Today’s business leaders concur that soft skills are critical to fostering employee retention and creating a meaningful workplace culture, according to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report. Unlike hard skills which are gained through education, certification, on-the-job training, etc., soft skills are interpersonal such as communication skills, adaptability and the ability to manage and control your emotions. In this third article of the soft skills series, we’ll explore why they are critical to effective leadership.
- The ability to consider another person’s perspective. Empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is a soft skill which enables leaders to manage effectively. For example, consider an employee’s annual review or providing constructive criticism in general. By applying Dale Carnegie’s 1st principle, ‘Don’t criticize, condemn or complain,’ and instead, ‘Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view,’ his 17th principle, feedback can be provided in a positive manner for correction instead of a negative manner for condemnation. Managers who apply these principles often have stronger interpersonal relationships with the people they manage because the employees trust that their manager is looking out for their best interests and coaching them because they care. The key differentiator is how we communicate.
- The importance of inspiring vs. impeding growth. According to Gallup’s decades-long research of thousands of leaders and work teams, the most effective leaders consistently invest in strengths such as executing, influencing and relationship building. They are also adept at identifying the strengths and weaknesses of those they manage in order to foster a strong relationship and inspire employees to reach their full potential.
Leaders who lack soft skills may focus on an individual’s weaknesses with an intent to correct them, however to maximize productivity and foster trust, it’s more important to, ‘Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly,’ Mr. Carnegie’s 23rd principle. Directly criticizing can hinder an employee’s willingness to take risks, impede growth and decrease their level of employee engagement. Instead, leaders can capitalize on their employees’ strengths by encouraging them to mentor others who lack those strengths; instilling confidence by recognizing them when employees doubt their own abilities and by celebrating success.
- A knack for preventing and putting out fires. It’s almost impossible for people who lack the soft skill of emotional control to problem-solve because their negative emotions block their ability to focus and uncover a solution. Leaders with soft skills are effective because not only can they handle their own emotions—and recognize and respond to others’, but because they can hunker down and think critically. Expert leaders are so attuned to their employees and the workplace environment that they can often identify a small issue before it escalates into a major problem. Instead of blaming others, they brainstorm solutions with the help of others. The soft skill of staying in “problem-solving” mode for long periods of time is so paramount to leadership success, it was cited as the most important soft skill in a recent Forbes article.