Leaders must possess myriad skills to get where they are and to be successful. And the list of skills necessary to lead may be different depending on who you ask.
Leaders who are already pivoting their companies to thrive during crisis likely possess at least two of these skills already. However, all four of these skills are infinite skills.
Like any skill, there’s no endpoint in developing them. Instead, with every practice and application, the skills continue to improve. Unlike hard skills, where someone can be “the best” at what they do, soft skills run on continuous improvement loops.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the foundation of all other leadership skills. The four aspects of EQ include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.
The ability to be self-aware, in particular, is essential to understanding your mindsets and developing the other soft skills. Mindfulness is one of the tools that can help build your EQ. However, being mindful doesn’t automatically make a person emotionally intelligent.
Be careful about EQ: researcher Tasha Eurich found that 95% of people think they’re emotionally intelligent, but only 10-15% really are. She discusses this idea in a Harvard Business Review article.
The Right Mindsets
Ryan Gottfredson, the author of The Success Mindsets, writes about four key sets of mindsets. He identifies the four sets as growth/fixed, open/closed, promotion/prevention, and inward/outward. Only 5% of the people he’s studied exhibit strongly positive mindsets across all four sets.
We are wired, both through neurobiology and nurturance, to have mostly negative mindsets as our default systems. The one practice that consistently improves all four mindsets is meditation. That’s why we put mindfulness as one of the four top skills leaders need right now.
Soft Skills are the skills that help build psychological safety. Psychological safety is the most important characteristic of highly functioning teams, according to Project Aristotle by Google. They are skills like good oral and written communication, the ability to manage conflict healthily, collaboration, and creativity, to name a few.
Soft Skills are skills that take time and practice to learn. You can learn the basics during a class or training session, but the only way to get good is to practice. When we work with teams, we build practice time into the overall development plan. We believe that teams that practice together can normalize mistakes and support each others’ growth become highly functioning teams.
If emotional intelligence is the foundation of leadership, mindfulness is the daily bread. In our research, mindfulness emerged as the undercurrent that feeds resilience and equanimity. Equanimity is the ability to remain calm during ups and downs. Like these other skills, it is a learnable trait.
Practicing mindfulness helps regulate one’s emotions. It is essential for developing both emotional intelligence and positive mindsets. And now more than ever, mindfulness is a powerful tool for maintaining good mental health.
Hard skills may be easier to learn in the short term, but learning soft skills pays off exponentially.
You can be the best salesperson in your company, but if you don’t have good soft skills, you won’t get repeat customers. You can be the best engineer in your field, but you’ll be hard-pressed to be happy at any of your jobs without soft skills.
If you want to lead your organization into the 21st-century post-crisis, it’s time to brush up on these skills. If you’re an aspiring leader, you’ll get the best ROI if you focus on developing these skills. A LinkedIn study revealed that 89% of executives reported that it’s hard to find people with soft skills. Ask us how we can help.
Johanna Lyman (she/her or they/them) is the Principal Consultant and Practice Leader for Culture and Inclusion. She is a dynamic, energetic Leadership and Culture coach and consultant with nearly 30 years of experience in leadership development and culture change.