The need for soft skill leadership capabilities

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Managers who want to stay relevant in their jobs and employable in the future need to enhance their soft skills. Research shows that soft skills are underpinned by emotional intelligence and include things like motivating and engaging team members, facilitating and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace culture, and adapting behaviour to best suit the situation and people involved.

In this article, we will:

  • Discuss three different market influences driving the need for these soft skill leadership capabilities
  • Outline the current state of these skills in managers informed by over 6000 360° assessments conducted throughout 2018, and
  • Conclude by offering three daily habits that managers can engage in to help them demonstrate emotionally intelligent leadership today and for the future.

The market influences driving the need for leaders with good soft skills are seeing organisations double their efforts with emotional intelligence. More emotional intelligence assessments are being used in recruitment than ever before, and in 2018, Genos International witnessed a large increase in the number of organisations utilising emotional intelligence development programs. If you haven’t already, you will most likely undergo an emotional intelligence assessment as part of the next leadership role you go for, and be asked to undergo an emotional intelligence 360° assessment if your being considered for your organisation’s talent pipeline.

3 market influences driving the need for soft skill leadership capabilities

  1. The first market influence driving the need for leaders with finely tuned soft skills is the rate of change organisations are experiencing. CBE recently reported that the average organisation has experienced five enterprise-wide changes in the past three years, and that 50% of them are rated as complete failures. The CBE report highlighted poor leadership soft skills as the principle cause of change project failure. Change, by its very nature, causes stress and anxiety both for leaders and their teams. This means that having leaders with good soft skills underpinned by emotional intelligence helps to ensure the success of change projects. Insights Genos have gleaned, by examining the impact improving leaders’ EI can have on change projects, that leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence are better able to manage the stress and anxiety of change and motivate team members to deliver project outcomes.
  2. The second market influence increasing the need for more leaders with high levels of soft skills is the rise of mental health injuries in the workplace. Mental health injuries now occur more frequently in the workplace than physical injuries. One of the main causal factors of these injuries is low levels of emotional intelligence in leadership, leading to poor workplace relationships, ineffective change management and work-related stress. Emotionally intelligent leaders are better at identifying stress, improving workplace relationships and driving change. The SIA recommends emotional intelligence development for all leaders of people as part of a strategy to create a mentally healthy workplace.
  3. The third market influence increasing the need for leaders with high levels of soft skills underpinned by emotional intelligence is the rise of artificial intelligence and machine-lead learning. Machines now and in the future will be better than leaders at many of the IQ-related tasks of leadership such as diagnosing and solving business problems, interpreting financial information, identifying process improvement opportunities and so on. The remaining capabilities that artificial intelligence will have trouble replicating include key soft skills such as understanding, motivating, and interacting with other people. Emotional intelligence dependant skills like social persuasion, resilience and empathy are going to become the leadership team differentiators as artificial intelligence and machine learning take over other tasks that were previously done by leaders.

How did managers perform in 2018?

Despite these market influences, the current state of emotionally intelligent leadership is at a mediocre level. In 2018, Genos International, together with its partners, have put over six thousand leaders through a 360° assessment. This assessment measures how well leaders demonstrate emotionally intelligent leadership behaviour as rated by one of the most reliable sources – the people the leader works with every day. The feedback data builds a solid picture of the leadership soft skill strengths and development opportunities facing Australian leaders today.

What we have found in the data is that globally, leaders tend to perform better at behaviours associated with themselves such as self-awareness and self-management, and poorer at behaviours associated with understanding and influencing others. Leaders must improve their understanding of how others feel and behave in the workplace, and develop their behavioural agility, that is, their ability to adjust their style or approach to better connect with others. Our 360° feedback data also suggests that leaders need to be better at acknowledging the views and opinions of others and anticipating others’ responses to events in the workplace.

3 daily habits managers can engage in to help them demonstrate emotionally intelligence

The following are three simple, yet highly effective daily habits that leaders can adopt to demonstrate these soft skill leadership capabilities.

1. Mindfulness and meditation

Mindfulness meditation has a lot of benefits, including the ability to be more present and connected with others in conversation. It helps us still our own thoughts and opinions and focus more on what is being said and felt by others. There are wonderful smart phone apps that can assist in the development of mindfulness and experts agree that just five minutes a day can lead to demonstrable improvements.

2. The use of “I feel” statements

“I feel” statements help leaders position their view as that – their view – rather than an all defining moment of truth. They help a leader express themselves with vulnerability and allow others to more readily either agree or express their own counter view. It leads to not only better interactions and relationships but also to better more diverse thinking and ideas.

3. The use of a visual reminder to “ask and acknowledge”

Finally, a great habit to adopt is writing “ASK AND ACKNOWLEDGE” at the top of a page along with the date, time and who’s present in meetings. Having a visual reminder to ask and acknowledge helps leaders to remember to make others feel heard, valued and included. In my own notebook that I take to meetings I always write “ASK AND ACKNOWLEDGE” in capitals at the top of a page as the first thing I do whenever I meet with an individual or group. It works as a great reminder to call out people and ask for their views.

Making these three simple techniques habitual will help drive better decisions, behaviour and performance for yourself and those you lead.

This article was written by Dr. Ben Palmer, BAppSci (Hons) PhD, CEO and orginally posted on Genos International.

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