Make Soft Leadership Skills Workshops Work For You.

The Knowing/Being Disconnect.

Why would people register for a Time Management workshop and then arrive late for it? You may say the answer is obvious – they need some time management skills. But then, you wouldn’t think they would want to make it so blatantly obvious to their participating professional peer group that they are so lacking.

Or what about the up and coming leader who phones me telling me he wants to enhance his networking skills and is coming to my workshop on Growing Your Career Through Networking. He enters the room where everyone is having pre-workshop coffee and stands by himself against the far wall. I go and get him and bring him across and introduce him to people. He shakes their hands but doesn’t contribute to the conversation. At morning tea, he gets his coffee and slice and goes and sits back at his table by himself.

Another workshop on Giving Feedback that Motivates Your People saw 32 of the 33 participants give me some very positive feedback and helpful, actionable critiques, obviously learning something from the workshop about giving feedback. One person, however, went on a slash and burn exercise of my presentation – negative and unconstructive about which I could make little response. Why did she come? I thought she had come to learn how to give feedback.

There was also the workshop on Managing Stress for a group of people working in a very stressful area of welfare service. It was a very practical workshop with lots of interaction and time for questions. On the evaluation form, one person not only filled in the form, but also every margin, top and bottom, left and right, and then went over the page, as an expression of how unhelpful the workshop was in helping her manage her stress. She did not participate well in the workshop, nor ask questions but then used the evaluation to pour out her unreleased stress.

While I offer everyone who attends my workshops the opportunity to make contact with me afterwards if they have further questions, neither of my critics did.

So What Is Happening Here?

There is certainly a big disconnect.

There is a Zen saying: To know and not to do is not yet to know.

The skills I want people to learn in these workshops are Soft Skills and I believe that many people coming don’t understand how different the learning of Soft Skills is from learning the hard or technical skills.

When being taught a new technical skill, you take the exact words and instructions the trainer gives you and you just follow it, may be guided by the “how to” manual you are given. It is very straight-forward, even if some may need more practice than others to master it.

Soft Skills are different. First of all they can’t be taught. They are learned and learning is a gradual process of getting better and better at something. Soft Skills are skills that focus on the development of our  personality, attitudes, behaviours and mindsets.

I assume that when people come to Soft Leadership Skills workshops they want to learn skills to bring about change and development. I’ve discovered that is not so. Many want tips and strategies that make intellectual sense to them, that they can go away and implement. Tips and strategy workshops see people coming away knowing what they need to do but finding the doing it is much more difficult because it involves BEING something different to the way you were before.

I can give you many tips and strategies for managing difficult people, for example. On paper they are very straight forward and would seem easy to implement. What happens? You delay taking action with the most difficult person in your team. Why? You are not really sure, but you certainly are frightened of doing it. One part of you knows you have to do it and now you have the strategies from my workshop you know how to do it, but you can’t, won’t, don’t. You feel that maybe it will make things worse, or that you will get too nervous and not handle it well, for example. The real Soft Skills learning here is about managing you, examining how you feel about conflict and how you normally deal with it, understanding what is happening for you by developing greater self-awareness, learning to manage your emotions by becoming more emotionally intelligent, for example. If you ask yourself how you want to manage the difficult people in your work, and then ask yourself what skills you need to be able to do that. You then go and source/learn those skills. Some strategies are good, but they are only one part of being successful in managing difficult people.

So What Else Can You Do To Make The Most Of Soft Leadership Skills Workshops?

  • Prepare for the workshop. Many people register for a workshop and then forget all about it until the night before when they are planning the next day.

Why do I need to go to this workshop?

What outcomes do I want for myself from this workshop?

What do I need to do before this workshop, during it and after it, to ensure that I achieve those outcomes?

  • At discussion time, ask the questions you need to ask, of both the presenter and your discussion group, that will see you achieve the outcomes you want from the workshop. Be prepared to be an active participant because this is essential to Soft Skills learning because they are best learned in interaction with others.
  • In every workshop you attend, be aware that you are participating in 2 workshops.  The first workshop is what the presenter is saying to you. The second workshop is what you are saying to yourself about what the presenter is saying.
  • It is this second workshop that is the one you need to be listening to and taking notes on. This is the workshop from which most action and change needs to emerge. What is happening for me and to me in this workshop? Don’t blame the presenter for that. Own it! But act on it.

I often suggest that people have one of those pens where you flip the ink colour from red to blue. What I, the presenter, say to you note in blue. What you think about what I say you note down in red – any ah!ah! insights you have about it, what you question or find challenging, what you want to implement, for example.


What needs to happen in the second workshop is that you don’t take what I am saying as absolute truth, because it isn’t. Presenters of hard, technical skills training are teaching factual information which is rarely questionable. You might have a different strategic approach to the information, but the facts remain correct.

Soft Skills are very subjective and you filter them through the lens of your personality, attitudes, behaviour and mindset. This filter is created by your upbringing, culture, age, gender, race and education, among other things. You have to make a judgment about what part of this presentation resonates with you now and how you can implement that. What part challenges you and why is that so?

  • Make a decision that you will be open to whatever is being said in the workshop and will evaluate it with self-awareness not prejudice and bias. The more open you can be to letting the presentation flow in and through you, the more you will discover and learn. If early in the workshop, you hear something you totally disagree with and then can’t let go of it, it will block your access to all the rest of the presentation which may have some positive insights for you.
  • Technical skills are about a way of doing. Soft Skills are about a way of being. When you enhance your Soft Skills, you become increasingly the person you want to be. Who you are, what you believe, what you do and how you do it become congruent and in alignment. We spend our lifetime on that journey.


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