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Not so fluffy: 4 important soft skills worth developing

Jan 08, 2023
By: Tom Cox

Soft skills are what help us to communicate and get along with others. From early childhood, family, teachers and others are constantly guiding us on how to effectively navigate and manage our relationships with one another.

The concept of manners, speaking kindly and playing nicely are taught and reinforced. The effectiveness of the teaching and our ability and willingness to absorb and implement the teachings is another matter altogether. 

Let’s fast forward to adulthood.

Does every single person you know possess social awareness and adeptness in managing relationships and superb communications skills? Unfortunately, those so-called fluffy skills taught during childhood may not have stuck.

In the workplace, the lack of the ability to effectively manage relationships creates cultural dysfunction and poor performance. As a result, leader development programming and executive coaching are two fast-growing services that help leaders become increasingly effective in relationships to facilitate improved work-related outcomes.

Regardless of your chosen profession and your behavioral hard-wiring, leadership skills and their underlying soft skills can be learned and applied. And even the most socially advanced of us could use some pointers every once in a while.

These are four key leadership soft skills that can be applied in any role:

1. Listening well

As a leader, your No. 1 priority is to engage those around you, elicit their thinking and allow them to own the associated outcomes. Even if you are the subject matter expert, as the leader of a team, you must ask the right questions and push your team to discover the answers. They will be more engaged and will grow in their effectiveness.

2. Delegating

As part of listening, a true leader encourages making self-directed decisions and reasonable risks to develop leadership thinking and a results-related orientation among the team.

Let go, delegate, allow for mistakes and treat mistakes as learning and coaching opportunities.

Focus more on what is to be accomplished and allow the team to own how it is accomplished.

3. Remaining open

Trust is the foundation of the ability to lead and it’s fostered by openness and self-awareness. Good leaders genuinely share their own challenges and doubts to let others know it’s okay not to have all the answers. Equally as important, a leader asks for and actually obtains feedback to gauge their effectiveness as a leader.

A good leader remains open and not defensive, attacking weak spots to increase effectiveness.

4. Caring and building good relationships

Your people are the most important success factor in your role as a leader, so that should dictate a large part of where you spend your time. Are you actively building relationships or is it all about the work? Are you focused on them and their work or your own work? Leading them is not something you do in addition to your job. It is the job. You can only lead them if you have a relationship with them. And a good one.

While these four soft skills may seem a bit fluffy, remember that it’s the basics that are necessary to create and maintain a high-performing organization and it can be easy to dismiss building skills that seem soft, but are in fact, absolutely vital to your success.

How Wipfli can help

Wipfli’s leadership development programs help leaders at every level cultivate a leadership mindset that empowers others to thrive. Learn more about how we help clients with people, process and strategy on our organizational performance consulting web page.

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Tom Cox
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