These Soft Skills Will Make You a Top Leader
The internal, private needs of a leader today, are not about the rational, analytical and strategic “hard skills “which, even though necessary, are not sufficient to meet all the expectations for effective organizational leadership.
It’s actually the qualitative “soft skills” of behavior, practices, and attitudes that a leader must master to interact effectively and harmoniously with others.
Four decades of executive Christian experience have led Gene Habecker, my recent guest on the Flourishing Culture Podcast, and author of The Softer Side of Leadership, to name these two essential needs every leader needs to master:
1. The need to protect sacred space and enable deep thinking
“This is that place where boundaries are placed in a way that allows refocusing of the mind and soul on a transcendent agenda, a place where we have been made aware of the extraordinary presence of God.
Jesus did this repeatedly in his own life—pulling away to be alone with His Father, to pray (Luke 6:12). If he needed to do that, how much more do I need to do that regularly?”
2. The need for self-discovery learning
“Part of soft-skill leadership is a commitment to learning about myself and my blind spots. The first two elements of emotional intelligence (self-awareness and self-regulation) involve learning about yourself. Yet leaders often resist this type of learning. Yet those who commit to these kinds of self-discovery learning, actually improve as leaders, and usually end up evoking more authenticity, more honesty, and more humility in their leadership.”
Gene names six soft skills that need to be embedded in the healthy culture of an organization: creativity, accountability, the leader follower dynamic, love, trust, and forgiveness. It’s these last two, where your softer side of leadership can truly shine.
3. The need for trust, “the glue that holds organizations together”
“Leaders need to reflect relational integrity in their lives. Be persons of good character in all areas of your life, not just the visible parts. What leaders say must also be lived, not just during the good times, but also during the difficult seasons, and if it’s not, trust deteriorates. The walk and the talk, within their community, must be in complete alignment.
“Relational integrity must be connected to perceived competence to do the job. Stephen Covey links character with competence. A surgeon might have great relational skills, but if they are not a very good surgeon, they won’t be trusted. So, I continue to tell leaders, ‘Don’t just live on your past learning, keep on learning; it’s part of the soft skill of self-discovery learning.’ You must be perceived to be competent as a leader for you to be trusted. Third, be cognizant that you have a leadership trust account. Make deposits because there will also be withdrawals. When that account is empty, the leader may be finished as a leader.”
It’s actually the qualitative ‘soft skills’ of behavior, practices, and attitudes that a leader must master to interact effectively and harmoniously with others.”
4. The need to embrace the power of forgiveness
“Think of forgiveness as a cycle:
- First, organizations need to be places where courageous conversations at all levels can take place. Courageous conversations within organizations are essential to achieve organizational clarity and health. They are needed at all levels, both the horizontal and the vertical levels.
Leaders need to be held accountable through courageous conversations. Steve Holbrook, also a former CLA board member, told me that that one of the most important questions every leader must ask: ‘Who can say ‘no’ to you (the leader) and make it stick?’ He’s right. A leader without accountability of this type is on a slippery slope and headed for a crash.”
- Forgiveness must be practiced. After all, forgiven people need to be forgiving people. People throughout all levels of organizational life make mistakes.
- Following forgiveness is the need for restoration and reconciliation. That doesn’t automatically occur even where forgiveness happens. There are multiple examples of this in scripture: Joseph and his brothers; Jacob and Esau; Paul and John Mark. But we still need to work at this as believers.
- Finally, there’s restitution. Where brokenness (of all types) occurs, there is sometimes the need for restitution. Think Philemon and Paul; think Zacchaeus after his meeting with Jesus, Luke 19:1-10. We in the body of Christ don’t do this very well which is why lawsuits often result.
When the forgiveness cycle is practiced, better organizational health is the result.”
Which of these needs speak directly to you? Who, in your workplace culture, might resonate with you in this area? What positive outcome do you most desire for yourself, others, and the organization?
Dr. Gene Habecker is a Senior Fellow with the Sagamore Institute (focused on Leadership Development and Capacity Building) and President Emeritus of Taylor University. He’s also an Adjunct Professor in the Ph.D. Leadership program at Capital Seminary and Graduate School as well as the former President and CEO of American Bible Society.
Buy Gene’s Book: The Softer Side of Leadership: Essential Soft Skills That Transform Leaders and the People They Lead
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