21 Soft Skills Future Leaders Need to Be Successful

21 Soft Skills Future Leaders Need to Be Successful

What are the top soft skills for future leaders if you want to be successful in your career? Technical skills will only get you so far in your career. This, unfortunately, is a critical message that new leaders are not enlightened with at college or university.

Technical skills are important and necessary so you can climb up to a mid-level position, but beyond that, there’s a whole other skill-set that you must develop as a future leader; your soft skills.

Soft skills for leaders are often disregarded and overlooked. Formal education rarely emphasises the importance of soft skills and only once in a while will offer a course for its students equipping them with these in-demand skills.

Adding to the problems, companies tend to invest only in technical skill training for their staff, seeing soft skill training as a budget loss.

Where does this leave future leaders? If formal education and employers don’t support you, how can you fully prepare yourself for leadership?

Knowing which soft skills are important for leadership is a great start. From there, you can look for books, video courses, workshops, or coaching to advance in specific areas.

To get you started, I’ve listed 21 important soft skills for emerging leaders below. I hope you find this list useful!

1. Creativity

LinkedIn has named creativity as the number one soft skill to learn for 2020. In a rapidly changing business environment, companies need to tap into fresh ideas and innovative approaches to solve problems quickly. If you’re a new leader, and you have the ability to think outside of the box to bring in new ideas, you’ll be a valuable addition to any leadership team. This is an important addition to soft skills for future leaders.

2. Persuasion

Not all good ideas get implemented. Most of the time it’s because the idea hasn’t been communicated persuasively enough to others and people don’t understand the “why” behind the idea. Understanding how to communicate your idea and persuade others to buy-in to your idea is a critical skill new leaders must master. LinkedIn agrees, rating “persuasion” as the number two soft skill to learn for 2020.

3. Adaptability

Artificial Intelligence (“AI”), robotics and automation have reshaped the way many businesses operate. They have also transformed jobs, leaving many employees jobless or forcing them to reskill. Emerging leaders must have the mindset and ability to adapt to changes in their company and industry so they stay relevant.

Social Learning, Learning and development trends

4. Collaboration

The increase in AI, robotics and automation may be eliminating transactional and routine-task jobs, but on the flip-side, it has led to an increase in jobs that require human collaboration. As a result, future leaders need to equip themselves with skills such as team-building, communication and relationship building, both in-person and online, so they can continue to add value to their team and company.

5. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (“EI”) is the advantage humans have over machines. Emotionally intelligent leaders can understand their own emotions and the impact those emotions have on others. They can also decipher other people’s emotions and respond to them accordingly. Machines are not capable of doing this, not yet anyway.

Daniel Goleman summed up perfectly the importance of EI for leadership in his article, “What Makes a Leader”:

“The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions.”

6. Communication

Communication is incredibly important in leadership. You need to communicate with others to share your ideas, get buy-in, get feedback, give feedback, delegate, speak spontaneously in meetings, have difficult conversations and in many more situations. It’s so prevalent in leadership, without it, you won’t survive. It’s definitely one skill new leaders must to master.

7. Listening

A huge part of communication is listening. Great leaders not only know how to communicate with their team, but to listen to them as well. You cannot be a leader on your own. It’s not about you being the centre of the room. It’s about you lifting others up and supporting them so they have the confidence and courage to pursue the big goals you envisage. That’s why listening is one of the top soft skills for future leaders.

8. Curiosity

Going hand in hand with creativity, leaders need to be curious. They need to be open-minded and curious about new ways of doing things. We’ve all heard of the boss who never wants to change because “we’ve always done it this way”. Well, this mindset won’t lead an organisation into the future. It will keep it stagnant in the past.

9. Network Strategically

Most aspiring leaders network randomly without any purpose or direction. Established leaders, however, have a different approach to networking. It’s more strategic, purpose-driven and effective. They’re forced to network this way because their time is so precious. Future leaders must learn how to network strategically as well so they can grow their network and build business relationships intelligently.

10. Storytelling

Storytelling is an extremely effective skill to have when you need to communicate change or complex strategies to your team. It allows you to motivate your team by connecting their role to the overall vision of your team and company. Storytelling is a unique skill to learn that will push you into another category as a leader.

