Did you know that soft skills can make or break your career as a leader? You may excel in hard skills like accountancy or computer programming. But you won’t get far as a leader if you don’t possess people skills.
Soft skills like communication and motivation are essential for effective leadership. They allow you to coax the very best out of your employees. But they can’t be easily taught in a classroom or measured on a spreadsheet.
The good news is, you can develop your soft skills through neuroscience and neuro-leadership. By understanding how our brains are hardwired to avoid threats and seek out rewards, you can inspire your team and lead them to success.
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are essential for leadership, but they are more difficult to measure and define than hard skills. We draw upon them to deal with interpersonal issues, or in other words, with people and social settings.
Hard skills are job-specific, measurable skills, from using a software application to performing surgery. You usually gain these hard skills through education or on-the-job training.
Soft skills are much harder to define and evaluate but are as essential to leadership as hard skills. They are the instincts, personality traits and abilities that allow us to ‘read the room’ and understand people’s responses. Because we adapt these soft skills to each situation at hand, they are harder to evaluate and learn in a traditional setting.
The assurance we now have from evidence-based studies and research is that we can effectively ‘rewire’ our brains by creating neural pathways based on new experiences and requirements. This is known as neuroplasticity and it’s a key component of learning new skills, be they hard or soft. We can achieve this rewiring through repetition and intensity.
To be an effective leader, developing your soft skills is key to your success. They will help you lead your team, develop their resilience and quickly adapt to changes. The ability to courageously communicate with your team, co-workers and clients will boost your leadership abilities.
The ability to openly communicate with everyone in your organisation, whatever their level, is a key skill for every leader. If you can clearly and concisely explain everything from small tasks to a five-year strategy, your employees will never flounder.
Neuroscience research suggests that our brains interpret uncertainty as a threat, triggering a flight or fight response. Evolutionary speaking we’ve come a long way, but we are still hardwired to avoid unfamiliar situations and painful feedback. If you’re not careful, your team may fall apart if you aren’t a courageous and open communicator.
You can avoid defence mechanisms like denial or burn out in your employees by making your expectations as clear as possible. If you need to deliver negative feedback, make sure to stress their positive traits too and provide support. And keep the conversation flowing both ways with an open-door policy and by actively listening to people’s concerns.
A leader who lacks empathy can demotivate a team and instil fear and suspicion. On the flip side, being sensitive to other people’s fears and concerns makes you a better leader.
Empathy is at the very core of emotional intelligence or EQ, one of the most essential drivers of effective leadership. It fosters awareness of other people’s feelings and allows productive interactions with the people around you. Empathy helps you to get to the root of fearful or angry reactions and put real solutions in place.
Neuroscience studies show that witnessing someone’s emotional reaction fires the same neurons as if we were experiencing it ourselves. Using emotional intelligence, we can tap into our prefrontal cortex to help us manage this mirrored response and propose logical solutions. This mirror effect explains how we can put ourselves in other people’s shoes.
With heightened empathy, leaders can look beyond their employee’s actions and figure out their true motivations and concerns. You can help your team become more resilient to change by predicting their responses and offering tailored support.
An effective leader knows exactly how to motivate each person in their team so they can achieve their full potential. An uninspiring manager might take a generic, one-size-fits-all approach. But a great leader grasps that everyone is motivated in different ways.
Motivating a team isn’t just about showing enthusiasm all day every day. It’s about giving people exactly what they need to perform to the best of their ability. If you set clear targets for your staff and reward them when they reach these goals, you’ll have a hard-working team.
Neuroscience explains that our brains are hardwired to seek out rewards and avoid threats, even in social situations. Rewarding your team for their achievements releases dopamine, the happy hormone. This will motivate them to keep pushing the boundaries of what they can achieve.
If you’re a perfectionist, you might loathe handing over your work to others. You may even see delegating tasks as a sign of weakness. But if you don’t delegate, you are stifling your team’s full potential.
David Rock’s SCARF model explains how our brains interpret a lack of autonomy over our environment as a clear threat. That’s why micromanaging is the death-knell of creativity and agility. People have a clear need to feel responsible and in control of their day-to-day life.
Delegating important tasks motivates your employees to learn new skills and think outside the box. Just make sure to clearly define expectations and to offer ongoing support. Your team will pay you back with hard work and dedication.
Over to You
If you concentrate on mastering and developing your portfolio of soft skills, you’ll be sure to achieve your full potential as a leader. Even if you’re at the top of your field, your team will struggle if you don’t have the interpersonal skills to inspire, guide and motivate them.
Yes, it may be more difficult to learn and define a soft skill than a hard skill. But by following neuroleadership techniques, you can effectively rewire your brain to develop these essential soft skills. And in time, you’ll find that your team will achieve their full potential under your guidance, encouragement and leadership.
Keen to learn more about how neuro-leadership can help you improve your leadership skills?
Omozua Isiramen is a Certified Life and Executive Neuro-Leadership Coach, who uses emotional mastery and a neuroscience-based approach to empower and prepare clients’ hearts and heads to take the journey from where they are to where they want to be by bravely accessing and optimizing their limitless brain potential.
She works with busy professionals, entrepreneurs, teams and organisations to help them transform stress into performance super fuel and drive greatness from within by becoming brain-friendly leaders with clarity, confidence and courage.
Click here to learn more and to schedule a 30-minute discovery session.