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8 Essential Soft Skills That You Need to Be a Successful Leader

The most effective leaders tend to possess both hard and soft skills. While conventional wisdom says that soft skills are innate, business psychologists and performance experts point out that they can be studied and learned.

While new entrepreneurs and CEOs may feel the need to focus on “hard” skills that involve technical aptitude and other skills that are easily quantified, the “soft” leadership skills that involve empathy, communication, negotiation, and relationship-building are just as important—if not more so—for keeping employees, customers, and funders happy over the long term. Here are some essential soft skills that the most successful leaders possess.


  1. Possess Social Intelligence

Social intelligence is cited repeatedly as one of the premier traits that make an effective leader. The term can be used broadly, although at its core it connotes an in-depth understanding of the dynamics between and among people, as well as an ease and comfort about operating in a wide range of interpersonal settings.

Some researchers specifically find that social intelligence consists of traits such as a sensitivity to the different personalities, needs, and drives of others, as well as tact, sensitivity, and the capacity to take on varied social roles, as needed.

Business psychologists recommend making a conscious effort to talk to and get to know a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds and different social contexts as one of the best ways to increase social intelligence.

Interpersonal skills, one of the skill subsets of social intelligence, are often best developed by maintaining a focus on active listening. The listener strives to see the world from the speaker’s point of view and to understand it as the speaker experiences it.

Networking organizations, as well as nonprofit groups devoted to public speaking, are often excellent venues for honing interpersonal and social skills.




  1. Demonstrate a Positive Attitude

Experts point to another “soft” skill that is frequently overlooked, but which can have a positive ripple effect in the workplace: a positive attitude. This does not mean failing to acknowledge bad news or the existence of problems. What it means is that you should not allow negative situations to lower your own spirits and those of your team.

Leaders who respond to setbacks and challenges with a positive attitude that focuses on problem-solving will be able to keep themselves and their employees working productively, and the company will be more likely to be able to weather rough situations, well.

Additionally, leaders who possess hope and belief in their team and its mission can serve as an inspirational example over the long term for any company.


  1. Reward Good Performance

The best corporate leaders consistently demonstrate to their employees that they value their contributions to the company. They reward innovation, loyalty, and effort by offering both praise and perks. Even when a new idea or process doesn’t lead to the desired results, the employees who created it deserve commendations for their hard work.


  1. Acknowledge Special Events in Employees’ Lives

It’s important to acknowledge special events in employees’ lives: their birthdays, anniversaries, and personal and professional milestones. Celebrating—and when necessary, grieving—together knits a team closer together and boosts individual and collective morale.


  1. Keep Employees Informed

The more broadly and deeply that employees are kept informed and up-to-date about their work and industry, the better their performance will tend to be. Well-informed staff members are more likely to make good decisions that further the interests of the company in a competitive marketplace, and they can often build on their knowledge to upgrade products, services, or processes.


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  1. Share Power

Pre-hiring screening processes, combined with effective training, will result in companies with technologically skilled executives who can get the job done. However, when a business fails, it tends to do so because its leaders lacked soft skills.

The ability to empower employees and to provide the kind of inspiration and encouragement that makes them want to always do their best is harder to teach, but it remains a vital skill.

Managers who are skilled in the art of delegation and who build the scaffolding that supports a sense of ownership among staff, set their teams up for success by giving them more than just a job. They are empowering them to take the initiative necessary to drive further innovation.


  1. Communicate

Communication is the linchpin that holds work teams and companies together. Today’s most effective leaders understand that good communication skills can turn around a struggling company, while poor communication can confuse key stakeholders, destroy relationships, and drive away customers.

A leader who communicates well is respectful and courteous toward people at every level of an organization. He or she also displays a healthy amount of self-confidence, avoiding weak-sounding words such as “perhaps,” “possibly,” “just,” and “asap.”


  1. Manage Conflict So That Everyone Comes Out Ahead

One particularly important component of communication is the ability to manage conflict in a constructive way. A capacity to help your employees and peers to achieve positive resolutions to interpersonal conflicts is one of the primary hallmarks of higher-order leadership.

