Teaching soft skills in the workplace: part 7 - leadership

Leadership is one of the most integral parts of any workplace culture. Ensuring there is a cultural and organisational fit for anyone coming in from the outside to fill a leadership role can be a challenge, but this is where homegrown talent comes to the forefront.

Potential for leadership

Young female employee leading workshop - leadership potential

A few weeks ago in our performance management principles series, we looked at identifying potential for leadership within your organisation. Here are some of the soft skills we picked out.

  • Clear, concise, and persuasive communication
  • Strong time and priority management
  • Ability to delegate
  • Handling confrontation
  • Stress management
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Active listening

Of course, there is much more to leadership than the list above, but it’s a good starting point if you’re looking to identify someone within your organisation who could be a good fit for a future leadership role.

But what about people already in or new to leadership who need an extra boost?

Top 3 leadership tips for existing managers

When it comes to leadership skills, a lot of it comes down to how we communicate. While we covered communication in the first part of this series, when you’re stepping into leadership the approach needs to be a little different and a lot more nuanced.

Let’s take a look at some below.

Understand body language

Three people in a meeting with differing body language - leadership skills

Body language is one of the most subtle, and yet most important, parts of the way we communicate. The way we face towards, or away, from someone indicates how invested we are in them as a person and in the conversation itself.

The easiest way to spot this is if two people are standing. The direction someone’s hips are facing will show you more about how much they want to be there than their words will. It’s things like this that, although we may not consciously register it, have a big influence on how receptive others are to our communication.

If you’re both sitting down, another good indication is whether arms are open or crossed, suggesting willingness and resistance to communicate respectively. Another good indicator is whether someone is sat back or leaning forward in their chair. Leaning forward in many situations indicates an interest to learn and understand, or a vested interest in the outcome of a conversation.

A little understanding of body language can go a long way when it comes to fostering positive leadership skills.

Work together to improve performance

Carpenter helping apprentice improve performance - leadership skills

Where communication between managers and employees can often break down is in the realm of criticism. Say you have an employee who is underperforming, how do you deal with that? While the issue clearly needs to be addressed, it is always worth taking the time to understand their personal context, as there may be factors outside of work impacting performance.

If you gain an understanding of their personal context, have given them the space and support they need to improve, and nothing is changing, it’s time to step in a be a little more critical.

Ultimately, people can’t learn from their mistakes if they don’t know they’re making them, so being open and honest about performance is key to giving your employees the chance to progress. But, it is vital that criticism is constructive and that there is an open conversation, involving both of you, about potential ways to move forward from this issue.

Just telling someone they’ve done something wrong or they aren’t achieving their targets isn’t helpful or meaningful. But taking the time together to really understand why this performance lapse is happening and working together to find a solution can be.

Respect personal and professional boundaries

Office worker checking time not meeting professional boundaries - leadership skills

With pressure coming from above and below, it can be hard for managers and leaders to excel in their interpersonal relationships in the workplace. They say that a manager is the sum of their team, so there is pressure to make sure your team excel, as well as hitting ever-increasing targets. However, personal and professional boundaries are vital to morale and performance at work.

For example, if the uncomfortable performance conversation needs to happen, make sure it is done in private and avoid providing feedback to employees in a public space, no matter how constructive they are. It’s also key to respect employees’ work-life balance. Sometimes, urgent matters need attending to and deadlines have to be met. But, if you need employees to work overtime, compensate them for it and show appreciation. Sometimes a simple thank you can go a long way.

Conclusion

When it comes to leadership, of course you need to establish respect from your employees. However, the phrase treat others how you wish to be treated is a huge part of becoming a successful leader. Often, you’ll get back from your employees what you give them – flexibility, respecting boundaries, and clear and open communication are increasingly important parts of fostering strong working relationships with those who work for you.

That’s all from our soft skills series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. From communication to problem solving to leadership, these are the fundamentals of the skills that really keep a workplace going.

Think you’ve found someone with leadership potential? Or perhaps someone who could do with a bit of leadership training? Download our soft skills template below.

 

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