Four soft skills you need to develop as a leader

More and more, soft skills are becoming as valuable for leaders as technical skills. Learn how they can make a huge difference in how you choose to lead.

Steffan Surdek
November 16, 2020
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A question I often get from clients is what are some of the important skills they need to develop to be a good leader. I touched on some of these in my blog article about the five key skills of a co-creative leader.

In this article though, we will focus on four soft skills leaders need to develop.

First, let's define soft skills

Soft skills are all about how you present yourself and how you act in the world. You may overlook them because they are not as concrete or measurable as technical skills. We also do not learn them in school. But they are some of the most valuable self-development tools that you can use to become a better leader.

Here are some broad categories of soft skills that you can work on to further your leadership:

  • Persuasion --- Nonverbal communication
  • Adaptability --- Flexibility
  • Cooperation --- Conflict resolution
  • Creativity --- Problem solving
  • Confidence --- Enthusiasm

But there are four main soft skills that you can use to become a more conscious and intentional leader in your organization.

Soft skill #1: The art of listening

The art of listening is one of the most underrated soft skills in the book. When most of us are in a conversation, we tend to listen selectively. We choose the elements that we agree or do not agree with and focus on those. While the other person is talking, we are mentally preparing our next response. We sometimes even interrupt them while they are still speaking.

Can you remember a conversation you had with someone who was a good listener? Didn’t they make you feel understood and heard? Good listening shows the person that you value their thoughts and feelings.

The key to effective listening is to tune into the words people are using. Notice how they are using them, the tone they are using and what the intention behind those words might be.

Is there an elephant in the room, or are they saying what they truly mean? Focus on the person who is speaking and actively try to understand their point of view. Be curious, ask questions to clarify or confirm your understanding without interrupting them.

Soft skill #2: The art of observing

To be an effective change leader, you need to notice what is happening in the different systems around you. Inside a team for example, notice what are the dynamics between people. What are some of the beliefs in the team? What do they think they are capable or incapable of doing? Who has influence and who does not?

In conversations, pay close attention to what non-verbal things people are communicating. How are they acting in certain situations? How are they perceiving things that are happening around them? What do they seem to be feeling in the moment?

You also need to be able to observe yourself. How are you acting, feeling, and perceiving things? How is this impacting your behaviours or your words? Notice how your own leadership is impacting others.

For example, does everyone stay silent when you come into a group call? Do they wait for you to have the last word and then agree with what you say? When you are aware of how you come across to others, you can then consider new possibilities.

Soft skill #3: The art of feeling empathy

Empathy is caring and being present for your people. It starts with realizing they are full human beings with thoughts, feelings and personal lives. It is normal for them to have emotions in other areas of their life that bleed into the workplace. Acknowledging this and how their lives may be impacting their work is the key to good leadership.

Let’s say you are entering an early morning meeting. Just asking people: “How do you feel coming into the meeting this morning?” can already help you gage how everyone feels. To be successful doing this, you need to be sincere and have curiosity for what your team is going through. People can sense when something is forced and that can backfire.

Approaching people with openness creates more authentic and vulnerable relationships. Doing this on a regular basis will lead to much healthier group dynamics.

Soft skill #4: The art of patience

Are you so used to needing to get things done fast in your life that you expect change to happen at this pace too? Do you often feel as if change is not happening fast enough around you? Although it is tempting to speed things up, the best leaders know that change takes time if you want it to last.

As a leader, you need to be able to manage your expectations around change and around the people on your team. You need to let them take risks and fail from time to time so that they may then learn from their mistakes.

Some people need more time to learn than others before they feel ready to take on a certain challenge. You need to stay open to these possibilities and play the long game. Remember to encourage people to communicate around what is happening.


As you can see, these four soft skills are just the start of expressing your authentic self at work. This will take practice as with any new skill you are learning, so remember to be patient with yourself.

As a leader, you can express to your teams that you do not have all the answers. Tell them you are trying new things and that you need their help. To be a more intentional leader, you also need to be able to recognize the contribution of your team members.

What are the soft skills that you would like to develop to become a better leader? How could they serve you in other areas of your life?