Currently, I have two degrees under my belt: a degree in Engineering and a degree in Psychology. Although I value the tangible, calculating skills that my engineering degree has provided me with, I value the soft skills my psychology degree provided me with even more.
Soft skills development will help you become a more effective leader which will trickle down to your team members.
It’s these soft skills I was readily able to apply to lead a team of 100 union members night after night for over 6 years. I highly doubt I would have had any success in any leadership capacity had I not taken soft skills seriously.
But what are soft skills? Soft skills are a series of person-centered actions, behaviors, habits and mental attitudes that effective leaders must possess in order to influence their team members.
As a leader, it’s not enough to have a high I.Q., having a high E.Q.(emotional intelligence) is just as, if not more, important than your I.Q.
Having soft skills are beneficial on and off the job. You may or may not realize it, but you use soft skills with friends and family members. They also impact employees at all levels of an organization.
To put it bluntly, soft skills help you to get people do what you want them to do.
The fact of the matter is that if you don’t know how relate to people on an emotional level, you won’t be able to genuinely communicate with them. If you’re not able to have genuine communication, you can’t lead them. If you’re not able to influence you can’t lead at all.
In this piece we dive into 9 essential soft skills every leader needs to have in order to thrive.
What Are The Benefits Of “Soft Skills?”
When I decided to pursue a degree in psychology after having gotten a degree in engineering, my family sneered at me. They asked: “You don’t want to be an engineer anymore? Why are you majoring in a soft science? You can’t get a job with that.”
Intuitively I knew I didn’t want to be an automaton as an engineer. I’m not saying that engineers are automatons and lack people skills but that would have been the case for me.
After having achieved an engineering degree I felt as if the curriculum didn’t prepare me for connecting with people on a person level. I became smarter but not more capable.
This is what the benefits of soft skills are. You get to connect with people. People is what life is all about. Anything you want to accomplish, happens through people.
Ironically, soft skills such as: communication, motivation, and keen attention to detail, help leverage your technical skills. Furthering your education in soft skills boosts your performance by encouraging you to learn more about your role.
You can even use soft skills to boost innovation in specific fields by highlighting connections in multiple areas and merging two or more of those disciplines.
For example, having a background in psychology and engineering has allowed for me to value ergonomics(the blending of psychology and engineering) in ways that I wouldn’t have had I only had education in any single respective field.
Which Specific Soft Skills Provide The Biggest Impact?
As a leader, you must master your soft skills. It will improve your team coordination in untold ways.
When your team sees that you’re working on your people skills, they’ll be more inclined to work on their own.
Below are the 9 soft skills you should develop and master. Choosing anyone of these skills to work on will improve your leadership performance immediately.
Start with the one your disposition is geared toward the most.
“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” — Margaret J. Wheatley
When I took the role as union steward, I inherited a team that was disorganized, had a lack of morale and an overall sense of division.
Being armed with psychosocial soft skills such as knowing the importance of implementing a superordinate goal to unite the team proved to be valuable.
Use a uniting objective that has everyone’s best interest at the core. Beyond that, find activities, modes of communication and information that will strengthen and maintain the bond of your team.
For instance, I started a huge group chat via email with most of my members for daily announcements and important updates. But we also made room for jokes and laughs. We scheduled events outside of work such as parties and cookouts.
This is the kind of soft skill you need to increase team engagement and performance through collaborative efforts. When you’re able to bring your team together in this way, they share the workload and get things done.
“Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments.” — Edwin Catmull
I’m the typical, in your face New Yorker that talks fast, thinks faster and not afraid to tell it like it is. Candor has always been my super power in the leadership realm. But in order for candor to be effective, you have to have your teams trust.
Your team has to know deep down inside that when you directly confront them, in a amicable manner of course, that it’s with good intention and it’s because you have their best interest at heart.
Don’t underestimate the power of authentic, direct communication when needed. When you exhibit this behavior on a regular basis, your team members will be candid with you. This will in turn fill in your blind spots as a leader.
“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” — Brian Tracy
Every one of my articles on leadership talks about communication or refers to it in some way, shape or form.
You need to learn how to communicate effectively if you want to have any kind of influence over your recruits. This is something that you just can’t skimp on. It is a must have for all leaders.
As a matter of fact, I’ll go as far to say that most leaders in management positions lack proper communication.
