8 Social Skills for Fundamental Leadership
Being a great leader requires a willingness to take stock of our own skills. This is especially true of social skills. As a leadership and management consultant, I often meet leaders who are great at their jobs. They understand the technical aspects and perform with great precision.
Social skills are another story. The ability to connect with people is difficult. Effective leaders know this. They also know it’s even more important than the “hard” job skills. That is why leaders invest time and energy into these 8 social skills.
Are you listening to what people are saying? Or are you waiting until it’s your turn to speak again? A good leader knows the difference and practices the former. Listen to understand the other person. You will then be able to connect more with your team and provide better insight. You can then inspire an atmosphere where your team also practices good listening. How much conflict would your team avoid with good listening? How much more productive would they be?
This is a difficult social skill for leaders to embrace in the workplace. It is vital nonetheless. Let’s make sure we define the word:
“Empathy can be defined as a person’s ability to recognize and share the emotions of another person, fictional character, or sentient being. It involves, first, seeing someone else’s situation from his perspective, and, second, sharing his emotions, including, if any, his distress.”
Even if you don’t understand all the complex emotions involved in a tragedy, you can be sensitive, thoughtful, understanding and most of all human. You are not expected to solve emotional suffering. You can acknowledge, care, and feel for your team member’s suffering. Remember that it is difficult to compartmentalize the personal when at work.
The most highly-respected leaders are often the ones who show the most respect to others. They treat people with dignity and do not degrade anyone based on position. A simple and helpful concept to remember here is “The Golden Rule”: treat others the way you would want them to treat you. Shame, gossip, and harassment have no business in the workplace. You as the leader have to enforce this mentality and environment.
To be a great leader, you need to project confidence. No one wants to a leader who seems unsure of themselves. Uncertainty begets more uncertainty. Even in times of great change and fluidity, you can be the leader who conveys a simple message: “we will get through this together.” Build trust and be true to your word. Make sure that your confidence is solid. Followers will see and feel the disconnect between your beliefs and your actions.
A leader’s attitude is contagious and sets the tone for the team that they lead. Now here, I do not advocate for being some extreme and hyperbolic Pollyanna. We do not need more cartoon characters. Instead, leaders embrace an authentic enthusiasm that seeks to bring out the positive. For instance, leaders help to highlight encouraging data points during slow sales months. They don’t let hope fade. Be positive and enthusiastic about your work. Then you will set the stage for success for everyone.
Take a genuine interest in the people around you, both inside and outside of the workplace. This will make you more connected with your community and environment. Of course, not every hobby will appeal to every person. You cannot know every detail about the families of all your team members. Yet, you can commit some tidbit of information to memory (on their hobbies or family) for recall later. When you mention that tidbit, you have an opportunity to strengthen the relationship. Then you create greater influence. As John Maxwell says:
Communication is such a hot topic these days. It will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Hardly anyone learns how to communicate. Formal education does not emphasize communication. Leaders understand the importance of open dialogue within their team. Open communication allows for the flow of ideas. It is also is essential for problem-solving, conflict resolution, and creativity. Honest communication and feedback will engender productivity in your team.
Responsibility is a core aspect of being in a leadership position. First, you have leadership over yourself, your actions, and your results. Then you have leadership over your followers, their actions, and their results. Real leaders accept this sometimes stressful reality. You will have failures and shortcomings. We all do. Some of them self-inflicted. Some team inflicted. What you do next in that situation defines your leadership. Do you own it? Do you learn from it? Do you strive to do better in the future? You get to decide. You have the responsibility.
If you’re a leader looking to “sharpen the saw” (and you should always be), take a look at these 8 areas. Pick one or two areas you can focus on to improve your leadership abilities. But be genuine in the effort. Be genuine in caring for your team. The results might astonish you!
This post inspired by Daniel Goleman and his book Emotional Intelligence. I highly recommend it for all leaders.