You’ve got the education, the career experience, and the drive and ambition to get to the top of your profession. But how are you with the soft leadership skills you need to inspire customers, partners, investors, employees, and other stakeholders? That’s just as important as your proven hard skills.
Developing these key soft skills can enrich your career, establish leadership and inspire others to follow your lead.
1. Charisma to Attract Followers
Unless a family member owns your company, a top management position is not guaranteed — and often not even then. You must have leadership traits that inspire confidence and make others want to follow you.
To a large extent, charisma is an innate personality trait, something that comes naturally. Nevertheless, some behavioral scientists believe it’s a skill that can be learned or at least honed. It’s a matter of working to establish connections by enhancing your emotional approachability and authenticity.
Start by studying the topic. Read books, such as Olivia Fox Cobane’s The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, and don’t forget the classic: How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
2. The Love of Learning
You’ve earned your degree (or degrees) in your chosen field. You know everything you need to know. Right? No more textbooks for you.
The industrialist Henry Ford might have said it best: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”
That doesn’t mean that all of your ongoing education must be in your field of endeavor. Learn a foreign language. Take up a new hobby. Enroll in a photography class or guitar lessons at your local community college.
The point is that the mere act of continually learning anything is a workout for your brain; learning keeps your wits sharp and your curiosity intact. Plus, education opens you up to new opportunities, whether along your career path or in life in general.
3. The Patience to Listen
It can be tempting, once you’ve earned the right to lead, to think of communications as a one-way street. You’ve earned the right to lead others, so what can those working for you possibly contribute? Their responsibility is to take marching orders and perform as expected.
The truth is, everyone on your team is an expert on some aspect of the organization, no matter how relatively small that packet of knowledge may be. Diverse viewpoints and perspectives enrich any initiative in business and in life.
When employees are afraid to speak up or disagree, that’s valuable insight that is lost.
Listening is also a component of what builds or destroys morale in a business organization. It makes team members feel valued or useless. By listening, you can find out just how valuable individual team member insight is instead of wasting the resources at your fingertips.
4. Diplomacy to Stay Relevant
Think of it as diplomacy, or simply political savvy. Whatever you call it, it’s the ability to know when and how to speak — and when to hold your tongue. Diplomacy is the art of getting your message across and motivating action in ways that keep friends and shows respect for all.
This quote from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a former prime minister of India, modestly speaks volumes: “Quiet diplomacy is far more effective than public posturing.”
Some see business as being akin to warfare. You make friends and allies. You join one camp or clique, or another. You detect weaknesses in members of the other team and you make your move. You press your advantage.
Yet, that person you replace at one corporation could be your interviewer at your next job. Stay diplomatic at all times, and don’t burn bridges, even if only so-called “underlings” are waiting to cross.
5. The Ability to Challenge the Status Quo to Thrive
Some realities should never be challenged — but there aren’t many of those.
Listening to others and proceeding with diplomacy can also steer you toward needed changes that improve products or services, client relationships, workflow, team morale, or other elements of a successful business operation.
Often, things are the way they are because no one has thought about changing them. Who would have ever imagined that flight was possible until a pair of bicycle makers decided to expand their horizons — literally.
Listen to others to find opportunities or changes that need to be made. Then practice the art of diplomacy to enact those productive changes. If you have the innate quality or have developed the art and science of charisma, you’ll find it easier to move others forward to embrace the change.
6. Self-Awareness to Know Your Strengths and Strengthen Your Weaknesses
How honestly can you see yourself? How are you seen in the eyes of others?
Some business leaders don’t care how they’re perceived. They might think that the need to change to meet the needs and expectations of others is a weakness. Those leaders, unfortunately, will rarely improve their positions. They might be highly skilled at what they do, so they might move quickly through an organization — but only to a point.
We all know of natural-born athletes who were able to join teams and become stars in high school with little or no practice. However, as their scope expanded and they tried to perform at the college level, at national or international events, or even play professionally, they hit walls. There’s much more competition on the way up the ladder.
If you haven’t learned how to admit your weaknesses, and make improvements, you will eventually fall by the wayside. You might get much farther than the average person on natural-born talent, but not nearly as far as you could go.
What are your own leadership weaknesses? Your strengths will take you far, but only if you learn how to improve, or work around, your admitted imperfections.