The 10 Soft Skills of Leadership
Everyone is a leader in some fashion in their life. People are first and foremost leaders of themselves. Parents are leaders, students can be leaders, some are leaders in community organizations and some in business. Leaders are everywhere. Leadership is really the art of influence and we all have influence over others in one way or another.
Leadership also requires skill development to be effective, particularly soft skills. The Center for Creative Leadership lists the 10 soft skills necessary for good leadership.
1. Self Awareness
“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”– Marcus Aurelius
Before a leader can be aware of others, she first needs to hone her own self^awarenes. This means getting an accurate picture of all (to best of her ability) strengths and weaknesses). It is certainly not an easy task to look at oneself objectively, but it is very important for the leader in any organization or group, big or small. Awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses requires a big dose of humility and willingness to learn.
2. Learning Agility
“Learning agility is the willingness and ability to learn, de-learn, and relearn. Limitations on learning are barriers invented by humans.”
― Pearl Zhu,
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Learning agility is really the qualities of being flexible and open-minded. We certainly do not know everything, nor should we try to or pretend to. There is a wealth of information and experience around us, and tapping into other people’s experiences can catapult our knowledge in ways that learning from our own experience could never do. We will never live long enough to learn from all of our mistakes and teachable moments, so why not borrow the wisdom from the experience of others.
The best way to gather knowledge from the experience of others, past and present is through reading books, listening to those with more experience and associating with people with the experience and knowledge we seek.
3. Emotional Intelligence
75 percent of careers are derailed for reasons related to emotional competencies, including the inability to handle interpersonal problems; unsatisfactory team leadership during times of difficulty or conflict; or inability to adapt to change or elicit trust. -Center for Creative Leadership
Emotional intelligence refers to our ability to have control over our emotional responses. In the heat of frustration or anger, it can mean taking a step back and evaluating the situation rather than react automatically. Our natural human impulse is the fight or flight response. When things don’t go as planned or when there is a sudden crisis, we tend to panic. But we all know that panic is not a good problem resolving strategy. So, what to do?
Pause. Taking a deep breath and pausing, even for a few seconds can help us to think clearly and not lose our head over the situation and to not make rash decisions that we might regret later. Steven Covey said: “Between stimulus and response there is a choice”.
Ask. What would be the right and most beneficial response right now to this situation? For, example, if we are considering criticizing or reprimanding someone, we can ask ourselves if it is worth it to do so or whether there is another option. How will we feel down the road (days, weeks or months) as a result of our response today? Is it worth it to speak or let it go?
Resiliency refers to our ability to bounce back from a setback or a failure and carry on and considered essential to achieving success in any area of life. It is our ability to live life and not have life live us. It is the ability to see the setbacks and the gut shots of life as teachable moments and events. Here are some of the characteristics ( and mindsets) of resilient people:
Resilient people choose to focus their time energy on what the have control over rather than on what they have no control over. They focus on areas where they can have the most impact.
Resilient people view difficulties as challenges and failures as lessons. Like Thomas Edison, they get back up each time and learn the lesson.
Resilient people are committed to their lives and the relationships in their lives. They are committed to their dreams and goals which are usually not separate from the important people in their lives.
5. Ability to Build Relationships at All Levels
“Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows.”–Ben Stein
This skill is a very important skill to have in the world of leadership, in organizations and anywhere people are involved. It is the ability to find common ground with a whole variety of people, personalities, backgrounds, and beliefs. It is the ability to break down walls and build up bridges where there were previously chasms.
Building leadership relationships involves connecting with people where they are and not where we may want them to be. It is about being a good conversationalist and being truly interested in the person directly in front of us with no other agenda but to relate with them. Connecting involves listening far more than speaking and hearing their stories. A skilled leader will put others first, listen to their story and “seek first to understand” (Steven Covey).
6. Political Savvy
“You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want” Zig Ziglar
Political savvy is not so much about politicking and discussing the politics of an organization as it is about building relationships – connecting meaningfully. It is the skill of being able to meet people, find common interests, and connect people with other people. Political savviness also includes the ability to “read a room” – read the situation, understand the undertones of the atmosphere, “read people ” and read between the lines of what is said and done. It is a skill that requires acute observation abilities and a thorough understanding of people.
Having political savviness is also the skill of knowing when to speak and when to listen. It is the leader’s ability to communicate truth with grace without compromising integrity. This skill allows the leader to be aggressive in love and humble when dishing out the truth while allowing people to make mistakes and providing them a safe environment to learn and grow. Ultimately, it is the skill of being able to find the “sweet spot” in dealing with people.
