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Soft Skills You Will Need as a Leader

Last Friday, we had a conversation with a former colleague of mine. We used to work on the same team of organisational psychologists and HR consultants at IBM, helping our clients – medium and large UK and international companies – find, engage, and develop their best people. That ex-colleague we spoke with is a great learning & development (L&D) professional. For my part, I have worked before on the assessment and development programs for experienced hires, as well as consulting companies on what skills are expected from technology and engineering managers and leaders in the future. I have recently developed a new program to help professionals advance in their careers into more senior roles by developing their soft skills. With my former IBM colleague, we discussed what are the communication skills that experienced professionals need to focus on, to advance in their careers. Whether you have had management or leadership experience or not, whether you consider yourself a "people person", or have been described before as an "introvert" (the two are not mutually exclusive), I wanted to share with you what soft skills you would need to be aware of and develop if you consider advancing into a leadership position. Emotional intelligence The ability to understand how another person is feeling or may react in the moment, and to adapt your communication style to the situation. As a leader, you will inevitably work with different personalities, and will need to know how to adapt your behaviour to make sure your team works well together. This is what will help you connect with others and create a productive working environment. Self-awareness Being clear about your own strengths and development opportunities (blind spots). Knowing how to manage your energy and communicate with conviction and gravitas. This is what makes a person come across as a "leader" to others – understanding what is your personal leadership style is key. Big-picture thinking Knowing how to consider the impact of decisions years ahead, instead of focusing on immediate "operational" problems. Being able to "zoom out" and appreciate the bigger picture is both an important skill and often a formal and informal assessment criteria for someone who is going into a more senior role. Communicating ideas and direction Knowing how to communicate your and the organisation's vision and everyone's role in it to others – so that they feel engaged, well-informed, and motivated. Combining the 3 above skills to, simply put, make things happen. This is what will help you to generate the results and to prove the effectiveness of your leadership. Mentoring and coaching others A great leader needs to know how to spot and create other leaders, and how to help everyone work at their best. Knowing when to give advice, and when to listen deeply, and what sort of questions to ask to help others excel in their work and have confidence in your leadership – is both a science and an art. This is what makes the difference between a "manager" (someone who tells others what to do) and a "leader" (someone who inspires and drives the future of their organisation). How do we measure "soft skills"? At times, the concept of "soft skills" can be difficult to grasp, because it can be unclear how to define tangible outcomes for the above competencies. It is helpful to see them through their opposites (we know when those skills are not there). Knowing what are the examples of you displaying those skills, and how to talk about them – will need to be an important part of your interview preparation for a leadership role. A lot has been written and said about "leadership", yet there is no magic "5 ways" or "3 behaviours" or "7 secrets" – there is no formula. The most important first step is to accept that and embrace the complexity. In the end, to be noticed as a potential leader and to succeed as such, a person needs to know what is it that makes them feel authentic as they align their personality and behavioural preferences to what is needed from a leader. Everyone's career journey is different If you would like to discuss your situation and come up with a plan to tap into your personal source of excellence, and transform your career, you can book a conversation with me here (that conversation is free).


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