As a result of the shifting generational makeup of the workforce, leadership styles have changed steadily over the past couple of decades. As the veteran generation and the baby boomers begin to retire, so too retires the military style of management. In its place comes a softer form of millennial-approved management.
This feel-good leadership style has been propagated by many of today’s most prolific authors and leadership advisors. Why? Because we are realizing that leading people, as opposed to leading initiatives or leading projects, ultimately requires soft skills – soft skills that can, in fact, be developed.
In today’s business climate, you are a dinosaur if you believe that the personal side of leadership is unnecessary or unimportant. You are managing people, not robots. In order to be a good leader, you must recognize that people are human, full of frailties, and swayed by influences and happenings outside of work. Part of being human is making mistakes. The solution is not punishment, but to help people identify areas where they can improve.
Balancing the personal portion of leadership with achieving goals and hitting deadlines is the art of leadership, as opposed to the science of leadership. As the leader, you’re managing for results and outcomes, but results don’t come without relationships and personal investment.
If you’re not getting the results you want, it may be the soft stuff that you’re lacking. Here are the five soft leadership skills that affect the bottom line the most directly, and advice on how leaders can develop them:
1. Emotional Intelligence
Leaders with emotional intelligence have the ability to sense, appreciate, and effectively apply the power of emotions to facilitate higher levels of collaboration and productivity. Success is the combination of self-awareness (recognizing your own moods and emotions), self-regulation (the ability to control disruptive emotions), and motivation (an intrinsic desire to accomplish your goals).
Developed emotional intelligence allows managers to regulate their own moods and behaviors so that they have a more positive impact on others. It also aids leaders in recognizing personal conflict within their employees and solving these problems by offering empathy and additional resources as needed. Self-awareness is making sure that whatever is bothering you doesn’t become a team problem, and helping others do the same.
Potential results: increased productivity and camaraderie among employees who don’t allow their personal issues to rule their workdays.
Under the guise of getting things done, leaders don’t often take enough time to fine-tune their interactions with others or the messages they convey, either verbally or in writing.
People tend to be sensitive to the ways in which others communicate with them, but they are less sensitive to the ways in which others want to be communicated with. For example, if an outgoing and fast-paced person corners an introverted colleague in the hall for a quick decision on a complicated work plan, chances are the introverted person will shut down and not completely receive the message.
Developing communication skills goes beyond proficient writing or speaking. Great communicators are also able to adjust how they communicate so that the other person is receiving the intended message. This creates clarity and minimizes opportunities for misunderstanding.
Potential results: a team that functions smoothly without the distraction of misunderstandings and ineffective communication.
3. The Ability to Coach
People don’t like to be told what to do. The command-and-control model of management is out of date.
Employee coaching, on the other hand, means facilitating and supporting a person’s professional growth, as opposed to issuing directives. This approach requires more skill and finesse than command-and-control leadership. The leader’s goal as a coach is to help the team learn, grow, and create outcomes independently.
Leaders who are coaches will identify what is preventing people from being effective and give them the tools they need to teach themselves, instead of just telling them what to do.
When a commanding style is used, it almost always sets up a barrier for employee engagement. If you constantly tell your employees what to do, it could prevent them from taking initiative. You also set up an expectation in the job that your employees don’t have to think because they will be told what to do.
Potential results: employees who can solve problems, innovate, and eventually become leaders themselves.
4. Interpersonal Skills
A leader with effective interpersonal skills is respectful of employees and has the ability to build rapport. This leader attempts to see the situation from the other person’s perspective, listening actively to understand the ideas being presented and empathizing when needed.
Leaders with developed interpersonal skills can also help their teams cultivate relationships by encouraging understanding and thoughtfulness. These leaders show sensitivity to diversity issues, celebrate distinctions, and help facilitate relationships between those who may be different from one another.
There is team strength in different points of view, varied approaches to problems, and ideas inspired by distinctive life experiences. Interpersonal skills develop relationships that add to the richness and effectiveness of the team.
Potential results: enhanced team relationships that help the group achieve goals and enhance performance.
5. An Orientation Toward Others
Think of the best manager you’ve ever had. Chances are this manager appreciated you. This is likely because they were an “others-oriented” person rather than a “self-oriented” person. A leader who appreciates others will take the time to connect with employees, making them feel important, heard, understood, and valued.
Appreciating others also involves recognizing employees for their ideas and contributions to the team or the project. If you make a habit of showing appreciation to each person on your team on a monthly or even quarterly basis, you will see a significant shift in employee loyalty and production.
Potential results: employees who work harder and are more dedicated.
These five skills naturally dovetail with each other, and when you aggregate and practice them, you will be a better leader – maybe even a better person. It is important to recognize that while some may view these skills as “soft,” they are anything but. Strengthening these skills will result in more effectiveness, productivity, and stronger results from your team, all of which goes straight to the bottom line.