Soft skills are important for all professionals. However, leaders are required to possess a unique set of skills. From being growth-minded to possessing confidence and demonstrating calm, here are some of the most important skills that leaders, in particular, must possess if they want their employees and their businesses to succeed.
The idea of cultivating “professional skills” is a common subject. In the modern workplace, soft skills are particularly valuable. However, some skills are more important than others depending on the line of work that you’re engaged in.
If you’re a manager, a boss, or a project or team leader, here are some of the most important skills that you must possess if you want your professional efforts to succeed.
Leaders Must Be Able to Communicate
Communication should always come first on a list like this. This is because it’s a universal requirement of leadership. By its very definition, leadership involves more than one person, and the ability to communicate with those who you are leading is a critical component of achieving desired results — no matter what those results may be.
As a leader, you must always be ready to improve your skills, and communication is essential. These styles are typically grouped into four categories:
- Thinkers are deliberate and paced. They must have time to process and methodically formulate answers and opinions.
- Socializers are quick to process information and are fed by conversation.
- Relaters are relationship-oriented, though they prefer to process information at a slower clip than socializers.
- Directors are action-oriented and thrive on quick and efficient decision-making.
Leaders must be able to work with any style of communication that they encounter. Often they must go even further by communicating with multiple styles in a group setting. This is what makes communication such an essential skill for leaders to bring to the table.
Leaders Must Be Growth-Oriented
A century ago, leaders needed to stick to a well-established business script. In the modern, innovative age, they must be ready to throw that script to the wind at a moment’s notice. Instead, they must embrace a growth mindset that is ready to adapt to any and every circumstance. This includes a willingness to always be learning new ways to run their business and remain flexible when it comes to finding solutions.
A good example of this is the mass migration to remote work that took place in early 2020. This shift into a virtual workspace — often practically overnight — meant that leaders around the globe needed to quickly adapt to the new situation. Right from the beginning, bosses and managers were required to shift into an open-minded attitude regarding how to address the challenges that their companies were facing.
Things like hiring, onboarding, and training employees had to be adapted to an online model. Even simple activities like these required organizational assessment, restructured and clearly communicated expectations, and a willingness to find and foster remote-friendly alternatives to traditionally in-person tasks. Without a growth-mindset, traditional leadership solutions would have failed.
Leaders Must Inspire
Inspiration can never be overrated. A leader who cannot inspire his or her followers is ultimately just a cold and calculating manager of schedules and productivity. If you truly want to lead your employees, you must take things further than these basic activities by empowering them through inspiration.
There are multiple ways to use inspiration in leadership:
- Inspiring your team through your vision and passion.
- Inspiring your team by empowering them to take ownership of their work.
- Inspiring your team by encouraging them to continually develop their skills.
Inspiration is a powerful tool for a leader. It can provide momentum and direction in good times. It can also help you keep your team focused on the task at hand as you guide them through the tough times.
Leaders Must Be Relationship Builders
Communication and interpersonal interactions are often lumped together. However, they’re two very different things, both of which are critical to leadership. For example, a government alert or news report can communicate very efficiently without a shred of a relationship existing between the news source and the recipient of the information.
If you want to get consistent results out of a team of individuals, though, you have to go further than the simple transfer of information. You must also develop relationships with and between them, as well. This skill includes several important abilities, such as:
- Empathy: You must be able to understand and empathize with individuals whenever you interact with them. The ability to understand others’ feelings and see things from their perspective is crucial to maintaining cooperation and buy-in from those that you work with and manage.
- Conflict management: Whether it’s between you and someone else or amongst members of your team, you must also be able to quickly and effectively manage conflict when it arises. Interpersonal interactions of this nature can be unpleasant and a leader must be willing to take the moral high ground and act as a mediator and problem solver when differences of opinion boil over into open conflict.
- Active listening: As a leader, you must be able to do more than instruct others to follow you. It’s also important to actively listen to your staff as well. This includes the ability to reflect their thoughts and opinions to them so that they feel heard and understood.
- Emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence is the cornerstone relationship-building technique that brings all of these attributes together. Leaders must be able to utilize this skill to control and express their own emotions in a self-aware manner. They must learn to use emotional intelligence to manage interpersonal relationships within their team in a manner that is both empathetic and judicious.
The ability to manage relationships is complex and not something that can simply be learned overnight or from a textbook. It requires study, practice, and experience.
Leaders Must Be Confident and Calm
A good leader must be self-possessed at all times. They must be able to maintain their poise and demonstrate a calm demeanor even during times of crisis.
For example, the coronavirus pandemic has created many stressful situations for workers around the globe. Leaders are not immune to this ongoing anxiety. However, they must strive to remain calm and collected as they seek solutions for their employees.
In addition to calm, good leaders must also be decisive when an emergency is unfolding. If action must be taken, a leader must be willing to do so quickly and without hesitation. They must avoid overanalyzing a situation — that classic paralysis by analysis scenario — or they will fail to take action promptly.
Leaders Must Be Explorers
It’s in the name. Leaders must lead. This includes guiding your team into uncharted waters as you explore the unknown. This goes hand in hand with the concept of leaders being growth-minded, although the two skills aren’t exactly the same.
A growth-minded leader is willing to learn new things. However, if they’re going to use their new knowledge effectively, they must be willing to apply that knowledge in new and innovative ways. This applies to more than just themselves, too. They must set goals and direct the momentum of their entire organization, even when the direction and end goal aren’t clear.
This is why good leaders must also be creative and innovative as they explore options and develop possible solutions to their business’s challenges. This concept can be summed up by the idea that leaders must lead by example, even if that example is something that they’re inventing as they go along.
Leaders Must Be Positive
Positivity is a critical aspect that all leaders must exude in the workplace. Often the upbeat attitude of a manager or a boss can be all that stands between soul-crushing depression and despair.
This isn’t just referring to melodrama or sensationalism, either. If you’re a leader for any amount of time, chances are you’re going to come across a genuinely challenging situation for your business.
It could be a time when technology disrupts your industry or a pandemic brings the economy crashing to a halt. Whatever the reason, if you can’t remain positive and hopeful, your staff won’t be able to either. Employees often reflect the attitude of their employers, which makes a positive mindset a critical tool in maintaining office morale.
Leaders Must Be Honest
Transparency is a huge challenge with leadership. It’s tempting to cover up unpleasant information and dodge delivering bad news. At the same time, if you’re excessively open, even with information that isn’t necessary for your employees to know at any given moment, it can damage morale and dampen spirits.
A good leader must learn to balance honesty with reticence. They must learn to tell the truth and avoid misleading their staff, all while being thoughtful and strategic about what information and in what level of detail they make available to those below them in an organization.
Rounding Out Your Skill Set as a Leader
Many factors go into honing your leadership skills. In many cases, “skills” like those listed above even consist of a smaller subset of skills that must be learned.
This can make the entire process a bit overwhelming. However, as a leader, you must start by learning to master the art of calm and collected leadership. From there, consider other areas where you can benefit the most from working on your leadership skills. If you can do that, you’ll be able to improve everything from your demeanor to your capabilities as you lead teams both now and far into the future.