Leadership in the Workplace: The 3 Soft Skills You Need

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What makes a good leader? What kind of leaders do modern organizations need?

A good leader isn’t defined by the title. Ultimately, leadership in the workplace is all about dealing with people. And dealing with people, first and foremost, requires soft skills—attributes like empathy, compassion, and emotional intelligence. 

With this in mind, here are three leadership qualities modern workplaces need.

1. Humility 

Even though you’re the one occupying a position of leadership in the workplace, you should never let that go into your head. Good leaders are humble. According to Jocko Willink, the author of Leadership Strategy and Tactics, humility means recognizing that you’re not more important than anyone on your team. He argues that you can’t be a good leader if you aren’t humble because, without humility, your team won’t follow you.

When you occupy a position of leadership in the workplace, don’t ever consider yourself above your team. Doing this could cause your team to resent you and, as a result, they won’t follow you with much enthusiasm. Instead, work alongside your team with humility. If you demonstrate humility, Willink says you’ll influence your team to cooperate with you to achieve a common goal. This is because acting humbly will earn you respect, and when people respect you, they follow you. 

Here are three ways you can practice humility and earn your team’s respect:

1) Don’t use condescending language. Just because you occupy a position of leadership in the workplace, it doesn’t mean you’re better than them. Rather, Willink says you should view your team as equally valuable individuals who deserve respect. So, you should speak to your team in a way that reflects this perspective. For example, if someone at work compliments you for leading a project successfully, avoid saying something that denotes a higher status, such as, “That’s why they pay me the big bucks.” Instead, consider saying something that places you on equal ground with your colleagues, like, “That project was successful because of our whole team’s contributions!”

2) Get your hands dirty. Because you’re equal to the people on your team, no task is below you. For example, if you’re in charge of an office, don’t consider yourself above necessary maintenance chores like taking out the trash, replacing printer ink, or cleaning bathrooms. Willink says doing daily tasks with your team will also give you an opportunity to connect with and learn about them.

3) Respond to conflict by giving a compliment. When you feel challenged by someone, it’s tempting to defend your pride by talking yourself up and diminishing the other person. Instead, Willink says to give the other person praise. For example, let’s say a coworker brags that they always arrive at the office earlier than you do. Instead of pointing out that you work later than them every day, or that you work harder than they do, tell them that you’re grateful they arrive so early to get the office up and running for everyone else. This act will demonstrate confidence. The person challenging you will respect this confidence and be more willing to follow you.

2. Emotional Intelligence

In addition to humility, another attribute every leader must have is emotional intelligence. According to Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, the authors of Primal Leadership, emotionally intelligent leaders create resonance—an atmosphere where members of a group are emotionally synchronized. When a group has resonance, they’re able to reach their maximum potential for collaboration, productivity, and performance—the vital components for success.

Leaders are able to influence their group’s emotional state because it’s human instinct to take emotional cues from the most authoritative person in the group. So, the leader’s emotions will impact how the group feels and acts; therefore, success hinges on how emotionally intelligent the leader is.

Updating the Emotional Intelligence Skill Inventory

In Daniel Goleman’s earlier book, Emotional Intelligence, he defines emotional intelligence as consisting of five main skills rather than four he discusses in Primal Leadership. 

Emotional Intelligence asserts that the five main skills of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. 

Self-awareness is defined almost identically in both Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership; however, the former notes that one of the keys to being self-aware is having an emotional vocabulary—knowing that the emotion “love” could be caused by feelings of acceptance or trust, or that the emotion “shame” could be due to guilt or humiliation. This emotional vocabulary helps you understand why you’re feeling certain emotions.

Self-regulation is what Goleman calls self-management in Primal Leadership, but in Emotional Intelligence, Goleman adds that we should take particular care to manage our anger, anxiety, and sadness. If we don’t manage these emotions, they’re more likely to become common occurrences and negatively impact other parts of our lives. 

In Emotional Intelligence, Goleman defines motivation as being able to control your impulses, being hopeful, and being able to achieve a high state of focus while working toward goals. While Emotional Intelligence lists motivation as one of its main skills, Primal Leadership includes it, along with the associated skills of impulse control and hopefulness, as microskills of self-management.
Empathy is also only a microskill of social-awareness in Primal Leadership, however, in Emotional Intelligence, Goleman lists it as one of the five major EI skills. He defines empathy as the fundamental skill that allows us to understand others along with their wants and needs. He notes that empathy is especially important in “caring professions” like sales, management, and teaching—an argument he discusses in depth in Primal Leadership.

