Leadership comes with plenty of “how-to” skills. And some get a lot more airtime than others. Among these neglected skills is what the industry tends to characterise as “soft-skills”.
Hard-skills that produce hard results are often an easy sell in leadership circles. And yet it’s the soft skills that are essential in achieving goals and producing long-term success. In which case, it’s time to get familiar with and cultivate these top five leadership (soft) skills. Because there’s nothing soft about them.
Leadership Skill #1 Vision
Leaders need a vision. After all, you’re leading people towards achieving an end goal! This is what makes vision (or strategic thinking) a critical skill for truly effective leaders. Leaders see the big picture before getting bogged down in minor details.
Leaders need to have the ability to plan for the future. So, in order to boost your visionary skills, try focusing on the following qualities:
1. Learn: Visionary skills require a constant growth journey. As in constant learning. Be it your own experiences, the experiences of others, books, presentations, workshops or seminars. Leaders with vision never miss an opportunity for discovering better pathways to achieving outcomes.
2. Seek advice from others: Being a leader doesn’t mean you can’t also be led. Visionary skills can always be improved with feedback and advice from others. Leaders with vision test ideas and strategies, and they seek feedback from others to ensure their plans will produce the desired goal.
3. Don’t be afraid of risks: Having a vision always requires a little risk. Strategic thinking skills often require leaders to step outside cookie-cutter approaches. To envision new ways of doing things. They take (considered) risks on innovative solutions that may more effectively achieve intended goals and boost creativity (bonus!).
Never forget organisational purpose: Having vision means always keeping the grand plan in mind. Great leaders inspire and unite their people towards this purpose. And they never neglect their organisation's purpose (or people). Keeping these two key elements in mind is crucial for ensuring their plans are attainable.
Leadership Skill #2 Communication
It could be argued that communication is the core skill in leadership. Leaders need to be skilled communicators in order to express ideas, share information, and guide followers to achieve goals.
Handling rapid flows of information within (and between) organisations is crucial in seizing opportunities. Especially when it comes to developing your followers and allowing them to operate in the most effective and efficient way possible.
Ultimately, good communication skills are key in driving productivity and inspiring others to work towards a common goal. Polish up your communication skills by focusing on:
1. Clarity: If people don’t understand what you’re saying, you’ve failed in communicating with them, end of story. Plus, you’ll just waste everyone’s time as staff will have to circle back for clarification. By communicating clearly on things like the goal of the task, how long you expect it to take, and resources that might streamline the process, you enable productivity.
2. Inspiration: The most important principle of effective communication skills is inspiring others through your words (and a little bit of body language to boot). By communicating your vision with energy and enthusiasm, you can rally your team around the goal and embrace your vision.
3. Listening: Communication is a two-way street. Fail to listen and you’ve failed to communicate well. Listening to the interests and ideas of your team will give you new perspectives on how to achieve your goals. Plus, it will increase your skills in building relationships, (collective) problem solving, and ensuring mutual understanding.
4. Feedback: Getting feedback is the single most effective way to make sure your message was communicated well. It’s how you verify that you’ve skillfully communicated with others. And if you haven’t? Time to re-phrase so that your message is understood, folks.
Leadership Skill #3 Versatility
There are many ways to define leadership and as such, there is no single “set way” to lead. And so, one of the best leadership skills you can have is versatility. Great leaders have adaptability skills. They adapt their leadership styles and strategies according to specific needs.
Organisations are comprised of individuals with varying experience, needs and personalities. So, one style of leadership just can’t work for everyone. In order to create synergies that achieve broader objectives, a leader must have the skills to adapt their approach to these variables. Your primary skill objective:
- Practice New Leadership Styles! Developing the skills in adapting leadership styles comes with practice. Most leaders have a default leadership style. Which makes adapting and alternating new leadership styles challenging. So, practice! Test out which team behavioural traits match your different leadership strategies. For a general idea, employees can often fall into the following categories:
- Competent and committed: The dream employee! This is a pretty idyllic situation, that rolls around once in a while. The best way you can lead these folks is to be hands-off. Empower these employees with clear objectives, few restrictions and trust. They’re intrinsically motivated and they’re capable. In which case, any micro-managing won’t be appreciated.
