The transition from individual contributor to leadership is more than an uptick in responsibility. The latter requires a new and diverse skill set that doesn’t come naturally to most. These “soft skills” are the cornerstones of successful leadership, and the more they can be integrated and taught to new managers, the more readily they can take on leadership roles.
New managers, whether recently promoted or hired from outside the organization, should invest in cultivating their leadership capacity from day one. Here are some of the most valuable skills they can work on.
Communication isn’t just one skill. It’s a suite of skills that manifest in a dozen ways every day. It’s rare for someone to ascend to management without a strong baseline in communication, but there are several areas in which they can focus and improve.
Active listening in one-on-one conversations, facilitation of meetings and group conversations, nonverbal communication and the ability to read body language, as well as written communication with not only their team but other leaders in the organization are all important aspects of successful communication in the workplace.
This can be one of the most challenging skills for new managers to learn, especially those who were selected because of their strengths as an individual contributor. It’s also not a soft a skill that HR can fully evaluate until someone is in a leadership position, so it often requires additional attention.
The most common concern among new leaders is that delegating too much makes them look weak and incompetent – suggesting they’ve “lost it”. After all, they were elevated to management because of their ability to “get things done”. If they don’t actually do those things anymore, imposter syndrome can set in quickly. This is far from the case, though, and managers must learn to trust not only themselves but their teams.
Delegation can be encouraged and taught through workshops and one-on-one training – showing new managers how to delegate and encouraging them to trust their employees. Other skills related to delegation include employee evaluation, setting goals and communication expectations, training new employees and managing time for themselves and others.
Among the most difficult leadership skills to develop are those that push against someone’s natural inclinations. Earning trust, however, requires a degree of openness with employees that some new leaders will find uncomfortable. Employees will better trust their managers when they are transparent and comfortable enough to show vulnerability. In turn, employees are more likely to reciprocate that honesty and communicate when there are problems and concerns.
Some of the leadership skills that managers should focus on in this area include a sense of responsibility and a willingness to apologize and communicate regret when mistakes are made.
Leaders should have healthy emotional intelligence that manifests in the way they talk to their employees, the moral compass they use to guide their business decisions and the care they take when stress levels increase. This is a difficult skill set to teach but can be encouraged through mindfulness and with the assistance of a mentor or coach.
New leaders often overcompensate, working harder than others and ignoring the need to delegate to “prove” themselves. With time, however, that dedication can fade as they grow comfortable in their new role.
Striking the right balance between a commitment to excellence and the ability to delegate and trust a team to do what they do best is a difficult leadership skill to master, but one that can pay dividends over time. Dedication and commitment in the workplace manifests in many ways – from always following through on promises (e.g. team building activities, organizational changes, and down time), to providing a healthy environment for professional development.
How employees see a leader is often heavily influenced by that leader’s ability to do the things they say they will do and demonstrate the things they ask others to do.
Feedback and Support
Constructing and delivering hard feedback can be difficult, especially when someone has a close relationship with their employees. This doesn’t necessarily only apply to “hard” feedback. Providing advice and support is a core job requirement of management, but it’s easy to cross the line from “how can I help” to “let me help”.
For leaders who struggle to provide support, advice, and ultimately difficult feedback to their teams, it’s important to focus on ways to simplify the process. Weekly one-on-one meetings to establish rapport, coaching and role playing to prepare for tough conversations, and spending time every week preparing and delivering constructive feedback are all ways to improve this leadership skill.
On February 27th, Keegan Walden, COO and Co-Founder of Torch will be presenting How to Have Hard Conversations and Establish a Feedback Culture with the Human Capital Institute. Register here to learn more about this particular leadership skill and how to embed it in the culture of your organization.
Developing a Suite of Leadership Skills
For new leaders and those hoping to take on new responsibilities, it’s important to continuously develop and practice these soft skills. Most people will have blind spots in how they communicate, interact, and lead others. With support from human resources, senior executives, mentors and coaches, however, leaders can build a stronger foundation and continuously improve how they engage with the people they lead.
To learn more, download our Guide with Tips for Better, More Insightful One-on-Ones. In it, you’ll learn how to get more out of your conversations, make sure others feel heard, and express your opinions and suggestions in line with the needs of others.