Leaders are born, not made. That’s why there are so few.
Beyond the knowledge, beyond the education, beyond the certifications, great leaders exhibit what are known as soft skills. Soft skills, according to Wikipedia, are a, “combination of interpersonal people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes and emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) among others”. I further argue that soft skills are more nature than nurture, either you have them or you don’t. In most circumstances, since humans are who we are, these particular soft skills can’t be trained, mentored or developed.
Soft Skill #1: They Listen More than They Speak. A higher power gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. Great leaders practice active listening. They do not bring smart phones into the room, they do not multitask by attending meetings with their mobile device or laptop, they do not get caught up in distractions or side arguments. Great leaders focus with attention on the other party, they listen, they filter the message, repeat the message and affirm it.
Soft Skill #2: They know in what ways they suck. And surround themselves with people who do not suck in those areas. In other words, great leaders know they are not perfect, they know what areas they excel in and work very hard to excel in them. They also know what their weaknesses are. And instead of exhausting precious time and energy on the futile task of turning weaknesses into strengths, great leaders befriend others with complimentary strengths and learn from them. Further, great leaders are okay with sharing power so they have no issue delegating authority.
Soft Skill #3: They inspire through the art of story telling. Great leaders have a vision, and instead of coldly outlining their plan in bullet points, outlining objectives in a Powerpoint presentation, great leaders craft a story. Stories are the vision of the leader come to life, with emotion and color. Leaders know that the audience will find a connection in that story that relates them to the vision inspiring their employees with a purpose.
Soft Skill #4: Leaders do not define conflict negatively. Great leaders are ok when another disagrees with them, great leaders invite dissent. Great leaders do not let the vein in their forehead protrude when challenged, they do not pound their fist on the table and they do not harbor resentment. Great leaders, knowing they aren’t always right, ask for others’ positions and arguments, great leaders, per the aforementioned Soft Skill #1 listen, and great leaders consider this information when carefully weighing decisions.
Soft Skill #5: Great leaders understand they work for the people they lead. Not the company’s bottom line, not the shareholders, not the Board of Directors and not for their own personal worth and glory. Leaders obviously have some accountability to all of these parties, which while a heavy burden indeed, is also why they get paid the big bucks. Great leaders inherently know that taking care of their people will take care of the rest.
Soft Skill #6: Are human barometers. They can tell when the vibe of the room just isn’t right. They know when their people are stressed, conflicted, overworked, etc… because great leaders feel it. And they do something about it.
Soft Skill #7: Are comfortable taking the unpopular position when he of she knows it’s the right position. Great leaders also possess a stubborn wilfulness to march through the stream of bullshit detractors even risking their very jobs and livelihood to do so.