of empathy, communication, and emotional intelligence. This is a common pitfall; many leaders climb the ranks by mastering the tangible aspects of their roles but may neglect the human side of leadership. Yet, as research and industry trends show, executives who excel in social skills and emotional intelligence can significantly improve team performance and business outcomes.

A useful tool I recommend is Gallup’s “Four Needs of Followers,” which highlights the importance of trust, compassion, stability, and hope in leadership. Gallup studied 10,000 people in “follower” job roles between 2005 and 2008 and found that leaders who are perceived to be trustworthy and compassionate and who offer stability and hope have a significant impact on their employees. Trust involves clarity, honesty, transparency, and behavioral predictability; Compassion means truly caring about the whole employee, not just viewing them as a cog in the wheel; Stability is creating psychological safety, ensuring employees know they can depend on you, and keeping people grounded in the here and now; and Hope is encouraging people to believe in a better future, that you have a clear direction for the future in mind. Leaders who embody these qualities can profoundly impact their team’s engagement and performance.

Taking this to heart, the sales leader changed her approach. Instead of a straightforward meeting, she organized a town hall to listen actively to her team’s concerns and aspirations. She shared her own experiences, acknowledged their emotions, and outlined a hopeful vision for the future. The result? A meeting that exceeded expectations, fostering increased trust and alignment.

This experience underscores a vital lesson for leaders: success is not just about driving hard business results. It’s about nurturing the soft skills that create a culture of engagement and resilience. By balancing the scales between hard and soft skills, leaders can guide their teams through challenges and toward a brighter future.