Soft Skills Training: 6 Skills to Add to an Emerging Leader’s Toolbox

🕑 9 minutes read | Jun 11 2022 | By Becky Gendron

It is harder than ever to find the best talent. More companies are realizing the importance of developing a pipeline in their organizations to fill the skill gap, especially when it comes to leadership positions.

An effective leader is required to be skilled in many areas and needs to be committed to growing and learning. This often involves upskilling, reskilling, soft skills development, and coaching skills among others. Developing a leadership soft skills training toolbox is a strategy that can identify skill gaps and map out areas where training is needed. This toolbox should be filled with strategies to help the leader become well equipped with the skills needed today such as emotional intelligence, resilience, and inclusion. These skills are critical in helping drive a thriving culture.

TTA recently concluded a six-part Emerging Leader series with TTA training consultants leading a weekly interactive workshop on some of the most sought-after soft skills for emerging leaders to master. Here are a few pointers from each of the six soft skills topics discussed.

Most Desirable Soft Skills for Emerging Leaders

1 – Lead with Emotional Intelligence

In today’s workplace, emotional intelligence (EQ) is critical in managing cohesive, high-performing teams. It is one of the most essential skills for a leader in an evolving workplace. Studies show that organizations with emotionally intelligent managers have higher profit growth and the majority of employers value EQ over IQ.

Emotional intelligence is a highly valued skill that can enable you to better regulate stress, connect with your team, and provide assistance and support in times of need. Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management are the pillars of emotional intelligence.

“Your EQ is the foundation for a host of critical skills,” explains Themum Crawford, TTA trainer, and development consultant on the topic of EQ. “It impacts everything you do and say each day.”

To sharpen EQ skills, Crawford suggests a few exercises:

  • Self-Awareness: Practice introspection and positivity. Remember to be authentic and empathetic.
  • Self-Management: Pause before replying, especially during emotional conversations. Stay curious and ask questions that help with understanding.
  • Social Awareness: Be present and respond with empathy. Treat others with respect and integrity.
  • Relationship Management: Be a positive example. Support others and communicate with the right tone.

2 – Lead with Resilience

Our lives and workplaces are loaded with uncertainty and change. Our ability to overcome these challenges, and to be resilient, allows us to bounce back when we encounter stress and unexpected changes. Individuals can learn strategies to develop positive ways of thinking and reduce negative thoughts to help you become less affected by outside pressures. There are many proven techniques to become more resilient but leaders without strategies to handle these stresses are much more likely to face burnout.

“The work and load that we experience as people managers is not light,” says Dr. Allessandria Polizzi, CEO, and founder of Verdant Consulting and TTA consultant. “We have to pay attention to that because high-stress businesses are 1.5x more likely to go bankrupt.”

Sadly, a Leadership IQ study revealed that only 19% of leaders felt they knew how to help employees overcome burnout. Organizations should begin investing in building resilience as the benefits are far-reaching, including improved employee well-being, problem-solving skills, and team relationships. These all lead to increased productivity and revenue.

Dr. Polizzi describes four steps to build resilience:

  • Self-Reflection: Label how you feel, write about your feelings, observe your feelings and reactions, and put your feelings into context.
  • Self-Compassion: Leaders should show compassion to their team and to themselves. Ask yourself if you would say these words to a close friend and if the thoughts are helpful. Listen to your inner dialogue with curiosity.
  • Acceptance: Understand what is in your control and what is not.
  • Connection: Connecting with other leaders and talking through challenges can help. Most times your peers have experienced similar problems and by talking through challenges can help.

You can learn more about resilience and psychological safety from Dr. Polizzi on the Bring Out the Talent podcast.

3 – Lead with Inclusivity

Inclusion is the set of behaviors and social norms that makes sure everyone is seen, heard, and valued. This personal value is one that holds a lot of weight in the workplace and can determine where people decide to work. LinkedIn’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report stated that nearly three-quarters of executives are currently making sure their company is working to make their business a more inclusive place to work.

Kisha Dixon, award-winning TTA Senior Learning Consultant, and Diversity Practitioner, states, “As a leader, you get to choose your perspective. An inclusive perspective looks at the impact of how that behavior landed on the receiving end. Intent should never outweigh impact.” Companies that build a culture of inclusion have teams that feel connected and a sense of belonging. Inclusion goes beyond diversity by creating an environment where your diverse workforce feels they are safe to speak up and be heard. Inclusive workforces are more productive, engaged, and innovative.

DEI programs can take many shapes and should be customized to align with your organizational values. Having the right partner is critical to help drive this positive change. A great facilitator will encourage open discussion and education around cultural and sensitive topics and ways to gain a deeper understanding and acceptance without any judgment.

Using real-life scenarios in inclusion training keeps learners engaged and creates a lasting impact. These five questions are key to incorporating authentic scenarios that resonate with learners

  • Does it incorporate multiple points of view?
  • Is the context relatable for learners?
  • Is it plausible?
  • Does it have an emotional impact on learners?
  • Are the consequences of the scenario realistic?

Learn more about diversity in the workplace on the Bring Out the Talent podcast with Kisha Dixon, Diversity in the Workplace: An Empathetic Approach to fostering Inclusion.

