One of the most exciting and challenging things about leadership is that it requires mastery of a diverse set of skills. You need technical skills, specialized skills for your business or industry, managerial skills—the list goes on. One set of skills that’s often overlooked but vitally important is what’s known as soft skills.
Soft skills are closely tied to the personal character traits and qualities each of us have. They are part of who you are, generally encompassing attitudes, habits and how you interact with others.
Soft skills are much less tangible than hard or technical skills, and they aren’t learned through education or training. You can, however, develop them through experience and concerted effort—and it’s some of the most important self-development you can do as a leader.
Here are the top 10 soft skills every leader needs:
Develop a language of respect. Everyone deserves respect, but often the words we choose don’t show respect. In fact, the words we use often create barriers or close off opportunities. Developing a language of respect requires us to consider how our choice of words will be received by the another person. Words that are part of a language of respect include:
Do you know the story of the Scorpion and the Frog? This is from Aesop’s fables. The gist of the story is that a frog agrees to take a scorpion on his back across a flooded river. Half way across, the scorpion stings the frog and they both drown. When the frog asks with his dying breath “why?” the scorpion responds, “it’s my nature.” You can “google it” and find the full story.
If you are in any position of leadership, at some point you will find yourself being responsible for leading a change initiative. It might be something small within a department, or for the entire organization. Change management is a normal part of leadership, but it can be far more complicated than it appears on the surface. Key to effective change is four things: (check out the short video below to find out these four things).
One of the easiest and most practiced habits is to be critical. It is easy to find fault with situations, organizations, and especially people. It is easy to spew forth our observations, pointing out each fault in detail. Easy, but usually non-productive and more often than not, counter-productive, damaging relationships and creating animosity.
Putting first things first is likely one of the most important and most difficult challenges we face as adults. There are so many pressures and all of them come with the insistence that they are the MOST important. When everything is the MOST important, paralysis ensues and nothing gets done.
Earlier this week I was speaking with a student in the elevator about her day. She commented that it was a busy day, but that she was there to finish a degree she had delayed years earlier. She went on to explain that when she had her daughter, she stopped school to focus on her daughter with the intent of starting back when her daughter started Kindergarten. Her daughter started Kindergarten this fall and she started back on her degree, determined to get it finished. She obviously knows how to prioritize her life and understands how to put first things first. While her choices may not be the same for you, it is still up to you to make conscious choices about your priorities.
While you are in the season of getting your degree, don’t be easily pulled away. Jesus, in talking about the cost of discipleship in Luke 14:25ff, urges those listening to count the cost with the realization that following him will be costly, but will also be worth everything.
The same concept applies, although with obviously lesser consequences, regarding the pursuit of your academic goals. You have counted the cost and started your degree. Don’t treat this casually by missing nights unnecessarily, or coming late unless unavoidable, by not completing your homework, or plagiarizing your work. This is YOURfuture; Put first things first.
Everything is not of equal importance, and the importance of different priorities changes over time. Keeping the first things first is the surest path to success. Take the time at least yearly, but preferably once a quarter to evaluate the different priorities in your life. You can always find an excuse to delay your goals and procrastinate, but the one who suffers when you do that, in the long-run, is you and potentially your family. Put first things first.
First, recognize that when you make a public presentation, no matter how minor, you will probably get nervous. This is completely normal even for experienced speakers. The nervousness will pass within a minute or two after you start. Expect it to happen and don’t let it shake you. Second, . . .
I’m sitting at my desk this morning and receive a phone call. It was from a student. She was surprised that I answered the phone and was prepared to leave a message, so it caught her off guard for a minute. We chatted a bit and then she got down to what she called about.
It seems she received a letter in the mail from me yesterday. She picked up her mail and pulled into her drive and pondered whether or not to open it, thinking it was a bill or some other kind of bad news. She has been going through some difficult challenges and didn’t know if she could handle another piece of bad news. Still, she steeled herself and opened the letter, only to discover it was a congratulatory letter for her making the Dean’s List. She said she sat there cried happy tears and has read and re-read the letter several times.
All I did was send the letter, she was the one who put in the hard work to achieve this honor, but she was so appreciative of my acknowledgment of her effort. I have to be honest I got a little teary listening to her.
The faster we go the less there seems time to give a compliment or recognize the efforts of those who are truly giving their best . . . and the more these kind of encouragements are needed. I know I like to feel appreciated, and I suspect we all do. So, be a Leader, let your people know you recognize the work they are doing and make it your goal to be an encourager to someone every day. We don’t have to allow our culture or society to drive us to be cogs in some machine determined to use us up and leave us empty. We are created in the image of God and that is all about relationship. Relationships are built and nurtured when we take the time to value each other.
Being present in the moment is one of the secrets of level 5 leaders. This is a skill that is often ignored or discounted by those aspiring to leadership who are busy trying to be all things to all people. Great leaders know how to come fully into the moment and focus their attention, intelligence, and relational energies in working with people and issues.
This seems obvious, but you can’t really be a great leader until you have learned how to be a great follower. There are several types of followers: the actively disengaged, the slacker, the confronter, the “yes” man and the fully engaged. Each one has specific characteristics, however, it is the fully engaged Follower who rises to become the great Leader.