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8 Soft Skills All Strong Leaders
Should Always Possess
Many business leaders start out as rank-and-file workers who rely primarily on hard skills to succeed in day-to-day work.
They often know a lot about their niche, including best practices and common pitfalls, but they may not know as much about leadership and management.
Soft skills are important for everyone, but leaders especially need soft skills to effectively guide their team.
These eight soft skills are some of the most important — and developing them will help you be successful as a leader.
Strong leadership begins with effective communication. Knowing how to communicate new developments to your team and listen to their thoughts.
You should be able to synthesize information from a variety of sources, accept differing perspectives and interpret non-explicit communication like body language and subtext.
Effective communicators will also have learned to communicate thoughts in writing, one-on-one conversations and presentations.
Accepting that mistakes will happen and knowing how to respond when they do will also be essential skills. Mastering them will help to reduce the risk of communication breakdown.
Leaders typically have the final say. When tough decisions arise, they have to be prepared to use their judgement to determine how the business will proceed.
Good leaders can be decisive. They know what details to keep in mind and how long to consider a decision before taking action. Most of the time, they’ll also know what they should ignore.
Effective decision-making is usually supplemented by hard data and official decision-making processes. No matter what resources are available, however, a leader always has to be ready to take responsibility for the final call on a particular decision.
As a leader, you have access to a unique perspective. You likely have something close to a bird’s-eye view of your company — the big-picture perspective that individual employees may not be able to see.
Most employees are also aware of this, and where their responsibilities may end.
As a result, employees will often need your help to solve the problems they encounter at work.
Familiarity with common problem-solving techniques and other soft skills, like communication, will help you to use your unique knowledge to find solutions for these problems.
4. Conflict Resolution
Even the healthiest work environment will have its conflicts. Team members will disagree over approach. Limited resources can generate tensions between different teams and departments. Sometimes, personalities may clash even when everything else is going well.
Good leaders need to also be skilled resolvers of conflict.
Learning to be impartial, listening to all sides of an issue and staging meetings where parties to a conflict can come together to calmly discuss an issue will all help you to keep your team on track. Skills like being able to see an issue from the perspective of others or the ability to calm heightened emotions will also be helpful.
In addition to giving feedback, it’s also important that leaders learn to receive feedback from their team.
Learning to listen to feedback and giving employees a chance to share their thoughts will help you learn more about what day-to-day work looks like at your business. This can help you improve workplace conditions, defuse conflict and streamline workflows.
Some businesses even create employee listening programs — initiatives that give employees an opportunity to share feedback with their managers.
Carhartt, for example, implemented one of these programs when trying to boost the company’s engagement rate. The experiment was a massive success, and boosted employee engagement to 93% from just 23% a few years before.
6. Saying No
In any leadership position, you’ll have to turn employees down. Some requests will be impossible or impractical. Other requests will be possible, but will require you to say no to someone else.
Knowing when to say no is important — but so is knowing how to say it. A tactful “no” can help smooth over any situation where you have to decline a request.
Your approach will matter. Understanding why people are making an impractical request, explaining your reasoning behind the “no” and finding alternatives will all help to reduce the impact of a declined request.
As a leader, your success depends on the success of your team. Being able to mentor and coach your employees will help them develop their skills — and ensure there are leaders who can take over management responsibilities as the business grows.
Skills essential to be a good mentor — like knowing how to communicate clearly and accommodate learning — are also important for any leader.
Developing these skills will both make day-to-day management easier, and help your employees to grow in their roles — or prepare for advancement.
As a company grows, it changes. New employees will join your team. Your target market could shift. Business partners may become competitors.
Even if your business is made up of mostly the same people, you likely won’t be facing the same business conditions as you did a year ago.
Good leaders have to be adaptable — willing to learn new techniques and change up their approach to meet new challenges. Leaders have to learn how to balance their knowledge and experience against creativity and a willingness to try new things.
This will help them to solve new problems without getting stuck in a particular way of doing things.
Adaptable leaders can also help to break employees out of a rut. Being able to see the potential for a new approach can help you offer a unique perspective to employees.
Using Soft Skills to Become a Better Leader
For entrepreneurs and managers who want to be effective leaders, soft skills are essential. The right knowledge will help you to resolve conflict, communicate well and think outside of the box.
In day-to-day work, these skills can help you create a comfortable work environment and streamline day-to-day operations.
These eight skills are some of the most important to learn. Starting with these skills will lay a strong foundation for leadership abilities and ensure that you can move forward confidently no matter what problems your business faces.
About the Author
Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a digital marketing agency before becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philadelphia with her husband and pup, Bear.