A manager who can serve as an empathetic, but impartial arbiter of personality clashes and differences of opinion—ideally facilitating a solution in which everyone collaborates and wins—will earn the respect of co-workers throughout every level of an organization.


This Is How These 7 Top-Level Questions Can Help You Find the Best Fit for the C-Suite

Identifying, hiring, and onboarding top talent is a constant challenge for corporate human resources departments. Finding the best candidate for a senior executive role represents a major investment of time and energy on the part of HR staff.

Interviews with the final candidates are at the center of any executive-level hire. Expert recruiters, researchers, and frontline HR professionals offer a number of suggestions for crafting interview questions. The aim is to get to the heart of a candidate’s qualifications and zero in on his or her true potential value to the company.

Questions should be carefully crafted to elicit responses that demonstrate how a candidate would actually perform on the job, and determine whether he or she is the right fit for the company’s culture. Here are seven types of questions that will help determine this:


  1. How has the candidate achieved results?

Ask candidates how, specifically, they have produced their results. This can indicate their motivations and can differentiate between those who emphasize taking responsibility and those who focus on salary and bonuses.




  1. What can the candidate teach others?

Asking candidates for top-level positions what they can teach their teams helps interviewers identify their management styles and leadership personalities. This can demonstrate how they would actually behave as coaches in one-on-one situations, how they would facilitate exceptional performance from their staff, and how they would add value to the company overall.


  1. How can the candidate motivate and support staff?

Ask how a candidate would manage under-performing staff. This can provide insights into the management style and philosophy he or she would bring to your company.

Interview responses could raise concerns about a too-critical approach, in which a candidate might make snap judgements about an employee. Alternatively, answers could point to a laissez faire perspective that could allow poor performance to go unchecked.

The right person for the job, however, should demonstrate a judicious approach to identifying documented shortcomings and putting an effective plan in place to address them. Such a plan would provide valuable mentoring and motivation to an under-achieving staff member—for the benefit of all concerned.




  1. How does the candidate handle controversy?

Another way to assess a candidate’s team-building skills is to ask how he or she has worked to foster a sense of common goals and vision among employees with diverse and—and even conflicting—outlooks and opinions.


  1. What are the candidate’s dreams and goals?

Asking candidates why they are considering leaving their current positions as well as the reasoning behind prior career transitions can reveal insights into their long-term goals, deeply-held values, personal preferences, and internal motivations.

Having candidates describe the best manager or peer-level colleague they have ever worked with can point to the type of leader they would be. It can also indicate the qualities they hold in high regard as well as the direction they would like their professional development to take. An inquiry about which business leaders the candidate looks up to as role models can likewise illustrate his or her leadership preferences and goals.


  1. Is the candidate an effective change-agent?

The only constant in today’s business world is change. Finding out how a potential executive would implement and deal with change can be among the most important determinations in the hiring process.

One way to do this is to ask about change management at the candidate’s current or most recent company. How has the implementation of change played out within the organization? You also want to know how the candidate engaged with the new landscape.

Similarly, ask candidates to describe the most significant change-related project they have undertaken and what steps they took to ensure it was successful. This can reveal how they might help to foster positive change within your organization.




  1. What is the candidate’s communication style?

A number of behavior-related questions can help create a picture of a candidate’s communication style. These can include asking how they have resolved personality conflicts with colleagues and whether they have experience formally presenting their ideas and suggestions to other top executives.

But there are also questions that will get at the core of a candidate’s ability to communicate effectively. Asking how they to communicate one-on-one with board members can help differentiate between individuals who are overly tied to a PowerPoint presentation and those who can genuinely engage with influencers and decision-makers in ways that build relationships and open new pathways for growth.

It’s also important to go beyond asking candidates how they might perform as a member of a company’s internal communication network. Communicating with a wide range of external audiences and stakeholders—including media representatives and government regulators—is essential to maintaining and developing a company’s brand.

Ask how the candidate would address the topic of a missed deadline or a failed project with a board member, major customer, or reporter. You can also measure high-level communication skills by asking how the candidate successfully introduced an initially unpopular concept.

