This is especially timely given the fast pace of change in today’s working environment, with the very notion of what defines good business practice and effective leadership constantly changing.
Contemporary work culture is evolving rapidly. Automation and new technology is creeping into every aspect of the professional working world, and even smartphones and watches are programmed to keep individuals connected digitally at any given time.
In his new book, The Positive Leader, Jan Mühlfeit (pictured right), former Chairman of Microsoft Europe, explains that professional leaders today would be wise to jump on the “soft skills” bandwagon – something that cannot be replicated by machines and yet can make all the difference between failure and success.
Hard skills are important, but soft skills, such as work ethic, attitude, communication skills, and emotional intelligence, can set an individual or team apart and help them excel as a great leader.
This is increasingly recognised by organisations worldwide. Two-thirds of the respondents to a 2012 Harvard Business Review global survey of managers and leaders at large corporations agreed that their organisations needed to work on developing mindset, self-awareness, and leadership.
The challenge faced in today’s business world is that the importance of these soft skills is still often undervalued, and there is far less training provided for them than hard skills.
In attempting to discover why certain business leaders succeed, another study by consultancy firm Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labour Relations, discovered that a ’high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success’.
Self-awareness is the most valuable element of the soft skills approach to leadership for the simple reason that it props up all the others. It’s the catalyst for vision, determination, adaptability, strategic thinking, charisma and all the rest of the traditional bevy of skills and qualities that makes someone a great leader.
Through self-awareness leaders can discover and reveal their true authenticity, and this is the secret ingredient that will gain the trust and respect of others. Tapping into self-awareness means being able to lead both yourself and your team to their potential, explains Mühlfeit.
There are lots of talented leaders out there with profuse external knowledge – industry expertise, market know-how, in-depth technical learning, facts, figures and the like – but not enough intrinsic knowledge.
External awareness is an essential requisite for any leader to have a sound understanding of how their business works, but without self-awareness it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose your way.
In The Positive Leader, which includes a four-point approach to becoming a happier and more inspirational leader, Mühlfeit explains that leaders most often go wrong in the following areas:
1. They target weaknesses, not strengths. Misguided leaders waste vital time, money and energy grappling with faults and failures rather than recognising and leveraging people’s natural talents. The result? Disengaged and dissatisfied teams.
2. They fail to ‘have a dream’. A leader lacking a clear, inspirational purpose or vision will have a tough time rallying people in a unified direction. Accomplished employees don’t just want any old job; they want meaning and the chance to contribute to something bigger than themselves.
3. They manage time, not energy. Facing non-stop demands in the workplace, leaders cram their diaries to the brim believing that they’re skilfully maximising their time. Instead, they’re recklessly abusing their energy, diluting their focus and heading straight for a burnout.
4. They put success before happiness. When leaders set their sights only on the material trappings and tangible accomplishments of life, such as money or metrics, they ignore the deeper connections and meaningful activities that produce long-lasting success and happiness.
By knowing who you are and understanding the impact you have on others, you’ll naturally become more open, empathetic and influential, and you can skilfully interact with your colleagues without compromising your core principles or character.
Tapping into self-awareness means being able to lead yourself to your highest potential, and that can only be a good thing.
It is more important than ever that leaders recognise the vital role that soft skills play within their teams and not only work on developing them within themselves, but encourage their development throughout the organisation.