There is nothing soft about soft skills. A recent CareerBuilder study showcased just how important soft skills have become for employers in these competitive times. In the study, 62% of the employers rated the employee’s soft skills as very important. Having a positive attitude, being dependable and working under pressure are fundamental building blocks that equip leaders to improve organisational effectiveness. While soft skills are needed at every level of management, they are especially crucial for top level management. The good news is that they can be acquired through learning programs. Following are the six soft skills needed by every leader to be highly effective:
Emotional Intelligence: Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions and influence the emotion of others. Research by Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) shows that leaders who have difficulty handling change, working in a team and have poor interpersonal relationship skills are emotionally incompetent individuals. Hence, a command over emotional intelligence can prove to be a great differentiator in the climb up the competitive corporate ladder. Cosmetics giant L’Orealstarted to factor in EI in their hiring of salespersons and that dramatically improved their profits by $2.5 million.
Learning Agility: Agile leaders are more social, creative, focused and resilient. They are not afraid to challenge norms. Even though learning agility is a top predictor of high potential, it is estimated that only 15% of the global workforce is highly agile. According to a recent research by Korn Ferry Institute, companies with highly agile executives have 25% higher profit margins than those without. It is a reliable indicator of leadership because it allows us to learn something in one situation and apply it in a completely different situation.
Positive attitude: Teams become more positive when they have a positive leader. Such leaders often spread a mood of trust and openness, which encourages people to think without restraints and help solve important problems rather than overreacting to them. Positivity is especially important when businesses encounter failure. Being able to bounce back from setbacks is a great attribute of any good leader.
Strong work ethic: The true hallmark of a great leader is the ability to lead from the front and a strong work ethic is one of the keys to success. Such leaders are usually the first ones in office and the last ones to leave. There are many stories about such legendary CEOs. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos personally emails teams about customer service and asks them to present directly to him. Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn works more than 65 hours a week, spends 48 hours a month in the air. Shark Tank judge Mark Cuban did not take a vacation for seven years while starting his first business.
Resilience: Recently, top British civil servants were being offered resilience training within leadership programs to help them cope with steep job losses and the severe criticism that they were facing. Many corporations also understand the importance of resilience and have instituted mindful leadership programs to build resilience in their employees. These include Google, Cargill and Target. Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Alan Mullaly is a great example of a resilient leader. When he became CEO in 2006, he relentlessly faced challenging news about the business. He kept his cool and told the organization to view problems as learning opportunities.
Listening: Listening is an often overlooked tool in a leader’s arsenal. Great leaders are great listeners. They also possess an intuitive ability to understand what is not being said. Listening goes beyond giving someone full attention. Ability to see through the language being used and what is being said immediately is a huge virtue. Virgin Founder Richard Branson constantly quotes listening as one of the major factors that is responsible for the success of Virgin.
Soft skills training, coaching and mentoring can help change certain behaviors of leaders. It helps them to identify their blind spots and overcome them effectively and builds confidence. It will provide leaders with the competitive edge they need in a work place.