Essential Soft Skills for Effective Leadership

A conversation with Barry Katz

What’s the difference between a “Manager” and a “Leader”? And how do they communicate differently? 

I sat down with Barry Katz to get his insights on some essential soft skills to impact leadership in the workplace (and, here’s a bonus: adopting these practices will also help to deepen your interpersonal relationships outside of the office). Here’s what Barry had to share:

Much has been written on the difference between managing and leading people. Here is a simple distinction: a manager has direct reports, a leader has followers. Why do people follow their leader? Simply put, because they want to.

There is necessity for both roles, and they can both be embodied in one person. Managers manage “what is”, focusing on efficiency and productivity. Leaders turn their attention to “what can be”, inspiring, and motivating new ideas, innovation, and leading change.  

To be an effective leader one needs to communicate effectively. 

To know the path is not the same as to walk the path.”

A favorite quote by Morpheus from the movie The Matrix. 

Most often, when there is a gap in skills or a need for personal development, it’s less a matter of that person being unaware of what needs to be done and more of a difficulty in doing it.

For example, when I ask “What is essential to establish and maintain a strong working relationship?” most people would easily list behaviors like trust, listening, showing an interest in others, empathy, and compassion. And yet, not many would say they successfully apply, practice, and exhibit these behaviors. 

You see? Most of us know what we need to do, and often we even know how to do it. We have done the workshop, read the book, and bought the t-shirt. But once we know the path, the real challenge is to walk that path: the ongoing application and daily practice of the principle behaviors we believe in.

Leaders don’t just tell their teams what path to take, provide the required skills, and expect them to start working. They coach and mentor their teams, encourage engagement and collaboration, and continually and consistently develop their leadership communication skills. Good leaders lead by personal example; they become role models to the behavior they want to see in others.  

Presence – Curiosity – Compassion : The PCC trifecta. 

Presence | Listening

We are so easily distracted – overrun with sensory input from sights and sounds around us, all competing for our attention. Primarily, it’s hard to resist the allure of our mobile phones. Its omnipresence during almost all of our business interactions means we are often mentally distracted and not fully present even if we are physically in the room.  

All of this competition for our attention means the quality of our communication and the productivity of our work is negatively affected. Being truly present and listening to the other has become rare, and leaders who learn to bring their full attention to who and to what is in front of them inspire others to tune-in as well.

Becoming a good listener is not just paying full attention to others but also tuning into ourselves. To learn to identify and listen to our own needs, feelings, and thoughts. When we can be more in tune with ourselves it becomes easier to “show up” and be present when connecting with others.

Curiosity | Questioning

Curiosity is something we’re born with and as time and life go on, we tend more toward taking things at face value. Cultivating intrigue and curiosity takes us back to a more natural space within us, and changes how we observe and interact with the world around us.

Good questions are rooted in genuine curiosity, and really deepen the trust and connection you have with others. I enjoy asking questions that make people stop and rethink. These are called breakthrough questions that almost literally breakthrough preconceived opinions, creating fresh thoughts that lead to new insights that influence buying decisions and new behaviors. You know you have asked a breakthrough question when they elicit responses like “I’ve never thought of that” or “no one has ever asked me that before”. And then comes the joy of moving into some beautiful, unchartered territory of exploring new ideas.

Questions are great not only for discovery, but to ask for what we want, rather than giving strong directives. Ask questions like “what if?”,“ how about?”, and “would you be open to something new?”  For example, instead of saying ‘I will show you a POC’ ask ‘are you open to seeing a POC?’ or ‘what if I could prove the benefit of our solution to you?’

Leaders who take a genuine interest in the individuals they interact with get to know them better and build stronger, happier, and more productive teams.

Compassion | Empathy

When I get impatient or annoyed it becomes more difficult to listen or keep a genuine interest in others. The same is true when I’m confronted with aggressive or disagreeable people. I can be quick to judge or criticize them for their “wrongdoing”, but then I remind myself of a quote I once heard: “Every person is fighting a battle you know nothing of.” and that reminds me to come back to compassion and empathy. This is the ability to treat others with respect and bring out the best in them. 

A leader who assumes the best intentions from others can more easily practice compassion and empathy. That annoying coworker, the unresponsive client, or that person who jumps the line in front of you? Chances are, these people don’t set out to annoy you. Many simply aren’t emotionally tuned. The ability to move past the knee-jerk reaction to become irritated or label another person is a quality of emotional intelligence.

I see empathy as the ability to recognize and connect with the feelings of others, and to articulate it back to them without judgment in a way that makes them feel understood. Understanding another person’s behavior doesn’t mean I agree or condone it. 

Leaders have the ability to cultivate the potential in others and give them a chance to shine. Good leaders want to create more good leaders, not to create more followers. 

A package deal.

There are many soft skills that could have been named here, but there’s a reason these are Barry’s trifecta when it comes to developing as a leader: they’re harmonious when applied together.

These three qualities complement each other and are interrelated. To be present you have to listen, to listen you need to be interested, interest is shown through questions. Finally, it’s the ability to understand and empathize even with people you disagree with and show compassion even to people you may not like. 

Listening, questioning, and empathizing are reliant upon one another. Integrate them into your way of working and communicating with others. Take an interest, listen intently, and empathize, and you’ll find your professional and personal relationships become richer, fuller, and healthier.
Barry and the team at Katzu pride themselves on helping leaders to fine-tune their leadership skills and make an impact in the workplace.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *