We’ve often heard that good leaders know how to do certain things like cast vision, create strategy, build strong teams, speak well publicly and fundraise. While these are critical for good leadership, many are recognizing that the most impactful leaders also possess certain soft skills.
Soft skills are the personal attributes leaders need in order succeed in relationships. Most of us can think of individuals who seem to have all of the right stuff as leaders, but fail when it comes to leading people. Unfortunately, “hard skills” often get more attention because they are easier to spot. And it’s likely that the hard skills have a diploma or certificate that goes with them. For example, I’ve known people with Doctorates in leadership, but as my Dad would say, “they couldn’t lead anyone out of a wet paper bag.” Why? They lacked the soft skills of leadership. Hard skills require a certain amount of aptitude but soft skills require a certain attitude and mindset. When it comes to impactful leadership, degrees, certificates and years of experience are important but they aren’t enough. The intangible and essential qualities that enable a leader to interact with others are often the game-changers in organizational leadership.
Here’s four soft skills that impactful leaders strive towards:
Most people equate great communicating with excellent public speaking. However, stellar leaders not only excel at speaking, they are also generous in giving a listening ear. Heading the biblical instruction of James, impactful leaders realize that they should be quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19). Listening is an intentional act to seek to hear, empathize and understand another. Or as David Isay says, “Listening is an act of love.” (http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/411697251/the-act-of-listening)
2) Emotional Intelligence and Awareness
I have spent a great deal of time writing and speaking about this topic. And in our media-crazed, “speak whatever is on your mind” culture today, we desperately need leaders who have developed the soft skill of emotional intelligence. Simply put emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, comprehend and direct our own emotions in productive ways. Emotionally intelligent leaders are also able to recognize, understand and positively influence the emotions of others. This ability is critical especially when leaders are under pressure.
3) Taking Personal Responsibility
Impactful leaders take responsibility for what they do and what happens to them in life. Rather than playing the role of the victim, or playing the blame game, leaders who make a difference have developed the skill of taking personal responsibility. As the old leadership axiom states; “I cannot control what happens to me but I can control my response,” so high level leaders focus their attention on taking responsibility for their actions.
4) Being Empathetic
Empathetic leaders have the aptitude to acknowledge and share in the feelings of others. Best-selling author and speaker Simon Sinek believes that empathy is one of the most powerful tools in a leader’s toolbox and can be expressed in the question, “Is everything OK?”  Impactful leaders develop the skill of daily putting the well-being of others first. They practice those “golden” words of Jesus, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).
As leaders it’s important for us to remember that professional skill development cannot be limited to the hard skills of leadership. In fact, the most important skills for impactful leadership reside in the often neglected and seldom celebrated soft-side of leadership.