- Skilled but unmotivated: Often leaders become more directive with these workers, but this often worsens the effects as they become resistant! A more communicative leadership approach (think creating close relationships, attentive listening, and emotional support) may be the key to unlocking their motivations. Or the reasons for the absence of motivation.
- Unable but motivated: All signs point to these being new hires or executives changing roles. They are willing but unskilled. So, it’s high time you step up, start teaching and reap the benefits of mentoring! You’ll want to focus on providing development tools and close supervision where necessary. And don’t forget to ease up once they develop. Otherwise, your autocratic leadership style may have adverse effects on morale.
- Unwilling and unable: The exact opposite of the ideal employee. Still, this can be an opportunity to really polish up your leadership skills. You’re going to have to try a little (okay, a lot) harder to unlock their potential. In all likeliness, this unwillingness has to do with self-esteem issues. So, shower them in emotional support, motivational pep talks, and patience. As a side note, it is important to monitor the development closely as no change could negatively impact your organisation.
Leadership Skill #4 Empathy
Empathy is particularly viewed as a soft-skill in leadership circles. But developing true empathy is one of the hardest leadership skills to build (especially if it doesn’t come naturally). Empathy is a rare yet crucial leadership skill. The fast pace of the business world means being cut-throat is actually much easier than being empathic.
Empathy is a skill that enables you to know if the people you’re trying to reach have actually been reached. It’s what allows you to predict how your decisions and actions will be received (so you can strategise accordingly). And without empathy, you definitely will not inspire followers or elicit loyalty. So, a few core empathic leadership skills to focus on:
- Active listening: Empathy is a skill only attained by actually engaging with people. Aka, listening to what personnel are saying rather than just waiting for your moment to talk. This means no interrupting, no zoning out, no looking at your phone. Would you enjoy it if your boss did that to you?
- Tune into non-verbal communication: The things we say only account for 7% of the total message that people receive. As for the other 93%? It’s embedded in our tone of voice and body language. So, spend time developing your comprehension skills. This is important for correctly communicating with others and truly understanding others.
- Give genuine recognition and praise: People appreciate being appreciated. Giving praise is a leadership skill in itself. Pay attention to what others are doing and commend them if they’ve done a job well.
- Take a personal interest in others: Showing people that you care and are curious about their lives is crucial for developing empathy skills. So, go ahead, ask them about their hobbies, their challenges, whatever makes them “tick”.
Leadership Skill #5 Trustworthiness
Last but not least, trust. You can’t be a great leader without trust. It’s an important factor in how people evaluate you and respect you. And so, fostering trust is one of the most crucial leadership qualities. Because while trust is innate, it can also be developed:
- Lead by example: How can your followers trust anything you say if you don’t walk the talk? Actions speak louder than words. So, build a backbone of consistency. Ensure your actions match those that you want your employees to emulate. Consistency is crucial in setting expectations and building trust. Be the kind of person they want to emulate.
- Don’t set employees up for failure: As a leader, you need to make sure you set clear expectations and have an open two-way line of communication. And in moments where you’ve failed to do so…never use an employee as a scapegoat for your failure. Leadership starts with you. So, let them know that you have their back and take responsibility. They’ll trust and respect you for it.
- Be transparent: Authenticity is a key component of being trustworthy. Yet many people have a difficult time being completely transparent. We’ve learned to protect ourselves by hiding. Well no longer. Be as open as humanly possible with your followers. Or start a little smaller in building your transparency skills. Be honest when giving your opinion, advise where adjustments can be made, and show support. An honest assessment is important for personal, professional growth and trust.
It’s about that time we wrap up the conversation. So, remember, there’s nothing soft about soft skills. As you look to polish up your leadership skills make sure you keep these essential skills in mind.
Have a clear vision of where you’re headed, communicate effectively to express ideas, share information, and inspire followers to achieve goals, be versatile and adapt your leadership styles according to follower needs, develop empathy to reinforce good communication, and foster trust to be the kind of leader that followers emulate and respect.