11. Cultural Awareness

Workplaces today are cross-cultural so leaders must know how to communicate, interact with and lead people from different cultures. It’s an advantage to have a cross-cultural team as it generates fresh ideas and innovative approaches to problems. But leaders need to be able to get the most from each individual team member, and cross-cultural awareness aids this process.

Mentorship and Coaching, learning and development trends

12. Critical Thinking

With industries changing rapidly, new strategies and approaches need to be implemented quickly. So companies look for leaders who can adapt to those changes and use their critical thinking ability to solve problems. If new leaders can demonstrate critical thinking ability, they’re ahead of the competition. This is why critical thinking is one of the top soft skills for future leaders.

13. Leadership Skills

When new leaders get their first leadership position, they’re often equipped with good management skills, but lack in leadership skill. Management skill and leadership skill are not the same thing. Managers need to ensure specific jobs and tasks are completed. Leaders, however, look at the big picture and need to motivate, inspire and grow a team so the bigger goals can be achieved. It’s these skills new leaders need to develop.

14. Delegate

New leaders are often used to being delegated to. Now as a leader, they have to learn how to delegate to others. Common mistakes people make is they delegate too passively in an attempt to maintain an equal relationship with their colleagues. Or they delegate too aggressively, alienating themselves from the team. There is an art to delegating effectively and it revolves around being assertive.

15. Leadership Presence

Leadership presence is that illusive quality all great leaders have that commands the attention of the room as soon as they enter. Some call it the “IT factor”. Despite what many say, it’s not a quality people are born with; it’s learned. There are many aspects to developing strong leadership presence so new leaders should start as soon as they can.

16. Deal With Disagreements

Many emerging leaders avoid or hide from disagreements because they don’t know how to handle them. They don’t know how to react when people disagree with them and they don’t know how to manage other people disagreeing. The first step is to understand that disagreements will happen. The second is to equip yourself with skills to manage tense discussions so they don’t get out of hand.

17. Build Psychological Safety

The success of a leader lies in its team. You have to create an environment where every member of your team can operate at their highest capacity. If people in your team don’t feel safe suggesting ideas, raising concerns or challenging strategies, then you’re damaging your team’s performance and your leadership success.

Communicate confidently and get your voice heard in meetings

18. Have Difficult Conversations

New leaders are rarely equipped to have difficult conversations. They’ve not had to learn this skill at entry or mid-management level. As a result, many new leaders avoid difficult conversations and let problems build up. However tackling issues as soon as they arise can save time, relationships and your leadership reputation. This is a skill future leaders must learn.

19. Give Feedback

Giving feedback is critical to support and grow your team. However many new leaders avoid this task, mostly because they lack the skill and confidence to do it well. Your team members need feedback, both positive and negative. They need to have a clear understanding of where they stand, what improvements they can make, and what they’re already doing well. Give clear, strategic feedback and your team will love you for it!

20. Ask for Feedback

Going hand-in-hand with giving feedback is asking for feedback from your team. New leaders especially can benefit from this. Perhaps you’re coming across as too aggressive in your communication. Maybe people are confused when you give direction. There are many areas in which a new leader may be weak. You need this feedback from your team to pinpoint those areas so you can grow and excel.

21. Openness to Learn

The truth is, leaders who are closed-minded and don’t see any room for improvement in their leadership ability will not succeed. Being promoted does not automatically make you a leader. You must grow, learn and develop into a leader. This can only be done through openness to learn and improve. If you have this mindset as a new leader, you’re unstoppable.

I hope you found this list of 21 soft skills that future leaders need to be successful, valuable.

If you’d like to start working on some of these top soft skills for future leaders, take a look at the resources I’ve included below.

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About Kara

Kara Ronin is the founder of Executive Impressions. She is an executive coach who specialises in leadership presence, social skills and business etiquette. She is also the creator of Bestselling Udemy course, Business Etiquette 101. Kara’s advice and unique perspectives have been featured in Time Inc., Business Insider, Ignites Europe (a Financial Times Service), The Muse, The Local France, The West Australian, and more. Kara works regularly with lawyers, investment bankers, and finance professionals to help them build presence, authority and influence in business. Get Kara's insights delivered straight to your inbox

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