Hard evidence that soft leadership skills matter

LincolnIt’s interesting that Inc. and the McKinsey Quarterly both had articles this week on what you might call the softer or “emotional intelligence” side of leadership. Geoffrey James’ “8 Core Beliefs of Extraordinary Bosses” on the Inc. website is well worth the read. So is McKinsey’s denser (but still enlightening) article, “Developing better change leaders,” that describes how a large, global industrial company instituted an operations-improvement program across 200 plants worldwide.

James interviewed some of the most successful CEOs in the world and found the “best of the best” shared eight key beliefs. Here are three that I found myself identifying with:

A company is a community, not a machine.
Average bosses
consider their company to be a machine with employees as cogs. They create rigid structures with rigid rules and then try to maintain control by “pulling levers” and “steering the ship.”

Extraordinary bosses see their company as a collection of individual hopes and dreams, all connected to a higher purpose. They inspire employees to dedicate themselves to the success of their peers and therefore to the community–and company–at large.

Management is service, not control.
Average bosses
want employees to do exactly what they’re told. They’re hyper-aware of anything that smacks of insubordination and create environments where individual initiative is squelched by the “wait and see what the boss says” mentality.

Extraordinary bosses set a general direction and then commit themselves to obtaining the resources that their employees need to get the job done. They push decision making downward, allowing teams form their own rules and intervening only in emergencies.

Motivation comes from vision, not from fear.
Average bosses
see fear−of getting fired, of ridicule, of loss of privilege−as a crucial way to motivate people. As a result, employees and managers alike become paralyzed and unable to make risky decisions.

Extraordinary bosses inspire people to see a better future and how they’ll be a part of it. As a result, employees work harder because they believe in the organization’s goals, truly enjoy what they’re doing and (of course) know they’ll share in the rewards.

How many of us have had to work for “average” bosses or, to be brutally honest, have at times resorted to “average” management tactics because we’re afraid to change or feel those are the only tactics that really work?

As McKinsey notes, “Far too often, leaders ask everyone else to change, but in reality this usually isn’t possible until they first change themselves.”

Among the takeaways from the McKinsey article:

  • Leaders shouldn’t overlook the “softer” skills needed to disseminate changes throughout an organization and make them stick, including inspiring workers who may feel overwhelmed by change, and promoting collaboration and dialogue, not dictation.
  • Personal mastery skills that are especially useful in transformation include “learning to recognize and shift limiting mind-sets, turning difficult conversations into learning opportunities, and building on existing interpersonal strengths and managerial optimism to help broadly engage the organization.”
  • Giving managers access to senior-executive sponsors who can tell them hard truths is vital in helping them to change how they lead.
  • Create networks of change leaders across the organization to break down silos.

So given the hard evidence that soft skills are the hallmark of extraordinary leadership (the company McKinsey worked with estimates it boosted annual pretax operating income by about $1.5 billion a year), why are so many organizations still run in a rigid, dehumanizing and change-averse manner?

It’s a good question.

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2 Responses to Hard evidence that soft leadership skills matter

  1. Pingback: Next-Gen Leadership: Developing Future Leaders « Linked 2 Leadership

  2. Pingback: My Leadership Manifesto: Creating a Purposeful Community Vision « Purpose N-Motion LLC.

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