7. Ability to Motivate and Enjoy Others
“Dreaming about something is not enough, you have to be able to share that dream and get others to work with you to achieve it” – Claudio Lucero Leader of the first South American team to reach the summit of Mount Everest
Effective leaders are skilled at identifying what people want and helping them get it. They are in tune with the needs of others and ask questions to discover a person’s “why” because until we discover what motivates, what drives a person, it is impossible to externally motivate them. Leaders are not cheerleaders in the “Hip! Hip! Hooray” sense, but they do cheer people on in helping them reach their goals and dreams.
Motivating should never be about pulling teeth but about coming alongside a person and joining with them in their quest. Generally, there are two things that will motivate people:
Pursuing something they would absolutely love to do, be or have.
Trying to get out of circumstances that they absolutely hate being in.
So motivation is all about helping a person change what needs to be changed in order to do, be or have what it is they are chasing. Of course, a leader needs to be worthy of following. Why would someone follow someone who is unable to lead? A leader needs to be both competent (in his field) and have the character (integrity and courage) to lead. It is all about trust. Does the person or do the people you are leading trust you to lead or are you just out for a walk (which is what a leader without followers is)?
8. Ability to Build and Lead Effective Teams
“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” – Ken Kesey
Healthy and productive teams no matter what the size and what the context are built on the solid foundation of trust. The team members also need to know why they are there, where they are going, how they are going to get there as well as be able to measure their progress. Any sports team knows what the name of the game is. The members know the rules, they know the play and they know the scoreboard. So gaining the team members trust is important and is earned when the leader is competent and exhibits integrity and courage in addition to having a vision for the team.
When the team members “buy into” the vision and understand the game, the play and how to score, the leader can build a solid team with everyone working to the same goal. Ziya Boyacigiller, an entrepreneur in the United Staes and Turkey highlighted that it is important to “get others to believe so strongly in the vision that they are transformed into followers who are not afraid to follow”.
9. Ability to Create A Culture of Trust and Respect
You can not follow someone who isn’t credible, who doesn’t truly believe in what they’re doing – Gayle Hamilton, chief of staff for the vice president, Pacific, Gas, and Electric
A culture of trust and respect in a family, a small or large group or organization needs to first have a leader who, by his actions, and competency, reflects these qualities. According to the most often chosen qualities in the “Characteristics of Admired Leaders”, three stand out: honest, competent, and inspiring (p.16 Credibility by James M.Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner) No organization will follow someone whom they can not trust, whom they do not respect or whom they do not believe is competent to get them anywhere. To create this kind of culture, there must be a direction, a vision, and a strategy. Everyone must be traveling along with the same current.
It is the leader’s job to set the pace, to map out the territory, to make the tracks everyone else is going to follow. It doesn’t much matter if it hasn’t been done before (new territory); what matters is that the leader is willing to put himself on the line and lead the way (sometimes from in front and sometimes from behind). The members of the organization need to know that the leader has their back, that he supports them and will stand by them.
10. Strong Communication Skills
“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” – Brian Tracy
Nothing significant happens without effective communities. Leadership is founded on communication. But how we communicate is far more important than what we say. It is a skill that requires being other-centered. Here are key elements of quality communication
Pausing before responding gives you time to reflect on what was said and gives the added benefit of showing the other person that you are considering their words.
2. Be Trustworthy and Honest
Trust and honesty are two qualities that are increasingly difficult to find today. If we are consistently known as someone whose word and actions can be trusted, it is far easier to have fruitful communication with others.
3. Take the Time to Communicate
It has been said that communication is an art and that seems to be very true. It is not to be rushed and will bring about better results when we invest the time to communicate in a meaningful way. Leadership focuses on building up relationships through communication.
4. Tailor Ideas to Others
To communicate effectively, leaders need to have a good understanding of what the other person understands. having this foundation helps them to eliminate misunderstandings and prevents them from arriving at false conclusions. A good leader gets on “the other side of the table”, so to speak and converses from the same perspective.
5. Be Present
Leadership requires that we focus on what people are saying to us. We are there 100 percent with them, not distracted by our thoughts of what we want to say (respond) or what we could be doing instead. Being present lets the other person know that what they have to say matters.
6. Be Attentive to Non-Verbal Language
Understanding body language cues (facial expressions, gestures, and body movements) help us to better perceive the message of the other person and give them a better understanding of what we are saying. It is an ally in effective communication.
7. Seek First to Understand
Steven Covey coined this phrase as a step to facilitate communication. This important step helps us to see the other’s point of view – how they understand things. so that we can understand the situation more clearly.