When soft skills deliver leadership

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What do you look for in a leader?  Decisiveness: Decision making: Coolness under pressure? Well maybe, but if your list ends there then the future of your business could well be at risk. Oh you want to add something else to the list; they have to have a business degree? Well at least that means they may be good at learning; but there is the danger that the degree taught them to  be the leader of an organisation which existed ten years ago rather than one which exists in today’s fluid marketplace.

As the World Economic Forum highlights, the world has moved into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the process people have ceased to be mere cogs in the machine and instead have become empowered deliverers who use technology to create solutions. That makes the business world today a very different being from the world of yesteryear. And it demands something more of business leaders than simply being figureheads or conduits for instructions.

With that in mind, what are we now expecting of our business leaders? Well it’s no coincidence that lately we have seen a groundswell of initiatives, all designed to put people first. The drive towards diversity and inclusion may be leading the way; but organisations are also experimenting with initiatives such as shorter working weeks or flexible working in order to boost worklife balance. And we shouldn’t ignore the positive outcomes from national initiatives such as mental health week which encourages people to be more open and honest not only in the workplace but also in their daily lives.

All of these give a strong signal to changing perceptions of leadership and the way in which soft skills are now seen as deliverers of hard results. I’m talking here about areas such as empathy and understanding and communication. The Monty Python sketch “the Audit” may have centred around the comment that “there’s no place for sentiment in big business” but that’s certainly not the case in today’s business world.

Communication as a two way street

Let’s look at just one of these soft skills, that of communication. A colleague still vividly remembers arriving at a new job in the 1980s and being confronted with ‘you do as I say and you don’t waste time asking for explanations. The fact that I told you to do something is explanation enough.’ That manager saw communication very much in terms of a one-way street in which his job was to issue instructions and everyone else’s was to obey them.

Today’s leaders understand that not only can two-way communication benefit internal relationships, it can also benefit business outcomes. Communication leads to engagement and when your people are engaged they are far more likely to deliver success.

Furthermore, true two-way communication requires not only listening skills but also comes from a desire to share knowledge and help others grow. So whether you are having a conversation, giving a presentation or simply sending out an email; good communicators shade their delivery with their intended audience in mind. And when you engage in a two-way conversation it opens up the potential in all sorts of areas including innovation, product development, or improved customer relations.

What do you look for in a leader? If soft skills aren’t on your list then you are looking in entirely the wrong place.

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