A fading leadership type is the demanding, inflexible boss who is focused on executing tasks without question or complaint from the workforce.
Such leadership, experts say, invites employees to feel marginalized because their opinions are not valued, and their feelings are not considered.
Today, due in part to the many challenges brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, “soft” management skills such as empathy, emotional intelligence, and adaptive communication have come to the forefront.
They’re especially helpful for connecting with and managing remote workers. “Leadership is about transitioning from master of tasks to mover of people,” says Nate Regier, CEO of Next Element Consulting.
This emotional way of connecting with employees leads to better communication, understanding, and adaptability.
This often results in collaborative, innovative solutions that move the business forward because employees are more motivated when they feel their leaders care about their feelings and their success.
Instead of focusing solely on market trends, spreadsheets, and business metrics to make decisions, leaders with soft skills also prioritize employees’ emotional well-being and respond to their needs in a caring way.
Critical soft skills include:
1. Empathy, or the ability to relate to what others are thinking and feeling.
“Validating emotions—or even sharing your own—and being in that moment with someone else builds trust and rapport and allows leadership to take meaningful action on what they learn,” says Tobi Weingart, senior manager for CUNA Creating Member Loyalty (CML).
Compassion and empathy are intertwined.
“Compassion is the practice of demonstrating that humans are valuable, capable, and responsible in every interaction,” Regier says. “Treating people as valuable means trusting intentions, showing empathy, and creating a safe space to be vulnerable without fear of judgment.”
In its “2020 State of Workplace Empathy” report, Businessolver indicated that 76% of workers surveyed said they believe an empathetic organization inspires more motivated employees, up from 65% in 2019.
2. Emotional intelligence. This ability to manage and adapt your emotions in positive ways to empathize with others can reduce conflict and increase understanding and cooperation.
An emotionally intelligent leader is highly effective in communication, decision making, conflict resolution, and team building.
“Throughout the pandemic we needed to make quick decisions, employ contingent business plans, and work effectively,” says Brandi Stankovic, Ed.D., chief operating officer and chief strategy officer for CU Solutions Group. “As the dust settles, emotional intelligence will be critical to ensure we are hearing the needs of our staff and members.”
3. Adaptive communication. Good leaders recognize that people have different personalities, backgrounds, and perspectives. To be effective, leaders must adapt how they communicate depending on who they are talking to.
“Great leaders do not just learn about individual differences; they also learn how to adjust their communication style to connect, motivate, and inspire different types of people,” says Regier.
Curiosity—the ability to ask good, thought-provoking questions—is also a key part of adaptive communication.
“When leaders do this, they also help staff learn to be critical thinkers when it comes to job performance and problem solving,” Weingart says.
NEXT: Pandemic-driven change