Terms like soft skills and leadership don’t sound like they belong in the same sentence. However, these abilities shouldn’t be underestimated. Now more than ever, organizations are searching for those who have mastered technical skills and have the soft ones that can’t be fabricated or automated.
Luckily, these abilities are learnable and teachable. Why do leaders need soft skills? What soft skills do leaders need? Here are just a few, plus suggestions to develop your own impressive set.
Companies with highly diverse leadership teams make nearly 20% more revenue than those with below-average diversity scores, thereby incentivizing heterogeneity and inclusion. However, the best leaders know that diversity is most valuable when everyone can contribute ideas and collaborate. Because of this, they consciously strive to facilitate teamwork by creating opportunities for cohesion.
These same leaders also possess team player characteristics to further encourage cooperation and ensure everyone’s voice is heard. For instance, a teamwork-oriented leader might call on soft-spoken individuals to listen to their input. Others might delegate roles and assign responsibilities to each employee so they’re productive and committed to achieving results.
As the team succeeds and fails together, they’ll learn how to better support and motivate each other to accomplish tasks that would have been impossible alone.
2. Emotional Intelligence
As employees seek more attention through feedback and professional support, leaders must listen closely to truly understand and meet their needs. This soft skill is especially important because it creates trusting relationships in which workers feel empowered to expand their skill sets and further their careers.
However, if leaders want to encourage such growth and passion in their employees, they must listen to comprehend rather than simply respond. In other words, they must cultivate emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, manage and regulate emotions, and it’s a key component to active listening. That’s because becoming aware of your own feelings teaches you to recognize and influence the feelings of others. Ultimately, this skill can help you resolve conflict, coach and motivate others, and create a collaborative culture where everyone has a chance to succeed.
Nearly 58% of hiring managers consider communication the most important soft skill for new hires. However, they often forget how integral this ability is to their own job description. Ultimately, how well you communicate thoughts, ideas and solutions will determine your team’s level of success. Therefore, you must develop effective writing and speaking skills before trying to convey information to your employees.
Maintain eye contact and good posture to show goodwill and project confidence. Avoid fidgeting, and engage your audience through facial expressions and body language. Most importantly, keep speeches to the point. Attention spans are shorter than ever these days, and the last thing you want is for your team to miss any important details. If you can accomplish just as much in an email blast, save time by communicating through writing instead.
More than one-third of people agree that mentors are important, but only 37% have one. Meanwhile, the vast majority of employees are left to fend for themselves. They may never reach their fullest potential without someone to coach them, which is bad news if they’re on your team. Luckily, you’re in a prime position to fill that mentorship role and help them develop their skills.
Make a conscious effort to come alongside your team members and coach them with patience. Allow the mentor-mentee relationship to blossom naturally, and invest in your employees’ ongoing learning. Doing so will ensure they become leaders who can assume management responsibilities as the business grows, which will make your job easier in the long run.
Most leaders are responsible for collecting various resources and datasets, including charts, client information, handouts, reports and other tangible documents. If they’re to keep everything in a designated, orderly spot, they must have exceptional organizational skills. Otherwise, they could misplace documents, lose records, and expose sensitive information like payroll histories and credit card data.
Leaders must also organize intangible information online. Whether they’re collecting productivity reports through a built-in monitoring system or data concerning audience engagement, a number of relevant statistics will end up in a digital file somewhere. It’s the leader’s job to convert them into more digestible, actionable pieces of information so the team can respond accordingly.
More importantly, they’ll implement an organizational structure and outline office procedures to maintain a consistent workflow and facilitate a cohesive approach.
Leaders understand the importance of rules and regulations. However, the most creative ones realize that some rules are meant to be broken, especially if it means developing better systems and practices. In these instances, they must rely on imagination and ingenuity to formulate and implement creative solutions.
Those who truly value inclusivity and growth will involve their team in these creative endeavors, too. Facilitate brainstorming sessions and ask employees to think outside the box. Remember, there are no stupid questions or suggestions in this creative safe space. Besides, spitballing can often lead to brilliant ideas, even if the original concept was a dud.
Discuss possible solutions and put them to the test to show everyone you value their recommendations and have faith in their proposals.
Before the pandemic, a mere 12.3% of the workforce was fully remote. Now, nearly half of U.S. employees are working from home, a testament to leaders’ adaptability even during the toughest of times. Of course, most of them had no choice but to alter current systems and make the switch to remote work. However, flexible leaders and their resilient organizations may have had the easiest time of it. Why? Because they were willing to learn, change and grow.
In this sense, a leader’s adaptability depends on their passion and readiness for improvement and transformation. Are they willing to change the way they’ve always done things if there’s a better solution? More importantly, are they ready to experience setbacks if it means securing success in the long term? Millions of managers asked themselves the same question at the start of the pandemic. Now, only the most adaptable remain.
Adaptable leaders often possess excellent problem-solving abilities, too. That’s because flexibility demands quick solutions to your most pressing problems. Thus, managers must remain open-minded, lean on transparency and learn to think on their feet. Doing so will help them stay confident in times of crisis so their team can maintain a sense of calm determination and actually instigate change.
Approaching and solving office conflict will also help leaders flex their problem-solving muscles. The more often they face opposition, the more easily they can create a framework that will help them resolve it. Using empathy to understand how team members or clients perceive conflict will also allow leaders to practice honing this soft skill.
When tough decisions arise, leaders are usually the ones who make the final call. Therefore, they must know how to weigh their options and determine the best course of action. This process is much more difficult than it sounds, especially when employees’ and clients’ comfort and satisfaction often hang in the balance. Plus, each situation may call for a different solution depending on resources, variables and potential outcomes.
However, a good, decisive leader knows how to consider all perspectives, analyze relevant data and project possible consequences. After examining the details and the bigger picture, they must choose passivity or action. The latter is typically wisest, even if the decision was a poor one. Then, leaders can learn from their mistakes, adapt and choose a better solution the next time around.
Confidence might not seem like a soft skill, especially when so many people find it difficult to cultivate. However, self-confidence is essential for those in leadership, regardless of what industry they work in. That’s because confident leaders produce strong and competent followers. When the team perceives their boss to be courageous, innovative and enthusiastic, they’ll often exhibit the same characteristics and benefit the entire company.
Of course, employers must take care not to become overly confident or arrogant. Otherwise, you may take unreasonable risks and destroy trust among your employees. You might also grow resistant to feedback and personal change, which can hinder growth and prevent your team from achieving results and enjoying success. Therefore, it’s best to approach every worker and situation with humility. Then, let confidence inspire others and fuel the problem-solving and decision-making processes.
The Importance of Soft Skills to Leadership Roles
Now that you know why leaders need soft skills, you may feel inspired to develop your own. While there are many ways to do so, practicing these traits on the job and in real-world situations will help you conquer the learning curve quicker. Expect a few mishaps along the way and use them to hone your skills even further.
With a lot of practice and even more patience, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a better leader. Embrace the process and get ready for a whole lot of change.
About the Author: Ginger Abbot is a career and learning writer. When she’s not freelancing, she’s serving as Editor-in-Chief for the education publication Classrooms.