4 – Lead with Humor

The workplace can feel like a maddeningly serious place. Using humor in the workplace has its many benefits. Studies find that humor is a powerful tool that inspires happiness and creativity, increases productivity, and fosters collaboration. To try it out, the first step is to be authentic. Don’t try to be funny or be someone else.

“Great leaders and great comedians have a lot in common when it comes to mindset,” explains David Horning, Comedian, consultant, and founder of Water Cooler Comedy. “Comedians shake up the status quo and disrupt thinking patterns by making people laugh. We bring people together by creating a shared experience. The main difference between leaders and comedians is that as a leader you can do something once you create this mental shift.”

Using humor can help leaders manage their own stress levels as well as those around them. Humor can be a way of turning down the temperature and having perspective. When leaders model positivity and are relatable, their teams will feel the effects. It creates a sense of belonging and creativity.

Using a sense of humor after you have taken a risk and it fails humanizes yourself, but it also teaches resiliency. Horning suggests not trying too hard to be funny as it’s often seen as inauthentic. Instead, think like a comedian and embrace these ideas:

  • Everything is material: Say to yourself, “Someday, you will look back at this and laugh.”
  • Love the bombs: Failing is the quickest way to learn.
  • Create space for discovery: Humor breaks down barriers and allows for creativity and will open up opportunities for new discoveries and solutions.
  • Don’t blame the audience: No matter what’s going on in the room, use the feedback to improve next time.
  • Challenge your own beliefs: Ask yourself, “What if the opposite were true?” Be open to new ideas and perspectives that are unlike yours.
  • Lead with curiosity: Challenge preconceived notions and ask questions. Be curious about the way others think and feel and the humor that goes along with it.

Enjoy more tips from David Horning on the Power of Laughter in the workplace on Bring Out the Talent podcast.

5 – Lead with a Coaching Mindset

More than 70% of people who receive coaching demonstrate improved work performance and relationships and more effective communication skills. Coaches help build the skills needed to process new situations and learn new ways of problem-solving. As a leader, being an effective coach will empower your team to be curious, to problem solve, to upskill where needed, and build resiliency.

Like most competencies, they need to be learned and worked on. It is rare that a new leader will be very comfortable with coaching members on their team. It is important that they have mentors and a coaching framework in order to be successful. Many companies practice role playing or have new leaders witness areas of effective coaching.

When presented with an opportunity to be in a coaching role, either personally or professionally, Francis Jay Caputo, 4D Certified Master Coach, and a Certified Radical Honesty Trainer suggests five mindsets to embrace:

  • Get out of the way: Remove your own values and opinions from the equation so the coachee can own the process. Be a supporter.
  • Focus on communication: Be curiosity-driven, listen and ask creative questions.
  • Clarity of purpose and process: Bring consciousness to the being and doingUnderstand that what the coachee is doing to achieve their goal is directly influenced by who they are and the attitude they take about the situation
  • Build partnership: The coachee’s goal is tied to a relationship with someone. Build and model a greater sense of partnership by communicating authentically, seeking mutually rewarding outcomes, and how to navigate conflict.
  • Accountability: Teach them to grow accountability in themselves.

“One of the ultimate goals of coaching is for the coachee to enhance their awareness,” explains Caputo.

Effective coaching empowers participants to increase their awareness of the needs, values, interests, and perspectives of everyone involved.

6 – Lead with Culture

Culture is a deeply valued facet of organizations, especially for millennial leaders. Nearly half of millennials have made career decisions based on the culture fit.

Organizations can create a culture around different topics, such as empowerment, servant leadership, innovation, inclusion, and many others. For instance, a company interested in building a culture of transparency, a value that millennials deeply value, could demonstrate and encourage executive level openness to questions, discussions, and feedback at all levels. When employees feel that they understand the “big picture vision,” they are more likely to contribute to the goal and feel purpose in their work

All employees are the “owners” of a company’s culture. Everyone has the opportunity to build and contribute to a culture that defines what is encouraged and what is discouraged. In fact, culture cannot exist without participation from the group.

“Leadership doesn’t lie in people,” says John Mancuso, a seasoned educator, writer, and founder of Authentic Communication Matters. “It lies in culture. A distributed leadership mindset lives throughout an organization where engagement is reciprocal from the bottom up and the top down.”

Mancuso suggests a few ways that leaders can develop organizational culture:

  • Be self-aware: Studies show that the higher up in management you go, the less self-aware you become. Practice self-awareness and be open to feedback.
  • Develop change management communication plans: Manage the message in a constantly changing workplace.
  • Balance proactivity and reactivity: Proactivity is only as good as your ability to forecast, which is sometimes impossible. Manage risk when possible and react appropriately when it’s not.
  • Establish ways to build vulnerability and trust: Acknowledge difficulties and realities.
  • Live the values: Be a role model. Practice the distributed leadership mindset, rather than a top-down model. Cultural engagement should happen from the bottom up and top down so that everyone is accountable.

Lead with a Full Toolbox

Investments in the areas of emotional intelligence, resilience, inclusivity, humor, coaching, and culture will not only develop emerging leaders, but it will arm them with a toolbox full of useful and effective soft skills tools that can be used to lead with these qualities, too. Inspiring growth, authenticity, inclusion, and even laughter are the building blocks for innovation and success. Developing strong, emerging leaders that are prepared to inspire the next generation and usher in future waves of leaders starts with a full toolbox of skills.

Learn more about other popular soft skills topics to fill your toolbox.

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