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  • Published Jan 16, 2024

Soft Skills: A Blueprint to Leadership Success

Explore key soft skills for leadership success and learn effective strategies to develop them in the workplace.

Megan Cook
Megan Cook

Happy Companies Cofounder & CAO

A group of people looking at a laptop

Unpacking Soft Skills: Today's Workplace Essentials

There was a time when the skills considered the most valuable to a business were technical and job specific. However, over the last several decades the workplace underwent a remarkable transformation, and with it, the skills needed for success are evolving. Gone are the days when "soft skills" were an afterthought. Today, they stand at the forefront of a rapidly changing job market, moving past traditional industry boundaries, and becoming critical tools for success in today's dynamic job market.

Deloitte Access Economics predicts that by 2030, a majority of job roles will require a strong set of these durable skills. They are no longer merely valuable additions to your resume – they are critical for thriving in your career. In a world grappling with uncertainties like job stability and economic recessions, these skills take on new significance. This includes critical thinking, empathy, communication, innovation, adaptability, leadership, and teamwork.

A group of people sitting on the floor working collaboratively together

The World Economic Forum’s list of top workforce skills for 2023 reflects this shift. Along with technology skills and cognitive skills, they highlight skills that fall in the areas of engagement, ethics, management, self-awareness, and working with others.

  • Creative thinking
  • Resilience, flexibility, and agility
  • Motivation and self-awareness
  • Curiosity and lifelong learning
  • Dependability and attention to detail
  • Empathy and active listening
  • Leadership and social influence
  • Teaching and mentoring
  • Global citizenship
  • Service orientation
  • Talent Management

Soft skills have become a key focus in company strategies. According to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends Report, which surveyed 5,164 hiring experts, 80% agree that soft skills are more important than ever in business. Even more, 92% believe these skills are as important, if not more so, than technical skills. When hires don't work out, 89% of these professionals point to a lack of soft skills as the main reason.

In this article, we're looking closely at leadership soft skills and their growing importance in the workplace. We'll see how they make a real difference in today’s business world. We're also going to look at how tools, like Happy's Platform, help develop these skills, changing the way we approach leadership development.

How Soft Skills Can Shape Your Success

Soft skills are the personal traits and social abilities we use to interact with others. They're different from hard skills, which are the technical abilities needed to do a job. While hard skills let you complete specific tasks, soft skills are vital for effectively using these technical abilities in the workplace. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, stressed the importance of these skills when he pointed out that calling empathy a "soft skill" undersells it, considering they are some of the toughest skills to learn.

Developing leadership soft skills at work can be tough but very rewarding. A big hurdle is getting people to realize that soft skills aren't just natural talents – they can be learned and improved. It's harder to measure these skills compared to technical ones, but it's important for companies to tackle this challenge. Especially because when employees are good at soft skills, they enhance their technical skills too, leading to new ideas and better efficiency in the workplace.

Studies by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center show that 85% of job success is due to strong soft and people skills, with only 15% coming from technical skills. What's surprising is that back in 2010, US companies spent a huge amount on training employees, but only a small part of that went into soft skills training. This shows a big gap, given how important these skills are for careers. As Peggy Klaus, renowned leadership coach and author, said, "Soft skills get little respect, but they will make or break your career." So, while technical skills are important, soft skills are crucial for a successful and forward-thinking work environment.

Peggy Klaus Quote "Soft skills get little respect, but they will make or break your career"

Developing soft skills is a continuous process that's all about getting to know yourself and how you interact with others. It starts with leaders taking a close look at what they're good at and where they need to improve. And beyond that they need to emphasize the importance of these skills throughout the whole workplace.

This involves creating a work environment that values these skills, making them a part of how leaders are trained and evaluated. Promoting open conversations, offering mentoring, and valuing the role of soft skills all help build a workplace that supports these important qualities.

Tools like Happy can be really helpful by providing users insights into how they and their coworkers behave, communicate, and make decisions. This is even further enhanced with Happy Coach which can give actionable insights into how they can improve soft skills like empathy and communication.

The Real-World Impact of Soft Skills & AI

As technology in the workplace rapidly evolves, tools like Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) are becoming more common. You might think that with such tech advancements, human-focused skills would become less important. But the opposite is true. In today's work environment, combining AI with human skills is reshaping the job market. Professionals who are good with both tech skills and people leadership will be in high demand.

Having AI around doesn’t make human skills less important. In fact, it shows just how important they are. AI can do a lot, but it doesn’t have the same understanding or adaptability as humans. AI is great for technical tasks, but it can't replace the human touch. Understanding emotions, being creative, and interacting socially are skills that are increasingly valuable at work. People who are good at empathizing, solving problems creatively, and leading others are key. They can handle complex social situations, inspire new ideas, and make a big difference in their organizations.

AI will also offer opportunities for people to actually develop and strengthen these soft skills. For example, Happy uses both behavioral science and AI to quickly create detailed guides for each member of a team. It also gives instant access to personalized coaching and integrates that coaching seamlessly into the tools we already use each day like Slack or Google Calendar.

The most important thing to remember is that it's about enhancing human interaction, not replacing it. If we view Generative AI as a tool for building a collaborative and connected environment, then the options for how we can use it to develop soft skills become endless.

In essence, Generative AI acts as a support system in the background of workplace communications, ensuring that interactions are smoother, more inclusive, and ultimately more effective.

Seven Essential Soft Skills for Effective Leadership

Two men and woman working collaboratively at a desk

Certain soft skills stand out as critical for success. Let's focus on seven key soft skills that are especially important for leaders to develop. These skills not only enhance personal growth but also significantly improve team dynamics and overall organizational performance. Mastering these will equip you with the tools necessary to lead with confidence and empathy in today's dynamic work environment.

