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Why Soft Skills Can Make or Break a Leader

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There’s a classic distinction in the workplace between “hard skills” and “soft skills.” How we develop each of these determines the course of our career.

The days of a narrow focus on the highest grades and technical expertise are almost gone, as employers are learning to value essential leadership traits more than ever. Billionaire tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban said in a 2017 interview, “I’m going to make a prediction, in 10 years, a liberal arts degree in philosophy will be worth more than a traditional programming degree.” He went on to add that as Artificial Intelligence continues to transform the market, degrees that teach students how to see the big picture and collaborate in better ways will be even more useful.

Woman Leading

© Pexels.

Not only have employers picked up on this idea, but reliable research has also backed it up. In fact, when Google conducted a rigorous internal exploration to determine what makes up the perfect team, the results were fascinating. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that sees the most productive teams as the ones full of the brightest people, their study concluded that the highest performing groups were those with individuals who had the strongest soft skills. Furthermore, they found that predictors of success within a company are skills like communication and empathy.

Leadership and Soft Skills

Improving soft skills among top management is crucial for organizations to thrive. Leaders who are at the forefront of a company’s operations should not only be good at technical work, but should have high emotional intelligence as well. Maryville University’s industry outlook for today’s organizational leadership graduates points out how a collaborative mindset and strategic communication are vital for good leadership. Since their work and success are inextricably tied to their teams, it’s essential that leaders can empathize and communicate with their people effectively.

The best leaders are those that can promote collaboration by encouraging productive interactions. They are able to do this because they have interpersonal skills and know how to use teamwork to get things done. On top of good communication skills, they know to focus on work ethic, problem-solving, and flexibility. Researchers from the University of Amsterdam revealed that this kind of human-oriented leadership with a focus on soft skills is significantly more effective than task-oriented leadership, in which leaders see their role as merely delegating work. That’s why individuals who have impeccable technical skills but low EQ find themselves running unhappy teams, and end up with subpar outputs.

Therefore, no matter how much you strive to be an expert in your field, mastering leadership will remain a separate category altogether. A combination of technical and soft skills is critical to success, and to an overall better work and personal experience.

How to Improve Soft Skills

The first step to improving your own soft skills to become a better leader is to conduct a thorough self-assessment. At this point, it’s important to take a step back and ask yourself: What are the things that annoy you and how do you react to them? How do you react to unexpected changes? It’s useful to observe your own interactions with friends and colleagues. Count how many times you catch yourself talking more than listening, or how often you miss significant cues in a conversation.

Leading the Pack

© Flickr user Frank Steele.

If you discover that you’re sorely lacking in soft skills, don’t fret. Thankfully, soft skills are not awarded at birth and can be learned over time. (There’s plenty written about discipline before here at AccelaWork, and how it is an integral part of building character.) Self-discipline is also a big part of improving your soft skills, as it will take consistency and self-control to reshape the traits you grew up with.

Phoebe EllaIt may be useful to ask your closest friends to help by spotting where you need to improve and reminding you of your goals regularly. Their outside perspective can give you a different view of your own interactions with people and give you clues on what you need to change.

Constantly trying to better yourself will take some work, but the outcome will prove to be more than worth it. When you do find yourself leading a team, you will be equipped with the best tools to deliver more than what is expected — and as the icing on the cake, people will love working with you just as you will with them!

Phoebe Ella is a writer and freelance trainer who focuses on group dynamics and interpersonal psychology. She enjoys conducting teambuilding workshops and visits companies to give informed lectures about the value of teamwork. She is dedicated to making groups sync better and work more efficiently through good communication and effective follow through on crucial skills. When she’s not helping organizations and individuals, you will find her walking her dog Bubbly around the local park.

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