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6 soft skills crucial for strong and effective leadership

Want to become a more effective leader? Discover the top soft skills you need to master to lead with confidence, empathy and success.
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Published 10 Jun 2024
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Updated 9 Jul 2024
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7min read
Soft skills for leadership blog cover image with text "top 6 soft skills for strong and effective leadership" and an image of a woman and a man working together on the right

What’s the difference between leadership and management? While managers coordinate and organise individuals and teams toward a goal, leaders influence and motivate them to contribute to an organisation’s success.

Great leadership that inspires comes from specific qualities. Put together and applied in a work setting, these traits empower others beyond the mundane.

Let’s talk about the soft skills that make for effective leadership. And in a world of rapidly advancing technology, soft skills have become more important than ever.

What are leadership soft skills?

Leadership soft skills are non-technical, interpersonal abilities that enable leaders to effectively manage and inspire their teams. These skills are crucial for fostering a positive work environment, encouraging collaboration and ensuring the smooth execution of projects and tasks.

Key examples include:

  1. Communication: The ability to convey ideas clearly, listen actively, and engage in meaningful dialogue with team members.
  2. Empathy: Understanding and sharing the feelings of others, which helps in building trust and rapport.
  3. Emotional intelligence: Recognising and managing one’s own emotions, as well as understanding and influencing the emotions of others.
  4. Adaptability: The capacity to adjust to new conditions and overcome challenges with a flexible mindset.
  5. Conflict resolution: Effectively addressing and resolving disagreements or conflicts within the team.
  6. Team building: Fostering a sense of unity and collaboration among team members.
  7. Motivation: Inspiring and encouraging team members to achieve their best and stay committed to their goals.
  8. Decision making: Making informed, timely, and effective decisions that benefit the team and organisation.
  9. Delegation: Assigning tasks appropriately and trusting team members to complete them.
  10. Problem-solving: Identifying issues and implementing solutions in a timely and efficient manner.
  11. Negotiation: Finding mutually acceptable solutions during discussions and disagreements.
  12. Creativity: Encouraging innovation and thinking outside the box to solve problems and generate new ideas.

How do strong soft skills lead to successful leadership?

Strong soft skills sound counterintuitive, but they help you interact with your team and nurture relationships. They’re key to building connections and form the core of successful leadership.

Effective communication, sharp problem-solving skills and the ability to motivate and inspire others are just the tip of the iceberg in making our day-to-day at work that much smoother.

Leaders with great soft skills can better connect with their colleagues, manage teams and keep stakeholders happy, create a stronger competitive advantage for their organisations and channel confidence in their roles.

Can soft skills be learned, or are they inherent traits?

Soft skills can indeed be learned and developed over time, although some individuals may naturally possess certain traits that make it easier for them to excel in specific areas.

While some people might have a natural inclination towards certain soft skills (e.g. empathy or effective communication), everyone has the potential to enhance these skills through conscious effort and practice. The key is to remain dedicated to personal and professional growth, actively seek opportunities to learn, and apply new techniques and strategies in everyday interactions.

6 leadership skills that shape effective leaders

Cultivating soft skills can be tough since they’re less tangible and more nuanced than hard skills.

How will we know which skills to develop, and will these skills still be in demand in the future? Here are some of the most important soft skills for leaders to focus on:

Communication skills

a group of colleagues working together at the office

Just like how rice is a big part of the Singaporean diet, communication skills are the cornerstone of workplace relationships. Great leaders communicate well in both written and verbal channels using skills like active listening, interpreting verbal and non-verbal cues as well as persuasion.

For example, what’s easier to understand? Well articulated and precise instructions, or jumbled up information that you have to muddle through?

Developing communication skills reduces the chances of mistakes, workplace conflict and employee turnover. This is especially important in hybrid and remote teams where your colleagues might rely on asynchronous communication through digital platforms.

Clear and timely communication helps build trust and respect, keeps everyone on the same page and boosts productivity. We even have tools like Loom, Slack and Zoom to help us maintain seamless communication, so there’s really no excuse not to!

Emotional intelligence

When you’re dealing with a situation that involves negative emotions and conflict, how do you respond?

We often hear about intelligence quotient (IQ) which measures our ability to recognise and solve problems. Emotional quotient (EQ) supplements this as a measure of emotional intelligence, self-awareness and emotional self-control.

