Great leaders have strong interpersonal skills
At the beginning of this year, AIM conducted a study on the value and fundamentals of Australian business leadership. One aspect of this study was a survey asking participants to nominate the three most important skills for workplace leaders to have. The response from survey participants was clear: interpersonal skills are essential.
- Communication was listed as the most critical skill by 50.66% of Leadership Survey respondents. Successful leaders know how important it is to listen with genuine interest. Not only does listening allow them to gain powerful understanding of every aspect of the business and its people, it also engenders trust and respect.
- Some 39.62% of respondents cited emotional intelligence as the second-most critical tool for leaders. Emotional intelligence (or “EQ”) is defined as ‘a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions.’ EQ underpins a leader’s ability to make objective decisions, even when emotions such as pride and self-esteem are involved.
- The third most important skill, nominated by 31.22% of respondents, was people management. Digital technologies have changed the way organisations manage people, and leaders today need the ability to integrate the right people into a business and help existing employees gain new digital competencies to spur transformation.
Communication, emotional intelligence, and people management ranked higher than mentoring or coaching (28.87%), decision making (24.89%), and strategy (15.57%).
These three soft skills also trumped hard skills including financial management (2.5%) and data analysis (0.74%).
This emphasis on soft skills is part of a growing recognition that a leader’s ability to engage with the workforce is becoming more important than skills such as strategic thinking or even financial management expertise, according to Australian Institute of Management chief executive Ben Foote.
‘In fact,’ he says, ‘we really should be referring to them as “future” skills, as these are the skills that need to be nurtured and developed by leaders if they are to successfully navigate current and future business challenges.
‘It’s clear that these skills are the most important because other more technical skills of strategy and finance, for example, can be developed and augmented through leveraging board structures and other leadership positions,’ he explains. ‘They’re all important parts of leading a business, but technical skills pale in comparison.’
Foote also believes that if you find a leader with good soft skills, it’s likely they will also possess strong technical skills. ‘I would look at it that way, rather than the other way around: a leader with very good technical skills may lack some excellence in soft skills and It would make them significantly less effective.’
This does not mean that leaders no longer need “traditional” leadership skills. The Leadership Gap, a 2015 report by the Center for Creative Leadership — a global provider of leadership development programs — listed strategic perspective and strategic planning as critical skills for the future. Rather, the 2019 AIM Leadership Survey shows that today’s leaders need a broad, well-balanced skillset that enables them to inspire and engage employees in order to achieve their strategic goals.