Improve your verbal communication skills by taking writing classes. If you are apprehensive when speaking in front of a crowd, take public speaking classes at the local community college. If you’re terrible with candor, consciously work on speaking directly to your recruits in a courteous, cordial manner.
“Passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all things alive and significant.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of the most vibe draining thing to watch is your leader not being passionate and driven about the field you’re all in.
Your recruits need to see your passion and enthusiasm for the work. You should be on fire for every aspect of the field. This is why it’s important for you to do what you love and love what you do.
If you don’t love what you do then you shouldn’t be in this business because you’ll only be making yourself and the others around you miserable.
On the flip side, when you model passion for the field, your recruits will naturally follow and become fired up as well.
21st century leadership is leadership that is on the cusp of two worlds. The old, dictatorship type of leadership and the emotionally intelligent type of leadership. Embrace this change if you’re from the old school realm.
Don’t be the one who’s rigid in their thinking. The leader who does the same things over and over again thinking that life should conform to a classic paradigm because it’s “how we use to do it in the old days” is going to fail miserably.
With Gen “Z” flooding the job market, get ready for team members with a radical way of thinking. These recruits are geared toward the use of technology and have the propensity to move at a faster pace because of it.
Also, be open to candor. You’re not above the ideas of incoming recruits. When one of your team members floats you an idea based on the changing climate of the market, take heed and consider that it might be time for a change.
There’s nothing worse than having leadership that doesn’t know what’s going on in their own team and “organization” when nothing is organized at all.
This stresses out the team because things have no place, things are scattered everywhere and there’s no clear cut way to do anything.
Remember, you’re there to lead, to make sense of the chaos, to provide structure.
How can anyone take you seriously as a leader if your organization is a mess?
The ability to read the room as a leader is indispensable. Emotional intelligence is your ability to read the emotions of those in a specific space, the ability to label them correctly and match your behaviors to align with that of the emotions of others.
The ability to read social cues such as: tone of voice, body language, eye movements, facial expressions and body language is crucial. These are all pieces of information that you need to know how to read in order to communicate and influence effectively.
In a world where everyone considers themselves “edgy” and “hardcore” be the person that’s likable. Be the friendly person that’s easy to talk to and get along with. This goes a lot further than people will admit.
As a leader you might need something from another leader who might have access to resources you need. Being likable, friendly and social can encourage this person to offer you assistance you wouldn’t otherwise be offered if you weren’t likable and friendly.
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” — Albert Einstein
I have a theory: Everyone is creative. That’s right. I think everyone is creative. Formal education, parents and institutions hammer this creativity out of many of us by the time we’re 5 years old.
Develop and hone your creativity by engaging in a craft or activity you use to enjoy as a child. And if you can’t recall having a go-to hobby as a child, pick one up and work on it.
The goal is to get you to start thinking outside the box. Art, music and writing are just some of the things you could do to hone the creative process.
How To Teach Soft Skills To Your Team
One of the many hats you wear as a leader is “coach” which consists of “teaching” and “advising.” What’s the point of being a leader if you don’t pass down what you know to others?
As a matter of fact, when you invest time in developing soft skills to your employees, it makes for a better work environment. The work place is less likely to become toxic because of soft skills like emotional intelligence and communication.
First things first, teaching soft skills starts at the recruitment process. You need to identify who is good at picking up new information quickly and solving problems in fast-paced, unexpected situations.
Secondly, spend time with recruits. You want them to shadow you for extended periods of time in order for them to watch these soft skills in action.
If I were you, I would give them a “pop quiz” by bouncing a particularly “difficult” situation in their lap on short notice to see if they were paying attention.
This is why you want to recruit people who are fast-learners and quick on their feet. The champions at learning soft skills will pick this up quickly.
On the other hand, the ones who don’t pick things up quickly should write down soft skills they struggle with so that you can help them target these weak points.
If available, include some sort of eLearning component which includes videos of soft skills in action.
Ultimately, give them time to develop these soft skills but the most important thing is that you remain a reminder of soft skills in action. You want to exhibit soft skills with them through proper communication, candor, emotional intelligence, etc.
Eventually they’ll grasp the implementation of soft skills and it will become second nature.
Soft skills are crucial to success because they elevate already existing technical skills. They leverage the hard skills needed to carry out a specific role.
In 21st century leadership, soft skills are indispensable which is why it should be at the forefront of your recruitment process.