“Leadership” once meant “part of the C-Suite”. But not anymore. The days of “positional leadership” are behind us. A person’s ability to manage and influence others is no longer related to their hierarchical position in the organization. Instead, workers at all levels are finding opportunities to step up and prove themselves.
Employers are constantly on the lookout for people with strong leadership skills, but what does this mean exactly? It turns out that the skills that constitute a “leader” change over time. In recent years, there has been a shift from hard skills to soft skills–but even soft skills come with many dimensions.
To make some sense of it all, here are the top six leadership soft skills being leveraged–and sought after–by today’s successful organizations:
Communication skills are at the top of many leadership skill lists, and for good reason. A leader is essentially a conduit of information from the top down. They take instructions and knowledge from higher up, then translate it and organize it for their subordinates. The key in all of these steps is to understand what needs to be done and to explain that to others, AKA, communication. No wonder that 75% of employees believe in communication as the most important aspect of leadership.
2. Change Management
Why do 70% of transformations fail? Reasons abound: unrealistic goals are set; employees don’t deliver what is expected of them; skill gaps are just too large. But at the center of these factors are leaders who have not done their homework – bu communicating clearly, collaborating effectively, and committing to the change.
Especially with the changes we’re facing today: The question of WFH, hybrid, or fully coming back to the office jumps to the mind, leaders need to be able to lead a team of 10,000 or 10 with the same calming, strategic plan.
3. Strategic Thinking
Believe it or not, strategic thinking, the highly-sought-after skill in a world of unstrategic business moves, can actually be learned. Sometimes it is proactive, and sometimes it is reactive. But in a business world where “disruptive” is a popular catchword, essentially all companies must engage in strategic thinking at some point. This competitive attitude should reach the lowest hierarchical levels of the organization – according to this article, it starts with motivating all employees to think strategically.
Some say that self-awareness among leaders is a more important factor for success than having an MBA (in an article from Harvard, of all places!). In the article, a leader stated that “he’d never been directed to take a long look in the mirror and ask questions about who he was, what he valued, and what it really meant to be a leader.”
The same multinational study showed that senior leaders in a company tend to be more self-aware than lower-level managers, perhaps showing that self-awareness can help on the path towards the C-suite, and helps create a more stable work environment. It’s also been proven that self-awareness contributes to team success–so all employees will benefit from a dose.
While expert self-awareness programs are hard to come by, soft skills like empathy, listening, and mediation, which we discuss below, will assist in gaining more self-awareness.
5. Ethical Behavior
Self-awareness is followed closely by what can be considered environmental awareness, where “environment” includes green issues and social justice. A company’s ethics are highly important to younger generations – for example, 25% of Gen Z employees won’t work for unsustainable businesses. Many employees expect their leaders to demonstrate sustainable behaviors, including things like paperless offices, volunteering days, and offering rewards for different acts of sustainably, like ‘most recycled in a day’ or ‘closest to carbon-neutral’.
Offering workshops on becoming more environmentally friendly, or holding team discussions on what ethical behavior means when it comes to data can both educate lesser-aware employees and also help with employer branding. Hitting two birds with one stone is always a plus!
When it comes to dealing with conflict in the workplace, leading by force doesn’t succeed in the long run; poor manager behavior is cited again and again as a major reason for employees leaving for new jobs. Instead, leaders are becoming more empathetic and patient, qualities that are central to mediation and the ability to solve issues quickly and fairly. As most companies tend to handle conflict resolution internally, leaders with mediation skills can add another valuable qualification that can be a huge asset to changing organizations that may be dealing with several conflicts. Even on smaller teams, arming leaders with the skills to stop conflict and come to fair conclusions are an asset and can lead to further opportunities within their organization.
The Search for Effective Leadership Skills
Now what? With a better picture of which skills are dominating leadership requirements, the organization and its employees need to find a way to put ideas into practice.
There are two sides to this coin. On the one hand, employers are always on the lookout for developing talent. They need to equip growing departments, handle the challenges of succession, and sometimes just give an opportunity to somebody outstanding. On the other hand, there are the employees. Building leadership strengths require intent and the desire to be leaders – whatever that means in their position.
Connecting these entities are two groups that can make all the difference.
- The first group is made of managers who have the ability to put emerging leadership skills into practice. They might hear of opportunities that eager employees will want to try, even if they are only temporary and unofficial tasks. In addition, managers can recommend some of their high-potential team members to executives who are looking to build the next generation of leaders.
- The second group is HR and L&D. With the right approach, the teams in charge of professional development can get current and potential leaders up to speed with their skills. This allows individual employees to get the specific training that they need while being able to immediately apply what they have learned.
Develop Leaders with the Leading L&D Platform
GrowthSpace is an essential technology for organizations that need to strengthen their leaders. The GrowthSpace L&D platform connects renowned coaches, trainers, and mentors who specialize in leadership skills to successful companies all over the world. With GrowthSpace, these firms provide rapid and effective skill enhancement to their best and brightest.