Effective Leadership Skills: The Soft Stuff Is the Hard Stuff

Two businesspeople talking in a corporate office

What are the qualities of a good leader?

What is great leadership? Ultimately, there is no right or wrong definition. Across my 30-year career I’ve discovered it’s many things — a dynamic and evolving set of skills, competencies and qualities.

But one thing is clear: at its best, effective leadership manifests as a growing awareness of ourselves and how we impact others. And that cannot exist without carefully honing “soft” skills. True leaders have the ability to take in feedback, to learn, to constantly improve — and to help others be at their best — through calm and stormy seas alike.

The ROI of openness: Mindful leadership can pay big dividends

In stormy times like these — when uncertainty and upheaval seem to be the rule rather than the exception, and when basic civility itself can feel like it’s under assault — it’s never been more important for you as a leader to decide, and live, what’s most important to you.

I would suggest that one leadership quality is more important now than ever: the ability to value others, and to truly listen to them and their ideas, particularly when they’re different from your own.

Of course, this kind of “mindful leadership” doesn’t mean you have to soak up others’ ideas, or let them dilute your own direction. You are the one being held accountable as a leader, after all.

But here’s the point: when it comes to being open to those you would lead — to welcome opposing views and learn from those around you — the payoff can be far greater (not to mention, more sustainable) than just driving your people to implement your ideas, make the numbers, or a deadline, or a quarterly goal, or some other fixed star.

Long-term, sustainable performance and success: these are the areas where management soft skills ultimately prove their value.

Embrace these soft skills — and put some Namaste into your leadership

In a world of change, fear, misunderstanding, and doubling down on our differences, it’s up to leaders to welcome the diversity (and diverse ideas) of the individuals who support them. In a healthy organization, everybody has an essential role to play in the success of the endeavor.

Put another way, success takes the full orchestra, not just the will of the conductor.

In real, pragmatic terms, that means taking the time to listen to, understand, and appreciate others, their ideals, their points of view — even if that includes the need to help them through some level of negativity.

Viewing the world through their eyes, if only for a moment, and treating new ideas as if they were your own: with respect.

There’s a word for that: Namaste — a recognition and appreciation of the divine spark, the inspiration, in every person.

If “I bow to the divine in you,” is the soft stuff in your book, then I’ve got news for you: the soft stuff is the hard stuff — and never more so than in stressful times. Without harmony — a harmony grounded in a common mission and nourished by mutual respect — you can hit some targets, sure, but at a steep price. Sustainable success is out of reach.

So take the time to really listen to, and learn from, your people, and you’ll be endowed with the ability to make better-informed decisions — decisions that will benefit, and inspire, everyone. Hone your management soft skills, and in so doing, you’ll soon become your own best definition of a leader.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

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