When you can understand and manage your own emotions and recognise them in others, it’s like a superpower that helps you gather information about a situation and adjust accordingly. Once you can identify emotions and the environmental stimulants that trigger them, you can better understand and address what’s left unsaid in conflicts, increasing the chances of neutral (or even positive) resolution.

Emotional intelligence includes social awareness and social skills – being able to remain calm in a difficult situation and empathise with somebody else’s feelings and motivations helps you build stronger connections as a leader.

Decision making

As a leader, your team looks to you for key decisions. Having good judgement and confidence in your choices starts from the ground up. You need to be able to analyse and evaluate processes and operations, compare pros and cons and predict outcomes – all in a calm, decisive manner when faced with a crisis.

Checklists and templates are great practice for effective decision-making. While they can’t replace the process entirely, they can help make sure you don’t miss anything important and put some structure to your thoughts.

When leaders make the right decisions at the right time, with the right context and expertise, they inspire confidence and a sense of direction in the teams they manage. Not only are their teams more productive, work activities within their functions are also more intentional and efficient.

Motivation and inspiration

You’re a leader who’s passionate about what you do. Why not take it a step further and spark this same passion in others? Leading a group or team involves motivating and inspiring them. Not only does this increase productivity and boost performance, but it also boosts employee morale and job satisfaction.

When you walk the talk and show that you care about your team members, that goes a long way towards creating a team that’s excited for what’s next at work. However, passion won’t put food on the table for most of us.

Consider your employee value proposition (EVP) and your organisation’s employee experience as a way to support your motivation and inspiration efforts. Your team is better equipped to pursue their goals and act on your encouragement when they are well taken care of.

a group of male colleagues having a discussion

Problem-solving skills

Workplace issues are inevitable, the difference lies in how you solve problems. Implementing strategies to meet business objectives, managing teams and mitigating risks – these are all in a day’s work for leaders like you.

Encountering problems and figuring out how to best solve them involves analytical skills and creative skills. If you can keep a level head and take a step-by-step approach to address the issue, that’s a bonus! You and your team benefit from efficient and effective problem-solving, since that frees up your resources to focus on the next big thing.

Problems aren’t just for you to handle, though, and you don’t always have to handle them immediately. The 4Ds of time management is a handy way to decide which tasks to prioritise, as it organises tasks into handling categories:

  • Do it now
  • Defer it
  • Delegate it
  • Delete it

Part of problem-solving involves recognising when (and who) is appropriate to deal with the issue. Empowering your team and trusting them to handle problems when they arise is another way of problem-solving that puts their abilities to use.

Interpersonal skills

Social interactions with colleagues are an inevitable part of working in a team, and interpersonal skills help us better navigate these relationships.

As leaders, we don’t just manage tasks, teams and individuals, we also need to be aware of and adjust to the thoughts, ideas and feelings of those around us. For example, when you tailor how you deliver instructions to different learning styles, your team can better understand and fulfil task requirements.

Interpersonal skills like effective communication, active listening skills and conflict resolution help us to accommodate and adapt to different social situations on the job, making us better leaders. Not only do these skills help you manage upwards and downwards, they also boost productivity and workplace morale.

These skills can be tricky to work on since they’re much more nuanced and intangible than, for example, improving processes according to key performance indicators (KPIs). However, you can also come up with your own set of metrics and SMART goals as part of your skills improvement plan and add some structure with a learning management system (LMS).

Here are a few questions to think about in your process:

  • What’s the goal here, and how will we measure success?
  • What makes a successful interaction, and can we recreate this achievement?
  • Can I reach out to a mentor or a trusted colleague to get coaching and feedback?
  • Are there any resources available that I can use to work on these skills?

Your employees need soft skills training too

We’ve covered how leaders in the workplace can benefit from soft skills. Now, let’s build a team that’s just as enthusiastic about making a difference as you are. Get some of that sweet competitive advantage and create a learning culture at work with Employment Hero’s all-in-one HR and payroll software.

Nurture skills at the workplace and invest in your team with an employee learning management system (LMS) that’s accessible anywhere, anytime.

Keen to level up your workplace? Check out our leader’s guide to company culture and stay on the pulse with the top 5 learning and development trends.

P.S. We’re a pre-approved vendor for the PSG grant! 

Nicole Lee
Content Marketing Specialist - Employment Hero
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