As leaders, we should be consistently updating and upgrading our skills. If you haven’t accessed your skills recently to see where you could improve or collaborate with others who have the skills that complement yours, it may be time to think about doing so.
So what skills should you focus on? You might take a skills assessment test – there are many out there that you can do for free. I find that soft skills are in demand, and the five soft skills I like to focus on are:
- Social Awareness
- Relationship Management
- Sustainable Communication
These skills deal with how we manage ourselves and how we respond to the environment. I will touch on each of these briefly, but if you would like more information let me know.
Being a self-aware leader means that we understand our strengths and limitations, including setting boundaries around both. I don’t know about you, but I am better at working with my strengths than managing my limitations. Having back surgery and breaking my knee within a two-year time span made me have to deal with serious limitations!
Spending time at the end or beginning of the week to plan out my schedule helps me use my time more efficiently so that I can implement my strengths during times when I work best. I also make sure to schedule breaks in my calendar to regenerate and refresh my energy level throughout the day. As a leader, it is important to be able to accurately employ my strengths and not let external circumstances dictate my progress. It is also important to be in tune with my values and triggers so that I am positioned to respond rather than react to challenges during the day or week.
Self-management includes being calm and clear-headed during times of stress. In order to be able to accomplish this skill, we must have other things in place such as a healthy diet, sleep, and a way to manage stress through breathing, meditation or exercise. Stress can be brought on by too many changes or challenges that arrive at the same time, and being able to be flexible is key to managing or adapting to these events.
Being flexible is something that you may have learned or still need to learn. Flexibility as a leader is one of my superpowers and I have developed this power over the years. Meeting new challenges or seizing opportunities to stretch my comfort zone have helped me be more flexible. One key self-management strategy is to stay positive and look for the best in each situation regardless of what is happening around you.
A socially-aware leader is able to walk into a room and read the emotions of those in the room. This can be accomplished by looking for non-verbal signs of engagement or disengagement. People who are engaged and ready are usually watching you and have a relaxed posture. Whereas those who are not engaged are distracted and may have their arms crossed or a scowl on their face with little or no eye contact.
Since we don’t usually know what happened to each person in the room before you entered, you may find having a few minutes of ice-breaking comments or interactions gets people ready for you to interact with them. If you don’t already have a relationship with the people in the room, taking the time to create a connection with them is important.
Leaders who understand relationship-management are able to encourage teamwork and collaboration by bringing people together around a shared vision. Building relationships takes time, and is about finding common ground; people often bond over shared experiences, emotions, and knowledge. Relationship management is also about being able to identify the right people who can work together, so being able to identify complementary skills, leadership styles, and work ethic are important.
As a leader focused on relationship management, remember to cultivate abilities and skills through mentoring and coaching. Mentoring is usually a longer-term relationship where you may share your experience and knowledge on a regular basis with a team member who is looking to gain a better understanding of your business or for their own professional development. This is a great tool to use when working with succession planning. Coaching is often used for a specific task and specific time period, and is designed to help those you are working with move through a challenge or address a specific issue.
Leaders who communicate well have the ability to increase engagement. Communication is not only about speaking well, but is also about listening and writing effectively. Listening is about being present and actively listening – this means no distractions such as thinking about what is coming up next. Active listening means that you are seeking to understand not only the words but intention and emotion behind the words of the other person. Written words have an impact, and it is important to read over what you write before you send it regardless of what delivery format you are using – memo, email, text etc.
I find that these five soft skills are valuable for leaders who want to make a difference in their organizations. It doesn’t matter how many people you are working with; you can always make a positive difference by sharing your insights with others. The key is to keep yourself in a professional development plan for improvement.