Recruiters are looking for potential leaders to demonstrate mental and emotional fluency as well as confidence. Many expert recruiters advise gauging these skills by paying careful attention to the questions candidates ask during an interview. Strong candidates aren’t afraid to ask questions to ensure their answers are complete and appropriate.



7 of the Best Insights on Building an Effective Corporate Culture

Across industries, companies are learning that a strong corporate culture that values and develops the company’s own human capital is an essential asset in today’s highly competitive marketplace. Experts point out that employees who feel that their values and those of their companies are well-aligned are more likely to work at peak performance and help the organization to grow.

Read on for some important insights into the importance of a company culture.


  1. Building—and fixing—corporate culture

In their 2011 book Corporate Culture and Performance, John P. Kotter and James L. Heskett provide a comprehensive overview of the ways in which a company’s culture can either foster its economic success or create problems. Their research, focused on the cultures at major firms such as Hewlett-Packard, Nissan, Xerox, and hundreds of others, resulted in a range of insights about how positive and negative qualities of organizational cultures emerge and cement themselves over time.

One of the key takeaways of Kotter and Heskett’s book is their insight that “strong” organizational cultures do not automatically lead to exceptional economic performance. They point out that although a number of common norms and best practices can often foster success, these same traits can exist within cultures that have become overly bureaucratic, solipsistic, and dysfunctional, leading to a difficulty in embracing beneficial change. Furthermore, even when a corporate culture aligns well with a company’s strategic plan, it must still be able to adapt to shifts in markets and against a dynamic competitive background.

In any case, Kotter and Heskett advocate for increasing the quality of leadership as an essential step toward building a healthy organizational culture and keeping it responsive to ongoing challenges. The heads of the successful companies they studied focused on delivering strong, positive, and relevant new vision statements while modeling strong leadership and a customer-focused attitude for their managers and staff at each tier of the organization. This type of responsive leadership not only creates a high-functioning corporate culture, but it can go a long way toward repairing one that has become ineffective.




  1. Creating a supportive culture

In a 2017 interview with Time, author and HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington outlined some of the qualities she finds important to fostering a strong and effective organizational culture. One of these is a concentration on transparency and openness. When leadership is open about problems, the company is better able to correct and learn from these mistakes—often even recognizing and addressing challenges before they become major problems.

Huffington also emphasized a topic much discussed in business circles today: building a support system to help managers and staff (top executives included) to avoid burnout and achieve a workable balance among responsibilities in all areas of their lives.


  1. Focusing on staff-driven ideas

A 2018 piece in Forbes magazine offered a list of practical actions, sourced from experienced CEOs, that companies can take to bolster the effectiveness of their cultures.

One company, dataxu, holds an annual “Innovation Day,” in which staff forgo their usual duties to work on various prototypes and concept development projects. After the innovation teams demonstrate their products, the whole group votes for the ones they like best. The company has already put more than half the Innovation Day ideas into practice.




  1. Being flexible to nurture new insights

Another item from the Forbes article advocates allowing staff to work from home or another off-site location. Some companies even allow staff to plan working vacations abroad and use online tools such as Slack to stay in the loop on important projects. Employees appreciate the flexibility, and they return with fresh perspectives.


  1. Setting perks according to values

Brett Farmiloe, the CEO and founder of Markitors, stresses the importance of making sure that employee perks are in line with overall organizational values. One of his company’s values is “You Are Unique,” and in recognition of everyone’s individuality, each employee receives a paid day off on their birthday.

Other ideas for perks include sponsoring community engagement through company volunteerism, providing generous opportunities to use time off, and offering casual spaces that foster conversation, such as a coffee bar or break room.


The best way to improve productivity in companies

courtesy of Zorgnetwerk Nederland


  1. Flattening hierarchies to enhance communication

The 2018 book Entrepreneur Voices on Corporate Culture, by the staff of Entrepreneur magazine, points out that a company’s culture is defined starting at the top.

The book suggests flattening out hierarchies and communication structures, which can ensure that a greater range of voices and opinions are heard by top management, leaving employees with the freedom to express themselves without fear of retribution. This method also gives leaders the opportunity to learn of potential problems from those who often see them first: the staff working at the front lines of the organization.

