Soft skills are the new hard according to Willow Grove-based author and communications specialist, Leah Mether.
Leah, who recently published a book for leaders titled Soft is the New Hard: How to Communicate Effectively Under Pressure, said soft skills, such as those demonstrated by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack, were increasingly being recognised as essential for leadership success.
According to Leah, ‘soft skills’ is the name given to non-job-specific skills and personal attributes that create a human connection and make someone good to work with, not simply good at what they do. This includes skills like communication, emotional intelligence, empathy, resilience and adaptability.
“Jacinda Ardern is a wonderful example of a leader with exceptional soft skills”, Leah said.
“She is leading with humanity, compassion, connection and empathy, while steering her country through one of its darkest and most challenging times.
“Soft skills don’t make her weak, they actually make her incredibly strong, influential and effective”.
After decades skewed towards valuing hard, technical skills, Leah said a worldwide awakening to the value of soft skills was happening across a wide range of industries.
“Don’t let the name fool you; soft skills are not easy. They’re often more difficult to master than ‘hard’, job-specific technical skills that require years of formal study and work experience, yet they’re essential for career and personal success.
“Studies are being released around the globe that show soft skills are essential for high performance and they’re also the skills of the future because they’re hard to outsource and automate”.
According to a report published by Deloitte Access Economics in May 2017 titled Soft skills for business success, soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs in Australia by 2030, compared to half of all jobs in 2000.
Leah said soft skills were particularly important for leaders. “As one leader said to me recently, ‘Why does no-one tell you the hardest part of leadership is the people bit?’ And it’s true. Many leaders have been
promoted on the back of their technical skills and experience, but don’t know how to lead.
“They’ve never been taught the foundations of how to stay calm under pressure, have difficult conversations or build strong relationships with people who have a different communication style to them.
“It’s their lack of soft skills that bring them undone”.
Leah, who runs workshops on a range of communication and soft skill topics, said her book featured many stories and examples to teach leaders how to improve their communication and self-management under pressure.
“The reality is, you can’t be a great leader without being a great communicator. It’s as simple as that”, Leah said.
“Leadership is about people. To be a leader in the true sense, people must want to follow you — even when times are tough. Especially when times are tough.
To want to follow, people must feel a human connection with their leader. And to feel a human connection, there must be strong communication that motivates, encourages, inspires and empowers. You must also be able to regulate your emotions, have difficult conversations when required and work with the emotions of others.
“Good communication and leadership go hand in hand. As British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, ‘The difference between mere management and leadership is communication’”.
Leah said she often asks participants in her workshops to describe the best leaders they had ever worked for, and the descriptions were telling.
“They describe leaders who communicate clearly and calmly — even when under stress. Leaders who are empathetic, assertive and articulate their vision, wants and needs in a respectful way so their team members know what’s expected of them, where they’re headed, why they’re going there, what they need to do and how they’re tracking.
“Respect is everything as a leader and to get it, you need to communicate in a way that connects”.
You can access more of Leah’s leadership expertise in her new book, Soft is the New Hard: How to Communicate Effectively Under Pressure, available in paperback, e-book and audiobook at www.leahmether.com.au.
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