Traits of Successful Leaders
Leadership styles have shifted steadily over the past couple of decades. This shift has been prompted by the generational evolution of the workforce makeup resulting in a shift of leadership demographics. As the veteran generation and baby boomers begin to retire, so too retires the military style of management in favor of the softer side of leadership that millennials bring to the table.
This more 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. Not only that, but those soft skills can be developed.
In today’s business climate, you are quickly becoming 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 people 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 them identify areas where they can improve.
Managing the personal portion of leadership while still achieving goals and hitting deadlines requires the art of leadership, as opposed to the science. As the leader, you’re managing for results and outcomes. But results don’t come without relationships, connections 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 how leaders can develop them:
Leaders with developed emotional intelligence have the ability to sense, appreciate and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions to facilitate higher levels of collaboration and productivity. Success is the combination of self-awareness—recognizing your own moods and emotion—with self-regulation—the ability to control disruptive emotions—and finally motivation—an intrinsic desire to effectively accomplish your goals.
Acute emotional intelligence allows managers to regulate their own moods and behaviors so that they have a more favorable impact on others. It also helps leaders recognize and draw out personal conflict within their employees—and to help solve the problem 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 recognize and do the same.
Potential results: increased productivity and camaraderie among employees who don’t allow their personal issues or foibles to rule their workday.
Under the guise of getting things done, leaders don’t often take enough time to fine-tune the way they interact with others and convey their messages, either verbally or in writing.
People in general tend to be sensitive to the way they want people to communicate with them, but they are less sensitive to recognizing the ways 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 that person will shut down and not completely receive the message.
Developing communication skills goes beyond proficient writing or speaking. It is also the ability to adjust how you communicate so that the other person is receiving the message you intend. This creates clarity in communication, which reduces opportunities for misunderstanding.
Potential results: a team that functions smoothly without the distraction of misunderstandings and ineffective communication.
3. They are coaches.
People don’t like to be told what to do, talked at or ordered around. The command-and-control model of management is out of date.
Employee coaching is instead about facilitating and supporting a person’s professional growth, as opposed to giving a directive for a straight line between where they are and what they need to do. This approach requires more skill and finesse than command and control. 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 to teach themselves, instead of just telling them.
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 more initiative and a self-starting approach to the job. It is also setting 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, create innovation and eventually lead.
A leader with effective interpersonal skills is respectful of employees and has the ability to easily build rapport. This leader attempts to see the situation from the other person’s perspective, listening activity to understand 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 also show sensitivity to diversity issues, celebrate distinctions and help facilitate relationships among those who may be different.
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 relationships and gelling as a team to achieve group goals and increase performance.
Think of the best manager you ever had. Chances are this manager appreciated you. This skill is about being others-oriented as opposed to being self-oriented. 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, but when you aggregate them and practice them, you will be a better leader—and even a better person. It’s 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. And that goes straight to the bottom line.