The book also notes that successful corporate cultures foster collaboration, strategic risk-taking, informed decision-making, and trust and respect among all levels of a company.


  1. Establishing a shared vision

Among its other lessons for CEOs, the Entrepreneur book notes that corporate culture is formed at a much deeper level than that of perks, as welcome as those may be.

In order to become truly successful and competitive in its field, a company should concentrate on establishing a foundation of shared vision, principles, and goals on how it does business, as well as how it treats its employees, customers, and the wider community.

cloud computing

A Look at How HR Can Help to Ensure Data Security

If you’re not accustomed to thinking of data security as an HR issue, it’s time to think again. While it’s tempting to consider data security as the sole purview of your organization’s IT department, the fact is that data security is not only about technology, it’s also about people. And it’s precisely this human element that tends to be the weakest link in cases of data breaches.

Despite significant advancements in domains such as information security research and cyber detection tools, human error continues to play a major role in situations where sensitive data is compromised. Employees routinely put organizations’ data at risk—intentionally or unintentionally—by failing to comply with data protection policies: this might involve actions such as regularly forgetting to change a password, losing a device that contains sensitive information, using unsecured channels, bringing blacklisted applications into work, or performing work tasks on public networks. And these aren’t just occasional oversights. According to the Verizon 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report, a remarkable 63% of confirmed data breaches involved the use of weak, default, or stolen passwords.




High Stakes

It’s particularly important for organizations to do all that they can to prevent data breaches given that the stakes are so high. A 2017 study sponsored by IBM estimates that, on average, the total organizational cost of a data breach for a US company is a staggering $7.35 million. Furthermore, there are other costs associated with data breaches that are harder to quantify, but no less devastating, such as the damage to a business’ reputation. A 2015 global survey conducted by Gemalto revealed that nearly 64% of consumers worldwide would likely discontinue doing business with an organization that had experienced a breach involving the loss of financial information.

So what is the role of HR in all this? Essentially, it’s up to HR to handle the “human element” by championing data security to employees and company personnel across the board. Through proper planning and attention, HR can work to make data security a key part of a company’s culture, encouraging employees to buy into the security process from their first day on the job. In addition, HR can work behind the scenes to help develop and implement data security policies that are effective and easy to understand and follow. As outlined in a recent article from the Society for Human Resource Management, some of the actions that HR can take to lead the way when it comes to organizational data security include the following:


Knowing Who Is Hired

The first step in keeping personally identifiable information or other sensitive data safe is staying on top of the people who will have access to it. This means thoroughly vetting all candidates for jobs that involve the routine handling of sensitive information, such as positions in payroll or finance, a task that HR is perfectly positioned to carry out.


Keeping Track of Equipment


A surprising number of data breaches arise from problems with physical equipment: that is, the loss or theft of company devices that contain confidential information. In order to avoid this, it’s essential that HR keep proper records of what equipment employees are given. During the onboarding process, a checklist should be created that details all of the equipment and devices that each employee receives. The list should be regularly reviewed and consulted when an employee leaves a company in order to ensure that all equipment is returned.


Training Employees to Recognize Issues

Some situations that can lead to data breaches—such as sophisticated phishing scams that take the form of e-mails which appear to have come from someone in the company—are not always easy for employees to recognize. HR can help to mitigate this by leading training and awareness-building exercises on topics such how to identify scams and what to do if a scam is suspected.


Encouraging Employees to Speak up


When a data breach or attempted breach occurs, employees may be tempted to ignore or try to conceal it, particularly if they feel they are at fault. However, it’s vital that employees understand how important it is to speak up. Situations can often be addressed in a timely manner if they are raised immediately. In addition, early detection can help employers to fulfill particular obligations, such as providing certain notices that are mandatory in cases where data may have been compromised.


Crafting Comprehensive BYOD Policies

If companies allow employees to use their own devices at work—an increasingly popular phenomenon known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)—it’s essential that comprehensive policies are in place to protect sensitive information. In order to achieve this, HR can team up with other relevant departments to craft clear and precise language around steps that can be taken if a device is lost or stolen, and what can happen if an employee leaves the company. It’s also vital to ensure that policies are in place that allow for a device to be remotely wiped in case of an emergency.