Leadership development: Balancing hard and soft skills

Technical talents are important, but the best leaders also have an array of these soft skills

Adam Weinke is a community director for WeWork in Northern California leading an 80-plus member team that manages 16 buildings. What Weinke and his team are doing is entirely new: They’re bringing hospitality to the workplace. With that goal comes new sets of challenges—from day-to-day operation of the buildings to continually raising the bar on service. For Weinke, it’s the so-called soft skills of leadership development that are critical in providing a next-level customer experience.

Could you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a community director at WeWork?

I’ve been at WeWork for about a year and a half, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to this, I spent 13 years in the retail business at Abercrombie & Fitch starting right out of college. That journey took me through management training—from entry-level positions to working my way through the store ranks, and then to leadership roles outside of the stores in California and Hawaii. I also spent three and a half years living overseas.

What really attracted me to WeWork was the opportunity to impact a group of people who are dedicated to providing our members with something they’ve never encountered before. Everyone has experienced hospitality in some way, but in the workplace, it’s new. And WeWork is helping create that.

From your experience, what makes for strong leadership?

I’ve had many opportunities to foster leadership development on my teams, and I spend much more of my time listening versus talking. What makes a strong leader is how much they listen to, and truly understand, what’s going on. 

Delegation is also a skill that’s so important. There are moments where I personally need to slow down and focus on training and development in order to delegate. It’s not serving you if you’re the fastest or the best at doing something that someone else could learn. Saying, “I have full faith and trust in you, and I trust you will get it done” is incredibly empowering.

Empathy is another huge piece—understanding where somebody else is coming from and putting yourself in his or her shoes. I was listening to the WeWork Up At Night podcast with WeWork member Movable Ink, and its CEO Vivek Sharma had some great perspective on empathy and leadership as his company has grown. At Movable Ink, empathy is now one of their most valued skills sets.

What qualities do you look for in a candidate? And how do you identify empathy?

It’s much easier to do when you’re promoting someone you’ve spent time with. I look for how someone uses language in conversation with the team, which is also important for training and development. You can ask yourself, “How does the team respond to that individual? How often is that individual talking about we versus I?” Things are rarely accomplished on an individual basis. It’s being humble in the face of success, but also in challenges or defeat. On the other hand, when things go wrong, does that person say, “I’m responsible for this”? 

How heavily do you weigh a candidate’s soft skills versus more quantifiable hard skills?

Operating a building is a hard skill that requires acumen. It’s a turnkey solution. We’re taking away all the things people don’t like about being their own landlord, like billing, supply ordering, anything that goes into operations from P&L management all the way down to janitorial services. 

But hospitality is also a soft skills environment, and the community side of the business is where you see that convergence with empathy. It’s about understanding what challenges our members deal with. How do we remove hurdles before they even see the hurdle coming?

Are there any strategies you’ve found effective for creating a cohesive team?

In today’s world, lots of things are done by video or conference call, so I like to get my team together in a room and have a one-hour meeting in person—make that human connection. Across Northern California and our WeWork portfolio, we get the entire team together—community associates, leads, managers—and have a mix of social and general business updates. 

Another tactic I use is “skip levels,” having conversations at all different levels within the team and being a sounding board for people. They’ll ask me, “How’s your wife? Are you getting ready to be a parent?” Or say, “This is going on in my building, let’s talk about it.” It kind of energizes me.

What’s something that keeps you up at night and how do you cope?

Anything related to team development keeps me up. Is there something I’m missing in terms of feedback or training and development? On the other front, is there anything related to member experience? How can we do better and continue to improve the service we provide to members? Continuing to raise the bar—that keeps me up at night. 

To relax, I enjoy cooking and providing an experience in the form of food. My wife and I are expecting our first child soon, and I look forward to sharing that with our son.

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