Leadership is certainly not for everyone. For those in the esteemed role of a "leader," a serious question needs to be asked: Are you fit to inspire human beings to be great and do great things for your organization?

Whether you're a line manager on the floor or an executive in the C-suite, you have to eventually accept, in your heart of hearts, the fact that the majority of the leadership decisions you will make will involve people.

And since people are an organization's most appreciable asset (as the cliché goes), it becomes even more apparent that a leader's most important asset is to develop people skills (i.e., soft skills).

Soft skills leaders need to develop

Today's CEOs and HR execs understand that their organizations cannot retain highly engaged, high-performing employees without developing leaders to manage, coach, develop, and inspire loyal teams.

One big reason leadership remains a challenge is due to companies not identifying and developing young potential talent early in their careers to accelerate up the leadership ranks to meet the complex human needs of today's workers.

This leads to an important question: Are companies ready for the emerging new leaders that are needed today? 

The research conducted by our partners found that leaders in high-performing organizations display six characteristics that we now teach in our From Boss to Leader online course. True leaders:

1. Display authenticity

Authenticity has been found to be a significant factor in engaging workers and managing conflict. However, too many leaders show passive-aggressive tendencies, like creating distance or stone-walling to avoid conflict. 

Authentic leaders show the capacity to courageously run toward the eye of the storm. They know that cutting through a conflict to resolve a problem with respect, dignity, and active listening is easier than the negative consequences of running away from a conflict.

2. Value people

The pandemic has elevated the leadership game to unprecedented heights. Leaders now have an enormous responsibility to take care of people. As mental health challenges in the workplace increase, understanding each team member's unique experiences, challenges, and opportunities for improved success will greatly increase their engagement. 

This is the essence of leading with the strength of valuing your people and their well-being. In practice, valuing your people both as workers and human beings greatly reduces suffering and anxiety, raises performance, and increases value, loyalty, and trust across the organization.

3. Develop people

In the research, great leaders provide for learning and growth while developing potential and career paths for others. They also model appropriate behavior and build up their people through encouragement and affirmation.

Additionally, offering people responsibility for their own actions increases their engagement and learning. So, we teach and coach leaders to provide an environment of more freedom and autonomy at work, but with clear measures of accountability. 

4. Provide leadership

One of the skills of every leader is to set the right goals and expectations for employees, as well as to create the kind of work that is fulfilling and has meaning and purpose for each individual contributor. To that end, leaders must make work dynamic and have it tailored to the abilities and needs of fellow workers. 

5. Share leadership

The research found that the strength in good leaders comes from sharing power and decision making -- pushing authority down to empower others. Sounds counterintuitive, yes, but remember: Good leaders are selfless and don't subscribe to "positional authority."

They understand that they don't have all the answers and that every person has something to contribute. One of the most important things we teach in our course is to shift from a command-and-control mindset of making all the decisions to one of releasing control and building competency in others to step up to leadership decisions.

6. Build community

Good leaders, the research asserts, enhance relationships and relate well to others at all levels. They promote a sense of belonging and connection for all team members. They also work collaboratively and emphasize teamwork. Finally, they value the differences of others -- differing strengths, expressions, ideas, personalities, and viewpoints.

Whether your company is a startup or an established business, there are questions that must be asked in order to find out if your leaders have what it takes to get the best out of employees. If they don't pass this list of questions, it's an opportune time to develop their soft skills. Some of these questions come out of our own self-assessments as part of our full development process. For example:

  1. Do you trust your workers? Are you trustworthy?
  2. Do you foster an environment that encourages learning and growth?
  3. Do you allow your employees to help determine where the team is headed?
  4. Do you give your workers the power to make important decisions?
  5. Do you provide the support and resources needed to help workers meet their goals?
  6. Are you open to receiving criticism and challenges from others?

Once top decision makers clearly understand how employees feel about their leaders and the environment they work in, they can determine a good strategy for helping all levels of management successfully navigate the challenges and demands of the future.

To reiterate a clear and simple path to leadership development, the first step is always to assess the leadership strength and health of an organization.