Effective Leadership Skills: The Soft Stuff Is the Hard Stuff

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

The Best Leaders Have Good Interfaces. How’s Yours?

This is the post excerpt.

The more aware you are of how the way you interact impacts others, the more likely you’ll be able to lead them.

A graphical user interface, or “GUI,” is computer code that determines what we see on our screens and how we interact with our devices. A good one makes our devices and apps more relatable, causing the interaction to seem effortless. So it shouldn’t shock you that the best leaders have the same quality: they work hard to relate positively with — and so bring out the best in — others.

That’s why you can think of good leaders as having an excellent “HUI” — human user interface. Your HUI is where the rubber meets the road in terms of your communication and interpersonal skills.

Good leadership impact starts with good interaction impact

Clearly, when people’s experiences interacting with a leader are negative, that leader’s going to be less effective than she or he could be. After all, whenever others must spend extra time and energy adapting to a leader’s problematic HUI, they won’t be bringing their best.

Consider leaders people admire greatly. Think of Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. They had amazing HUIs. They knew their impact was inspiring, authentic, and compelling, and their leadership was extraordinary.

Now consider someone you know or work with who may be somewhat (or very) unaware of how they impact others. They may have a clunky or immature interface, or overuse their authority over others — or they may just have a bad relational habit or two that requires others to do extra work to have a smooth interaction with them. They lack a great HUI and are certainly not practicing conscious self-awareness of their impact.

The more aware you can be of how the way you interact impacts others, the more likely you’ll be to lead them in a positive, inspiring, sustainable way. (The reverse is also true.) It’s that simple.

That’s why conscious awareness and control of your HUI are so critical — your interaction skill is the foundation of your leadership impact.

So let’s resolve to optimize our own “human user interface.” I want you to tap into the best version of interactive-you, and in so doing, to help you bring out the best in others, even (particularly) when stress is high.

3 simple questions to improve employee engagement

Here’s a starting point for you. Over the next few weeks, as you are interacting with others, practice conscious self-monitoring. Throughout your interactions, ask yourself at least one, and maybe more, of the following questions:

1. How does my interface come across to others? What experience of me am I generating right now?

2. What do I want my interface to be like, ideally?

3. What do I need to change to make my ideal interface a reality?

Give yourself some leeway as you work with these internal questions. Like any important skill, it takes a bit of time, patience and practice. But eventually that “observer you” will begin to join your conscious awareness, day in and day out. And as it becomes increasingly embedded in your leadership skills, you will look back and wonder how you ever did without it.

You may be the most brilliant, accomplished person in the world. Yet over time, it’s actually your HUI that can make or break you as a leader, accelerating or preventing all you hoped to achieve.

So work on it, and you will find observer-you to be invaluable as a leader. And in so doing, you’ll help others be at their best. I can think of no better definition of leadership.

So, how’s your HUI?


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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