Between soft skills, personalization, and empowerment: management according to MIP

Today’s manager must deal with new challenges and opportunities, like that presented by digital. And if hard skills are essential, soft skills make the difference. Simone Franzò, director of the Executive Master in Management, explains


A deep knowledge of the principles of management and a good balance between soft and hard skills. These are the foundations on which a manager must build their success. Simone Franzò, director of the ’Executive Master in Management (EMIM) at MIP Politecnico di Milano, explains. «It seems obvious, but too often managerial figures have serious gaps in training. Today more than ever, instead, it is fundamental to be able to count on solid skills. Also because digital is changing the boundaries of this profession».


Facing challenges, seizing opportunities

The increasingly pervasive diffusion of digital technologies is playing an important role: «On one hand we have challenges, on the other opportunities», explains Franzò. «Think about the spread of smart working. It certainly poses a challenge from the point of view of team management. But there’s also the other side of the coin: «New technologies enable new opportunities; they can improve  productivity and the effectiveness of the work performed. However, they are not the panacea for all ills: they must be properly managed. Only in this way can they become a “virtuous tool” to the benefit of the company». The challenge is also cultural: «A change of mindset is necessary. Just as physical presence in the workplace cannot be considered an essential value, in the same way the adoption of digital requires training that involves both managers and human resources. Let us take an example: the issue of data management and knowledge. You can’t digitize without knowing how to manage the flow related to knowledge management». But technologies in fact, are not everything. Indeed, they are not anything, without skills. «Today more than ever», continues Franzò, «it’s clear that there’s a need to combine hard skills, that is more notional skills, that you learn through classic educational programmes, with soft skills: for example, the management of leadership, of the team, public speaking. These are the skills that increasingly become a source of success and a competitive advantage for some managers compared to others».


A master’s degree for those who want to strengthen their skills

The Executive Master in Management offers training in line with these principles. «It’s a master’s in general management and is directed at those who typically have a consolidated work experience and feel the need to update and reinforce their skills in key areas of managerial knowledge», says Franzò. «The programme structure is divided in four macro-blocks. The first set of courses is based on management fundamentals, within which the student can choose between six or eight courses. The second block is made up of elective courses: we offer over one hundred courses, and among these the students choose between six and eight. The third block is the executive programme: a programme of eight pre-established modules that address a macro-theme from several complementary points of view (digital transformation, project management, energy management etcetera). Lastly, project work, which has the objective of applying the notions learned up until then on a real managerial problem».


From networking to soft skills and career empowerment

The master’s degree, which can be pursued online following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, is therefore characterized by a high level of content personalization. «This is its strength. Not only because every student can choose which areas to study in depth, but also because this will allow everyone to meet a large number of different colleagues from one course to another, all who share the same educational and training needs. Approximately, networking could reach over one hundred people, all linked by common interests». Particular emphasis is also given to soft skills, as well as to empowerment: «In addition to the courses more focused on soft skills, we have planned a series of career development support initiatives for our students. For example, our students will have the opportunity to meet with managers and head hunters, who will illustrate the most attractive skills on the market», concludes Franzò.





Knowing how to learn: the biggest challenge for tomorrow’s leaders

Soft Skills: why they are important


In an increasingly uncertain and rapidly evolving world, it becomes more and more important for a manager to have the ability to learn and to adapt to new situations. This is why soft skills are destined to become more important than hard skills


Managers of the future can’t do without soft skills. This becomes clear when reading the Future of Jobs Report 2018, the lengthy white paper published by the World Economic Forum that takes stock of global trends in the world of work. According to forecasts, by 2022 the market will favour a workforce able to think critically, to innovate, to create, to learn. This is true for everyone, but even more important for those who prepare to fill a leadership role.

A rapidly changing context

The fine-tuning of artificial intelligence and of machine learning, along with the explosion of big data, will shift the man-machine balance. And the political and economic future of the planet will be increasingly difficult to predict. It’s easy to see why the acronym coined in 1987, VUCA, is once again in vogue with its terms that perfectly describe both today’s world and that of the future: VolatilityUncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. It’s due to these factors that hard skills are no longer enough.

