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Bomber pilot. Department supervisor. Elementary school teacher. Though these occupations seem very different at first glance, they all have one thing in common: the right combination of hard and soft skills.      

Hard skills, or technical skills, are learned through training, education, or hands-on experience. They’re needed to do most jobs well and are typically easy to measure. 

Soft skills are harder to master–think creativity, time management, or problem-solving. These are personality traits and abilities you develop throughout your life that speak directly to the individual you are. 92% of talent professionals believe that soft skills are just as important, if not more important, than hard skills. They enable you to interact, inspire, and build relationships with your team no matter where they (or you) may be.

To drive better business outcomes, leadership development efforts should focus on leadership soft skills such as leading through ambiguity, fostering meaningful team collaboration, mastering adaptability in communication, and intentionally connecting with direct reports.


1. Lead in complex situations

Being adaptable will help guide your team through change or complexity. Successful leaders approach structure and routine with a certain amount of flexibility. However, this may not come naturally to some. Some leaders may prefer a concrete plan and aren’t open to change, but to be successful–especially in today’s environment–you need to understand the need to be adaptable.

Strong leaders adjust and change course when needed to help teams be at their best and ensure everyone is on board with any new developments. Leaders who are flexible in the face of change are often described as confident, open to constructive feedback, able to learn from their mistakes with a growth mindset and calm in times of crisis. 

On the flip side, leaders who are unable or unwilling to adapt are typically seen as risk-averse, closed to feedback, and unable to handle pressure well.

As the team leader, you’re responsible for communicating any changes early and often, as well as preparing your employees to react to them. Different personalities and perceptions influence how people respond–some may crave consistency and routine, while others may thrive in the volatility that change brings. 

Either way, you’ll need to identify each individual’s preferences for structure, detail, follow-through, and routine, all of which factor into how your individual contributors will react and adapt during challenging times.

To help you become a better leader, find a framework that works best for problem-solving, and know what your people need to thrive (their needs might differ greatly from yours!.) Keep an open mind when it comes to change and failure. Change is the one constant in our lives, and failing (and getting back up again) is how we learn, grow, and continuously improve.


2. Encourage meaningful team collaboration

Elevate your team’s collaboration by promoting teamwork as opposed to creating silos. Having to share ideas and work together to find a new way forward leads to creative problem-solving, out-of-the-box thinking, and potentially ground-breaking results. 

According to Deloitte, collaborative teams are five times more likely to be high-performing in creativity and innovation. 

And because the most meaningful collaboration brings diverse perspectives and ideas to the table, decision-making improves as well. This is backed by the Harvard Business Review, which notes that teams make better decisions 87% of the time compared to individuals.

Collaboration streamlines workflows, improving productivity by as much as 50%, according to a study by Stanford University. When team members collaborate efficiently, they accomplish more tasks and projects in less time. Creating procedures and processes that your team follows also helps you set clear expectations and goals, ask questions, and enables you to step in and support them when needed.

You can develop better collaboration by:

  • Promoting healthy conflict. When handled with a positive approach, conflict can help inspire creativity, provide clarity, restore trust, and build self-awareness. The result is a stronger, more successful team.
  • Encouraging diverse perspectives. Collaborative teams celebrate their unique differences, listening to and taking into account everyone’s ideas, input, and views for improved creativity and innovation.
  • Fostering psychologically safe environments. All team members must feel comfortable openly expressing themselves and sharing their thoughts, as well as speaking up about what they need from others to succeed.
  • Providing clarity. When team members understand their roles, responsibilities, and your company’s goals, they’ll understand where they fit into the “bigger picture.”


3. Master the art of interaction

Effective communication is critical to the leadership role. Leaders who clearly express their team’s purpose, goals, and strategies create improved team alignment while increasing morale. A good leader walks the line of motivating and empowering their people while making sure business objectives and common goals are met. 

Your words matter and not just the words you choose but how you use them. On top of this, everyone communicates differently, so what works for one person may not work for another. One size does not fit all, so great communicators consider the needs of the person they’re speaking to and the situation at hand adjusting accordingly. The sensitive communication style that makes one employee feel safe and heard will be incredibly frustrating for the team member who prefers a more direct and matter-of-fact approach. 

Different situations require different approaches, contributing to a team’s effectiveness. Build a culture of constructive communication by:

  • Recognizing how different personalities and preferences are essential for a thriving team dynamic.
  • Identifying your own communication style and how you prefer others to communicate with you.
  • Identifying your teams’ communication styles and how others should communicate with them.
  • Keeping in mind that careful word choice, mindful emotional expression, and clear direction can help create an environment where team members feel safe and supported.


4. Build relationships by connecting

From coffee breaks and water cooler chats to stopping by a colleague’s office, connection is an essential element of the workplace. Humans crave a feeling of belonging–our sense of purpose and motivation is linked to it. It’s no wonder that in today’s hybrid or remote world, connecting can be challenging. People skills are critical. 

Lack of connection in the workplace is not just harmful to individual relationships–it’s also harmful to the business. A study by Georgetown University found that hurtful workplace behavior reduces performance, increases employee turnover, and negatively affects customer experiences.     

Good old-fashioned civility–being nice to one another and respecting everyone on the team–has the opposite effect, enhancing productivity and team performance by increasing the feeling of psychological safety. Instead, a team environment becomes a place that is trusted, respected, and safe to take risks.

Business leaders need to engage in active listening and be more empathetic to employees’ wants and needs. Knowing what makes them anxious or upset (how they react when their needs are unmet) and minimizing these stressful interactions is good for the team and the company.

Working on your emotional intelligence is also key. Being more mindful and self-aware of your own behaviors and blind spots and the impact they have on the different personalities in your team will help you ‘change it up’ depending on who you’re interacting with.


Build better leaders with Birkman

Many companies today are re-evaluating their own internal talent and introducing leadership programs for professional growth that emphasize the development of transformational leadership skills. However, the challenge lies in creating programs that are not only impactful but easily repeatable and scalable across your entire organization. 

That’s where we come in. 

At Birkman, we’re all about making it easier for effective leaders to understand their teams. With Birkman Signature, we’ll show you how to connect with and motivate the different personality types in your team, helping you nail down the skills you need to be a great leader. And the result? A team–and organization–that does better work. Chat with one of our experts to learn more.

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