Social skill is the final main EI skill in Emotional Intelligence and is virtually the same as relationship management in Primal Leadership. In Emotional Intelligence, he breaks social skills down into four abilities: organizing groups, negotiating solutions, personal connection, and social analysis. These abilities closely align with the relationship management microskills of bringing people together as a team and resolving conflict, and the social awareness microskills of fostering an emotional climate and being able to read the politics, social networks, and power relationships of a group, respectively.

TITLE: Primal Leadership
AUTHOR: Daniel Goleman
TIME: 16
READS: 38.7
IMG_URL: https://www.shortform.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/primal-leadership-cover.png
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: primal-leadership-summary-daniel-goleman

3. A Sense of Balance

Finally, a good leader has a good sense of balance. This is probably the most important attribute because every leadership quality becomes a hindrance when taken to its extreme. At a certain point, humility, patience, and empathy all become deficiencies like timidness, complacency, and emotional paralysis. Thus, leadership in the workplace requires a delicate balance of various dichotomies: You must be compassionate yet pragmatic, humble yet confident, and bold yet cautious. 

According to Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, the authors of The Dichotomy of Leadership, a good leader is able to strike a balance between five dichotomies: 

Dichotomy #1: Care About Each Individual, but Make Sacrifices for the Group. The first dichotomy is the balance between serving the individual and serving the group. Willink and Babin assert that you should care about every member of your team as if they were part of your family. A tight-knit emotional bond between team members is one of the most powerful assets you can have to accomplish your mission. However, even if you care about your team more than anything, a leader must inevitably make decisions that put individual team members in harm’s way for the sake of the mission. 

Dichotomy #2: Take Responsibility for Your Team, but Don’t Do Everything. The second dichotomy is the balance between hands-on leadership and prudent delegation. Willink and Babin assert that because a leader can’t do everything, the best way to take responsibility for your team’s success is to endow other people with responsibility. However, if you delegate all your responsibilities and assume that someone else is solving every problem, you could be unknowingly steering your team toward disaster.

Dichotomy #3: Maintain High Standards, but Don’t Push Too Hard. The third dichotomy is the balance between demanding high performance and nurturing your team’s growth. Willink and Babin argue that since you’re accepting radical accountability for your team’s overall success or failure, it’s your responsibility to ensure that every team member is performing at a high standard. However, if you push your team too hard, demanding absolute perfection, you’ll destroy your team’s morale and hinder their performance.

Dichotomy #4: Defer to Others, but Trust Yourself. The fourth dichotomy is the balance between trust in others and confidence in your ideas. The best leaders can take advice as well as they give orders. Being a leader doesn’t always mean telling people what to do—often, other team members are better equipped than you to make the right decisions. However, if you’re too reliant on others and lack confidence in your leadership, you may end up following others’ lead in situations where you know better.

Dichotomy #5: Rush Forward, but Be Careful. The final dichotomy is the balance between forceful action and cautious risk management. Find a way to rush toward your goal as ruthlessly as possible while maintaining the presence of mind to guard against careless mistakes.

You could also frame this dichotomy as the need to find the right amount of courage—not too little, but not too much. You need courage to take action, but it’s just as necessary to fear things like temptation and failure so you can work to avoid them.

TITLE: The Dichotomy of Leadership
AUTHOR: Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
TIME: 15
READS: 46.2
IMG_URL: https://www.shortform.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/the-dichotomy-of-leadership-cover.png
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-dichotomy-of-leadership-summary-jocko-willink-and-leif-babin

Final Words

Leadership goes well beyond titles. In the workplace, leadership means getting the best out of your subordinates in pursuit of a shared purpose or goal. And to do that effectively, soft skills are a must. 

If you enjoyed our article about leadership in the workplace, check out the following suggestions for further reading: 

Tribal Leadership

What makes some organizations more effective than others? In Tribal Leadership, authors Dave Logan, Halee Fischer-Wright, and John King contend that culture makes all the difference. Any organization succeeds or fails on the culture of its tribes—groups of individuals that share ways of thinking, interacting, and working—and we can improve our organizations by upgrading the cultures of those tribes.

To elevate a group’s culture, tribal leaders coach their people through five stages, progressing toward the inspired teamwork of Stages 4 and 5. Implement these leadership stages and strategies effectively, and you’ll improve both your bottom line and your employees’ happiness.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team explores how teams fail to work cohesively together through a dynamic, five-part model of dysfunction. The five dysfunctions are 1) absence of trust, 2) fear of conflict, 3) lack of commitment, 4) avoidance of accountability, and 5) inattention to results.

Through identifying these root causes of poor teamwork, teams can develop specific strategies for overcoming each of them. By doing this, they will become comfortable with one another, be willing to engage in constructive debate, achieve clarity and buy-in around team priorities, hold one another to high standards, and focus on team results instead of individual ambition.

Leadership in the Workplace: The 3 Soft Skills You Need

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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