The official online extension of HR Professional, the magazine of human resources thought leadership

The Softer Side of Leadership

10/03/2016 by Kelly Brown

Soft skills are critical elements that anyone can master

In many cases, people fall into leadership, rather than being born with an inherent ability to lead. They find themselves in leadership positions and then either sink or swim. Many people end up figuring out how to swim – yet, even then, only a few become really good swimmers. What makes them different from the rest is that they’ve learned to lead not only with their heads, but also with their hearts.
In business, people sometimes think that leadership comes from mastering the hard skills – a deep understanding of facts, strategy and results. But that’s only partly true. Good leaders know they also need to master the soft skills: connecting with people and inspiring them so the team can achieve great things together.

Good leaders are also purposeful and mindful about how they are going to lead. They recognize that leadership is revealed in every interaction they have with others, whether in meetings, in the cafeteria or even in the parking lot and outside office hours. They approach every day asking themselves the same question: how am I going to be today?

Answering that question involves three key elements: caring and connecting; getting curious about the business and its people; and communicating with courage.

Caring and connecting

A good leader loves people, or at least cares for them. It’s not enough to just present facts and figures or explain goals to your team and expect them to follow you; you also need to connect with them on a personal level. If you genuinely care about your people, they will feel it and be prepared to do almost anything to help you and the team.

Good leaders know that truly caring about people means listening – really listening – and giving your employees’ ideas full consideration, even if you can’t do everything they want.

Culture of curiosity

Albert Einstein often said that he was neither clever nor especially gifted, just passionately curious. Curiosity is an important trait of every good business leader – curiosity about the business and its people.
Being curious means being willing to ask questions, even if you think that doing so might make you look dumb. In many cases, asking a question provides valuable information to others who may not be on the same page, or who were afraid to ask that same question. Being curious can help your team get to a better solution.

Communicate with courage

MolsonCoors has a policy of “straight talk” – a common language that gives people licence to say what they mean to further their team goals. But straight talk is not a licence to be mean or rude; it has to be constructive and come from a place of good faith. Yet even though people are encouraged to use straight talk, it’s surprising how difficult it is for some people to speak up.

Good leaders understand that straight talk benefits everyone because it makes the business, and the people who work in the business, better. And the more leaders demonstrate that they’re caring, connected and curious, the easier it becomes for team members to speak up about things that matter to them.

The most effective way to speak up isn’t to just raise a concern, but to advocate for what you think would make things better. Have the courage to say “I want” something specific done. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish when you state clearly and with conviction what you want.

So while people are not necessarily born to lead, almost anyone can become a good leader. It all starts by answering that question – how am I going to be today? – and then using your head and your heart to connect with and inspire your team.

Kelly Brown is the chief people, legal and corporate affairs officer at MolsonCoors.