4 Soft Skills Needed by the Modern Leader

🕑 4 minutes read | Mar 16 2022 | By Becky Gendron

A staggering 77% of organizations are experiencing a leadership gap, and many attribute this to the 10,000 baby boomers who are retiring each day. It is more important than ever that we invest in developing the future leaders of our organizations. Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, are estimated to make up 75% of the workforce in the next three years.

Given the uncertainty of any business, leaders need to be prepared for rapid change, and the most successful organizations will be those that develop highly agile, resilient leaders to grow their business. HR and learning leaders play a critical role in helping current and future leaders prepare for these challenges by honing and developing their skills.

Resiliency, communication, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution are some of the most important soft skills new leaders should sharpen.

Important Soft Skills for New Leaders

1. Resilient Mindset

Amid the new skills and learning, organizations are facing a real problem of employee burnout. A 2021 survey by DDI, for example, shows that while 60% of today’s leaders are experiencing burnout, the next generation of leaders is feeling even more stress, with 86% feeling burned out at the end of the day, up 27% over results from 2020.

Having a dedicated focus to train employees to be resilient needs to be a priority because the ability to recover from stress and uncertainty is essential for success. Resilient leaders are more likely to look at challenges as opportunities for growth and can adapt and respond more quickly when setbacks occur.

Organizations can foster resilience in next-gen leaders by offering training sessions that include meaningful feedback and opportunities for self-reflection. Creating a work environment that supports employees’ well-being, both emotional and physical, soften the blow of failure and encourages perseverance.

2. Communication Skills

Millennials have mastered connecting with technology, a behavior that allows them to consume large amounts of information quickly. They can easily communicate between their screen and another. However, direct personal communication is a soft skill that often needs refinement. While this likely will not be a skill that millennials believe will help them perform higher, it is an emotional skill that employers believe is vital to their business.

Encourage these communication soft skills to sharpen this skill gap:

  • Active Listening: Laptops down, phones off and away, discourage interrupting, and encourage questions
  • Communication Methods: Encourage a variety of communication mediums for improved engagement and inclusion, like Slack, Zoom, phone conversations, in-person meetings, team development activities, text, and email
  • Presentation Skills: Invite staff to present during meetings and offer public speaking training
  • Friendliness and Small Talk: Conversations about our kids, sports, weather, and news help us to get to know each other and strengthens empathy
  • Feedback: Make it constructive, timely, and frequent, and model accepting feedback without being defensive

3. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a highly sought-after skill that translates into success for leaders and their teams. Those with high EQ can regulate their own stress levels, behave empathetically, resolve conflict and communicate, and collaborate effectively.

Coaches and mentors can be great resources for improving this skill. EQ programs and workshops can include these methods:

  • Meditation, journaling, goal setting, and giving and receiving feedback can improve the self-awareness
  • Pausing before reacting (perhaps over seconds, minutes, hours, or even days) to practice self-management
  • Considering what the other person is thinking or feeling to strengthen the empathy muscle

4. Conflict Resolution

While harmony may be at the top of a millennial’s list of needs, their ability to resolve conflict is critical to their success as a leader. Comfort with conflict and an ability to resolve it is something that most generations struggle to conquer. Avoiding discord or simply venting, sometimes publicly, is a common and unhelpful solution.

Millennials can learn that compromise is required to resolve conflict and that perfection is unlikely. Leaders can strengthen conflict resolution skills in younger generations by:

  • Encouraging face-to-face conversations can help bring empathy and a clear understanding of the problem; discourage texting and email as a form of communication during conflict
  • Publicly modeling the behavior they desire to see in meetings and workshops
  • Use positive reinforcement when healthy conflict resolution is observed
  • Provide constructive criticism in private

How Millennials Learn

Next-gen leaders value learning that is self-directed and flexible. Mobile learning lets employees work through training modules when it suits them, and many gamification techniques lend themselves to this approach.

Despite the popularity of technology, collaboration, and social media platforms among younger employees, it’s also important to note that in-person training remains important. Instructor-led training offers improved engagement and retention and doubles as an opportunity to practice communication skills. Shift away from the “one size fits all” training that takes a rigid, linear approach, and provides more fluid training methods that offer multiple learning options. The advantage of these different approaches is that they easily accommodate a wide range of learning methods—structured and unstructured, facilitated, and self-directed, and formal and less formal—and these can be precisely tailored to everyone’s specific learning needs.

Emerging Leaders Can Grow with Leadership Support

This new generation of emerging leaders is talented, technologically advanced, excited to learn, and passionate about making a difference. With support and training from experienced leaders, millennials can gain the skills needed to be the leaders of tomorrow. Resilience, communication, emotional intelligence, and conflict management will inspire innovation and collaboration. Now is the time for organizations to lay the foundation for leadership and soft skills training programs.

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