When command-and-control leadership was the only leadership style people expected, things were simpler. The boss told people where to be and what to do there, and if there were any problems, they all fell back on that one person delivering directives. But with simplicity came exclusion and lost opportunity. Other leadership styles were lost in the foray or overlooked, and leaders burned out at alarming rates. In today’s complex world and more connected professional landscape, leaders with a diverse skillset aren’t just accepted—they are sought after.
The British Columbia Labour Market Outlook 2021-2031 Forecast lists active listening, speaking, critical thinking and reading comprehension as the top skills of the future. Social perceptiveness, monitoring, judgement, and decision making were also deemed important for most future jobs. Some of these skills, like decision making and critical thinking, are not surprising, but others, like social perceptiveness and monitoring, are less common.
“How many job advertisements list ‘ability to tune into the feelings of others’ as requirements?” asks Jo-Anne Clarke, dean of Continuing Studies at University of Victoria. “Not many, but it’s a vital leadership skill. There’s a well-known saying that ‘people don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad bosses.’”
“Through self-reflection activities, students can discover their distinctive leadership styles and based on that style, determine how best to interact in team environments as well as recognize the leadership styles of others,” says Joy Dalla-Tina, VCC Continuing Studies, Program Coordinator, Business and Management.
Dr. Maureen Mancuso, vice-president academic at University Canada West agrees, noting that successful leadership is a matter of knowing your audience and matching your techniques to the situation and context.
“In that way, it is more of an art than a science, and leadership is changing—social media and unlimited personal communication have fundamentally altered how even small groups behave, and how they respond to proposals and incentives.”
Of course, the age-old debate asks whether people are born with leadership traits or whether leadership can be taught. “As an educator, I lean towards the notion that people can learn and develop leadership competencies,” Clarke says. “Every new situation you encounter is an opportunity to act, reflect and learn.”
UVic recently launched a new micro-credential called Essential Soft Skills Training, which Clarke sometimes describes as the “greatest hits of people skills” because it equips learners with foundational knowledge and tools required when moving into leadership roles.
“Dividing competencies into hard and soft skills can be limiting because these lines are blurring,” she says. “Future leaders need educational programs that take a more integrated approach to skills development, which is why we embed both into our curriculum design.”
One of the challenges today’s workplaces is that there is little room for leaders to make mistakes or fail. People may lean on their strengths and what they know rather than risk stepping outside of their comfort zone to try something new. That’s where continuing education courses can help.
“The classroom is an ideal space to learn about different leadership approaches and then try them out with a group of people who aren’t your co-workers,” Clarke says. “Think of it as a low-stakes simulation lab. Many of our instructors are senior level professionals who have decades of experience coaching others. They know how to create a safe learning space for self-reflection and critical thinking.”
Another big pitfall is assuming that you can somehow avoid conflict or resistance. “Leaders can’t antagonize, but they can’t be people-pleasers either,” Mancuso says. “And in the end, they have to understand that decisions have to be made. Leadership is most important when the right path is not clear and when someone will be unhappy no matter which direction is taken.”
UCW students can gain these skills in-action as peer leaders, helping to ease the transition for new first-term students. They can serve in leadership positions in student clubs, and 2022-23 students can hone their skills competing in the BC MBA Games.
UCW’s Master of Business Administration program is built to prepare learners for success at a global level and includes electives for students who want to dial in on a future in leadership. Change Management investigates the dynamics of change; Negotiation explores the art and science of obtaining agreements between two or more independent parties; and Leadership and Decision-Making focuses on decision-making in an organizational structure and introduces cross-cultural communication theory and the importance of image projection in the 21st century.
No matter what type of leader a student wishes to be, it is important to learn a diverse set of skills and recognize that the learning begins when immersed in an academic environment with everyone aligned for a common purpose—learning the material.
“An educator’s role is to model the behaviour of an effective leader,” Dalla-Tina says. “In essence, they are the leaders for their students. This can be accomplished by fostering a positive, inclusive classroom environment.”
She points to courses that teach integrated, flexible hard and soft skills so tomorrow’s leaders can explore different avenues and discover what where they excel and what they enjoy.
“To prepare future leaders, education needs to equip students with both hard and soft skills,” Dalla-Tina says. “VCC’s Applied Leadership and Business Management Certificate addresses essential hard and soft skills for leaders by offering courses such as, Project and Change Management, The Fundamentals of Leadership, Communicating in the Workplace, Interpersonal Communication and Relationships, Sales and Marketing Fundamentals, Finance and Accounting, to name a few.”
Christopher Dennison, PhD PEng, Director of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Victoria, points to the biomedical engineering project management micro-credential as an example of a course that fosters leadership, innovation and hard and soft skills among students.
This program is designed to provide skills in project management to those interested in practising biomedical engineering. The credential is broken into three main competencies—project planning and management; intellectual property and regulatory frameworks; and effective communication with stakeholders.
“Leadership skills and innovation are spread throughout the credential because, as a project manager, one would need to work with a diverse range of professionals, each with different goals on the project,” Dennison says. “To be effective, you need both a broad view and a procedural view to effectively bring a project through to completion.”
These skills transfer to several areas, which is why the biomedical engineering project management course is designed to be broadly applicable.
“We’ve had learners from medical device companies, researchers and people studying at the undergrad and graduate levels,” Dennison says. “The micro-credential can deliver up to 20 hours toward project management designations and a digital badge as well as catering to a broad range of skill levels and a wide cross-section of people.”
Learn about VCC Continuing Studies many business and leadership offerings including new award of achievement specialites in coaching, eccommerce, leadership skills, production for animation and vfx, and small business administration.