The most successful leaders have not only mastered technical skills, they’ve also mastered soft skills.
Commonly known as people or interpersonal skills, soft skills like negotiating, building morale, and maintaining relationships are key to a leader’s success.
According to ResourcefulManager, a website dedicated to helping managers become more effective at their jobs, “Technical aptitude and business savvy aren’t worth much if leaders don’t have the people skills to execute them.”
Here are 19 soft skills leaders need to be successful – as well as tips to hone them – from ResourcefulManager:
The best communicators are not only skilled at articulating their own thoughts, they’re also great listeners. We tend to associate being the loudest voice in the room with power and control, but successful leaders understand the importance of listening to others’ thoughts and ideas.
Tip: Give the speaker your undivided attention, take notes, reserve judgment, and be open to opinions.
The ability to communicate well is essential to forming and maintaining relationships. Leaders who have mastered the exchange of ideas can more effectively manage employees and create a productive work environment.
Tip: Communicate with courtesy, show confidence, back up statements with facts, and try to avoid tentative language like, “might,” “maybe,” “possibly,” and “ASAP.”
- WOCinTech Chat/flickr
3. Nonverbal communication
A person’s body language can often be more important than what he or she is actually saying. A classic piece of research, while sometimes contested, posits that the words we choose have just a 7% impact on the listener’s interpretation, while body language has a 55% impact.
Tip: Maintain eye contact while speaking to show respect and sincerity, hold good posture to project confidence, avoid gestures that are distracting or convey disinterest such as crossed arms or fidgeting with clothing/jewelry, and make sure facial expressions align with the message being communicated.
4. Delivering bad news
No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, but any leader knows that it’s all part of the job. The ability to deliver unfortunate news tactfully is what sets good leaders apart.
Tip: Deliver bad news in person rather than via email or memo, take responsibility, be as honest as possible, and give employees an opportunity to respond and discuss how the news affects them.
5. Saying no
In any leadership position, saying no to employees and ideas is a huge part of the job. The ability to turn people down sensitively is critical.
Tip: Empathize with people when saying no to let them know you understand the situation, explain your reasoning for saying no, and end the conversation on a positive note by offering another way to help.
Most leaders are negotiating throughout the day – with clients, with employees, and with friends and family. The most successful negotiators remain fair and considerate of others’ desires while pushing for what they want.
Tip: Look at the situation through the other person’s eyes, be prepared to offer several options, show that you’ve heard and understood the other side, and offer to help out in some way to demonstrate that you’re a team player.
- Sebastiaan ter Burg/Flickr
7. Connecting with employees and colleagues
Cordial relationships between managers and their employees are absolutely essential to creating a cohesive and productive work environment.
Tip: Always use people’s names when speaking to them, show interest in employees’ lives, express appreciation and recognize contributions, and make your colleagues feel important.
8. Giving criticism
For leaders overseeing employees who may not be performing at the optimum level, giving criticism is extremely important in maintaining high standards and producing work that meets those standards.
Tip: Give criticism in private, don’t point fingers, don’t sugarcoat the problem, be specific about what you want to change, and ask for the person’s input so they feel they’re part of the solution.
- WOCinTech Chat/flickr
9. Dealing with difficult employees
Every office has difficult employees whose behavior and attitudes can jeopardize workplace harmony. Leaders must know how to deal with these employees, especially because others will judge the leader based on how he or she handles the situation.
Tip: Tackle the problem as soon as possible instead of waiting to deal with it, rely on documented information when pointing out unacceptable behavior, implement a plan for correcting the behavior, and follow up daily to ensure the positive change is permanent.
- Dell Inc./flickr
10. Maintaining professionalism
Maintaining professionalism can be extremely difficult for leaders who are friendly with many of their employees, but recognizing the line between work life and personal life and striking a balance in between is critical.
Tip: Establish clear boundaries if you work with friends, be fair to all subordinates regardless of friendships, and avoid any special treatment or favors.
11. Managing change
People respond to change in many different ways. In professional settings, employees will often look to their leaders during times of change for reassurance, guidance, and a sense of stability.
Tip: Give employees the opportunity to share their thoughts, focus on the positive, and remain available to answer questions.
- University of Exeter/flickr
12. Handling resistance
Leaders will always face resistance, and the way they handle opposition determines a great deal about how they are perceived.
Tip: Handle resistance gracefully by focusing on the issue and remaining non-confrontational, taking responsibility if you contributed to an issue, and asking for the resistors’ help in coming to a resolution.
- Sebastiaan ter Burg/flickr
13. Dealing with complaints
Leaders are constantly receiving complaints from employees. Strong leadership skills mean handling these complaints with tact and fairness.
Tip: Set the example by not complaining yourself, ask complainers questions to turn them into part of the solution, and consider establishing a rule that you can’t complain unless you also offer a resolution to the problem.
- Dell Inc./flickr
14. Practicing good manners
People who are polite stand out and are well-liked. Not only do good manners help cement positive relationships with employees, they also set an example for the rest of the office to follow.
Tip: Respect people’s time and be early for meetings, don’t use the speaker phone except when necessary, don’t interrupt, and be sure to say please and thank you.
15. Arguing with class
The way a leader conducts him- or herself in an argument says a lot about people skills. The best leaders always keep their cool, remain open to other points of view, and strive for fairness.
Tip: Find middle ground, be polite, keep a calm and steady voice, avoid pushing the other person’s buttons during an argument, and focus on moving forward.
While delegation may seem like a simple task, it actually requires a great deal of finesse and people skills to motivate employees to do the work and get it done effectively.
Tip: Make the goal clear and be specific about the expected results, lay out challenges and discuss obstacles employees may face, and offer available resources.
- University of Exeter/flickr
17. Building morale
One of the most important responsibilities of leaders is building and maintaining morale in the workplace. Employees at every company sometimes get discouraged and stressed, and they need a strong leader who prioritizes their emotional needs.
Tip: Regularly communicate information, changes, and company news so employees don’t feel out of the loop, provide growth opportunities, and explain the impact your employees have on the company and its mission.
18. Recognizing good work
The best leaders are adept at expressing recognition beyond a simple pat on the back.
Tip: Recognize people for different types of accomplishments, celebrate good work at meetings where others can congratulate them, and make the praise personal.
- VFS Digital Design/Flickr
19. Nixing bad behaviors
Leaders need to be able to identify and eliminate bad employee behaviors that could have a negative impact on clients, productivity, or office morale.
Tip: Watch out for behaviors like tardiness, interrupting others, invading other people’s personal space, inappropriate humor or remarks, and incessant complaining.