Watchword: reskilling

It’s not surprising, therefore, that the Future of Jobs Report talks about imperative reskilling: where hard skills are no longer enough, the watchword becomes requalification. But, to do that, it’s important to be equipped with the right tools. This is how skills such as analytical thinking, learning strategies, creativity, originality, spirit of initiative will surpass in the rankings both hard skills and soft skills that previously had dominated (the “classic” example of problem solving is a case in point): learning and knowing how to learn is by far the most important ability, especially if we think of a leader who, like it or not, will be forced to deal regularly with VUCA situations. The leaders of tomorrow, as the US magazine Forbes also notes, “must be agile and able to embrace and celebrate change (…) they won’t see change as a burden, but as an opportunity for growth and innovation”. A challenge that’s certainly complex, but unavoidable: according to the World Economic Forum, the reskilling process will involve at least 54% of managers.

Leading people, orienting yourself in the world

All this without forgetting that the qualities of leaders also involve and will continue to involve abilities that are strictly tied to their role, like strategic vision, the ability to communicate objectives to one’s team and to motivate it, to give a few examples. Also on this front, old leadership models soon will no longer work, because the composition of the workforce will change: Millennials have different expectations than their grandparents and parents, and they tend to be much less “faithful”, if they perceive a lack of stimuli and gratification. The leader of the future must also take this into account, in addition to being able to navigate in the world that surrounds them, they must understand its changes, even sudden ones, and know what possibilities are offered by new technologies. Objectives that can be aimed for only by those who have the appropriate soft skills. The World Economic Forum explains clearly that “a skills deficit (…) can significantly hinder the adoption of new technologies and, therefore, the growth of the company”.

A Point of view on Leadership

Clear objectives and acute emotional intelligence. These, according to Lorenzo Wittum, chief executive officer of AstraZeneca Italia, are the two pillars on which managers must build their success. A certainty that comes from years of personal experience, which Wittum shared with students in the Executive MBA programme of MIP Politecnico di Milano. «Pressure without direction only generates agitation – explained Wittum –. Companies are focused on results, and to obtain them it’s fundamental to have a clear and precise strategy, especially if you find yourself managing a team of hundreds of people. The working group must know what the final objective is. For this it’s important that the leader is able to communicate this correctly and effectively».

In a context like this, soft skills become more decisive than hard ones, which however also shouldn’t be undervalued: «I also entered the work world thanks to an MBA in Business Administration and Management, without which I probably wouldn’t be here today. I started my career using hard skills I gained during years of study, and in the meantime I was able to develop empathic and communicative skills, which for a leader are fundamental», said Wittum.

Indeed, it would be difficult to describe a person who isn’t able to involve and motivate his or her colleagues as a good leader. «It’s necessary to know how to speak clearly: define expectations, the level of difficulty, opportunities and risks. Few things are as engaging as the opportunity to work on one’s personal growth and that of colleagues».

In addition, soft skills, unlike hard ones that often involve specific fields, can be used across all work areas.  «Business, no matter what sector, is always based on the same principles. And making the difference are always the same elements: the involvement of people, a clear strategic direction and motivation. Factors that are even more important if you think that, within an organization, there are many projects that involve high-level professionals with different corporate roles: when, as in this case, you lead a “superteam” of experts who respond to other corporate hierarchies, more than leadership, we talks about lateral influence», explained Wittum.

Indeed, it’s the leader’s job to create the right conditions to stimulate cooperation: «In this, what helps immensely is a quality I developed during my master’s programme, that of humility, which must be understood as the ability to be transparent, to know how to recognize when someone else’s idea is better than yours. It’s this attitude that generates involvement».

The role of the leader, obviously, changes significantly as a function of the dimensions of the team. «When I was leading smaller teams, I loved working in the field and giving an example. Put at the head of a larger group, I realized that this approach generated a counterproductive complexity. I realized that to involve and motivate not a team but an entire company I had to first be recognized as a leader, beyond the position I hold, by the key individuals in the different corporate functions».

The AstraZeneca Italia CEO stressed the importance of a master’s degree in an individual’s training path: «Provided, however, that you have patience and consider your career in a constructive way. It’s not a series of 100 metre sprints, but it’s much more like a marathon. It’s important to know what you want to do when you grow up, but this doesn’t mean that you should expect to find your desired job immediately. It’s a growth path that requires, also in this case, a clear objective and great resilience».