1. Empathy and Active Listening

Empathy is all about understanding and connecting with your team and is a key skill for any leader. Empathy is critical in building trust and loyalty among employees. In fact, a study by Businessolver highlights its significance, revealing that 82% of employees might consider leaving their job if they perceive their workplace as lacking in empathy.

Take for example the empathetic leadership of Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. Barra is renowned for her empathetic approach, often holding 'town hall' meetings where she listens to and addresses employee concerns directly. This active listening demonstrates her commitment to understanding diverse perspectives within the company. Her empathetic leadership style has been pivotal in creating a trusting and loyal work environment at General Motors. Leaders who actively practice empathy, like Barra, through engaging interactions and understanding different viewpoints, cultivate a more engaged, motivated, and productive team.

2. Creative Thinking

For leaders, creative thinking is key in solving problems in new ways. It’s about finding fresh solutions, not just following the usual paths. Take Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, as an example. She saw a common problem: uncomfortable women's shapewear. With a clear vision and just $5,000, she invented comfortable shapewear that actually worked.

Blakely’s creativity wasn’t just in the product; it was in how she sold it. She used her own photos to show its benefits and chose unique ways to market it, like on TV shopping channels. This smart, creative approach turned a simple idea into a billion-dollar business, proving that thinking creatively can turn real-world problems into successful ventures

3. Resilience, Flexibility, and Agility

Things are not always going to go as planned, and in order to lead a team through challenges, leaders need to be able to bounce back and move forward on a new path. They need to be resilient, flexible, and agile. Take Anne Wojcicki, the CEO of 23andMe, as an example. She’s led her company successfully through changing regulations and different market trends. This shows her ability to adapt and stay strong no matter what comes her way.

Resilience, flexibility, and agility are about more than just getting through tough times; they’re about using these challenges to grow and improve. As highlighted in the Harvard Business Review article, “What Leaders Get Wrong About Resilience”, resilient leaders don’t just survive challenges. They use them to make themselves and their companies stronger.

4. Motivation and Self-Awareness

Effective leadership goes beyond guiding a team; it's about sparking passion and aligning this drive with the organization's objectives. Tony Hsieh, the late CEO of Zappos, is a great example of this. He was not just a leader; he was a motivator who built a company culture where happiness and outstanding service were central. This wasn’t by chance. Hsieh's methods reflected a deep self-awareness and an understanding of how a motivated team can positively impact the business.

He knew that employee satisfaction leads to customer satisfaction, and he intentionally designed Zappos’ work environment to support this belief. Hsieh’s focus on creating a happy, purpose-driven workplace proved that when leaders are self-aware and motivate their teams effectively, it can lead to remarkable success, both in terms of employee fulfillment and business outcomes.

5. Curiosity and Lifelong Learning

A truly effective leader never stops being curious and is always on the journey of lifelong learning. This mindset is about constantly seeking new knowledge, understanding different perspectives, and being open to new ideas. Richard Branson, with his vast array of business ventures, exemplifies this perfectly. His journey from music to airlines, and even space travel, shows an unquenchable thirst for new experiences and learning. He’s not just running businesses; he’s continuously exploring uncharted territories and expanding his horizons.

His constant pursuit of knowledge and willingness to step into the unknown has kept him at the forefront of various industries. It’s a powerful example for any leader: staying curious and committed to learning is crucial for innovation and staying relevant in an ever-changing world. Branson’s approach demonstrates how a lifelong commitment to curiosity and learning can pave the way for groundbreaking success in any field.

6. Dependability and Attention to Detail

Being a dependable leader is about being someone your team can always count on. It means providing a sense of stability and reliability, which is essential in any successful team. Sheryl Sandberg's tenure at Meta is a prime example. Her consistent and detail-oriented approach has played a critical role in the company's strategic planning and the execution of significant projects.

Sandberg's dependability not only ensures stability in the team but also builds trust and respect. Furthermore, her attention to detail has been crucial in navigating the intricacies of the tech and social media industries, where even minor oversights can have significant consequences. This combination of reliability and meticulousness ensures that projects are not only completed but are done to the highest standards.

7. Social Influence

Effective leadership goes beyond just overseeing a team; it's about inspiring and guiding an entire organization towards a common goal. This kind of influence requires a leader to be a visionary, capable of seeing the bigger picture and motivating others to join in that vision. Reed Hastings, the co-founder and CEO of Netflix, is a prime example of such influential leadership. He has not only driven his company forward with innovative ideas but also cultivated a distinctive culture of freedom and responsibility.

Under Hastings’ leadership, Netflix has become known for its unique approach to corporate culture, emphasizing trust in its employees and encouraging independent decision-making. This style has not only propelled Netflix to great success but has also set a new standard in corporate culture, inspiring many other companies to rethink how they empower and motivate their employees. Hastings’ impact extends beyond the realms of Netflix, influencing broader business practices and leadership philosophies worldwide.

The New Frontiers of Professional Growth

A woman standing next to a man sitting at a desk, looking at each other and smiling

The key takeaway is this: to be successful and make a real difference in today's work environment, it’s crucial to develop and value soft skills. As technology evolves, these human-centric skills are what will keep us connected, creative, and adaptable. They are the skills that will not only keep us relevant but also enable us to excel in our careers and lead with impact. These skills help us connect with others, drive innovation, and lead effectively in a world where technology is everywhere.

This change brings a new challenge: we need to focus on developing these soft skills just as much as we do on technical abilities. Soft skills are not just nice to have; they are essential for anyone looking to succeed and lead in today's job market.

Committing to strengthening these soft skills ensures that we're not just keeping up with the changes in the workplace but are also ready to lead and innovate in the years ahead. By doing this, we'll be well-equipped to face the challenges and opportunities of the modern professional world.

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