When we talk about how leaders influence others toward a common goal, I often use an exercise that demonstrates how leaders impact us. I give each person in the room three sticky notes and ask them to write down one trait or attribute of one of their best, most effective managers on each note. Once everyone has finished writing, I ask them to place the notes on the appropriate board – one is labeled IQ/Smarts (e.g., “she was the smartest person I’ve ever worked with”), the second is labeled Technical Skills (e.g., “he taught me how to be more effective with Excel”), and the third is labeled Soft Skills (e.g., “he was visionary” or “she was very effective at delivering the news I needed to hear, which wasn’t always what I wanted to hear”). And guess which board is the most crowded?
Overwhelmingly the board holding the Soft Skills sticky notes is always – always – significantly more crowded. There are typically five to eight times the number of notes on the Soft Skills board as on the next-most-crowded board, and this last time was no exception. People are usually surprised by the weight of the third board at first, but then when we discuss what’s behind the results it becomes obvious.
It’s about impact. While we often judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us by our impact on them. People that influence us to be our best selves are typically high in emotional intelligence – these individuals are very effective at managing themselves and their relationships. Put another way, they have the ability to identify, assess and control their emotions to be more effective.
Daniel Goleman wrote a great Harvard Business Review article, Leadership That Gets Results, that summarizes the components of emotional intelligence and how it relates to various leadership styles. In Goleman’s framework there are Affiliative, Authoritarian, Coaching, Coercive, Democratic, and Pacesetting leaders and he asserts that, to be effective, we need to use each style to some extent.
Or, as another writer said, “If you take two cups of authoritative leadership, one cup of democratic, coaching and affiliative leadership, and a dash of pacesetting and coercive leadership ‘to taste, and you lead based on need in a way that elevates and inspires your team, you’ve got an excellent recipe for long-term leadership success with every team in your life.”
Since leadership abilities are the other side of the strategy coin – it is very important in implementing a strategy or any significant change initiative – those soft skills are increasingly important. And, as always, it’s the soft skills that are the hardest skills to acquire and develop.