Five Essential Soft Skills to Become a Better Leader

One of the most rewarding and challenging things about being a leader is the diverse set of skills it requires. You need technical skills and expertise in your field, management skills, planning skills, and the list goes on. However, one set of skills that sometimes falls by the wayside but that’s essential to being an effective leader is soft skills, or more accurately, real skills.

Indeed defines soft skills as “any skill or quality that can be classified as a personality trait or habit.  Unlike technical or “hard” skills, soft skills are not about the knowledge you possess but rather the behaviors you display in different situations.” Because of these defining qualities, soft skills are much less tangible than technical skills, and you don’t learn them through traditional education or training. Although less straight forward to develop, they have become crucial for effective leadership in the modern era. In fact, Seth Godin, leadership expert and author of The Song of Significance urges that we stop calling them “soft skills,” and start calling them “real skills” instead.

Real skills can’t replace vocational skills, of course. What they can do is amplify the things you’ve already been measuring.

-Seth Godin, The Song of Significance

With recent leadership trends like Servant Leadership & Leading from the Heart, we’re seeing that being a good leader is more than just being good at project management— it’s about understanding human behavior in the workplace, which is an area that many people in the workplace fall short on. According to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, there is a significant gap between 1) the skill sets of today’s top talent and 2) the skill sets companies are seeking. “Somewhat surprisingly,” Weiner said in an interview with CNBC, “interpersonal skills is where we’re seeing the biggest imbalance. Communications is the number one skills gap.” More recently in the Harvard Business Review, Lou Solomon writes that 69 percent of managers are uncomfortable communicating with their employees. Unfortunately, our experience in executive coaching confirms this gap, where we have found that soft skills can sometimes be hard to find and difficult to master. Often we meet executives who are incredibly well-educated and technically qualified but when it comes to connecting with people, they fall short and their teams suffer.  However, as an organization that specializes in people development, these skills are right up our alley.  Just like you would attend a continuing education conference to learn how to use a new technology, our behavioral assessment can help you measure and strengthen these skills so that you can become a better leader.

Here are five essential soft skills to cultivate to become a better leader:


What is Empathy? According to the Greater Good research center at Berkeley,  “Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” For you to treat others as they would like to be treated, it helps if you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes in an effort to understand their feelings, perspectives and needs. Not only does this understanding apply when someone is experiencing some kind of emotional or physical distress, but also in a business setting. A recent State of the Workplace Empathy study by Businessolver found that 87% of CEOs see a direct link between workplace empathy and business performance, productivity, retention and general business health, and managers who demonstrate empathy have employees who have better physical health and report greater happiness. 


We live in a world full of distractions.  With the constant influx of media and technology, many of us have lost our ability to actively listen and often find comfort in the screen of our phone.  However, if we can retrain ourselves to focus on the present moment and truly listen to our people, many issues in the workplace can be avoided and you can get to know your people and better understand their needs in order to make them happier. Next time you’re having a conversation with someone, take the time to pause and mindfully listen to what they have to say without interrupting wanting to answer right away. Learn to look beyond the words, and look for other cues such as body language, and use eye contact to be fully present in the conversation.


We’ve all heard the word integrity thrown around in leadership trainings, but what does it really mean? A common definition of integrity is a “concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions.” Often, integrity is misinterpreted as just being honest or just inherently “being a good person,” but as you can see there is much more to it. On a deeper level, the word integrity is derived from the latin word “integer” which means whole and complete. To lead with integrity, consistency is king, which means being the same regardless of the situation or how you’re feeling. We all know people whose mood sways depending on the day and who say something one day and do the complete opposite the next. Do you consider this person to be a great leader? Probably not. Consistency is a conscious choice that we can make as leaders, even when the conditions might not be ideal. How honest and consistent are your behaviors, actions, and words with the people you lead? Do you always do what you say  you’re going to do? Do you practice what you preach? 

Honesty & Vulnerability

Honesty and vulnerability are closely tied to the concept of Integrity above. When you’re able to be honest and vulnerable with your colleagues and employees, you build an open, trusting environment in which people feel comfortable expressing themselves. Through this trust, you’ll have more meaningful interactions with people. 


Last, but certainly not least, is self-compassion. So often, leaders are so busy worrying about other people that they forget to give themselves the same kindness and care. Dr. Kristin Neff, author of  Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, states “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?” Strive for excellence, not perfection, and be compassionate to yourself along the way. By practicing this and always embracing a growth mindset, you will encourage your direct reports to do the same. 

So how can you gauge where you’re at on these essential soft skills? Our Executive Coaching Program can help you measure how you interact with others and help you create a plan to get you where you want to be. Contact us today to find out more! 

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